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From The Spectator, 1909

"The Spectator" is a still-running British weekly magazine on politics, culture, and current affairs, that was first published in July 1828.  Boris Johnson, current British Prime Minister, was Editor from 1999 to 2005.

Following the very first Scout Rally at Crystal Palace on Saturday, 4 September 1909 (see here), at which some girls in Scout Uniform were present, The Spectator published two intersting articles about Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, followed by an exchange of correspondence initiated and closed by Violet Markham.

11 Sep 1909


NO one who has marked parties of Boy Scouts in various parts of the country on holiday afternoons, much less, we should think, any one who was present at the Crystal Palace last Saturday to see the first annual "rally" of the Scouts, can doubt that a new movement is prospering very rapidly among us. Some day the Scouts may be of immediate service to the country in a crisis; but even if their talents are never turned to actual military purposes, the handiness, discipline, observation, and chivalry cultivated by the corps will be a most valuable possession which will tell in many indirect ways. Nearly two years ago we wrote of the Boy Scouts and wished the organisation success. General Baden-Powell had then been lecturing in different parts of England in support of it, and had just published the first of a series of small books in which he told every boy how he may become a Scout and what he will be expected to do. General Baden-Powell has invented for English boys a spare-time occupation which is something between an adventure and a military discipline. "Peace-Scouting" appeals to that in the heart of all children which makes them say "Let's pretend," and to that in the heart of boys which makes them love to read Fenimore Cooper and to play at being Red Indians. It was a brilliant inspiration of General Baden-Powell to seize upon that undeveloped land of youthful fancy and make use of it. The problem was exactly how to do this without causing boys to think that they were being hocussed in some way,— being caught unawares, having powder administered to them in jam, or piety in the form of good-fellowship, or being taught a holiday task in the form of a game. If any such ideas as those had got abroad the movement would have failed. It had to be unconventional and romantic, and yet not affected or silly. It had, in fact, deliberately to run the risk that some boys of light and leading would vote it "rot" with the fine contempt of the boy in "Vice-Versa " when he sums up the children's party as consisting of "bushy games and a conjurer." The success of the Boy Scout organisation proves that General Baden-Powell understood boyhood accurately — more accurately, we confess, than we supposed at the time.

Some persons may think the costume of the boys (the Colonial style of felt hat, the handkerchief round the throat, and the abbreviated knickerbockers) "affected" because un-suited to our country and our climate. We disagree. One need not swallow all "Sartor Resartus" to acknowledge the influence of clothes upon the man. This uniform has evidently the right influence upon boys. It is delightfully free and easy, and the feel of it means independence and comfort. What might be a too painful peculiarity if one boy appeared alone in the uniform is a source of pride, and also of proselytism, when enough boys move about together to fortify one another, and when they are welcomed and recognised for what they are all over the country. We never had any doubts about the uniform; but we had some about the exotic character of what may be called the rites and ceremonies of the corps. Let us give an example. In his instructions General Baden-Powell says that when the boys have been formed in patrols and troops and have learned their secret signs, the time has come for them to enjoy a war-dance :—

"The boys then form into a wide circle, into the middle of which one steps forward and carries out a war-dance, representing bow he tracked and fought with one of his enemies. He goes through the whole fight in dumb show, until he finally kills his foe, the scouts meantime still singing the Ingonyama chorus, and dancing on their own ground. So soon as he finishes the fight, the leader starts the 'Be Prepared' chorus, which they repeat three times in honour of the scout who has just danced. Then they recommence the Ingonyama chorus, and another scout steps into the ring, and describes in dumb show how he stalked and killed a wild buffalo. While he does the creeping up and stalking the animal, the scouts all crouch and sing their chorus very softly, and as he gets more into the fight with the beast, they similarly spring up and dance and shout the chorus loudly. When he has slain the beast, the leader again gives the 'Be Prepared' thorns in his honour, which is repeated three times, the scouts banging their staffs on the ground at the same time as they stamp 'Bom ! Bom !' At the end of the third repetition, 'Bom ! Bom !' is repeated the second time. The circle then close together, turn to their left again, grasping shoulders with the left hand, and move off, singing the Ingonyama chorus, or, if it is not desired to move away, they break up after the final "Bom ! Bom !"?

