Boy Scouts/Girl Guides

Jay Mechling

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Boy Scouts/Girl Guides

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The rise of organizations created by adults for children and youth was made possible by several historical forces in the second half of the 19th century. The advanced stages of industrial capitalism in Great Britain and the United States created the wealth and leisure for a middle class that did not need to put its children to work. Social movements protecting children (and animals) arose in those decades, aimed at protecting the weak from the ravages of industrialization and urbanization, while also educating them in elementary schools. Childhood had become a separate, protected stage in the life cycle, and with the publication of psychologist G. Stanley Hall’s two-volume study, Adolescence, in 1904, youth workers had a scientific concept for seeing adolescence as yet another special stage in the life cycle. In the United States, a class of social workers called “child savers” created all sorts of organizations meant to protect and nurture children and youth, from the development of separate Juvenile Courts to the creation of settlement houses. These Anglo-American organizations shared an ideology of “muscular Christianity,” which held that healthy bodies created through outdoor activities would strengthen the mental and moral fiber of a nation’s youth, an ideology that also led to an emphasis on organized sports for girls and boys in the late 19th century. The founders of these organizations also generally embraced Social Darwinism, believing that children and adolescents represent more primitive stages of human social evolution and that organizations for youth should take advantage of the instincts and drives of youth and channel them into safe and socially productive activities. In the United States and the United Kingdom, wildly fluctuating economic cycles, rising activism by women asking for equal rights, and immigration created what historians see as a crisis in masculinity that also fed the desire to create organizations to produce more manly men. In many ways, then, the organizations for children and youth were seen by adults as movements meant to revitalize their cultures, saving them from the debilitating effects of modernization. One symptom of this sensed loss was adult concern about “good character” as an important quality in both for both boys and girls. These movements aimed at building good character by building strong minds and bodies. Another factor was eugenics and concern about birth rate. As many of the continental European armies created mandatory drafts, they also heightened awareness of the importance of healthy girls (as mothers) and boys (as soldiers). This was true in British imperial literature as well.

Article.  6011 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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