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Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is an organization for boys between the ages of 7 and 18, and for both young men and women between the ages of 14 and 21, based in the United States of America, with some presence in other countries. BSA is part of the global Scouting movement and national member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. More than 110 million boys have passed through the organization.


Aims and principles

The BSA is the largest youth organization in the United States. Its aim is to provide an educational program for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness. The purpose of the BSA, to develop character and leadership, is carried on primarily through outdoor activities including camping, hiking, canoeing and other related activities. There is an emphasis on personal development through community service, assuming leadership positions, and individual challenge through Merit Badges.

Early history


The Boy Scouts of America was inspired by and modeled on the Boy Scouts, established by Robert Baden-Powell in Britain in 1907. It also borrowed ideas from Sir Ernest Thompson Seton, the YMCA, and a number of other "Scouting" organizations for boys that had sprung up in the decade of the 1900s in the United States and abroad.

The Boy Scouts of America was established in 1910 by William D. Boyce. The story of how Boyce came to be interested in Scouting has appeared in various forms. All versions agree on the following: Boyce, a publisher from Chicago, was lost in London's famous fog when he was met by a boy who showed him the way to his destination; the boy then refused an offer of payment for his services.

Some versions claim that Boyce actually knew about Scouting before he ever met the boy in question, having in fact come to London with the intent of learning more about the organization, and that the place he was seeking in the fog was actually Scouting headquarters. (Baden-Powell was associated with the YMCA; news of the Boy Scouts had reached the U.S. through this organization.) Some assert that the boy vanished into the fog after refusing Boyce's money, but others declare that the two arranged to meet again, so that the boy could show Boyce to the headquarters. Still others hold that the boy was uniformed at the time. The truth of the matter may never be known for sure.

Boyce returned to the United States and, with two other businessmen, Edward S. Stewart and Stanley D. Willis , incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on February 8. The first troop was Troop 1, based at a YMCA. Edgar Robinson , an important administrator of the YMCA in Chicago, agreed to help Boyce organize the Boy Scouts as a national organization.

In 1910, Seton, Beard, Baden-Powell, Boyce, Robinson and others called a national meeting of people involved in youth work. The first national officers of the BSA were selected. It was agreed that the President of the United States (then William Howard Taft) was to be the Honorary President of the BSA, a tradition that is still followed today.

Rival organizations

The BSA had many rival organizations in its early days, including:

  • the American Boy Scouts , (later "United States Boy Scouts") founded by William Randolph Hearst;
  • the National Scouts of America , affiliated with a military school and headed by Colonel Peter Bomus ;
  • the Peace Scouts of California ;
  • the YMCA Scouts ;
  • the Rhode Island Boy Scouts ;
  • the Leatherstocking Scouts ;
  • the Sons of Daniel Boone, founded by Daniel Carter Beard, who became associated with the BSA soon aferward;
  • and the Woodcraft Indians, founded by Ernest Thompson Seton, who met Baden-Powell in person in 1906 also soon became influential in the BSA.

The Woodcraft Indians and the Sons of Daniel Boone eventually merged with Boyce's organization; the consolidation was complete by the late 1910s. Most of the other rival organizations would also merge with the BSA. The United States Boy Scouts did not, leading the BSA to file a lawsuit.


In 1911, the Boy Scouts of America published the first American Boy Scout manual ("Handbook for Boys"), a revision of Seton's version. This was the first appearance of the American Scout Oath and Law. The British version was a pledge of allegiance to the King. James E. West wrote the Scout Oath, and added three points to the British version of the Scout Law (brave, clean and reverent).

In 1912, Sea Scouting became an official program. Sea Scouting is now part of the Venturing program of the Boy Scouts of America focused primarily on maritime activities. Boys' Life magazine also began in 1912, and continues today to be the official Boy Scout magazine. In 1913, the Scouting magazine for leaders started.

Boy Scouts have served at every presidential inauguration since Woodrow Wilson's in 1913.

Paul Sleman , Colin H. Livingstone , Ernest S. Martin and James E. West successfully lobbied Congress for a federal charter for BSA, which President Woodrow Wilson signed on June 15, 1916. It reads:

That the purpose of this corporation shall be to promote, through organization and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in Scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues, using the methods which are now in common use by Boy Scouts.

Also in 1916, Baden-Powell organized Wolf Cubs in Britain, for boys too young for the Boy Scouts (minimum age twelve at the time). In BSA, Wolf Cubs became Cub Scouts.

