Robert Baden-Powell, Founder of the modern scouting movement

Lord Baden-Powell

“No man is much good unless he believes in God and obeys His laws.”

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, was a lieutenant general in the British Army and the founder of the modern Scouting movement. The origins of the modern scouting movement lie in Baden-Powell’s long experience as a forward scout, as well as work with youth throughout the Siege of Mafeking, a British railway town, during the Second Boer War. Yet B-P’s intention was not to train young men for the military:

“I’ve seen enough of war to want to keep away from the military idea. Woodcraft, handicraft, and all those things are invaluable. First aid and all that goes with it is excellent; but the boys should be kept away from the idea that they are being trained so that some day they may fight for their country. It is not war-scouting that is needed now, but peace-scouting. The explorers, the pioneers, the persons who are always on the lookout to do something for the benefit of humanity, are the ones who count, and that should be the motto of every boy scout.”


Mount Baden-Powell, California

Mount Baden-Powell, California, Photo by Richard Ellis (http://yosemitephotos.net/)

“Scouting is nothing less than applied Christianity.”

When Baden-Powell returned to England from Africa in 1903, he was hailed as a national hero and found that his 1899 book Aids to Scouting had become a best-seller and was being used by youth organizations.

Baden-Powell, in turn, would be influenced by his contact with one youth organization, William Alexander Smith’s Boys’ Brigade. Smith encouraged B-P to rework Aids to Scouting for a younger audience. In 1907 the first scout camp was held on Brownsea Island for 20 boys (some sources say 21 or 22) and in 1908, Scouting for Boys was published in installments. Additional influence on Scouting for Boys came from Ernest Thompson Seton, who had met B-P in 1906 and given him a copy of his book The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians. (Interestingly, both Baden-Powell and Seton found an early supporter in their mutual friend Rudyard Kipling.)

When the late Lord Baden-Powell wrote the first draft of “Scouting for Boys,” which marks the origin of Scouting, he submitted his program to the Benedictine Fathers and Cardinal Bourne, and asked them to consider its content and to advise him in the light of the historic tenets of the Catholic Church.

Scouting for Catholics: Adding the Supernatural, 2nd Ed. (1942), The Catholic Committee on Scouting, New York.

The program was, of course, an immediate success, and it was not long before scouting organizations were formed in countries other than Great Britain. By the time of the 1st World Scout Jamboree in 1920 — attended by some 8,000 Scouts — there were organizations in at least 80 countries, and Lord Baden-Powell was proclaimed the “Chief Scout of the World,” a title which has been held by no one since.

In 1912 Baden-Powell met the woman who would become his wife, Olave St. Clair Soames (later instrumental in organizing the Girl Guides). They shared the same birthday (February 22), though Lord Baden-Powell was her elder by more than three decades, and were married the same year.

The Baden-Powells had three children, one son and two daughters. In addition, when Olave’s sister died, she and Robert took her three children into their home and raised them as their own.

Robert Baden-Powell retired from Scouting in 1937, and he and his wife moved to Kenya in October 1939, where he died 15 months later. Olave Baden-Powell died in 1977.