We thought when we first read this that the British boy would be much too self-conscious to stand up in a ring and do this piece of acting with enough Elan to be impressive, for surely a half-hearted, lack-lustre performance would be simply ridiculous. We do not know now whether this scene is popular among Boy Scouts, and we should like to be informed. "Psychologically," as the cant phrase is, it is at a rather interesting point. Other devices recommended by General Baden-Powell need less assurance, such as the "Ingonyama chorus." The leader of the chorus cries "Een gonyama gonyama!" which means "He is a lion !" and the chorus answers : "Invooboo, Yah bo ! Yah bo ! Invooboo," which means " Yes ! he is better than that; he is a hippopotamus !"  One knows from American College yells that the sense matters little, and probably troubles nobody; the essential thing is a collection of syllables which can be easily framed and shouted.

From that point of view we should think the "Ingonyama chorus" answers very well. We perceive the need for all such devices to be rather extravagant —it is a kind of organised insanity in externals that attracts boys — but we ourselves thought that indigenous sentiments and ideas might be used instead of very remote and savage ones. It seems, however, that our doubts under all these heads were unnecessary. If General Baden-Powell had made any serious mistake in his estimate of boyish fancy, the movement could not possibly have had such a notorious success as it has won.

The games of observation played by the Scouts are all delightful. Like Kim, when he practised the art of taking a quick encompassing view by trying to remember the various precious stones which had been set before him for a moment on a tray, the Scouts are always on the alert to take in all they see, and have necessarily a new interest in the most familiar scenes. No practised Scout could walk in the town without noticing, say, the number of horses as compared with motors, the contents of shops, the size of buildings; and so forth, or walk in the country without observing the position and amount of the water-supplies, the character of the timber, and the state of the crops. The official tests for Scouts are of exactly the right kind to ensure handiness, quickness, and accuracy. Thus

"To pass the second-class test a boy must tie four of the following knots in less than thirty seconds for each knot : bowline, fisherman's-bend, reef knot, clove hitch, and sheet bend; he must track a spoor for a quarter of a mile in not more than fifteen minutes, or describe satisfactorily the contents of one shop window out of four observed for one minute each; and he must go at scout's pace for one mile in not more than thirteen minutes, know the scouts' laws and signs, and know the right way to fly the Union Jack. To become a first-class scout a boy, in addition to this test, must indicate the points of the compass from where he stands, make a journey alone of not less than fifteen miles from point to point, describe the proper means of saving life in various accidents, be able to read and write, have at least sixpence in the Savings Bank, prove that he brought a recruit and taught him to tie the six principal knots, and lay and light a fire, using not more than two matches, and cook a quarter of a pound of flour and two potatoes without using cooking utensils."

At the Crystal Palace "rally" there were no fewer than eleven thousand Scouts, and among them was a troop of Girl Scouts. During a sham fight by some Territorials and the Legion of Frontiersmen the Scouts showed what they could do as non-combatants by taking orders from one body of defenders to another, helping the wounded, and rescuing women and children from a burning building. General Baden-Powell, addressing them before the march past, told them that all men are either workers or shirkers; Scouts had real work to do, because all their services were intended for others; they must carry out the special Scout duty "of doing a good turn every day to some one." The King, with his usual discrimination, has recognised that the Boy Scout organisation is not a negligible toy, but may do a vast amount of good, not merely in strengthening the discipline of boys, but in showing them that thought for others, which includes concern for one's country, is the beginning of all self-respect. The time which has passed since we first wrote on this subject has proved that the idea of the Boy Scouts has struck a new vein, and, so far as we can see, a very rich one. We welcome the organisation heartily. But it may be said:

"Will not every new organisation which consumes a certain amount of effort distract attention and enthusiasm from the supreme benefit of compulsory military training ? If so, how can you consistently encourage these minor successes, which really stand in the way of your chief object?"