In 1919 Baden-Powell began a training program called Wood Badge for adult leaders in Scouting. It was instituted all over the world and is still in use today.

In 1920 the first International Scout Jamboree, a gathering of scouts from all over the world, was held in London. Jamborees are currently held every four years, in varying countries. It will never be held in the United States because BSA, in contrast to numerous other Scouting organizations around the globe, accepts female youth members only within its Venturing Division, and not in the Cub Scout or Boy Scout divisions.

In 1937, oil magnate Waite Phillips donated to the BSA a large tract of land in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. This is now the Philmont Scout Ranch.

The Order of the Arrow, a Scouting Honor Society began in 1915. It was officially recognized by the National Council in 1936 and became fully integrated into the BSA in 1948.


BSA's National Office is currently located in Irving, Texas. The National Organization is divided into four regions each composed of area Councils, which range in size from two small West Virginia counties (Mountaineer Council) to all of DC and much of Maryland and northern Virginia (National Capital Area Council). The Councils may be further divided into Districts.

The fundamental unit of organization within Boy Scouts of America is the small group called the patrol. Several patrols are grouped into a larger unit known as a Pack, Troop, or Crew, dependent upon the particular BSA Scouting division. Actual operation varies from unit to unit, and in many cases, few decisions are made at the patrol level.

The BSA has three membership divisions:

  • Cub Scouting is for boys between the first and fifth grades, or 7-10 years old. Cub Scouting has ten purposes, including preparing boys to become Boy Scouts. Cub Scouts meet in dens of six to eight boys, and several dens are grouped together as a pack.
  • Boy Scouting is for boys ages 11-17. It is perhaps the best known (though not the largest) of the divisions. Also existing for boys 14-17 is a separate program known as Varsity Scouts.
  • Venturing is for young men and women ages 14-20. Venturing emphasises the traditional outdoor activities, along with youth ministries, arts & hobbies, and other non-vocational programs. It provides co-educational opportunities for older teens and young adults. The Venturing Division also includes Sea Scouts.

The BSA has a separate division called Learning for Life . The Learning for Life program also contains the Exploring program for young men and women ages 14-20. Exploring is vocation oriented program, with Post focused on police, fire/rescue, law, engineering, and other fields.

Creed and rank advancement

The Scout Motto
Be Prepared.
The Scout Slogan
Do a Good Turn Daily.
The Scout Oath
On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country and 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
A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
The Outdoor Code
As an American, I will do my best to be clean in my outdoor manners, be careful with fire, be considerate in the outdoors, and be conservation-minded.
The Scout Sign
The middle three fingers are raised and the tips of the little finger and thumb joined, with the upper arm held horizontally and the forearm vertically.
The Scout Salute
The hand is held in the same position as in the Scout Sign, with the pointer touching the forehead or hat brim. This is a modification of the salute used by militaries around the world.
The Scout Handshake
This is the traditional handshake done with the left hand instead of the right. This stems from the Scouts' military traditions; a soldier must keep his right hand free to grab his weapon. Another reason for the left handed handshake is that the left hand is closer to one's heart.

The ranks of Boy Scouting are, in order of award:

  • Scout
  • Tenderfoot
  • Second Class
  • First Class
  • Star
  • Life
  • Eagle

The ranks up to First Class are awarded for knowledge of Scout skills (first aid, cooking, knots, etc.) The Star and Life ranks require that the boy serve in a position of responsibility for several months (most of the positions listed in Troop Organization below are acceptable for this requirement) and perform community service. The Eagle Scout rank likewise requires a position of responsibility, as well as a large community service project planned entirely by the Eagle Scout candidate, and the earning of 12 specifically required merit badges plus 9 more, for a total of 21. (A portion of the merit badge requirement must be completed for both the Star and Life ranks.) The ranks require a progressively increasing commitment to the Scout Oath and Law (see above). (A full listing of requirements can be found at List of BSA rank requirements.)

After attaining the rank of Eagle, a scout may earn Eagle palms. For three months of troop service and five additional merit badges beyond the twenty-one required for the Eagle Rank, a Bronze Palm is earned. If a Scout fulfills this requirement a second time, he earns a Gold Palm, and for a third time a Silver Palm. If he continues his progress, he may receive additional palms in the same repeating order.

