Eight century-old quotes about Scouting that are still relevant today

From the March 1921 issue of Scouting magazine. (BSA file photo)

A lot has changed in the Boy Scouts of America in the past 100 years.

In 1921, 1,306 young men earned the Eagle Scout Award. This year, tens of thousands of young men and young women will earn Scouting’s highest honor.

In 1921, there were just 61 merit badges available. Today, that number is 137. And what about Cub Scouting? A century ago, the official start of that popular program was still nine years away.

But for all that’s changed since 1921 — the year the BSA celebrated its 11th birthday — many things have not. The values of Scouting, for one. The unwavering commitment of volunteers, for another.

Today, as we near the BSA’s birthday on Feb. 8, I thought we’d look back on eight quotes from 1921 that are not-so-surprisingly still relevant today.

Please enjoy.

1. On Scouts being responsible citizens

“In general, human beings may be roughly classified into two divisions: the kind who throw banana peels and waste paper on the sidewalk and the kind who not only refrain from such acts of selfish irresponsibility themselves, but pick up banana peels and waste paper from the sidewalk and deposit them in the proper receptacle.”

From the February 1921 issue of Scouting magazine

Modern context: “Leave it better than you found it.” It’s a lesson Scouts will carry with them throughout their lives. It applies to obvious actions like picking up trash at a campsite, even if it was left by the previous occupant. But it also applies to bigger-picture deeds like being good stewards of the environment.

2. On Scouts helping their nation during times of need

“The Boy Scouts have done a useful work, and the readiness and efficiency with which they did it, particularly during the war period, justifies our earnest hope that their usefulness may be continued and enhanced in the future.”

President Warren G. Harding, March 17, 1921

Modern context: President Harding is referring to Scouts’ efforts during the first World War, including growing food, finding black walnut trees (to make gunstocks) and selling Liberty Bonds. A century later, in the war against COVID-19, Scouts have once again stepped up to serve.

3. On continuing Scouting during summer

“There is a temptation to slow up a bit in Scouting during the summer months, when it is a little harder to keep the troop together and working. But after all shouldn’t the long vacation be the very best time of all to carry on Scouting? Isn’t it the very time to get in merit badge work when there is no danger of interfering with lessons? … Don’t let the interest die down. Keep it sizzling.”

From the July 1921 issue of Scouting magazine

Modern context: What was a concern in 1921 is still valid today: many Scout troops choose to take a break during the summer, meeting only for a week at summer camp or two-week trip to a high-adventure base. But if you’re able to continue meeting, summers can be a great time to explore nature, visit museums, learn a new skill or take a longer troop trip that might not be possible during the school year. (Naturally, summers during a global pandemic are an exception to this guidance.)

4. On practicing ‘the gospel of cheerfulness’

“The Happy Scoutmaster practices the gospel of cheerfulness. … ‘Grumpy’ and ‘grouch’ are no friends of his. Rather he is a partner in the firm of ‘Grin and Bear It,’ and frequently reminds his Scouts to make investment in this good company.”

From the February 1921 issue of Scouting magazine

Modern context: Scoutmasters (and Cubmasters, Venturing Advisors and Sea Scout Skippers) know that young people take their cues from people they look up to. Yes, that means older Scouts, but it also means volunteers like you. Cheerfulness can spread just as quickly as crabbiness.

5. On giving young people room to explore

“The impulse to Go! Go! Go! is so compelling that impatient youth often obeys it without asking where or how. … Camp satisfies and directs this impulse.”

From the July 1921 issue of Scouting magazine

Modern context: Rather than stifling a young person’s natural desire to explore, to seek out new experiences and to breathe unfiltered air, Scouting nourishes it. As cities and towns continue to crowd out natural spaces, we’ll need Scouting to keep on opening doors to the outdoors.

6. On asking for help as a volunteer

“Don’t do all the work in Scouting yourself. In every community, there are plenty of people who would be only too glad to help in the training of your Scouts, if they knew only such help was needed. Look up your experts and get them interested. … Enlisting their aid will put new life and interest into your program and relieve you of too great a burden of responsibility.”

From the February 1921 issue of Scouting magazine

Modern context: We often think of recruiting as the task of inviting more Scouts or Venturers into your pack, troop, crew or ship. But we must recruit volunteers, too, to serve as guest speakers, merit badge counselors or other roles in your unit. Many people have a natural interest in sharing their passions and skills with others. Use that to your Scouts’ advantage.

7. On what the Scout uniform symbolizes

“It is a significant fact that the Boy Scout uniform arouses great expectations in the public mind today. It has become instinctive to expect the boy inside the uniform to be resourceful beyond his fellows, quick to know and do the right thing in emergencies, skillful with his hands, courteous, dependable, exemplary in his conduct.”

From the September 1921 issue of Scouting magazine

Modern context: As an instantly recognizable symbol of strong values, resourcefulness and preparedness, the Scout uniform’s significance has not faded. Go in public in your uniform, and you’re certain to encounter other fellow Scouts — past or present — eager to share stories of the program that shaped them.

8. On not being scared of winter

“Camping in summer has become ‘the thing.’ And now let’s make it the thing in winter. The Scouts of every community can lead the way. Let’s have a healthy nation. Let’s open our windows in winter and let the night air in, and open our doors and let ourselves out.”

From the December 1921 issue of Scouting magazine

Modern context: Scouts will camp in any weather. For many Scouts, each camping night spent in subzero conditions is a kind of trophy on their shelf. Those actions can be contagious. The simple act of willingly marching into conditions others avoid can be enough to inspire entire communities to try so-called “offseason camping” for themselves.

So how about it? Let’s open our windows and let the night air in!

About Bryan Wendell 3100 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.