The answer is twofold. First, we do not believe that any kind of unofficial or quasi-military training lessens the desire to render a more regular service to the country. On the contrary, we believe that it increases it. The greater the number of Territorials, and Boy Scouts (who, after all, belong to a very different category), and members of the Boys' Brigade and the Church Lads' Brigade, the greater will be the number of those who support the principle of compulsory training. Secondly, even if this were not true, we accept the common-sense doctrine of taking what we can get. Here in the Boy Scouts is a movement which manifests its vitality all over the country. We hear that there are already over a quarter of a million boys enrolled. The physical and moral advantages are very great. We shall not willingly postpone these advantages to another object the achievement of which may or may not be thereby inappreciably delayed.



4 Dec 1909 (p30) p942



SIR,—Some weeks since you allowed me to advocate the cause of Boy Scouts in your columns. May I draw your attention to an offshoot of this movement which seems to me thoroughly mischievous,—namely, Girl Scouts ? Again I can speak from personal experience. A corps of Girl Scouts has sprung up in a town with which I am acquainted ; twenty girls or more, varying in age from twelve to sixteen, under the direction of a young Scoutmaster who has had considerable success with Boy Scouts. The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts roam the countryside together on what I can only describe as glorified larking expeditions, expeditions from which they have been known to return home as late as ten p.m. The girls wear a red cross upon their arms, a symbol one is sorry to see in this connexion. Drill takes place at the Drill Hall—a building intended for men and boys—and I have heard of girls being there at an equally late hour. No woman of any kind has up to the present been connected with the movement, proper supervision and control likewise being non-existent. These mixed corps on returning from country expeditions are dismissed when the town is reached, girls and boys .finding their way home often in a state of very undesirable excitement. Boots and clothes, seldom unfortunately of the best quality, suffer severely from these expeditions, the girls often coming in soaked through, and thoroughly chilled at the end of a winter day. Naturally anxiety and protest have been excited by these proceedings. Many parents to my knowledge object strongly to their girls joining the Scouts, complaining of the lawless spirit to which it leads; and an unfounded rumour that the local girls' club was in sympathy with the movement called forth strong comment from many anxious mothers.

I have described a local manifestation, but the wider issue remains to be considered. It may be argued that with proper control the evils I have sketched could be avoided. For the mixed scouting described above not one word of defence is possible ; but, speaking as the head of a Settlement with some experience of girls' clubs, may I still urge the undesirability of any general development of this Girl Scouts scheme even on reorganised lines? In the first place, scouting for girls leads nowhere from the national point of view. It is not suggested that we should recruit our Army from women, and Morse signalling as a feminine accomplishment strikes me as singularly superfluous at a time when the decay of household arts is a word of reproach to women in every walk of life. The whole spirit of excitement and self- advertisement bred by the movement is highly objectionable, and from what I have seen myself I cannot too strongly deprecate the tone and temper it creates among children at a difficult and impressionable age. Girls are not boys, and the training which develops manly qualities in the one may lead to the negation of womanliness in the other. To provide healthy and happy recreation for young people, to give them as much fresh air as possible, is an aim always before the head of a girls' club. But such recreation surely should be directed so as to encourage and not to destroy self-respect, dignity, and gentleness,—qualities which are essential to the nation if the wives and mothers of to-morrow are to piny their parts worthily. Ambulance work and Red Cross classes are most desirable for girls, but it is not necessary to associate these things with night attacks or ranging the country with a long pole.

I hear from the Boy Scouts' headquarters that six thousand girls have already enrolled themselves as Scouts, and that a scheme for Girl Scouts is being formulated. I trust that public opinion will assert itself strongly as regards this proposal The friends of Boy Scouts can only feel that an admirable movement will be jeopardised seriously by the objections which must follow the spread of Girl Scouts, and this con- sideration alone, apart from any others, might well give the promoters pause.
—I am, Sir, &c.,

Topton House, Chesterfield.

