Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Baden-Powell and boy scouts

Boy Scouts 'get caught' bathing near Point Edward, Ontario, 1911 (

Scouting was founded on 1 August 1907, the day of the opening of Robert Baden-Powell's camp on Brownsea Island in England.

Today, there are more than 28 million Scouts, youth and adults, boys and girls, in 216 countries and territories. There are 6 countries without Scouts.

Indonesia has 8,909,435 scouts. The USA has 6,239,435. India has 2,138,015. The Philippines has 1,956,131. The United Kingdom has 498,888.


The following is taken from: Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell

On his interest in boys:

Two modern biographers of Baden-Powell consider him to have been a repressed homosexual, Michael Rosenthal of Columbia University and Tim Jeal. Tim Jeal's work, researched over the span of five years, was published by Yale University Press and well reviewed by the New York Times, the Washington Post and other publications of record.

Along with many other pieces of evidence for his contention, Jeal mentions as illustrative an episode which ocurred in November of 1919. While on a visit to Charterhouse, his old public school, he stayed with an old friend, A. H. Tod, a bachelor teacher and housemaster who had taken large numbers of nude photographs of his pupils as part of a photographic record of public school life. Baden-Powell's diary entry about his stay reads: "Stayed with Tod. Tod's photos of naked boys and trees. Excellent."

In a subsequent communication to Tod regarding starting up a Scout troop at the school, Baden-Powell mentions his impending return visit and adds: "Possibly I might get a further look at those wonderful photographs of yours."

Tod's pictures of nude boys survived until the 1960's, when they were destroyed in order to "protect Tod's reputation." We are told, however (by R. Jenkyns), that the album contained nude boys in poses which were "contrived and artificial." Though today such a thing may raise suspicions, seen in the light of those days these would not have been at all unusual. We have no reason to suspect that Tod's relations were anything but chaste, and his pictures were rather in keeping with the contemporary tradition of male homoerotic art exemplified by Henry Scott Tuke's paintings, Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden's photography, and others.

Jeal also mentions that Baden-Powell ". . . consistently praised the male body when naked and denigrated the female. At Gilwell Park, the Scouts' camping ground in Epping Forest, he always enjoyed watching the boys swimming naked, and would sometimes chat with them after they had just 'stripped off.'" (Personal communications between Jeal and old scouts)

Despite his appreciation for the beauty of young boys, Baden-Powell seems never to have acted on his suspected attraction with any of the boys, and was adamant about the need to restrain the sexual impulse, especially in his communications with boys. He incorporated a graphic prohibition against masturbation in early scouting manuals (so graphic that Cox, his printer, refused to run the presses till the mention was watered down), and into his eighties carried on correspondences with individual scouts exhorting them to control their urge for "self-abuse." He subscribed to the commonly held turn-of-the-century opinion that the practice led to disease, madness and sexual impotence. His views were not shared by all. Dr. F. W. W. Griffin, editor of The Scouter, wrote in 1930 in a book for Rover Scouts that the temptation to masturbate was "a quite natural stage of development" and steered scouts to a text by H. Havelock Ellis that held that "the effort to achieve complete abstinence was a very serious error." (Tim Jeal, Baden-Powell: Founder of the Boy Scouts 1989, pp. 93-94)


At glbtq, Geoffrey W. Bateman wrote about Powell:,2.html

Baden-Powell's Sexuality:

In recent years, Baden-Powell's sexuality has come under increasing scrutiny. Even though he married Olave Soames in 1912, at the age of 55, many biographers have speculated that his lifelong friendship with Kenneth McLaren may have been sexual. At the very least, it is clear that Baden-Powell's relationship with McLaren was one of the most important emotional connections of his life.

Interestingly, Baden-Powell's relationship with his wife, who was considerably younger than he, may not have been sexual. Indeed, it tended to duplicate his relationships with male comrades and boys. She altered her appearance to suit him, flattening her breasts and shearing her hair. As Jeal remarks, "With every hint of sex removed from a relationship he could get on reasonably well with women."

It is difficult to know for certain the intricacies of Baden-Powell's sexual orientation. But after considering all available evidence on the matter, Jeal concludes that even if he never acted on any homosexual impulses, "Baden-Powell was a repressed homosexual."

Jeal's conclusion may or may not withstand scrutiny, but his discussion emphasizes an important undercurrent to Baden-Powell's life. He intensely identified with and enjoyed all-male culture and the activities that accompanied it. Whether this interest was simply an extension of a Victorian sensibility toward male friendship or a latent indication of homosexuality, we may never know.

Yet considering Baden-Powell's central role in creating the Boy Scouts and the current debate on gays in the Boy Scouts of America, our inability to confirm his orientation certainly challenges the American organization's belief that gay men have no place in the scouting movement. (Tellingly, the British, Canadian, Australian, and European chapters of the Boy Scouts do not ban homosexual participation.)

For his services to the nation and to international scouting, Baden-Powell was knighted in 1909 and created a baron in 1929. In 1938, he returned to Africa, where he died on January 8, 1941.

More images:



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gaiusc said...

Good job putting this up. Was looking for this info for a discussion and it has been deleted from BP's wiki page.