Uniformed Boys' Youth Organizations

Figure 1.--Scoting continues to be the largest world-wide boys' youth movement, although many national Scout associations are coeducational.

Many of the youth groups popular with boys during the 20th century have required uniforms. The most obvious youth group is of course the Boy Scouts and related grous like Tiger, Cub, and Explorer Scouts. The Scouts while by far the largest group in America and many European countries, is not the only group, nor was it the first. One of the earlist groups was the Boys' Brigade with its strong Christian connection. Amrica also has Camp Fire, a coed scout-like group. All of the modern totalitarian states had their youth groups like Hitler Youth and the Pioneers. The sinister nature of NAZI ideolgy leads us to recoil at images of the Hitler Youth. Less is known of the Communist Pioneer Movement. Now that the great totalitarian states have disappeared, except in China, these groups have all been suplanted by the Scouting movement. Scoting in America and England, however, has declined a ranks are only a fraction of the 2 million American boys who once participated. The other groups like Camp Fire and the Boys' brigade are much smaller. It is unclear what has caused the decline. Certainly boys today have many more options for their free time. The cost of uniforns and dues discourages others. Recruiting sufficently commited adult leaders is another problem. The Scoting Movement has attemted to reinvent itself, with modernized merit badges incliding computers and rocketry. The future of Scoting and other groups remains to be seen.


Most people thin of the Boy Scouts and Lord Baden Powell when the subject of uniformed boys' organizations comes up. Scoutings impact on boys and Baden Powell's influence on Scouting is legendary. Many of the principles of boys' groups were laid out by a relativly unknown Scottish teacher, Sir William Smith, two decades before Baden Powell founded the Boy Scouts. The whole idea of a uniformed group and camping was conceived by Smith. In Fact Baden Powell initially conceived of promoting Scouting within the Boys' Brigade and similiar boys' organizations. From the day Sir William started the lst Glasgow, William Smith was Captain of his original Company, on parade, at Bible Class, and at Summer Camp. He gave of his best, and he. expected the best. He could warmly commend a Boy, an Officer, a Company for work well done, but he was a Scottmman and not given to lavish praise. Duty was duty, and it was its own reward.

Individual Organizations

Information is available on several different uniformed youth organizations. The Scouts are the best knowm uniformed organization today, but many others also actively function. In addition there are hundreds of groups which were once active and no longer exist. Some of these groups like the Hitler Youth in Germany, the Balial in Itlay, and the Young Pioneers in the Soviet Union and Eastern European satellite nations, were one enormously important. Much of this site is devoted to Scouting as there is so much more information on Scouting than the other groups. We hope, however, to develop more information on all the different youth movements.

Boy Scouts

Extensive information is available on the world-wide Scout movement, the premier uniformed youth group. The initial short pants uniform had a significant impact on the development of boys' fashions in the early 19th century. Many groups followed the uniform developed by Lord Baden Powell for British Scouts, but gradually developed their own destinctive styles. Many European Scout groups now give little emphasis to uniforms.

Boys Club

The Boys Club is a largely American group, although there are clubs in some other countries. The Boys' Club is the oldest American youth organization and possibly the oldest in the world. The Boys and Girls Club Movement began in the United States just before the outbreak of the the Civil War. The first Boys Club was founded in Harford, Connecticut during 1860--the Dashaway Club. Interestingly, it was the women of Harford whjo were responsoble. They were concerned about the boys who were roaming the streets without any constructive activities. Apparently the girls were not roaming and already had constructive activities to occuopy them--probably helping mom with the cooking and cleaning. The women thoughtb that the boys should have a positive alternative. They organized the first Boys' Club. Soon Clubs were opening in large cities throughout the United States. The idea spread to other areas of the country and more Clubs were formed. The first Club to use “Boys Club” in its official title was the Boys Club of New York in 1876. At this time, the Clubs served only boys. By the turn of the 20th century, there were about 50 such clubs. Representatices of 53 clubs formed a national organization (1906). Girls Clubs were also formedm but as a separate organization. They evolved into Girls, Inc. which organizes actibities for girls a serves as an advocacy group for girls. In response to a need for a girls program, the Boys Clubs began to also serve girls. The national organization officially changed its name to Boys and Girls Clubs of America (1900). There are over 4,000 Clubs in the United States serving over 4 million members. There are similar organizations in Germany, Australia, Canada, and many other countries around the world, but thev program is much smaller outside the United States.

