The Training of Pioneer Scout Leaders
By Robert Peterson
No formal training courses or official handbooks were available to the first adult leaders of Boy Scout troops, so many looked to their own experiences for program ideas.
About two-thirds of the men who became Scoutmasters during the infancy of the Boy Scouts of America already had some experience in working with boys. They were Sunday school teachers, public school teachers, and leaders of the Young Men's Christian Association, Boys Clubs, and various small organizations for boys.
It was a good thing they had dealt with boys, because they did not get much instruction in how to lead Boy Scouts.
The pioneers were pretty much on their own for training. A lucky few were trained by the BSA's national leaders during the organization's first two years--1910 and 1911. In those years about 40 Scout leaders were invited to a two-week summer camp at the YMCA's camp at Silver Bay on Lake George in upstate New York.
They received instructions in Scoutcraft and troop management from leaders of the young BSA, including Chief Scout Ernest Thompson Seton, Daniel Carter Beard, and Chief Scout Executive James E. West.
In 1912 similar Scoutmaster schools were held at Lake Geneva, Wis.; Blue Ridge, N.C.; Cos Cob, Conn., as well as at Silver Bay.
Handbooks, magazines, personal interests
For thousands of men who organized or took over troops in the early years, such training was only a dream. They had to rely on the Handbook for Boys (the first edition of the BSA Scout handbook) for program ideas until 1913 when a Handbook for Scoutmasters was published and Scouting magazine was born.
The official handbook and magazine became sources of Scoutcraft ideas and inspiration. So did Boys' Life magazine, which the BSA began publishing a year earlier.
Many Scoutmasters looked to their own interests for program ideas. The first troop in Logansport, Ind., for example, had "sergeants" and "corporals" instead of patrol leaders and assistant PLs because the Scoutmaster was a Spanish-American War veteran.
Albert Drompp, who joined the troop in 1912, remembered: "He wasn't too well acquainted with Scouting. His activities for uswere marching and camping--things he knew something about."
Scoutmasters who were amateur astronomers, ham radio operators, or had some other hobby often featured it in troop meetings.
Scoutmasters looked to each other for help. By 1912 Scoutmasters in Philadelphia; Paterson and Jersey City, N.J.; Tulsa; Cleveland; and Kansas City, Mo., had formed associations that held regular "round tables" to thrash out problems.
Scoutmasters also exchanged ideas in a Scouting magazine page called "From the Scout Field."
Learning in the classroom
From Scouting's beginnings, educators took an interest in the movement, seeing it as a useful adjunct to the classroom. So it is not surprising that colleges and universities began offering summer and evening courses for Scoutmasters.
In 1913, Cornell and Columbia universities and the universities of Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, and California began summer courses. By the mid-1930s, more than 400 colleges and 34 theological schools had courses for Scout leaders--half of them for college credit. For three years during the 1920s, Columbia also had a correspondence course for Scoutmasters.
In 1916 the National Council set up a Department of Education and gave it the task of promoting training for both volunteer and professional Scouters. At first it did not develop training courses. Rather, it published materials on how to train Scouters in such skills as first aid, fire-building, outdoor cooking, knot-tying, and signaling.
A variety of council courses
Local councils were responsible for creating their own Scoutmaster training courses. In 1920 an article in Scouting summarized the courses being offered by 42 local councils. The courses varied widely in length and content. Some lasted six sessions, others 12.
Nearly all the courses included training in first aid, nature study, the Tenderfoot requirements, hiking skills, and Scout games. There was less concentration on such topics as troop meeting programs, discipline, troop records, and the duties of troop committees.
The training of Scoutmasters was gradually formalized during the 1920s. A Volunteer Training Service was added to the education de-partment, and by the mid-1930s a Scoutmaster's Training Course was available to local councils.
Although training for Scouters evolved somewhat slowly in the movement's early years, the BSA eventually developed one of the country's outstanding training programs for volunteer leaders.
No one appreciated the importance of training more than Chief Scout Executive James E. West, who once was asked to list the three most pressing needs of the BSA.
He wrote, "1--training; 2--more training; 3--even more training."
Contributing editor Robert Peterson wrote "The 85-Year Trail of Scouting Magazine" in the March-April issue.
Scouting Magazine Was an Early Forum for Program Ideas
The BSA publication for leaders, Scouting first appeared in March 1913 as an eight-page "bulletin," or newsletter. Even before it evolved into a full-fledged magazine in the 1920s, the publication offered Scouters an assortment of program ideas. (The third issue contained the article "Preparing for a Scout Camp.")
A popular section was "From the Scout Field," in which Scout leaders exchanged program ideas. Some examples:
Copyright © 1998 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
|The Boy Scouts of America||http://www.scouting.org|