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A Brief History of the Boy Scouts of America 1910 to Today (continued)

Scouts BSA

Boy Scouting was the BSA's original program, begun in 1910. Youth members have always been called either Boy Scouts or simply Scouts. With the impending 2019 admission of girls, the terms 'Boy Scout' and 'Boy Scouting' will begin to fade into history. The BSA program formerly called the Boy Scout Division or simply Boy Scouting will be formally renamed 'Scouts BSA' in 2019 (but the overall corporation will still be called the Boy Scouts of America).

Age Range. The upper age limit for Scout troops has always been 18. For almost 40 years, the entry age was 12. The BSA lowered the entry age to 11 in 1949, and has made several changes since then to make things more complicated:

Ranks. The earliest Scouts could earn only three ranks: Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class, which covered basic Scouting skills. The BSA soon added three higher ranks to recognize First Class Scouts who earned merit badges: Life (5 merit badges), Star (10 merit badges), and Eagle (21 merit badges). In 1925, Star was placed before Life (because the five points of a star could represent five merit badges). Over the years, the advancement plan has changed little in its overall structure, but specific requirements have been changed many times. For several decades, the Tenderfoot rank was also considered to be the joining requirements (what a new Scout should learn right after joining a troop). Around 1976, a new 'Scout Badge' covered the basic joining requirements. In 2016, the Scout Badge was changed to a greatly expanded 'Scout' rank, the first new rank since 1911.

Basic Skills and Skill Awards. The first three ranks have always contained a long list of basic skills to learn. In 1972, this list was reorganized into 12 "skill awards." Each skill award was a metal belt loop that provided "instant recognition" for completing a group of related skills (the 12 awards were: Camping, Citizenship, Communications, Community Living, Conservation, Cooking, Environment, Family Living, First Aid, Hiking, Physical Fitness, Swimming). In 1989, the BSA dropped the skill awards, returning to the system used before 1972.

Merit Badges. Prior to 1959, the BSA felt that working on merit badges might distract younger Scouts from learning the basic Scout skills taught in the first three ranks. So Scouts had to be Second Class before they were allowed to earn merit badges, and there were restrictions on that until a Scout completed First Class. In 1972, a certain number of merit badges was required for all ranks (including First Aid and Citizenship in the Community for First Class). This did not work, and in 1976, the merit badge for Tenderfoot was dropped and the number required for Second Class and First Class was reduced. In 1979, the remaining merit badge for Second Class was dropped, and the number required for First Class was reduced to one (First Aid). Finally, in 1989, the requirement to earn First Aid for First Class was dropped. As a result, the merit badge requirements for the ranks have come almost full circle since 1972.

Eagle Scout. The Eagle rank was established as Scouting's highest award in 1911, and the first Eagle badge was awarded in 1912. Since then, over two million boys and men have earned the Eagle badge (adult men could earn Eagle until 1952, although some Councils allowed adults to earn Eagle until BSA firmly ended the option in 1965). At first, Eagle recognized simply earning 21 merit badges. Later, requirements for leadership and service were added. [A comparison of the Eagle Scout requirements from 1911 to the present can be found on our Eagle Requirements page.]

Board of Review/Court of Honor. Until the early 1950s, troops were generally not allowed the authority to pass off merit badges and ranks. Rather, a Scout was reviewed for his merit badges and ranks at a district or council Court of Honor. The Scout usually received his badge the same evening. Later, as individual troops gradually took over the reviewing and presentation process, the review became separated from the Court of Honor presentation. Since awards could only be presented at Courts of Honor (usually four times a year), Scouts were forced to wait as long as three months to receive the rank or merit badge they had earned. The BSA remedied this problem in 1972 by directing troops to present badges as soon as they were earned. The Court of Honor then became a second, more formal recognition in front of parents.

SPL/PLC. Early Scoutmasters ran their troops much more directly than today's leaders, since they had no Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) and no Patrol Leader Council (PLC). The office of SPL was not created until 1919. The early SPL was usually also a Patrol Leader, who chaired the Patrol Leader Council as a SENIOR Patrol Leader. Gradually, the modern organization developed, with the SPL and Patrol Leaders meeting to plan the troop's activities, and the Scoutmaster acting as an advisor.

Older-boy Options. In an attempt to keep older boys in Scouting, the BSA has often provided a special older-boy program and older-boy patrol within the troop structure. Until the 1950s, this was typically a Sea Scout or Explorer "crew." From 1972 to 1989, it was called the Leadership Corps. From 1990 to 2016, older Scouts could organize a Venture crew for specific high-adventure activities (and for a while after 1989, could also organize an in-troop Varsity team for sports activities). By 2016, BSA eliminated the term 'Venture' from Boy Scouting (because of confusion with its similarly named but unrelated Venturing program); BSA currently just calls older Scouts 'older Scouts' or 'senior Scouts', and they no longer have any special insignia to wear as older Scouts.

Adult Leaders. All troop adult leader positions have always been open to men. For over 50 years, women were excluded from troop operation except for an optional "mothers auxiliary." More recently, women were allowed to hold any troop committee position but not Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster. Finally in 1988, the BSA opened these positions to women also. As a result, all adult positions in the Scout section (as well as in the other sections) are now open to both men and women.

Girls in Scouts

In late 2017, BSA announced a major expansion of its programs by opening Cub Scouts and Scouts to girls (Venturing and Sea Scouts have been coed since 1971). Starting 1 February 2019, Scout troops for girls are now allowed. Troops must be either boy-only or girl-only (no truly coed troops), although troops sharing the same chartered organization are called 'linked' troops and typically share the same troop number and usually have a common troop committee. The Scout advancement requirements, including the option to earn Eagle Scout, are identical for both girls and boys. More information about girls and adult women in the BSA is available on our Women and Girls in the Boy Scouts of America page.

Varsity Scouts

Developed in the early 1980s by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon church), Varsity Scouts was approved by the BSA in 1984. The church was experiencing a high dropout rate in its Explorer posts and was anxious to find a more effective way to keep its high school young men in Scouting (and perhaps to avoid the now-coed Exploring programs). Varsity Scouting was an optional sports-oriented program for older boys. Although officially available to all Scouting sponsors, Varsity Scouting overwhelmingly remained an LDS program throughout its existence. Varsity teams were separate from the troop (although there was a brief period when older Scouts could also do Varsity activities within a troop). Varsity Scouting was male-only and offered sports programs and sports terminology (boys belonged to a squad, which was part of a team led by an adult coach and a boy captain). After the LDS church ceased sponsorship of Varsity Scouting at the end of 2017, the BSA quietly dropped the program.


Last Revision to This Page: 4 February 2021
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