History Highlights #7: STANDARDIZED SCOUTING 1920 ~ 1939

by | Mar 1, 2018

A Scout Band on Temple Square, June 1925

I am happy to give the Boy Scout movement my full endorsement…. I was active in the promotion of this program. I feel that thousands of our boys have been helped in becoming good men by living up to the principles of the Boy Scout movement. —President Heber J. Grant

Young men and leaders in the Church had enjoyed nearly ten years of official affiliation with the national Boy Scouts. Although obstacles had surfaced as the two organizations integrated, they were resolved and Church support for Scouting was still strong. A 1921 announcement from the YMMIA general board placed renewed emphasis on Church Scout troops being “organized and affiliated with the National Organization . . . and [making] use of their organization, programs, suits, badges, system of promotion, . . . privileges, advantages, recognitions or honors.”

Additionally, instead of dividing weekly MIA time between the Boy Scout and MIA programs, meetings were to be fully devoted to Scouting. Church leaders determined that religious training could naturally occur through Scouting activities.

Scout Bands

As the Scouting program grew, activities were coordinated and standardized within councils to build unity and provide recreation for the boys and troops. Scout bands were common in many towns and cities. Not only did bands march in parades, but they often gave concerts as well, performing a variety of music at various locations.

Junius Wells suggested forming a Scout band in Salt Lake City. Rehearsals were first held in the old Deseret Gym, and then moved to the school rooms of the former tithing office. The band made so much noise that it was again moved to the rooms under the Barratt Hall, and finally received permission from the city commission to hold practices in the gymnasium of the public safety building, or police station. After six months of hard work the boys made their first appearance at an MIA rally. A few days later, they played at the Granite Stake conference and then for the June 1920 MIA conference in the Tabernacle. On February 5, 1921, they marched in a street parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Boy Scout movement. Fifteen hundred boys participated in the parade.

“We need the national organization. We need it for the classification of Scouts, from tenderfoot to the Eagle Scout. We need its courts of honor; we need its system of merits and rewards; we need the ‘national pull’ that is found in these things….Boy Scouting [is] a point of contact with our fellow citizens of the United States that is of great advantage to us…. Be friendly…in your attitude towards this great organization.”

—Elder Brigham H. Roberts, First Council of the Seventy, general conference, Apr. 1922

“Scouting . . . takes the boy at the time of life when he is beset with the new and bewildering experience of adolescence, and diverts his thoughts therefrom to wholesome and worth- while activities.” —Improvement Era, Apr. 1921, 55

Long-term Camps

“Outings” were an essential focus of Scouting, and extended campouts were vital to effectively teaching and implementing Scouting concepts. The advantages of organizing long-term camps for multiple troops soon became apparent. In August of 1924 the Salt Lake City Grant Stake conducted a week-long camp on the shores of Utah Lake. Stake leaders used the camp to coordinate the various activities of the ward troops. Scout councils soon acquired land and developed it into permanent camps with campsites, buildings, and facilities to support outdoor recreation.

Camp Kiesel, located 25 miles east of Ogden, Utah, was developed in 1926 by the Ogden Gateway Area Council. The camp was first operated by Council Scout Executive S. Dilworth Young, who was later ordained to the First Council of the Seventy. 

“Scout is a word. Innumerable are its connotations. But to a boy it can have only one denotation. It means adventure—outdoor adventure.”

—S. Dilworth Young, Improvement Era, July 1947, 435

“We firmly believe the permanent camp will become very popular in the future, for in no better way can boy friendships be made and cemented, and in such close and constant communion the scout learns more fully to realize his duty and obligation of service to his fellows.” —Arthur W. Sadler, Grant Stake recreation officer, Improvement Era, Nov. 1924, 34

Salt Lake Council officials arranged for a Boy Scout Caravan to take place July 10–18, 1920. The Utah State Automobile Association provided fourty-five vehicles that carried approximately 250 participants over eight hundred miles in nine days. The October 1920 Improvement Era reported, “This journey, perhaps the most pretentious ever undertaken by Boy Scouts, will live a lifetime in the minds of those fortunate enough to have taken it.” Participants all adopted a Native American name for the adventure and received tutelage on skills such as geography, geology, and citizenship at the hands of Church leaders like John H. Taylor and John D. Giles. They also had special guest instructors such as naturalist Dr. George Wharton James from California.