Every rank advancement involves a Scoutmaster conference and a Board of Review. At the conference, the Scout is tested on his knowledge of all skills required for the rank he seeks to advance to, and all ranks he has earned. The Board of Review is a test of the Scout's personal growth and his relationship with the Scouting organization.


Scout activities are conducted at the discretion of the troop, but all troops' programs have some similarities.

Troops typically hold meetings once a week, though some do not meet during the summer. The activities conducted at troop meetings vary widely, from Scout skills training to camping trip planning to games.

Patrol meetings independent of troop meetings may be held to conduct troop business, such as the creation of a patrol flag. Most patrols do not hold regular meetings independent of troop meetings, but some go so far as to organize their own outings. Patrol activities are planned by the patrol leader (see Organization).

Troops also typically hold excursions once a month or more. These are typically camping trips. These campouts are an important place for Scouts to work on skills and rank advancement, and also to entertain themselves. Some troops also hold regular backpacking trips. Other excursions are more unusual, involving, for example, rafting, climbing or rappelling.
It is common for several troops within a district to gather at least once a year at a special weekend campout called a camporee. A camporee is a competition, with events such as knot tying, flagpole raising and flag ceremony, and orienteering. Troops place varying amounts of emphasis on preparing for camporees, and those that win the highest awards usually do so by making camporee their first priority. Similar to a camporee, a jamboree occurs less often and draws troops from an entire Council (made up of several districts).

Most councils, if not all, own and operate one or more permanent camps. These camps host a variety of activities throughout the year, but are most heavily used during the summer. Troops stay at these camps for a week at a time. Summer camps are important places for the earning of merit badges, particularly those that require special facilities, such as archery or canoeing. Purely recreational activities are also available, and most camps offer day-long overnight side trips. Troops may choose to attend the summer camp operated by their own council, or one in a more distant location.

Every four years (except between 2005 and 2010 to co-incide with the centennial of BSA) the National Council holds its National Scout Jamboree. These are usually held at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia and draw more than 30,000 Scouts from across the United States.

The national Scout organization also operates a number of high-adventure bases, including Philmont Scout Ranch, the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, and Northern Tier High Adventure Bases. Troops may choose to visit high-adventure bases instead of or in addition to the standard summer camp.

Unit organization

There are several adults which oversee a Boy Scout troop, the head of these being the Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster is the central adult responsible for the safety and continuity of the troop. Several trained and uniformed Assistant Scoutmasters assist him in troop operations. The Troop Committee, generally composed of any of the Scouts' parents who wish to participate, deals with troop business matters. The Committee often creates subcommittees and selects officers.

Troops are associated with Chartered Organizations, which often provide a meeting space and other assistance. The Chartered Organization Representative is the liaison handling the relations between a troop's Committee and its chartered organization.

Troops are divided into patrols of several boys, commonly between six and eight. Each patrol elects a Patrol Leader (PL), who may then appoint an Assistant Patrol Leader (APL). The highest position of responsibility within the troop is that of the Senior Patrol Leader (SPL), elected by the troop at large, followed by his Assistant Senior Patrol Leader (ASPL). ASPLs are appointed by the SPL with the advice of the Scoutmaster. Larger troops may have multiple ASPLs serving simultaneously.

The SPL, ASPL, and Patrol Leaders make up the Patrol Leader's Council (PLC), the governing body of the troop. The SPL is the leader of the troop and the PLC. This group is responsible for organizing meetings, events, and outings. Some troops will include other positions (such as Scribe) on the Patrol Leader's Council. For any particular patrol, the Assistant Patrol Leader fills in when the Patrol Leader is absent.

Non-leadership positions of responsibility include:

  • One or more Quartermasters to keep track of troop-owned camping gear and other equipment
  • Older Scouts may be assigned to patrols as Troop Guides, to instruct the younger boys
  • A Historian to keep troop records
  • A Librarian to keep the troop's library of merit badge handbooks and other official literature
  • A Scribe, whose responsibilities may include taking attendance at meetings, collecting dues, keeping notes at patrol leaders' council meetings, and helping to write a troop newsletter
  • A Bugler to play the troop bugle at flag ceremonies and other appropriate occasions
  • One or two Chaplain's Aides to conduct Scout's Own nondenominational religious services whenever Scouts are at a Scout activity on a Sunday
  • Any older Scout may work with a local Cub Scout Pack as a Den Chief
  • Scouts may volunteer as Junior Assistant Scoutmasters to help the adult leaders with their various tasks.
  • An Order of the Arrow Troop Representative to serve as a liaison between troop members and the local OA lodge.

