United States Boy Scout Uniforms: 1910s


Figure 1.--These boys were photographed in the 1910s. They wear the jacket like shirt that early American Boy Scouts wear. The look quite different than the tuck in shirts Boy Scouts began to wear in the 1920s. Their hats look like fatigue caps rather than the regulation hat. Note the uniformity of their turn out.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was founded by William D. Boyce and several associates in 1910. Boyce was a businessman with an interest in youth work. His critical contribution to Scouting was to organize the BSA as a business. He incorporated the organization, choosing Washington, DC, rather than Chicago to emphasize its national character. He recruited key youth professionals, primarily from the YMCA, to design and operate the program, and he provided essential funding for the fledgling organization. Important decisions were made about Scouting in the 1910s which had a major impact on its character and success. There were many competing visions of the movement with varying influences including commercial, altruistic, patriotic, militaristic, social, religious, racial, and many others. The American Scout movement was relatively small in the 1910s before World War I (1914-18). The movement grew significantly beginning with the War when a patriotic fervor swept the country. The movement was to grow even more in the prosperous 1920s. Increasingly by the late 1910s it was becoming an excepted part of an American boyhood, at least in small towns and cities, to join the Boy Scouts. The organization became increasingly popular throughout the country and was supported by both schools and churches. It was a virtually all white movement in its first decade as blacks were essentially excluded, especially in the South.

History

The American Scout movement was relatively small in the 1910s before World War I (1914-18). The movement grew significantly beginning with the War when a patriotic fervor swept the country. The movement was to grow even more in the prosperous 1920s. Increasingly by the late 1910s it was becoming an accepted part of American boyhood, at least in small towns and cities, to join the Boy Scouts. The organization became increasingly popular throughout the country and was supported by both schools and churches. William D. Boyce, after his experience with the "unknown" London Scout, incorporated the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 1910. Immediately after its incorporation, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was assisted by officers of the YMCA in organizing a task force to help community organizations start and maintain a high-quality Scouting program. Those efforts climaxed in the organization of the nation's first Scout camp at Lake George, New York, directed by Ernest Thompson Seton, noted naturalist and illustrator who had organized Woodcraft movement. Another youth group luminary, Daniel Carter "Uncle Dan" Beard, also assisted. Beard was a noted illustrator, author, and social reformer who had previously founded his own youth group--the Sons of Daniel Boone. He would subsequently merge his group with the BSA. Also on hand for this historic event was James E. West, a lawyer and an advocate of children's rights, who later would become the first professional Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America. Seton became the first volunteer national Chief Scout, and Beard, the first national Scout Commissioner. This BSA in many ways reflected the increasingly formalized, and bureaucratized quality of life in the early 20th century, also. Such qualities gave the BSA a great advantage over the competition and were soon to drive Seaton out of the organization and Beard to a largely honorary role.

Critical Decade

The 1910s were a critical decade for the Boy Scouts in America. Scouting is now taken for granted as a part of the American scene, primarily because of the success of the movement in the 1910s. The BSA during this first decade grew spectacularly into a respected national organization of 361,000 boys and 32,000 Scoutmasters. The BSA offered a program that appealed to the boys of the time. It should be that unlike todays heavily scheduled youngsters, there were not a lot of competing activities for boys in the 1910s. The BSA put together an appealing program and effectively promoted it. The nationalistic sentiment of Americans fueled by World War I only increased the appeal of Scouting. One advantage of Scouting was that it was a standardized program rather like a fast food chain. [Macleod] It could be started with only a small group in communities throughout America. Not only did Scouting appeal to boys, but the program received substantial adult support because of the concern with finding wholesome activities for boys to keep them occupied and out of trouble. There had been other such efforts dating back to the 1870s, but none had succeeded like the BSA on the 1910s. Interestingly it was the BSA bureaucrats who succeeded with Lord Baden Powell's imported British program rather than the men like Daniel Carter Beard and Ernest Thompson Seaton who preached a less militaristic approach and were the true inspiration for American Scouting.