“I became a Scout in 1922. . . .We met in our troop meeting on Tuesday evening. We were a noisy group as we assembled. Our Scoutmaster, Charlie Robinson, would blow his whistle, and we would all fall in line. We would raise our right arm to the square and repeat together the Scout oath. . . . It was something of a ritual each Tuesday. We did not think about it very deeply, but the words of that oath became fixed in our minds. They have remained with me through all of these years.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, May 1989, 46-47

“The boy scout program—coupled with the spiritual work of our Church—is the best boy program yet devised, and it is our wish that a Boy Scout organization be effected and maintained in every M.I.A. Association in the Church in order that every lad of Scouting age may have this advantage of Scout-training.” —YMMIA General Superintendency, Improvement Era, Apr. 1921

Trail Builders

Scouting added an element of achievement and excitement to Church activities, effectively attracting and retaining twelve and thirteen-year-old boys in YMMIA Scout troops. However, it became evident to Church leaders that the oldest Primary boys, ages ten and eleven, were not always as devoted to their Church activities. In 1925 the Trail Builders program was introduced for these boys, and they became Blazers, Trekkers, and Guides. Trail Builders earned emblems worn on a “bandlo” and wore a green hat with a picture of a pine tree. The program also had a special alphabet, a code, and a salute.

Emery County Boy Scout Troop attending the 50th anniversary of the YMMIA celebrations in Salt Lake City, June, 1925

“A boy is a man in a cocoon—you do not know what it is going to become—his life is big with many possibilities. He may make or unmake kings, change boundary lines between states, write books that will mold characters, or invent machines that will revolutionize the commerce of the world. . . . Be patient with the boys— you are dealing with soul-stuff. Destiny awaits just around the corner.” —Elbert Hubbard, American writer, as quoted in Scouting in the LDS Church, 1934

Three years later, in 1928, the Zion’s Boys program was introduced for eight and nine-year-old boys. Their red and white shield reminded them to “live purely” and “do right.” The Primary also developed achievement programs for older girls. In 1922 twelve and thirteen-year-old girls were Seagulls, 1926 ten and eleven-year-old girls were Bluebirds, and 1928 eight and nine-year-old Primary girls were Zion’s Girls. In 1929, the Home Builders groups were established with classes renamed Larks, Bluebirds, Seagulls, and Mi-kan-wees. In 1934, twelve and thirteen-year-old girl classes became part of the YWMIA program.


The Boy Scouts of America also realized the need for a national program designed for boys younger than Scout age. After instigating a study and consulting with other youth organizations—including the Primary Association of the Church—the “Cubbing” program was developed. On August 1, 1929, the first Cub packs were organized to test the new program, and in 1933 Cubbing was introduced to Scout councils across the nation. However, it was not adopted by the LDS Church at this time. The new program was geared to the boy, his home, and his family.

The Vanguard Program

Boy Scout programs were enthusiastically accepted by most deacon and teacher-age boys. After fifteen years of operating the national Scouting program within wards and branches, Church leaders became aware that many older boys were dropping out of Scout troops. In 1928, the Church officially named Scouting as the activity program for deacons and introduced the Vanguard Scout program for older boys, ages fifteen through eighteen.

Definition: Vanguard—An explorer or adventurer in new territory or unconquered regions

Elder George Albert Smith of the Council of the Twelve and General Superintendent of the YMMIA explained, “At fifteen, [a boy] may become a Vanguard where he is given a program of advanced Scouting. . . . At this age they are not satisfied to follow the commands of others, but aspire to leadership themselves. . . . The first novelty of Scouting has worn off, and they crave something new.”

Soon two troops were organized within wards—a Scout troop and a Vanguard troop. New program ideas were included in the March 1929 Improvement Era. Vanguard troops were to use the first Tuesday of each month for merit badge work, the second and fourth Tuesdays for developing their own social, recreational, and seasonal activities, and the third Tuesday to meet as individual patrols. Special emphasis was placed on earning the First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle Scout ranks.

Vanguard merit badges included astronomy, athletics, swimming, life saving, automobiling, aviation, horsemanship, salesmanship, reptiles, and other subjects.

