4/27/10 - boy scouts of america

In today's excerpt - the population explosion in American in the late 1800s had left America the crisis, cities were filled with adolescent hoodlums who joining gangs that were  involved in everything from prostitution to murder. The country grasped to find antidotes, including mandating attendance of high school, creating a new genre of literature depicting idyllic adolescents, and starting organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America:

"Although the number of adolescents aged fourteen to seventeen in school doubled, the figure was only just over 30 percent of the total cohort by the end of the decade. And the dropout rate remained high in large cities. In his 1914 survey, The High School Age, Irving King noted that in some inner urban areas a massive 88 percent of high-school-age pupils did not graduate, because they did 'not find it possible or perhaps worthwhile to follow out the course.' ... Either from necessity or temperament, many poor youths saw no reason to stay in the school environment and left for the world of temporary, low-paying jobs or delinquency. As far as they were concerned, even a few cents in their pockets conferred status and allowed some control over their own lives.

"At the same time, the high school was in the process of being promoted as an aspirational institution. Its idealized image, promoted by popular fiction such as H. Irving Hancock's 1910 novel The High School Freshmen, was smalltown and middle-class. ... Set in an 'average little American city of some thirty thousand inhabitants,' The High School Freshmen pits Dick Prescott, the straight-up son of a bookshop owner, against the vicious and vengeful Fred Ridley. ... Despite being a lowly freshman of fourteen, Prescott rises through the school through his courage and his proficiency at sports. His reward is to be invited to the senior ball. Featuring fistfights and dark doings ... Dick entreats his mortified enemy, 'Come on Fred, be a different sort of chap. Make up your mind to go through the High School, and through life afterwards, dealing with everybody on the square. Be pleasant and honest—be a high-class fellow—and everything will like you and seek your friendship.'

"These books offered practical solutions to deal with the savagery of eight-to fourteen-year-old boys. These included sports, alert parenting, and vocational education. Physical activity and practical endeavor were also inculcated by [organizations such as] the youth group launched by Ernest Thompson Seton, the American Woodcraft Indians. ... The most successful voluntary institution that sought to productively channel the energies of American youth was the Boy Scouts of America, founded by a Chicago publisher named William D. Boyce in 1910. Although inspired by Seton, Boyce was a better organizer: within a few years, his group had subsumed the American Woodcraft Indians as well as other scouting bodies like the Sons of Daniel Boone aimed at 'boys' between eleven and seventeen.

"In 1911, the BSA published its manual, Handbook for Boys, which included the American Scout Oath: 'On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.' The Scout Law delineated the qualities that it demanded from members: 'A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.' ...

"The organization quickly grew into a national force. ... In 1916, Congress gave the BSA a federal charter, by which time there were more than 250,000 Boy Scouts throughout America."


Jon Savage


Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture:1875-1945


Penguin Books


Copyright 2007 by Jon Savage


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