** boys' uniform chronologies: 1900s

Boys' Historic Uniforms: The 1900s

Figure 1.--This portrait was taken in 1908. The country is not identified, but HBU believes that it is English. HBU has retained the same color of the original tinting.

The 1900s was the most important decade in the history of boys' uniformed groups. Several sectarian groups based on the Boys Brigade appeared in England. Baden Powell's made their appearance in the 1900s. At the time the Boys' Brigade and a variety of smaller organizations existed in England. I do not of any uniformed boys' uniformed organizations in other European countries, but some may have existed. It was the Scouts with their outdoor focus that caught the imagination of English and eventually boys all over the world.

Public Attitudes

Civic leaders in Britain, Europe, and america at the turn of 20th the century, it was thought that children needed certain kinds of education that the schools couldn't or didn't provide. Many looked at the Boys' Brigade founded in 1883 as beneficial experience for boys, but the religious and military approach did no appeal to many, including many boys. Incorporating many Brigade characteristics, with a nore universal and less military approach, a variety of youth groups, many with the word "Scout" in their names began to form. For example, Ernest Thompson Seton, an American naturalist, artist, writer, and lecturer, originated a group called the Woodcraft Indians and in 1902 wrote a guidebook for boys in his organization called the Birch Bark Roll. Meanwhile in Britain, Robert Baden-Powell, after returning to his country a hero following military service in Africa, found boys reading the manual he had written for his regiment on stalking and survival in the wild. Gathering ideas from Seton, America's Daniel Carter Beard, and other Scoutcraft experts, Baden-Powell rewrote his manual as a nonmilitary skill book, which he titled Scouting for Boys. The book rapidly gained a wide readership in England and soon became popular in the United States. In 1907, when Baden-Powell held the first campout for Scouts on Brownsea Island off the coast of England, troops were spontaneously springing up in America.

The Boy's Brigade

At the beginning of the 20th Century the Boy's Brigade was still the primary uniformed boys' youth group. In fact Baden Powell initially conceived of Scouting as a contribution to the Boys' Brigade and worked closely with Brigade leaders in the early 1900s. The Brigade, however, had a primarily British focus and sizeable numbers of boys were enrolled in only Britain and British Empire countries. Also the religious focus of the Brigade did not appeal to many boys.

Brigade Immitators

With the success of the Boys' Brigade (1883) and Church Lads' Brigade (1890), other religious groups founded boys organizations so that they could offer their boys a similar organization. The Boys' Brigade was strongly associated with the Church of Scotland. Some of the exclusivity of the Church of England (Anglican) Church Lads Brigade was designed to gain control over the program. This was also a factor for Jews and Catholics, but the fact that they were excluded from Boys' Brigade was another factor. The Jewish Lads' Brigade and the Catholic Boys' Brigade were both founded in 1900. Part of the appeal of Scouting was that boys of all denominations could join and associate--although there was initially a non-denominational Christian association.

Boy Scouting

Scouting came into being in the 1900s and soon seized the imagination of boys around the world. The lees military-like uniform abd program appealed to boys. It is interestying that the religious-groups like the Boys Brigade founded by civilians chose a very spit and polish military uniform and program foucusing on "drill and discipline" while an armybgeneral, Baden Powell, chose a much less military focus. The non-sectarian appraoch of the Scouts also appealed to many.


Baden Powell worked with Boys' Brigade representatives in the early 1900, both conceived of adding Scouting to the Brigade program.

England: Baden Powell conducted his famed Brownsea Island experiment in 1907. He followed this up by publising Scouting For Boys in 1908, thus starting the Scouting movement in England. It was an immediate hit with urban boys in London who were intrigued with the idea of camping in the country. The results were electric. Groups of boys and youth leaders all over Britain began forming Scout groups, mostly outside the Boys' Brigade structure. Conceiving the inevitable, Baden Powell proceeded to organize a separate secular youth group, the Boy Scouts. This started the English and in fact the world Scouting movement--although Cubbing did not begin in England for until the next decade. Scouting was a tremendous success with boys in London, some of whom had little outdoor experience. The movement was, however, largely a middle class movement. Many boys from poor working class families could not afford to participate.