[We heartily endorse Miss Markham's protest. Not only is scouting work most unsuitable for girls, but if it is persisted in it cannot but rain a movement which may well prove of immense advantage, moral and physical, to the nation,—a movement for the making of good citizens. We desire, then, to appeal most earnestly to General Sir R. S. S. Baden-Powell to stop this mischievous new development. Even if he does not agree with this protest, he will, we trust, see the wisdom of not jeopardising the cause of the Boy Scouts by setting public opinion against them, as he most certainly will by insisting on this mad scheme of military co-education.

ED. Spectator. ]

11 Dec 1909 (p14) p994



Sir,—The letter and editor's footnote in your last issue under the heading of "Girl Scouts" call for some reply from one who has really studied the new scheme. Let me, in the first place, state that I am entirely in agreement with certain points in Miss Markham's letter. If, as she says, the movement is to lead to girls "being out late at night," -" returning soaked through" and in an excited and lawless state of mind, in fact, losing their self-respect, then it is surely to be condemned. Public opinion is naturally against "military co-education" by mixing Boy Scouts and girls, and anything of the sort would injure the former movement. But before utterly con- demning it, it is fair to look into the new scheme, as outlined in the November number of the Headquarters Gazette, from which I will quote. The girls' organisation is to be known as the "Girl Guides," the charming idea being that, "if we want the manhood of the country to be men of character, it is essential that the future mothers and wives—the ' guides ' of these men—should also be women of character." "Girls must be partners and comrades rather than dolls." "As things are, one sees our streets crowded in the evenings with girls, overdressed and idling, learning to live aimless, unprofit- able lives." Ladies have pressed me to start Girl Guides in this village to stop the girls " frequenting " the lanes of an evening. What is the remedy ? Surely it is worth while giving this scheme a trial. Better that a girl should become a " tomboy " than an idle doll with poor morals. But this scheme is not in any respect designed to produce "tomboys," but to encourage refinement and self-respect combined with utility. Miss Markham instances a scratch troop of Girl Scouts, badly managed by a "Master," but the new scheme is to be entirely in the hands of ladies' com- mittees, and a company may only be officered by ladies. There is to be no "ranging the country with a pole," except that organised country walks to teach observation, Nature study, &c., will be held. To illustrate the real utility of the things taught, I cannot do better than quote the testa of skill required for the various "efficiency badges." To obtain the "Red Cross" which Miss Markham takes exception to, the girls must pass in all branches of first aid and hospital nursing, and have a good knowledge of the laws of health and sanitation, so rare nowadays. There are badges for cooking, to include washing up and waiting at table ; nursing, to include care of children and elementary instruction; music; art, to include drawing, painting, carving, &c. ; tailoring, for sewing, &c. ; florist, for knowledge of gardening and wild flowers ; masseuse, for anatomy and massage; and so on. The signal- ling which Miss Markham deprecates is an excellent form of physical drill, since it not only exercises the body without strain, but also the brain. I have the greatest admiration for girls' clubs such as Miss Markham's, but they are not possible everywhere. The "Girl Guides" will attract every class of girl, from the most retiring to the most "modern"; not only will it attract, but it will hold them, and possibly form a " feeder " to the Territorial organisation of voluntary aid, a desirable object, which the Spectator would be the last to oppose.
—I am, Sir, &c.,



