In the Footsteps of the Founders: A Special Scouting Moment

Julie telling a story to Gill, as well as Jack Major and Mark Beese (local scoutmasters)

The granddaughters of the founders of the Scouting movement, Gillian Clay, the granddaughter of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, and Dr. Julie Seton, the granddaughter of Ernest Thompson Seton, met for the first time at the Denver Area Council Boy Scout Headquarters in Lakewood on Friday, Oct. 18. They shared stories about their grandfathers’ lives and contributions to Scouting.   

Mrs. Clay spoke about the early life of Lord Baden-Powell (“BP”) in England in the 1850s. She acknowledged that he wasn’t the best student at school so he would skip classes and escape into the woods to immerse himself in nature. After completing secondary school, he enrolled in the Army in 1876 and was eligible to be shipped off to South Africa right away (rather than having to complete training) because of his extensive time in the wilderness. His military job was to teach new recruits basic survival skills, like building shelters and cooking food — the very same skills taught in modern scouting today. After returning to the UK from South Africa in 1901, BP successfully tested these principles on a group of young boys. In 1908, BP wrote and published a book summarizing these teachings titled Scouting For Boys. This book sold millions of copies worldwide and eventually became the world’s fourth best-selling book in the 20th Century. Mrs. Clay said that BP intended Scouting to start a youth movement that would “create good character in youth for good adults who serve their community.” 

Dr. Seton spoke of how her grandfather, Ernest Thompson Seton, also loved nature and the wilderness in Canada. Seton would regularly sneak out to escape his difficult family life. By the age of 15, he had made his first “home” in the woods and he named it “Glenyan”. He would frequently go to Glenyan to study and draw birds and other animals. Although he won a 7-year arts scholarship to the Royal Academy in London, he became very ill after the first year and had to return home. Seton then began writing several books about nature and the wilderness. He formed a group called the Woodcraft Indians, and he wrote several articles about the group in the Ladies’ Home Journal, which culminated in his book, The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians. Seton became the first Chief Scout, compiled the first Scout handbook, and initiated the highest rank of scouting, the Eagle Scout.

In 1906, BP and Seton met to discuss their ideas about youth education and shared their visions for the future. This organization became the current-day Boy Scouts of America n/k/a Scouts BSA.  Mrs. Clay and Dr. Seton recognized that although their grandfathers had different ideas, both shared a passion for nature that formed a good character in youth that started a worldwide youth movement.