Greenfield's Fay Smith and the Boy Scouts of America

Circa 1911

Here's another treat I received from Eric Stuecheli of Overland Park, Kansas regarding his grandfather, Fay Smith. It's a letter that the young Smith wrote from NYC to the Greenfield Republican newspaper in 1911 about his involvement in the newly formed Boy Scouts of America.
[Boy Scouting in the United States marks its 90th Anniversary on February 8.  As a way to appreciate scouting’s roots, we are including a piece of history in this month’s newsletter.  The following article was written by Fay C. Smith, the great-grandfather of Eric Stuecheli, from his temporary home in one of the YMCAs in New York City to the newspaper in his hometown of Greenfield, Ohio.  Fay was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of scouting and was in one of the earliest troops formed in the United States, joining in 1910 at the age of 15.  Unfortunately, the original copy of this article has been lost and all that remains is a photograph that is illegible in a few areas.  Consequently, the gaps are indicated by the following designation “...”.  See if you can spot some of the basic features of scouting that remain virtually unchanged since the founding of Boy Scouting in America in 1910.]


An Interesting Letter From Fay C. Smith of New York Telling What is What in the Boy Scout Association.

New York City

February 5, 1911
Editor of the Greenfield Republican
Greenfield, Ohio
Dear Sir;
I  have been requested, by several people of Greenfield, to write you a letter for publication in your paper, the subject to be  ”The Boy Scouts of America.”

I understand, from several communications from people of  your city, that there is quite some interest shown in regard to this movement.

I  have been connected with the Scouts for about one year, as a patrol leader, and find it a very interesting work to both leaders and scouts.

The troop to which I belong was organized from a boys’ athletic club in a church, and the boys seemed to like it from the start.

We began with about twenty boys (three patrols) with ... members of the club.  At the present time we have six patrols and recruits coming in every Friday night when we have a meeting.

At first we devoted the whole of these meetings to teaching them the scouts’ laws, signs and salute, for they must know these things in order to become a tenderfoot.  I may state here, that there are three degrees, viz,: Tenderfoot, Second Class Scout and First Class Scout.

As the boys soon mastered those qualifications, we had a house full of tenderfeet in no time.

At first the boys were very unruly and did what they pleased, as much as they pleased, and whenever they pleased; but now it is quite different and I do not think that you could find a more orderly bunch of 12-year-olds in the whole of New York City.  And as I have been to numerous Scout meetings all over New York City, I can say that without much fear of being questioned.

All of the boys are now striving to become second class scouts in order to ... the following requirements:

  1. Have at least one month’s service as a tenderfoot.
  2. Elementary first aid and bandaging.
  3. Signaling, elementary knowledge of semaphore, Myer or Morse alphabet.
  4. Track half a mile in  twenty-five minutes.
  5. Go a mile in twelve minutes at “Scouts’ pace.”
  6. Lay and light a fire using not more than two matches.
  7. Cook a quarter pound of meat and two potatoes without cooking utensils other than the regulation kit.
  8. Have at least one dollar in the bank.
  9. Know the sixteen principal points of compass.

The above may look rather hard, but I take pride in saying that three-fourths of the boys are ready to be sworn in as “ Second class scouts.”

The qualifications for becoming a “First class scout” are harder still, being as follows:

  1. Swim fifty yards.
  2. Have two dollars in the bank.
  3. Send and receive ... Myer or Morse.
  4. Go on foot, or row a boat, alone to a point seven miles away and return.
  5. Describe or show the proper means of saving life in two different accidents.
  6. Cook two of the following dishes: porridge, bacon, rabbit or bird.
  7. Make a “damper” or camp “sinker” as we call it; out of one-half pound flour.
  8. Read a map correctly and draw a sketch map.
  9. Use an axe for felling and trimming timber.
  10. Judge distance, size, numbers within 25 percent error.

After a boy has passed these requirements, he is perfectly capable of taking care of himself, and his mother does not need to worry when he is out.

The scout motto is “Be prepared.”  The oath is: I give my ... will do my best (1) To do my duty to God and my country, (2) To help other people at all times, (3) To obey the Scout law.

The Scout law is briefly as follows:

Be prepared in mind; in order to know what to do in case of an accident or other emergency.

Be prepared in body; in order to be able to do the right thing.

A scout's honor is to be trusted.

A scout is loyal to his President, parents, school teacher and employers.

A scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others.

A scout is a friend to all, and a brother to every other scout, no matter to what social class the other belongs.

A scout is courteous.

A scout is a friend to animals.

A scout obeys orders.

A scout smiles and looks pleasant.

A scout is thrifty.

It becomes part of the duty of anyone who joins the boy scout movement as an official to get others also to interest themselves in it in a practical manner, because our object is to sow healthy seed not merely in a few boys here in New York, but to do good among the boys all over the United States.

One good thing about the movement is that it gives a boy something to ... about, something to strive for.  In other words it creates ambition in a boy no matter how lazy and shiftless he may be.

Most of the boys here have studied the Myer code to such an extent that they send and receive messages without difficulty.

They have plenty of outdoor life, a camp in the woods where they go every Saturday, staying all day and cooking their own meals.  Some of  them have grown quite proficient in the culinary art.

When a scout gets up in the morning he is supposed to tie a knot in his scarf, which he cannot untie until he has done a good turn for someone.  This is only one of the numerous devices that we have for pushing the work.

Each boy has a badge when he is enrolled, and there is a different one for each degree.

It is truly wonderful to see how boys have improved in their camp life and in all other places where discipline ... to fall into place where he ... and knows just what is expected of him.

The movement is growing as rapidly in this country as it has in England ... Earnest Thompson Seton is at the head of the movement in America and is around the boys here in New York all the time.  Mr. Dan Beard, also, figures prominently in the work and is a great favorite  with the boys.

This letter, I hope, will be of some use in promoting the movement and also in stimulating great interest in the “Boy Scouts of America” in Greenfield, Ohio

Yours very truly,

Fay C. Smith