- The Boy Scouts has a complicated history as it’s struggled to adapt to modern times.
- The Boy Scouts of America has especially been criticised for its lack of diversity and unwillingness to open the program up to all people.
- Over its 111-year history, the organisation has evolved to welcome younger ages, girls, homosexuals, and transgender people.
The Boy Scouts is a global organisation with universal reach, but it hasn’t always been that way.
Lieutenant general and author Robert Baden-Powell of England started the Boy Scouts in 1907 doing a trial camp to test out its activities, meanwhile writing an outline for the movement. Soon, similar troops started popping up throughout Britain, and his handbook “Scouting for Boys” was published for their use in 1908.
Over 100 years later, and the Boy Scouts has spread to nearly every corner of the globe, offering lessons in survival, community service, and faith. Although the teachings have remained largely the same, the organisation itself and who it allows in have changed dramatically.
Since the organisation is founded on faith-based principles, its core beliefs and its ability to adapt to modern times have been at odds. Here are some of the ways the Boy Scouts organisation has changed over its 111-year history to become more progressive.
The organisation made its first big change when it started operating in the US as a separate entity.
William Boyce – an American newspaperman and publisher – took a trip to London in 1909. When he asked a young boy for directions, Boyce attempted to give him a tip, but the boy refused. He told Boyce that he was a scout and that they do not accept money for good deeds. Boyce was so moved that he went back to the states and founded the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 1910. By the first World War, there were troops all over the world, including Sweden, Mexico, and Argentina.
Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes then created a separate arm of the organisation for girls, the Girl Guides.
In 1909, girls picked up on the growing scout movement and even attended a Boy Scouts rally. In response, Baden-Powell created the Girl Guides that same year, and it quickly spread to countries like Australia, Canada, and South Africa. It wasn’t until 1912, however, that Juliette Low formed the Girl Scouts in the US. While the Boy Scouts focused on survival and camping, the Girl Scouts focused on writing, cooking, first aid, and finance.
The organisation changed again to allow younger boys to participate, creating the Cub Scouts.
In 1916, Baden-Powell created the Wolf Cubs for boys who were under the age of 11. It became popular and eventually took on the name Cub Scouts. Today the Cub Scouts is still operating and aims to help children “start with their best right now selves and grow into their very best future selves.”
In 1976, the Boy Scouts in the UK dropped the gender-focused name and allowed girls to join.
In the UK, the word “boy” was dropped from the organisation’s name in 1976, as girls from 15 to 20 years old were allowed into the organisation. It would be decades before the BSA in the US would allow girls to enter the ranks.
Back in the US, troops were just starting to integrate African American and white troops in the ’70s.
Although black people were allowed in the BSA since the beginning, they had to remain in their own troops. In fact, the “Negro Boy Scout” troop was founded in 1911 – just one year after the founding of the BSA – in North Carolina. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the troops remained segregated throughout the South since the churches that sponsored the troops remained segregated by choice. It wasn’t until 1974 that the Old Hickory Council of the BSA in North Carolina officially integrated its troops.
In the early 2000s, the BSA battled with the public over its religious views and its stance on homosexuals.
In 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States heard the Boy Scouts of America v. Dale case. James Dale was an assistant scoutmaster when the organisation revoked his membership for being a homosexual because it did not align with their core religious beliefs. Dale sued the organisation for discrimination, but the court sided with the BSA. The court said that since the BSA is a private organisation, they have the right to choose who can join. The court called it their “freedom of association.”
The debate continued into the following years until 2015, when the BSA officially repealed the homosexuality ban under its new leadership. However, BSA troops that are owned and/or operated by faith-focused groups can continue the ban. According to PBS, about 72% of the BSA troops are associated with faith groups.
In 2017, the BSA announced that it will allow transgender boys to enter the organisation.
Scouts executive Michael Surbaugh made the surprising announcement in 2017 that the BSA will accept scouts based on the gender they identify with instead of what it says on one’s birth certificate. The announcement came after an 8-year-old boy named Joe Maldonado was forced out of his troop after people found out he was born female.
The BSA finally allowed girls to enter the Boy Scouts in 2019.
Although girls were allowed to participate in some programs at the BSA, 2019 marks a turning point. This year, the organisation rebranded the Scouting program for older boys as the “Scouts BSA,” allowing girls to enroll in all aspects of the organisation.
“I could not be more excited for what this means for the next generation of leaders in our nation,” Surbaugh said in a press release. “Through Scouts BSA, more young people than ever before – young women and men – will get to experience the benefits of camaraderie, confidence, resilience, trustworthiness, courage and kindness through a time-tested program that has been proven to build character and leadership.”
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