Figure 2.--The Boys' Brigade is promoted by many churches in New Zealand. The boys are participating in a church call in 1992.

Boys' Brigade

Information on the first boy's uniform organization, a more religiously oriented group than the Boy Scouts without an emphasis on outdoor scouting, although the Boys' Brigade first conceived of summer camps. The emphasis, however, was different than the Scouts. As founder Willkiam Smith put it, "Drill and discipline." Many religious groups liked the basic idea, but wanted their exclusive organization, thus separate Jewish, Catholic, and Anglican organization were soon formed. This pattern was repeated in European Scouting where separate religious associations were formed in many countries.

Camp Fire

Some limited information is available on this American group which initially was for girls only--the Camp Fire Girls. We do not know if there were ever any foreign units. It is now a coed group and referred to as just Camp Fire. The uniforms have been a patriotic red, white, and blue.

Church Lads' Brigade

This is another Christian-oriented youth group that appeared in Britain during the late 19th century. Like the Boys' Brigade, they put a heavy emphasis on the uniform. I have few details at this time.

Fire Brigades

We have noted youth auxileries to fire departments in a few countries. So far we have mostly noted this in America and Germany. Many rural areas can not afford a professional fire deparment like the ones in built-up areas and cities. Thus they organized volunteer fire services. Many of the volunteer services had junior auxilieries. They had a variety of names such as Junior Firemen. The youth auxileries did not normally have uniforms. Professional city fire departments do not normally have these youth auxileries, although I am less sure about earlier historical periods. We also note youth fire department auxileries in Germany. Here we note quite a few groups in the ealy 20th century and this activity has cntinued into the modern era. These groups had often quite elaboate uniforms. There are probaly other countries involved, but our informtion is still very limited.


The Girl Guides were first organized in England by the wife of Lord Baden Powell. It was thought that it would not be seemly for the girls to do their scouting with boys. In America the Guides were called Girl Scouts, but elsewhere are mostly called Guides. As Scout groups in many countries have gone coeducational, in at least some levels, so have some Guide groups. Thus the name in many countries has been changed from the irl Guides to just Guides. We do not have much information on this, but we do know that some Greek boys objecting to the preceived military orientation od Scouting, have joined Guide groups.

Hitler Youth

Extensive information is available on this German natonlist group, modeled on the Boy Scouts. The Hitler Youth was a very effective tool of the NAZIs. The movement, like oyher NAZI groups, placed a great emphasis on uniforms. Interestingly, schools did not have uniforms for students--despite the NAZI predelection for uniforms.


Information on nationalist groups in specific countries. This group of organizations have declined in importance during recent years. Thet were most important during the 1930s as virulently nationlistic Governments took power in Europe and organized state-sponsored youth groups--often abolishing the Scouts. The horrors of Fascism and World War II tarnished the impages of these groups and today only a few are still active. The 20th Century has seen the rise of two basic types of boys uniformed youth groups, nationalistic and internationalistic groups. Some of the groups have been quite small while other have been supported by totalitarian states and made of of millions of boys who were required to participate. Information on these groups is often difficult to obtain. Many members of the World War II era groups, his their membership after the War.

Figure 3.--Large numbers of children participated in the Pioneer movement organized by the Government throughout Eastern Europe. These Czech children are participating in a parade, I believe during the 1980s. Notice the ubiquitous red scarves.