Troops are grouped into districts covering a small geographical area. Districts are likewise organized into councils. There are over three hundred councils, organized into Regions, subsidiary to the National Council.

Awards, honors and symbolism

The BSA offers many awards and honors, such as:

  • 20, 40, 60 and 100 Nights under the Stars awards (Nights under the Stars include all forms of camping.);
  • 50 Miler awards for hiking or watercraft trips of 50 miles, plus 10 hours of hiking-related community service;
  • The Mile Swim award, for swimming one mile nonstop;
  • The Heroism Award, for heroic action such as saving a life;
  • The Honor Medal, for resourcefulness and skill in saving or trying to save a life.
  • Square Knot awards are given for significant good deeds. Patches may have different color schemes according to the good deed done. Most Square Knot awards can be earned to adults only, with the exception of the youth religious emblems.
  • The Totin' Chip card is given to Scouts who have learned how to safely use sharp-edged tools.
  • The Firem'n Chit card is given to Scouts who have learned how to safely build and light a campfire.
  • Religious emblems are granted in conjunction with various religious denominations.

Badges of rank:

  • The Scout rank badge has a brown fleur-de-lis on a greenish-yellow background. The fleur-de-lis symbolizes a compass needle, pointing the Scout in the right direction, which is onward and upward.
  • The Tenderfoot rank badge has a yellow fleur-de-lis, with a star on each of the two lateral points, an eagle on the center, and a shield on the eagle's chest colored somewhat like the American flag. The stars symbolize truth and knowledge; the eagle and shield symbolize freedom and readiness to defend that freedom.
  • The Second Class rank badge has a yellow horizontal scroll with the words of the Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared," the ends turned up, and a knotted rope hanging from the bottom. The knot symbolizes a reminder for each scout to remember the Scout slogan which is to "Do A Good Turn Daily." This emblem represents service. The upturned ends of the scroll symbolize cheerfulness in service.
  • The First Class rank badge combines the emblems for Tenderfoot and Second Class.
  • The Star rank badge has the First Class emblem on top of a yellow star.
  • The Life rank badge has the First Class emblem on top of a red heart, signifying that the ideals of Scouting have become a part of the Scout's life and character.
  • The Eagle Scout badge has a grey eagle, and a grey scroll like that on the Second Class emblem. They are on a tricolor background ringed with the words "Eagle Scout: Boy Scouts of America."

Merit badges may be earned in any of more than one hundred different subjects. Some merit badges relate to personal development and adult living; others represent Scout skills; many are handicrafts or hobbies; most are potential career options.

Uniform and insignia

The standard Scout uniform, worn by Scouts and adult leaders, includes:

  • A beige button-up shirt, with two front pockets. Most Scouts opt for the short-sleeve version.
  • Green pants or shorts with multiple pockets, made of a material similar to that of blue jeans
  • A cloth, webbed belt with a brass buckle. The end of the belt has a brass tab. When worn the brass tab should be aligned in contact with the brass buckle so that there is no gap between the buckle and end of the belt.
  • A neckerchief. Neckerchief designs are unique to every troop.
  • Green socks with two red bands near the top are worn with shorts and at one time were the only type of approved socks to be worn with the uniform. Shorter, all-green socks without red bands may now be worn with long pants.
  • An optional green baseball cap with red brim and Scouting insignia on the forehead is one of the approved forms of headgear. There are many other styles (beret, etc.) that a troop may adopt.
  • Some troops institute coup beads. These vary between troops, but the basic principle is this: A thick piece of leather is worn on the belt, with leather thongs hanging from it. For every Scout activity in which he participates, a Scout is awarded a special bead (or sometimes a pair, for symmetry) that is slipped onto the thong.

