Uniformed Youth Group Biography: Lord Baden-Powell (England, 1857-1941)

Figure 1.-- This photograph of the Baden-Powell family was taken in 1933. In the back row are his daughter Heather, son Peter, and daughter Betty. To B-P's right is his wife Olave.

It can be argued that Robert Stephenson Smyth Powell was less than a perfect man. He is today, however, one of the most widely respected man of the 20th century. Because of his love for his nation and a deep desire to train her future leaders, Baden-Powell organized the largest and most positive organizations for building good citizens that the world has ever seen. Few lives in Europe and America have not been touched by his Scouts and the movement is now active in all, but a handful of countries around the world. A Scout's honor continues to be the standard by which men are judged.


Born in 1857, he was the eighth child of Henrietta Grace Powell, wife of the Reverend Baden-Powell.


When Stephe, as he was known by his family, was but 3 years old, his father died suddenly. The family was left in strained circumstances.


Henrietta was a strong and determined mother who did everything she could to ensure that her children were brought up to be strong of character and well educated. To honor her late husband, she added his given name to the family surname creating the hyphenated Baden-Powell. This was difficult only for the youngest son, who then had the cumbersome name of Baden Baden-Powell.


His surname was hyphenated and Powell is prononced this way, "For Baden let it be maiden, for Powell let it be pole".


Stephe's childhood seems a preparation for his life's work. At his public (exclusive private) school, Charterhouse, he found his interest in scouting and woodcraft useful. In the woods which surrounded the school, he hid from the teachers and caught and cooked rabbits, always being careful that there was no smoke that could be used to locate him. He was no exceptional student academically and the school holidays were greatly enjoyed with his brothers. Rhey would camp on small islands. They made a yachting expedition round the south coast of England. On another holiday they traced the Thames to its source by canoe. Baden-Powell used all these experiences to develop the kills that were to prove so useful to him in the army and later Scouting.


Stephe in 1870 was sent to school at Charterhouse on scholarship. There he excelled in sports, music (singing in the chorus and playing violin), and leadership. In addition, he wrote for the school paper and helped to form a rifle team. He was an excellent artist able to sketch and paint equally well with both right and left hand. Academically, Robert was only mediocre and later was refused acceptance to Oxford where his father had taught geometry and his godfather, Jewett of Balliol, was in charge of admissions. In the summer of the year of his Oxford rejection, he tested for acceptance into the military placing second out of 718 in cavalry and fifth for infantry.

The Army

Although he had not earlier considered it, he chose a career in the cavalry. He was determined to succeed at his new career and took to it very well. Baden-Powell began his army career in the calvary. At the time scouting enemy positions and terraine features was a primary purpose of the calvalry (1876). British calvalry training ws, however, more focused on maneuvers, especill group manuevers. Stationed in Africa, Baden-Powell began to work out small unit scouting and living off the land. He taught these skills to the men assigned to him. This proved useful and helped gain him his promotion to colonel. By the age of 40, he was the youngest Lieutenant General in the British military. His career had been relatively uneventful until he was involved in a campaign to suppress King Prempeh on the Gold Coast of West Africa, about which he latter wrote a book. Because of his success there, he was posted to India, Afghanistan, and later to the African veldt where he was involved in the Boar Wars.


During the course of his career, he had written profusely. His first book was Reconnaissance and Scouting (1884). His most recent book, Aids to Scouting (1899). It was a book about cavalry reconnaissance) was being widely read in Britain when he and his troops were taken under siege in Mafeking in southern Africa.

The Boer War (1899-1902)

The Boer War is today an obscure footnote in history. At the time it was a major turning point in history. Not only did it occur at the transition from the Victorian to the Edwardian era, but it helped to confirm the growing opinion in England that it was the rising power of Germany under the mecurial Kaiser Wilhelm II that posed a danger to Britain rather than the traditional English enemy--France. This was a major transition in English thinking that had enormous repersusions in the 20th century. The War also convinced many that major reforms were needed to modernize the Army. The Boer War brought the term concentration camp" to the 20th century. A more happy impact was indirectly the War was involved in the founding of the Scouting movement. The British casualties were much higher than anticipated and the civilian casualties were even higher. European public opinion was incensed and the British began to see their Empire in a new light.