HBC has been able to find relatively little information on the Communist youth movements, especially in Eastern Europe. Enthusiasts probably do not not talk much about their participation--least they be branded communists. The Communist youth movements apper to have been in many ways weaker than the youth movement in democratic or Fascist countries. Young pioneers' uniforms were different from state to state. The most common was only a red scarf. Usually they wear white shirts. But not all. For instance in Poland "Polskie harceri" wear light green (khaki) shirt with two-coloured scarf. In Czechoslovakia they wear light blue shirt with red scarf. The Pioneer movement had few committed adherents and quickly disappeared one Government subsidied ended.

Religious Groups

Some boys' groups have been organized as primarily religious groups. This provides some organizational difficulties as most youth groups, except the Communist Young Pioneers and pre-World War II (1939-45) Socialist youth groups, have had a religious component. Even Scout groups organized by secukar groups have a religious component.

Royal Rangers

Information on this group similar to the Boy Scouts, but with a strong Christian component. (Only the Boy and Girl Scouts can use the term Scout in America.)

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is primarily an adult organization. There is, however, a junior auxilery. HBC at this time has only limited information on the junior auxilery. It appears to have been more important in England than other countries. The Salvation Army, for example, is very important in America than other countries. Yet we have never heard of a junior auxilery in America. An English reader has mentioned to HBC that he belonged to the Salvation Army as a boy. HBC did not realize that there was a junior auxilery. He reports that his uniform was less militaristic than the adult uniform.

Socialist groups

The Boy Scouts were organized before World War I. Until then the idea of youth groups was realtively new. The Scouts proved enormously popular throughout Europe. In most countries (except Germany and countries where they were banned--Italy and the Societ Union), they became the dominant youth group. World War I, the War to End all Wars, actually settled nothing. It did unleash enormous passions and emotions. The result was the grouth of political extremism, the Communists and Fascists. Many political groups formed their owm youth groups. These were often small political parties. One of the major groups were left wing parties like the Socialists and Communists. Left wing parties were also divided into competung groups, but this varied from country to country. The Communidts were banned in some countries. The socialists were allowed to operate and in many countries like the Social Denocrats in Germany were the major political party. There were also many small Sicialist groups. They varied in militancy. We know nothing about political party youth groups before World War I. They were very common after the War. Not all had political parties had youth groups, but a number did. It was fairly common for Socialist parties. Unfortunately we have very little information on their youth group auxileries. We believe that the Socialist groups did not give the same attention to uniforms as the Scouts. Here both anti-militarism and income levels were probably factors. We believe we have found a Socialist group in Estonia. We note the Escursionisti Rossi in Switzerlamd.


Sokol is a physical fitness and social organization founded in Prague during 1862. Its focus was on gymnastics and body building. It soon develope Czech nationalist overtones. Members seemed to have been older teenagers and young men rather than boys, although the movement became involved in promoting Scouting for boys. Sokol was organized in other provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and came to be a pan-Slavonic group. It managed, however, to operate, presumably by moderating or desguising its political message. It was, however, strongeest in what becamne Czechoslovakia after World war I.

Young Men's Christian Association

The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) was the first major youth organization. It was initially for young men, but soon began initiating important programs for boys. While not a uniformed organization, in many ways the YMCA along with the American Boys; Clubs helped lay the groundwork for the Boys' Brigade, Scouts, and other uniformed youth groups.

Unidentified Groups

HBU has noted several uniformed groups of interest about which we have been able to find little information. In some cases even the identity of these groups is unknown. This is especially true of some European groups. Please let us know if you have information about these groups, or if you have any images of groups that you can not identify.

Youth Organization Essay

HBU in collecting the information on these various groups is struck by the debate over whether the groups in the totalitarian states were different than those in the democratic states. Scouts say they were very different from the Hitler Youth or Young Pioneers. Many Hitler Youth boys and Pioneers say their group was little different than Scouting.


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Created: January 4, 1998
Last updated: 11:15 PM 7/7/2014