Many patches are worn at specific places on the uniform shirt:

  • On the left sleeve, from the top down: a pentagonal patch representing the council to with the Scout belongs, an optional strip listing the age of the troop, the number of the troop, a patch representing any position of responsibility he may hold, and a patch signifying that the Scout (or adult leader) has undergone leadership training.
  • On the right sleeve, from the top down: a U.S. flag, and an optional patch representing the name of the patrol to which the Scout belongs, and a "Quality Unit" patch at the bottom, which is awarded annually to troops that meet certain criteria.
  • Shoulder loops on buttoned epaulets. The shoulder loops are colored bands that signify the organization which the scout is active in. Cub Scouts wear blue, Boy Scouts wear red, Varsity Scouts wear blaze, and Venturers wear green. At the higher levels of organization, adult employees and representatives of the Council wear silver and national employees and representatives wear gold.
  • On the left pocket, a badge of rank.
  • Below the left pocket, a Scout may wear the "Arrow of Light Award," signifying that the Scout earned the highest award in Cub Scouting when he was a Cub Scout. This is the only insignia that may be transitioned between these two membership divisions.
  • Above the left pocket, centered between the pocket and the epaulet, any scout may wear the World Scout Emblem.
  • On the right pocket, a patch awarded at a summer camp or other activity, a Nights under the Stars award, or any other temporary insignia.
  • Above the right pocket some Scouts wear a name badge or pin and sometimes an interpreter strip, signifying the ability to speak another language fluently. The space above that is reserved for a National Jamboree patch.
  • On the right pocket flap, a patch signifying membership in the Order of the Arrow.


The Boy Scouts give female adult leaders all of the privileges of male adult leaders. Although this was not true in decades past, the policy was instituted in response to a shortage of adult males willing to participate actively in running the troops. While many scouting adults do have their own children in the program, it is not necessary to have a child in the program to be actively involved with a scout unit.

Until 1954, the Boy Scouts of America was a racially segregated organization. Colored Troops, as they were officially known, were given little support from Districts, Councils and the national offices. Some scouting executives and leaders believed that Colored Scouts and Leaders would be less able to live up to the ideals of the Boy Scouts.

Some practices of the organization have received increased public attention, largely beginning in the last quarter of the 20th century. Two particularly controversial policies have been the BSA leadership's prohibition (usually enforced) of atheist or known or avowed homosexual members and leaders. Some donors of funding or meeting space have reduced their support in protest of these policies while other donors have increased their support of Scouting in part specifically due to the policies.

BSA policy has also led to disagreement between the BSA and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The UUA has tolerance as one of its defining virtues, and this includes respect and inclusion of atheists, gays, and lesbians. The BSA, which had long recognized the UUA religious badges, along with the badges of other religions that utilized the Boy Scout programs, withdrew recognition of the badges, saying that Boy Scouts could no longer wear Unitarian Universalist badges on their uniforms. The UUA attempted to compromise, removing language that the BSA considers offensive from its official program manuals and informing young Unitarian Universalist Boy Scouts of the UUA viewpoint regarding tolerance through other means. However, the BSA did not accept the UUA alternative. The UUA decided to continue its Boy Scout program and encourage Boy Scouts to wear the Unitarian Universalist religious badges on their uniforms.

The BSA believes that "an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law". Officially, the BSA makes no effort to discover the sexual orientation of any person. Critics contend that some leaders within BSA have investigated and expelled non-avowed homosexuals from the organization [1].

Lawsuits over this matter have gone as high as the United States Supreme Court, which ruled (in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale) that the BSA is a private association with the right to set its own standards for membership and leadership.

One of the major contributors to the BSA, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"; see also Mormon), may have had some influence in the BSA's homosexuality policy by threatening to remove its support of the BSA if this policy is changed. This church has, throughout the BSA's existence, supported the organization both financially and by providing many members. Some people have found this strange, noting that the LDS church currently sponsors scouting troops in Canada where Scouts Canada permits homosexuals to join. In both cases, the troops sponsored are composed of the church members in the area, thus being inherently non-homosexual in nature. This church is against homosexuality in Boy Scouting because of its own beliefs against homosexuality, noting a desire to ensure that their children's troops are not led by people whose beliefs directly contradict their own.

Some contend that individual councils, such as the Boston Minuteman Council and Old Colony Council of Massachusetts, have not enforced the controversial policies, apparently defying the national council. In August 2001, a spokesperson for the Boston Minuteman Council was quoted by the Boston Globe as saying "Discussions about sexual orientation do not have a place in Scouts. the Scouts will not inquire into a person's sexual history, and that person will not expose their sexual orientation one way or the other." The council argued that their "don't ask, don't tell" policy does not, in fact, conflict with the national policy, but in public discussions, some supporters and opponents of the national policy have regarded the above-cited Massachusetts' councils' policies as meaningfully different from the national policy.

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