National Hero

It was during the Boer Wars that Baden-Powell became a national hero. He was a virtunally unknown office when by hapenstance he was given command of a small army outpost in the remote town of Mafeking in South Africa. While at Mafeking he had some free time and wrote a manuscript called "Aids in Scouting". He thought it might be useful for servicemen. He never thought it would sell many copies are receive much note when he maile it to a publisher in England. Soon afterwards the Boer War broke out. Britain was un prepared and the Boers attacked into South Africa. The Boers failed to take Mafeking, but it was cut off and isolated behind the Boer lines 650 miles north of Capetown. Mafeking wa a small, nondescrift twoen with no substantial buildings. The Boers expected the British to surrender after a few day, especially when they began bombarding the town. When the small army unit in Mafeking managed to hold out, it inprobanly became the most famous town in the British Empire and its commander attracted considerable interest. The army unit in Mafeking was badly outnumbered, but well trained and armed, proved to costly for the Boers to attack. The Boers instead decided to bombard the town and starbe them out. The British population in the town was organized to support the army and hold out until health arrived, this included the young people. Boys in the town were organized to assist. One of their most important efforts was a messnger service. Baden-Powell noted how the boys would deliver messages on bicycles during bombardments. Baden-Powell and the British in Mafeking held out for 217. Finally the the British Army broke through to relieve Mafeking. He was enthuisastically greeted on his return to Britain from southern Africa and found that he was a celebrated national history. And he found to his even greater surprise that he was also a celebrated author. He found himself one of the mosta sought-after national figure. His little book Aids to Scouting had proven a sensational success. It had sold over 50,000 coies--most of which had been bought by boys. During the seige British boys had began playing "Mafeking" anf his book had become am important idea book for the boys. And once back in England, the boys began writing him about the game as well as scouting in general. Up until this time Baden-Powell's focus was on his amy career. The excitement that he generated among the English boys deluging him with letters as well as his experience with the boys in Mafeking caused him to begin to rethink his career and he started to consider a new career which would involve working with young people.

English Youth

Baden-Powell was concerned about the degeneration of English youth. He believed that English boys were becoming physically and morally weakened as the population moved from the countryside to the industrialized cities.


Drawing often lberally on ideas from Ernest Thomas Seton, a youth leader in America, Baden-Powell published Scouting for Boys (1908). The book was quickly accepted and impromptu Scout troops began to spring up all over the nation. With the help of his partner, a publisher, he organized the Boy Scout program in Great Britain.

The Scouting Movement

He resigned from the military and spent the remainder of his life developing and promoting the Boy Scout Association. It has been said that in his time, his books, training materials, and articles were the most widely read materials in the world with the exception of the Holy Bible. Included in Scouting for Boys were the Boy Scout Oath and Law. The British Scout Law was the model followed by Scout associations throughout the world. It remains the set of core values subscribed to in the moral training of countless millions of boys throughout the world from 1908 until the present.

Girl Guides

During the first few months after the birth of Scouting, hundreds of girls joined the movement. Baden-Powell quickly recognized the need for training Britain's young women as well as her young men. With the assistance of his wife, Lady Olave, he organized the Girl Guides. From then on, he served as Scouting's Chief Scout while his wife was Chief Guide. Baden-Powell in 1920 wrote: "The term 'Scouting' has come to mean a system of training in citizenship, through games, for boys or girls. .... The girls are the important people, because when the mothers of the nation are good citizens and women of character, they will see to it that their sons are not deficient in these points. As things are, the training is needed for both sexes, and is imparted through the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides Movements. The principles are the same for both. It is only in the details that they vary." [Wilson, p. 14.]