The YMCA Impact

Important decisions were made about Scouting in the 1910s which had a major impact on its character and success. There were many competing visions of the movement with varying influences including commercial, altruistic, patriotic, militaristic, social, religious, racial, and many others. In this regard the influence of the YMCA had a critical and lasting impact on the direction of the BSA, especially the responsibility for community service. Of course Edgar Robinson was a YMCA executive, but James West also was involved with the Y. Perhaps even more importantly many early troops were organized at YMCAs or by YMCA staff.

Race and Scouting

There were substantial differences in the approach to black Scouting in the North and South. The BSA never at the national level rejected the principle of blacks joining mostly white troops or organizing black troops but they adopted policies that made it very difficult for black troops to be organized, especially in the South. The BSA decided at an early point to require that all new troops be sanctioned by the local councils. Thus blacks wanting to organize troops had to get the approval of all-white councils. Especially in the early years, Southern councils refused to approve any black troops. Alternative approaches such as a request from a group of blacks to organize "Young American Patriots" was rejected by the BSA. One historian quotes Bolton Smith, a Memphis banker who was BSA board's expert on race relations, and answered a critic by saying, "as long as the grown people are willing to stand for the lynchings of colored people," it was futile to expect public support for black Boy Scouting. He insisted that to admit black boys "would lose us many white Scouts..." [Macleod, pp. 212-214.] YMCA executive E.M. Robinson played a key role in early Scouting. He was disturbed that local councils were not approving black troops. The YMCA did have a program for black boys. George W. Moore was the Y's International Committee's secretary for black boys. He designed an alternative to Boy Scouting that he called the Lincoln Guild. Robinson who was Scoutings first executive director during the critical first year in 1910 did not implement the plan, insisting on centralized authority because, as he phrased it, "colored people are less responsible than white ..." [Macleod, pp. 212-214.]

Chronology


1910

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was founded by William D. Boyce and several associates in 1910. Boyce was a businessman with an interest in youth work. His critical contribution to Scouting was to organize the BSA as a business. He incorporated the organization, choosing Washington, DC, rather than Chicago to emphasize its national character. It was in Washington that the BSA was incorporated on February 8, 1910. Boyce recruited key youth professionals, primarily from the YMCA, to design and operate the program, and he provided essential funding for the fledgling organization. The Scouts held their first camp held at Silver Bay, Lake George, N.Y. in 1910. The YMCA and Seaton were heavily involved in that first camp. Boyce turned the administration of the BSA over to Edgar Robinson and the YMCA. Robinson recruited famed naturalist Ernest Thompson Seaton to join his Woodcraft Indians with the BSA. Boyce and Seaton began and active campaign to absorb all other Scout-type youth organizations into the BSA. Indeed, only one such organization held out past 1912--publisher William Randolph Hearst's militaristic American Boy Scout organization. Seaton prepared the original American Boy Scout manual. Decisions taken in 1910, especially the decision to allow the Councils to approve new troops were to result in the exclusion of blacks from the movement, especially in the South, even an attempt to form a segregated unit of black Scouts (the Lincoln Scouts) was rejected.

1911

James West takes over as BSA executive on January 1. The BSA National Scout Office opened in New York with 7 employees in 1911. West oversaw the publication of the Handbook For Boys which replaced Seaton's first Scout manual. The new handbook included the American Scout Oath, Law, advancement requirements, uniforms, badges, and much information on woodcraft, nature lore, camping skills, athletics, first aid, life-saving skills, patriotism, and citizenship. The BSA presented its first Heroism award.

1912

The BSA by 1912 Scouts had enrolled from every State. The first National Good Turn: A Sane and Safe Fourth of July was begun in 1912. The BSA purchased Boy's Life in 1912. The BSA in 1912 adopted Sea Scouting as part of the Scouting program. The first Eagle Scout was awarded in 1912.