Sir, —Having been in a certain limited sense an advocate of some outdoor organisation for girls planned on lines parallel with, but entirely separate and distinct from, that known as the "Boy Scouts," the letter of Miss Violet Markham in the Spectator of the 4th inst. is more than disconcerting: it is deafly a distinct danger-signal to all those who have the true woman- liness of our girls at heart. Fortunately, however, for his own peace of mind, though the present writer has published some few letters and articles on the subject of some form of outdoor game or minor tactical exercises for girls, he and his friends have always and consistently advocated (1) leadership of girls by educated and refined gentlewomen only ; (2) the use of no lethal weapons whatever, nor of anything in the shape of such ; and (3) the camping out or bivouacking in summer to be utilised in the domesticities of life under con- ditions such as prevail in the Colonies and elsewhere, where women may need to pose both as housekeepers, nurses, and even—for want of skilled help—as physicians on emergency. But in nothing said or practised by those of the writer's school of thought has there been a suggestion of mixed classes of instruction, or of the intervention of men or boys in the theoretical or practical outdoor game which long before "Boy Scouts" were introduced your present correspondent recommended as an auxiliary to lawn tennis and croquet as played by girls, or for street play in the case of the neglected masses. No; one's crude idea was that girls might be taught by well-bred and well-educated women to study Nature by living with Nature ; to acquire the rudiments of combined movement in close and extended order without loss of feminine grace and modesty; and to assimilate the art of eye-sketching and of map-reading without risking the grave dangers of indiscriminate association with movements such as those of the Church Lads' Brigade, the Boys' Brigade, and the Boy Scouts, which are essentially the outcome of a manly endeavour to produce men of grit and Empire-builders of the future out of the human "flotsam and jetsam" of city, town, and hamlet. But this is no argument in favour of "Girl Scouts" brigaded or associated with the other sex ; and if Miss Markham's letter has done no more, it has sounded in the ears of one at least of your constant readers.



SIR,—I have read with amazement and indignation the revelations made in Miss Markham's letter in your last issue on this most serious question. The letter carries with it so strong an impress of its veracity as to facts, its arguments are so cogent and convincing, that nothing need be _added. I am sure that all fair-minded people will accept it in foto. For my part, I differ from the writer on one point only, and that is that I cannot conceive that any thoughtful parent can doubt that in any circumstances whatsoever this is a foolish and pernicious movement. That this country holds six thousand weak fathers and six thousand weaker mothers who allow their six thousand foolish daughters to go in for this idiotic sport is a most distressing sign of the times, especially in view of Miss Markham's just complaint "that the decay of household arts is a word of reproach to women in every walk of life." This indictment is unfortunately too true, and it is a -serious thing for the nation that it is so. I should like Miss Markham to give us the information as to who are the originators of this objection- able movement. Let us know who are the culprits. Let them be pilloried. What are the local education authorities, what are the Churches doing ? Can they not raise their voices effectively against this childish trifling with serious matters ? You, Sir, mention General Sir R. S. S. Baden-Powell's name in a manner which almost suggests his knowledge of these conditions. We are entitled to know how we stand with him in the matter. I am bound to say that it grieves me that you even hint at the bare possibility of his disagreeing with this protest, a protest against folly in its nakedness. This folly makes us ridiculous in the eyes of saner nations who take soldiering seriously, and do not mix it up with dilettantism and child's-play of any kind.
—I am, Sir, &c.,

Townend, Knutsford.

18 Dec 1909, (p15) p1051



SIR,—Women in general will be grateful for your unqualified disapproval of Girl Scouts. But is it not an anxious sign of the times if the mothers of girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen have not sufficient control to prevent their daughters from taking part in a pursuit of which they dis- approve, especially one so eminently unsuitable as scouting for girls?
—I am, Sir, &c.,



SIR,—Miss Markham writes from personal experience, cer- tainly not of the movement as a whole. It is not for me to defend the idea; I merely correct her more obvious errors. Girl Scouts should be Guides, a very different idea. We have been specially asked to keep the two movements apart, and do so. The Red Cross armlet is given only to those who pass first-aid and nursing tests. (Does Miss Markham object to the red cross on ambulances ?) The object (I do not speak of moral lines, but as Miss Markham does) is to be a feeder to the Territorial Association of Voluntary Aid, and so it can hardly be said to lead nowhere "from the national point of view." As to household arts, second-class test includes fire-lighting, bed-making, and sewing ; first-class, cooking and nursing. The badges of honour include first aid, nursing of sick, cooking, child-nursing, sewing ; and of seventeen only one (telegraphist) is a subject not usually taught to girls. (As a man, I speak subject to correction). But in any case, note that these badge tests are not taken by every Guide like the first and second class. As to" night attacks" I cannot speak, but it is certainly not an essential part of the scheme. For "long pole" read "walking-stick or light staff." Your own comment, Sir, seems as if you were basing your opinion wholly on the letter. Surely it is better to train the six thousand girls who started before the scheme came out according to a fixed scheme than to let them "rot about"!
—I am, Sir, &c.,