Though perhaps not actually faultless, he was none-the-less well-loved and respected by generations around the world for his role in founding and guiding the development of the Scouting movement. From 1909 to 1937, Baden-Powell received no less than 33 orders (knighthoods), decorations, and honorary degrees from 20 different countries. Even Oxford bestowed an honorary degree. Winston Churchill wrote of Baden-Powell in the tears before World War II, "The three most famous generals I have known in my life won no great battles over the foreign foe. Yet their names, which all begin with a B, are household words. They are General Booth, General Botha and General Baden-Powell To General Booth we owe the Salvation Army; to General Botha, United South Africa; and to General Baden-Powell, the Boy Scout Movement." [Churchill]

Farwell Letter to Scouts

One of the last things B-P did before he died was write a farewell letter to every Scout throughout the world. It read, "Dear Scouts, If you have ever seen the play ‘Peter Pan’ you will remember how the pirate chief was always making his dying speech because he was afraid that possibly when the time came for him to die he might not have time to get it off his chest. It is much the same with me, and so, although I am not at this moment dying, I shall be doing so one of these days and I want to send you a parting word of goodbye. Remember, it is the last you will ever hear from me, so think it over. I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn’t come from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so can enjoy life when you are a man. Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made for the world to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one. But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your time comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. ‘Be Prepared’ in this way, to live happy and die happy – stick to your Scout Promise always – even after you have ceased to be a boy – and God help you to do it. Your Friend, Baden-Powell"

Last Years

Baden-Powell died in 1941 in Kenya. His wife wrote in her diary, "He looked so sweet and perfect in death as he was in life - utterly utterly noble and good and dear and wonderful, great and faultless." [Rosenthal, p. 51.]


Baden-Powell was a tremendously prolific author.

Works of Robert Baden-Powell

1884 Reconnaissance and Scouting

1885 Cavalry Instruction

1889 Pigsticking or Hoghunting

1896 The Downfall of Prempeh

1897 The Matabele Campaign

1899 Aids to for Scouting N.C.O, s and Men

1900 Sport one in War

1901 Notes and for Instructions the South African Constabulary

1907 Sketches in Mafeking and East Africa

1908 Scouting for Boys, in six parts

1909 Yarns for Boy Scouts

1910 Scoting Games

1912 Handbook for Girl Guides (in collaboration with Agnes Baden-Powell)

1913 Boy Scouts beyond the Seas

1914 Quick for Training War (fast Training for the War)

1915 Indian Memories

1915 ?? My Adventures ace to Spy (My adventures like spy)

1916 Young Knights of the Empire

1916 Wolf Cub`s Handbook

1918 Girl Guiding

1919 Aids to Scoutmastership

1921 ?? What Scouts dog Do (What the Scouts can do)

1921 An Old Wolf`s favorites

1922 Rovering to Success

1927 Life`s Snags and How to Meet Them

1929 Scouting and Youth Movements

1933 Lessons from the Varsity of Life

1934 Adventures and Accidents

1935 Scouting Round the World

1936 Adventuring to Manhood

1937 African Adventures

1938 Birds and Beasts of Africa

1939 Paddle your Own Canoe

1940 More Sketches of Kenya

Reader Comments

A British reader writes, "I have tremendous admiration for B-P and although he had many awards, I feel the one he should have had is the Nobel Peace Prize.


Churchill, Winston. Great Contemporaries.

Hillcourt, W. (1979). Official Boy Scout Handbook. Irving, Texas: Boy Scouts of America.

MacDonald, R. H. (1993). Sons of the Empire. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Peterson, R. (1995). "The Way It Was." Scouting Magazine. January-February, 1995. Irving, Texas: Boy Scouts of America.

Rosenthal, M. (1984). The Character Factory: Baden-Powell and the Origins of the Boy Scout Movement. New York: Pantheon Books.

Wilson, J. S. (1959). Scouting Round the World. London: Blandford Press.


Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Chronology Pages:
[Return to the Main chronologies page]
[The 1840s] [The 1850s] [The 1860s] [The 1870s] [The 1880s] [The 1890s]
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web Site:
[Return to the Main Biography Page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biography] [Chronologies] [Countries] [Essays] [Garments] [Organizations] [Other]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Questions] [Unknown images]
[Boys' Uniform Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web organizatiion pages:
[Boys' Brigade] [Camp Fire] [Hitler Youth] [National] [Pioneers] [Royal Rangers] [Scout]

Created: November 29, 2000
Last updated: 8:33 PM 6/17/2006