May 3, 1999
By MaryAnn Gardner
Celebrating Our Survival:
Why May 16 is Special for Scouting
The founding of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910 was the
establishment of the National organization. It opened the door to fun and learning in the
outdoors to thousands of American boys. It's founding, however, did not guarantee that the
organization would survive.
had supplied the basics for Scouting in America along with Ernest Thompson Seton, founder
of the Woodcraft Indians, and Daniel Carter Beard, founder of the Society of the Sons of
Daniel Boone. Seton and Beard brought emphasis on the Native American and American
frontiersman influences in outdoor activities of American Scouts. While all of this was
fun, interesting and exciting, it did not focus on the successful management necessary to
sustain and grow the organization.
this mix came a man who was not an outdoorsman, who, in fact, had spent
his youth in an orphanage and who had difficulty even walking because of a hip
deteriorated from tuberculosis. James E. West's childhood difficulties had built him into
a strong determined man. After earning his law degree he became an activist for children.
As a volunteer, he worked to provide safe, clean places for children to play, helped
thousands of children find foster homes, and removed troubled youth from adult courts by
helping establish the first juvenile court.
West did not welcome the job of Chief Scout Executive and
only intended to serve for six months. A demanding businessman, West methodically managed
the organization according to the bottom line. He knew that the very survival of the Boy
Scouts of America depended on a strong organization that could help itself and sustain
itself through tough periods of growth. He understood that children could not benefit if
the organization could not survive. Seton and Beard found West talented, but obstinate and
unyielding. They believed the boys must be the first and only consideration. They also
believed he knew little of the benefits of the outdoors, didn't understand their program,
didn't understand boys, and lacked the intended vision of the BSA. His strong feelings and
many conflicts with West led Seton to resign from the organization in 1915. West and Beard
remained at odds in philosophy, but continued to work together and shape the BSA for years
James West proved to be
just what the BSA needed to make it a viable, accepted national organization. At age 34,
he was the youngest of the founding fathers. His ability to keep the organization focused
and growing kept him in that position for 30 years. During that time he established SCOUTING MAGAZINE and was
the editor of BOYS LIFE
for over 20 years.
In 1921 he allowed an
experimental Order of the Arrow program to be established nationally. It would take almost
30 years for it to become an official part of the Scouting program.
In 1929, together with
William Hillcourt, he wrote THE SCOUT
JAMBOREE BOOK: American Scouts at the 3rd World Jamboree. In 1933, they wrote another
book about the 4th World
Jamboree. In his comments about the closing ceremony (CHAPTER XI -IN WHICH WE CLOSE THE
FOURTH WORLD JAMBOREE AND LIGHT OUR LAST FIRE) , West's description of those voices can
touch the hearts of Scout and Scouters today:
". . .a roar arose from the
gathering. Each Scout in his own language yelled the key-word of the jamboree: 'Brother!'
It rose high, spread across the arena, came back as a tremendous echo:
'Brother! Bruder! Frere! Broder!
Today James E. West is remembered and celebrated as he lived. This
child-welfare advocate who knew the importance of structure and support for an
organization's longevity and growth, was honored by the BSA through the establishment of
an award in his name. In 1993 the