R. R. H.,

25 Dec 1909, (p16) p1100



SIR,—From recent correspondence in the Press on this subject there appears to be an impression that Girl Scouts form part of the organisation of Boy Scouts. I am directed to state that this is not so. Mixed troops of boys and girls are not countenanced in our organisation. There are some small ir-responsible imitations of the Boy Scouts movement about the country, and it is known that in certain of these mixed troops have been started. We are much indebted to Miss Violet Markham for drawing attention to this, since unless it is under very good supervision the system is open to grave objections. Of course it is impossible for the public to discriminate between the different bodies alike in dress, and the blame has naturally fallen on the Boy Scouts. All we have done has been to register and take note of the large number of girls who have applied to us as anxious to take up scouting ; and in view of their keenness and of the good that some such movement might obviously do, especially among a certain class of girls, a suggestion for Girl Nurses (called " Guides") as an entirely separate organisation has been made by Sir Robert Baden-Powell to the Red Cross Society, which it is hoped may be taken up by ladies' Committees of that organisation where considered desirable. The aim of the scheme is to teach the girls hospital and home nursing, cooking, housekeeping, &c., by practical means, appealing to the girls' own imagination and keenness.—I am, Sir, &c.,


Boy Scouts, Managing Secretary

8 Jan 1910 (p15) p51



Sir, - May I trespass on your space to reply to the correspondence which has taken place about the Girl Scouts?

Many letters have reached me on the subject from different parts of the country, and my correspondents seem in hearty agreement with the objections I urged against the movement in my Original letter to the Spectator of December 4th, 1909.

I can readily believe these irresponsible bodies sprang up without the wish or knowledge of the Boy Scouts' headquarters, and I am glad to see from Mr. Lyle's letter in your issue of December 25th that his organisation is alive to the dangers I have ventured to point out. It is a serious matter to allow six thousand girls to organise themselves on wrong lines, as mistakes once made are not easy to overtake. A letter which reached me from a girl aged fifteen in domestic service at Liverpool, who mistaking my connexion with the movement, begged me to enrol her "as one of B.P.'s Girl Guides for it is my ambition to join the territtorial [sic] army," is symptomatic of a spirit which if unchecked would prove thoroughly mischievous.

I gather from Mr. Lyle's letter that mixed troops of Boy and Girl Scouts are not countenanced by the Boy Scouts' headquarters, and that it is now suggested that girls should be attached to the Red Cross Society. This may prove a solution of the difficulty. By all means let us train our girls in hospital nursing, domestic economy, Nature study, and drill, so long as these admirable subjects are conducted under adequate supervision and detached from the excitements of a spurious and somewhat ridiculous militarism. Despite the contrary opinion of a great authority, a good deal turns on a name. The term "Girl Scout" is primarly an absurdity. A woman, whatever her age, is a non-combatant, and as such has no right to take part in military operations. A girl captured out scouting in time of war could be shot summarily as a spy. This fact is so well recognised that Girl Scouts are now to disappear and give place to Girl Guides. At the risk of seeming captious, may I still urge - I trust without offence - that the term "B.P's Girl Guides" is a little derogatory in its familiarity to the fame of a distinguished soldier, and inevitably suggests a troop of vivandieres rather than a band of girls organised for the serious duties and responsibilities of life? The Red Cross Society, with its great and honoured name and more womanly associations, would surely be the best organisation to place the right ideals for such a work as is contemplated before these young people. I hope some arrangement of this kind may be arrived at between the two bodies which would absorb the energies of the Girl Scouts under another and better name.

I trust that General Sir R. Baden-Powell will believe I have not raised this question in any hostile or Puritanical spirit. One and all we desire to see the girls, no less than the boys, of England inspired by a fine national spirit and an active sense of citizenship. But schemes of military co-education seem hardly likely to promote this end, and I for one am anxious that this movement, the dangers of which are admitted, should be directed into a channel likely to prove beneficial, and not harmful, to the broader issues of the common weal. - I am, Sir, &c.,


Tapton House, Chesterfield.


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