Future Church President Howard W. Hunter was active in Boise, Idaho Scout Troop 13. After attending summer camp in 1922, he qualified for the Life Scout and Star Scout awards. President Hunter later recalled, “Only six more [merit badges] were required for the rank of Eagle Scout. The scouting magazine had carried stories of boys who had gained the rank of Eagle, but we were told there had not yet been one in Idaho. The race was on between Edwin Phipps of Troop 6 and me.” By the next court of honor, both boys had earned twenty-one merit badges, but young Howard still lacked some required badges. Edwin received his Eagle award in March 1923, and Howard received his Eagle Scout award on May 11, 1923, the second Eagle Scout in Idaho.

—Eleanor Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 39-40

 Explorer Scouts

The leadership opportunities and advanced activities of the Vanguard Scout program were effective in retaining older youth in the MIA Scouting organization. After five years of Church operation, the National Council requested permission to use the Vanguard curriculum as a basis for their advanced Scouting program. George Albert Smith readily agreed. In the new national program, older youth were called “Explorer Scouts.”

Since the Explorer Scout program was in harmony with the Vanguard objectives, Church leaders willingly changed the YMMIA program name from Vanguard to Explorer on May 8, 1935. One month later, during the June 1935 MIA conference, a ceremony was held with Dr. Fisher of the National BSA council, and 7,000 LDS Vanguards were welcomed as Explorer Scouts into the BSA.

“The General Officers of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association are as concerned with the training of boys as they are with the training of girls. The lives of these young people parallel. They should march together to the same goal. Therefore we commend the Young Men’s organization and all others who are engaged in this splendid work for boys. May their remarkable success be added upon ten-fold.” —Ruth May Fox, YWMIA general president, Improvement Era, Feb. 1935, 99

Boy Scouts at Independence Rock encampment, July 1930

Celebrations and Anniversaries

Several Scouting and Church anniversaries were commemorated during the 1930s. April 1930 marked one hundred years since the organization of the Church. A new hymn for youth titled “Carry On” was introduced at the June conference and became the MIA theme song. In July of the same year, hundreds of Scouts from fifteen different states across America gathered at Independence Rock, Wyoming, in the first nationwide Scout encampment. Prominent Church and Scouting leaders, including Elder George Albert Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Chief Scout Executive James E. West, attended the event.

LDS Boy Scouts at the Hill Cumorah, 1935

A national jamboree was scheduled in 1935 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. The gala event was to be held in Washington, D.C., and drew the attention and support of the nation, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. With great anticipation, several troops of LDS Scouts from Utah made preparations to participate in the memorable event. However, a polio epidemic forced the postponement of the jamboree until 1937.

Even though the jamboree was canceled, LDS troops still traveled east to visit Church history sites and tour New York; Washington, D.C.; and other cities. On their return trip west, these Scouts marked the Pony Express Trail as a service project.

George Albert Smith with international Scouts

World Scouting

The Scouting movement flourished around the world, and many countries established national organizations. The World Organization of the Scouting Movement (WOSM) was formed in 1922. Wherever possible, the Church established an affiliation with national Scouting organizations, similar to the partnership they had with the Boy Scouts of America. The February 1935 Improvement Era reported Latter-day Saint Scout troops in the following international locations: Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hawaii, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Additionally, BSA troops were established in several areas outside of the United States, including Tonga and Colonia Juarez, Mexico.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is using the Boy Scout Program in a larger way than any other church in existence. . . . Your Church . . . has given a volunteer and a loyal leadership and support that is unequalled by any other religious body in America.”

—Ray O. Wyland, Director of Education, National Organization, Boy Scouts of America, Improvement Era, Aug. 1928, 860-861

A Silver Anniversary

The silver anniversary of Scouting in the Church was a time to celebrate. Twenty-five years of affiliation had resulted in continued cooperation between the two organizations. National encampments and programs, dedicated leaders, and 35,000 registered LDS Scouts were reasons to commemorate. Impressive anniversary festivities were held in conjunction with the 1938 June MIA conference, including a jubilee signal fire on Ensign Peak, Salt Lake City. Activities culminated in a religious convocation in the Tabernacle on Sunday, June 2, with a notable gathering of Scouts and Explorers as well as Church and national Scouting leaders.

By 1938 35,000 LDS Scouts were registered with the national BSA organization.

~Excerpts taken from Century of Honor: 100 Years of Scouting in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  To order a copy click here.