Robert Baden-Powell

Founder of the Scout Movement
Robert Baden-Powell
The Englishman whose upright, good deed philosophy spawned a global legion of boy scouts and girl guides was a born organizer. Lord Baden-Powell had been a soldier in the 13th Hussars, serving in India, Afghanistan and during the Boer war, in South Africa.

During the famous Battle of Mafeking, when a large Boer army had taken siege of the town for seven months, Baden-Powell distinguished himself by organizing the boys of Mafeking as guides, messengers and first aid corp, thus freeing up more soldiers for fighting. In May, 1900 when the town was released, there was much rejoicing back home in England and Baden-Powell was publicly honoured.

Boy Power
The training of boys was a real interest for Baden-Powell, who saw them as a vast, untapped energy source and a potential force for good. Even before his return to England, he had written a book - Aids to Scouting, a guide to the training and organization of boys. The success at Mafeking turned the book into a best seller and in 1907 Powell laid the foundation of the Scout movement, a movement that would spread globally and grow exponentially throughout the 20th century.

In 1910  Baden-Powell retired from the army and spurred on by the popularity of the Scout movement, with his sister, Agnes Naden-Powell, he formed the Girl Guides, using the same basic philosophical rules and precepts he had formulated with the Scouts. The success of both movements turned Baden-Powell into a cultural legend - parents everywhere were keen to sign their children up with an organization that promised productive, skill driven outdoor activity and stalwart character shaping. In 1929, as Chief Scout of his own organization, he was made a Baron for his devoted service to the molding of youths.

"They were boy scouts". WWII poster employed in US subways. Scouts became synomous with respectability, courage and honour.

The fleur de lis - Scout symbol
Baden- Powell was a virulent anti-communist - so much so that some have sugggested it blurred his judgement and led him to support some very suspect political ideologies, such as fascism and nazism. He was allegedly impressed by Adolf Hitler's tome,  Mein Kampf and in 1939 desribed it as "a wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc", though he added that they were "ideals Hitler did not practice himself".

Some early Scout insignia (the thankyou badge) actually included a swastika alongside the trademark fleur de lis -and while some claim this was due to nazi sympathies, others suggest it was simple naivete and the symbol was meant only to indicate the original Sanskrit meaning of good luck. In defence of the latter proposition, it should be noted that Baden-Powell used the symbol before Hitler and the Nazis themselves seem to have viewed Baden-Powell as a threat and the Scout movement a pernicious 'spy organization'.

The State of the Scouts
Remarkably, the Scouting movement still has over forty million members worldwide, more than a hundred years after its creation and in an age where rapidly expanding technological entertainment could so easily supplant old-fashioned notions of outdoor adventure and  character-shaping through uniforms, organized, conformist discipline and positive deeds.

Over the decades, various changes have been made, to 'update' the movement in accordance with the changing social winds - eg; the merging of boys and girls into one movement in some countries but the essential, original tenet of shaping character through organization and activity, remains. For many parents, scouting and guiding is still seen as a kind of rite of passage, so engrained in Western culture is Robert Baden-Powell's personal philosophy on youth.