In 1900, Seton bought properties in Greenwich, CT, and started to build his own nature preserve called “Wyndygoul”. Area youth started vandalizing the property. After he had to repaint his gate a number of times, he went to the school, and rather than prosecuting them, he invited the boys to the property for a weekend of camping. Around the campfire, he told them exciting stories about Native Americans, wild animals, and nature. He invited them several more times to camp. The organization was officially started on 1 July 1902.
The program was unique in many ways. The youth elected their own leaders rather than having an adult select them. Leadership titles included Chief, Second Chief, Keeper of the Tally, and a keeper of the Wampum. In 1915, the organization changed its focus and name from strictly youth to youth and adults, and became the Woodcraft League of America. Seton wrote a series of articles for the Ladies Home Journal in 1902 that were later compiled and published as the Birch Bark Roll and the Book of Woodcraft. At the urging of his friend Rudyard Kipling, Seton published Two Little Savages as a novel rather than a dictionary of Woodcraft.
WOODCRAFT AND OTHER YOUTH ORGANIZATIONS
Seton was in England in 1906 as a guest of the Duke of Bedford and sought people interested in establishing a youth development program based on outdoor life. Through the Duke, he was introduced to Robert Baden-Powell. Seton gave Baden-Powell a copy of the Birch Bark Roll, and they corresponded from that point forward. In 1908, Baden-Powell wrote a letter to Seton stating that he was going ahead with his scheme for Scouting, based very much on Seton’s program. Baden-Powell incorporated many ideas, honors, and games into his book, Scouting for Boys. For more information on Seton and the Boy Scouts, click here.
Seton established a program he called “Brownies” in 1921 for ages 6 through 11 girls and boys, based on his book Woodland Tales, which served as the origin of the Brownies in the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Dr. and Mrs. Luther H. Gulick were the founders of the Camp Fire Girls. Seton provided materials and a framework for them that became the first national organization for girls, established in 1911. Dr. Gulick was an educator and philanthropist working for the Russell Sage Foundation. He was also a Woodcrafter and contributed to the Boy Scouts of America Scout Handbooks.
In 1915 Seton founded the Woodcraft League of America as a co-educational program open to children between ages “4 and 94”. There were many local Woodcraft groups in the United States in the early part of this century, and fifth-generation lone Woodcrafters are still active today.
The Woodcraft League declined sharply as a formal organization after Seton died in 1946. Today’s only formal group is the Woodcraft Rangers in Los Angeles, who offer nature camps and activities for inner-city children. Many summer camps still use Woodcraft’s principles. Click here for a list of camps we know about. We believe there are more. Please contact us if you can add to the list.
In addition, Seton’s legacy is recognized and strong in Scouting and many other youth organizations.
The publication of The Book of Woodcraft in 1912 inspired the formation of many Woodcraft groups worldwide. Please let us know if you have additional information on Woodcraft groups in Europe or elsewhere.