America: William D. Boyce, a Chicago publisher, was introduced to English Scouting in 1907? by an "unknown Scout" who led him out of a dense London fog and refused to take a tip for doing a Good Turn. Boyce was inspired to meet with the British founder Lord Baden-Powell. He proceeded to promote Scouting in America. Even before Boyce, Scout troops had begun organizing themselves in America. Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 1910. Immediately after its incorporation, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was assisted by officers of the YMCA in organizing a task force to help community organizations start and maintain a high-quality Scouting program. Those efforts climaxed in the organization of the nation's first Scout camp at Lake George, New York, directed by Ernest Thompson Seton. Beard had established his own youth group, the Sons of Daniel Boone, assisted with the effort. He would later merge his group with the BSA. Also on hand for this historic event was James E. West, a lawyer and an advocate of children's rights, who later would become the first professional Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America. Seton became the first volunteer national Chief Scout, and Beard, the first national Scout Commissioner.

Scout uniforms

The original Scout uniform showed the military influence introduced by Scoutings father Lord Baden Powell. The boys wore a brown, army looking uniform with shortbpants and kneesocks. The long stockings still worn at the turn of the century did not make a great deal of sence as a garmet for active boys involved in outdoor camping and strenous activity. At the time, knee pants were associated with boys, but short pants worn with kneesocks were worn by British soldiers posted to tropical countries. Certainly the replacement of knee socks with the cumbersome long stockings of the late 19th Century was an important step toward sensible, comfortable clothing for boys--especially boys involved in strenous ourdoor activities. Presumably the adoption of shorts by the Scouts as part of the official uniform was one factor in the popularization of shorts and knee socks as appropriate boys clothing.


The Wandevogel movement was founded in Germany during 1901. The movement was similar to Scouting, but also had a sports component. It became the single most popular youth group, but never spread to other countries. As of yet I have little information on this group.

American Groups

Organized youth programs in America preceded Scouting.

Woodcraft Indians

The American author and illustrator, Ernest Thompson Seton, created the Woodcraft Indians in 1902. It was designed for boys aged 12 to 15 years and was based on North American Indian lore and outdoor life. In 1906 he added the Little Lodge of Woodcraft Indians for younger boys and girls, which in many ways was the fore runner of Cubbing, even though it took the Boy Scots many years to establish Cubbing--well after most other countries had established the program. Seton visited London in 1906 and met with Baden Powell to exchange ideas. Baden Powell eventually incorporated some of Seton's ideas and later credited Seton with being one of the fathers of Boy and Cub Scouting.

Sons of Daniel Boone

American Daniel Carter Beard founded the Sons of Daniel Boone in 1905. The name for this organization was obvious. More than any other man, Daniel Boone was responsible for the exploration and settlement of Kentucky--the western frontier of 18th century America. The Sons of Daniel Boone was in the 1900s, the larfest boys organization in America. Beard was an advocate of Scouting and eventually his organization joined the Scouting movement.

Boy's Clubs

American Boy's Clubs began opening in ther 1860s. The Boys Club is the oldest American youth organization and possibly the oldest in the world. The first Boys Club was founded in Harford, Connecticut during 1860. Soon Clubs were opened in large cities throughout the United States. By the turn of the 20th century, there were about 50 such clubs. Representatices of 53 clubs formed a national organization in 1906.

Girl Guides/Scouts

Girls in England and other countries were soon expressing an interest in a comparable scouting program. Efforts were also begun in the 1900s to launch a Girl Scout movement. The ininative was to be led by Olave Soames who married Baden Powell in 1912. The early effort in the 1900s did not receive the same popular support as the Boys Scouts. The organizers eventually had to form a differet group and call it the Girl Guides to differentiate it from the boys' program. It was not that the girls were not interested, but many in Edwardian England did not believe that rough scout-like activities were appropriate for girls who they thought should be cultivate for demure lady-like skills.

Class Connotations

Much of the support for youth organizatiins, especially boy's organizations, in thera before World War I came from church groups and the social elite as a may of addressing the problem of juvenile delinquency among the lower class. There was limited direct government support as until the turn of the century, some governments were not even adequately funding public education programs let alone social refrm efforts. The lower classes were not always enthusiastic about these efforts. Many boys were quite resistant to the Scouts and Boys' Brigade before World War I. There are reports of boys trailing after them in the streets chanting ridiculous songs about them being 'stinking, bleeding louts', hurling rocks at them and generally make their lives miserable. There was also the problem that groups like the Scouts idealised the rural life, yet rural dwellers were too aware of the hard work inherent in such a life to take Scouting seriously. Thus, you not only have a class division in such organisations; you also have a division between urban and rural dwellers. There is a good discussion of this in Tim Jeal's The Boy Man.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 7:37 AM 1/10/2011