Writings of Scouting’s Founder Now Available Online

Contributed By Jason Swenson, Church News staff writer

  • PROVO, UTAH

There are timeless lessons found in Lord Baden-Powell’s writings, including bringing young people of diverse backgrounds together, introducing them to God’s creations, and teaching them ethics and life skills.

Article Highlights

  • British military leader Lord Baden-Powell formulated the Scouting movement in the early 20th century.
  • BYU history professor Paul Kerry came across these old documents and decided to digitize them.
  • The papers will appeal to historians and anyone else with an interest in the Scouting movement.

"[Lord Baden-Powell’s writings] are valuable teaching elements to help Boy Scouts and their leaders see the founder’s vision.” —Paul Kerry, Brigham Young University history professor

More than a century ago, a celebrated British military leader named Lord Robert Baden-Powell recognized that the youth of his nation were experiencing dramatic social change.

Much of England was being industrialized. Families were leaving staid rural homes and moving to noisy cities. Young people were losing their day-to-day connection with the natural environment and their neighbors. Meanwhile, British society remained defined by social classes that divided communities.

Driven by a vision to form a youth movement that would blend ethics and outdoor adventure and learning, Lord Baden-Powell, in the early days of the 20th century, began formulating on paper what would become the worldwide Scouting movement. Subsequent documents and letters—some typed, others scratched out with pencil lead—capture the war hero’s lengthy efforts to develop “scouting for boys” in his homeland and beyond.

The Church was one of the first organizations to catch Lord Baden-Powell’s vision for Scouting, partnering in 1913 with the young Boy Scouts of America organization. Since then, legions of Mormon boys, men, and women have donned the Scout uniform in Church-sponsored units.

Fast forward more than a century after Lord Baden-Powell began scribbling his maiden thoughts on Scouting. A few years ago, Brigham Young University history professor Paul Kerry was visiting the British Scout Association Archive in England’s Gilwell Park. He was thrilled to see with his own eyes the Baden-Powell documents that set in motion the beginnings of the Scouting movement. As a Latter-day Saint, he knew well the impact Scouting has had on many in the Church. But as a historian, he was alarmed by the fragility of the priceless papers.

“I was worried if I touched them they would fall apart in my hands,” he told the Church News.

As Brother Kerry studied the delicate documents, he recognized timeless lessons found in Lord Baden-Powell’s writings. The Scouting founder’s plan to bring young people of diverse backgrounds together, introduce them to God’s creations, and teach them ethics and life skills was as relevant today as on the day they were written.

When he returned to BYU, Brother Kerry approached curators and technical experts at the school’s Harold B. Lee Library with his idea to digitize the vast Lord Baden-Powell papers archived at Gilwell Park.

Lord Baden-Powell was a lieutenant general in the British Army, writer, founder of the Scout movement, and first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts Association. Image courtesy of the Harold B. Lee Library.

Soon an agreement was reached between the Church-owned school and the British Scout Association. A team of professionals and students from Provo was dispatched to England, and the work of photographing and digitizing a stack of correspondence, photos, maps, and other printed materials was completed.

The collaborative efforts of Brother Kerry, the British Scout historians, and the BYU experts are now accessible to the public at lib.byu.edu/collections/lord-baden-powell-papers.

Brother Kerry said the online Lord Baden-Powell papers will appeal to historians and anyone else with an interest or involvement in the Scouting movement.

Lord Baden-Powell’s writings “are valuable teaching elements to help Boy Scouts and their leaders see the founder’s vision,” said Brother Kerry.

Even in its early days, some regarded Scouting as a mere outdoor adventure program where boys learned to tie knots, read a compass, and cook over an open fire. But an examination of Lord Baden-Powell’s writings reveals the author’s commitment to ethics, protecting the environment, community service, and developing a relationship with God. Such elevated tenets, of course, would prompt Church leaders over a century ago to sponsor Scout units in wards and branches across the United States.

One need not wear the Scout uniform to appreciate Lord Baden-Powell’s writings and convictions, said Brother Kelly. The historian said he is still inspired every time he reads the Scouting founder’s final message to his young charges:

“Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.

“But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave the world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best.”

“‘Be prepared’ in this way, to live happy and to die happy—stick to your Scout promise always—even after you have ceased to be a boy—and God help you to do it.”