1913

The Boy Scout movement continued to growvery rapidly. The BSA charted the first local councils in 1913. The BSA created Scouting Magazine in 1913. The BSA published the Handbook for Scoutmasters in 1913. We note a wide range of publicity efforts to acquaint the public with the growing movement. We note one troop with an exhibit at the Ohio State Fair. It looks like a rustic building made of logs and timbers. We are not sure what kind of activities were conducted for the public. Not all of the participating boys had uniforms yet. They managed to attract note other than Buffalo Bill Cody looking evry bit of the part from his Wild West shows. We do not know of any official relationship between the Scouts and Cody. Of course Cody began his fabeled career as an Army Scout. There was, as a result, a certain affinity. He passed away a few years after this appearance.

1914

The BSA troop committee plan was developed in 1914. World War I began in Europe during August 1914 when German declared war on France and attacked through Belgium. The Scouting movement was mobilized by the combatant countries to assist in the War effort. America stayed out of the War, however, until 1917.

1915

William Boyce organized the Lone Scouts of America in 1915. The Order of the Arrow was founded in Philadelphia during 1915. The BSA in 1915 issued 57 merit badge books. West managed to push Seaton out of the BSA in 1915. The BSA, without Seaton, quickly established a national office, developed a temporary handbook, sought out Baden- Powell's endorsement (which they got), and began to work to get a Congressional Charter from the US Congress.

1916

A key development was the BSA after several years effort finally convinced Congress to grant a Federal Charter on June 15, 1916. Although the measure's sponsors assured a Texas congressman that the BSA would not be, the new charter was actually quite broad, giving the BSA in essence a monopoly on Scouting in America. The BSA received exclusive rights to not only the emblems and badges it had developed, but also to the "words or phrases now or heretofore used by the Boy Scouts of America...". Congress in 1916 also prohibited civilians from wearing uniforms which resembled American military uniforms. One exception was made--the BSA. While not fully understood at the time, these measures gave the BSA an enormous advantage over existing and future uniformed boys groups. It is the reason that there is only one significant Scout association in America, unlike the multiplicity of associations in many European countries. This Federal legislation in 1916 in effect made the BSA a truly national institution, providing the legal basis for a BSA monopoly on Boy Scouting." [Macleod, p. 157.] The exclusive right to use a military-looking uniform was especially important and proved to be an enormous advantage with American entered World War I in 1917. The BSA in 1916 also adopted a constitution and by-laws.

1917

The BSA established the Veteran Scout program in 1917. America declared war on Germany in April 1917. A wave of patriotism spread like a tidal wave over the country. The BSA was able to take advantage of this patriotic spirit. The BSA after the entry of America in World War I, begins home-front service in 1917 with the "Help win the war". The Scout motto, "Be prepared" was put into action. The Scouts pursued many home-front activities. Scouts planted "war gardens" with the slogan, "Every Scout to feed a soldier". They sold over 2 million war bonds. Another project was to collect peach pits which were used to make charcoal for gas masks. These patriotic projects helped to make the Boy Scouts enormously popular.

1918

The War ended with the Armistice on November 11, 1918. The BSA rendered Nation-wide first-aid service in 1918 during the influenza epidemic. The BSA in 1918 established standards for Boy Scout camps.

1919

The BSA in 1919 held the first annual National Boy Scout Week. Resorting to the federal courts, and aided by their Congressional Charter and testimony from Baden-Powell, the BSA finally obtained a favorable ruling against the "US Boy Scouts" (the old American Boy Scouts) in 1919.

The Uniform

The BS A triumphed over competitive groups in large part because it management to appropriate the major national symbols. In this regard, nothing seemed more patriotic than the uniforms that khaki-green uniform that millions of Americans were putting on to fight in the War. The BSA was very similar to the U.S. army uniform which closely associated BSA Scouting with national service. The uniform was a major issues in early American Scouting. Not every new Scout was equipped with the same items. Early portraits of Scout troops often shows substantial variations in how the boys were equipped. Acquiring the full official uniform was strongly encouraged by many units. This tended to make the Scouts a middle-class organization as often poor boys who could not afford the uniform decided against Scouting or was made to feel uncomfortable. One historian reports, "... acquisition of full uniforms soon became a test of commitment." [Macleod, p. 178.] The BSA gave individual Councils the authority to require them by 1918. (When the new uniform was introduced in 1922, it was made mandatory. There was no "activity uniform" in early Scouting. The Scouts wore their uniform for every activity. The same uniform was used for hiking and camping that was used for dress occasions such as parades. The BSA was determined to present their boys as well ordered young men and not uncouth mountain men. A historian reports, "... leaders wanted all who met them to know that they were sepoys, not savages; the uniform made it clear that control outweighed free-ranging woodmanship". [Macleod, p. 178.] As in Britain, American Scouting was not without critics. The principal one was the military as opposed to the wood craft approach to Scouting. The early Scouting movement in actuality had not decided to what extent that Scouting should be seen as preparation for military service. Certainly the choice of uniform gave that impression. We know of no actual agreements between the BSA and the military. Among many BSA officials, however, "So closely, however, did patriotism, discipline, and military service seem to be related that Boy Scout leaders had trouble telling them apart." [Macleod, p. 178.]

Scouting Levels

Different levels of Scouting were slow to develop in America.

Cub Scouts

There was no Cub Scouting in the 1910s. Cubs were not officially authorized in America until the 1930s. Some troops allowed younger boys to tag along, especially if they had an older brother in the troop. There was, however, no organized Cubbing program despite the fact that the British Scouts began cubbing in 1916. BSA officials were concerned that allowing younger boys to participate would make the movement less attractive for the older boys.

Boy Scouts

American Scouts in the 1910s and at the beginning of the 1920s seem to have worn an essentially military style uniform. The American Scout uniforms continued to be the khaki-green Army-style uniform after World War I (1914- 18). The shirt and pants was khaki and belt olive drab although there could be considerable differences in the colors worn by individuals and various groups. The photographs are of course black and white. It seems to me that the color was not the tan khaki now familiar, but a kind of olive-green khaki. Here this is something that we need more information about. Hopefully we can find some kind of colorized image. The boys wore a coat-type garment rather than a shirt--worn without kerchiefs. I am not precisely sure what the actual BSA regulations specified concerning uniform pants. One source indicates: shorts or breeches with leggings, puttees, or stockings. This seems to be an accurate description, except for the shorts. We have not noted any images of American Scouts wearing short pants in the 1910s. As far as we can determine, American Scouts wore knicker-length pants or breeches and the short pants that boys in virtually every other country wore. This army-style uniform continued to be worn in to the early 1920s. The boys wore a flat-brimmed Smokey Bear type hat with a high crown like the British Scouts. Coincidentally this also happened to be the U.S. army hat. (Here we do not yet know the history of how this hat came to be the official army hat.) We have acquired little written information about the Scout uniform in the 1910s. Available images, however, suggest considerable differences in the uniforms worn by the boys.

Ordering the Uniform

The BSA initially sold Scout uniforms and equipment through its Department of Scout supplies. The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated in 1910. The United States Congress in 1916 granted a federal charter to the Boy Scouts to protect their name and to authorize uniforms similar to U.S. military uniforms. Thus no one could compete with the BSA in the sale of uniforms. BSA publications show that the mail order sale of uniforms and equipment was a major undertaking by 1919. The BSA bragged about their efficient office workers. Presumably this mail operation was begun almost as the BSA was established to make uniforms available to Scouts around the country. mail order suppliers were already well established in the United Sates and thus consumers were used to ordering clothing, and just about every thing else including the kitchen sink, by mail.

Sources

Macleod, David I. Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920 (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 315p.







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