1857-01-24

The first Boy Scout, LORD BADEN POWELL was born. The British Army lieutenant-general, Baron and writer is considered the founder of the International Scouting Movement through the publication of his book “Scouting for Boys”, published in 1908.

Robert Baden-Powell’s sexuality has been brought into question by his principal modern biographers, who have found a great deal of evidence indicating he was attracted to youthful men and boys. While early biographies of Robert Baden-Powell tended towards the hagiographic, two important modern biographies, by Michael Rosenthal of Columbia University and professional biographer Tim Jeal, have reached the conclusion that he was probably a repressed homosexual. Jeals writes:

Baden-Powell “…consistently praised the male body when naked. At Gilwell Park, the Scouts’ camping ground in Epping Forest, he always enjoyed watching the boys swimming naked, and would sometimes chat with them after they had just ‘stripped off.’

Jeal cites a revealing account by Baden-Powell of a visit to Charterhouse, his old public school, where he stayed with a bachelor teacher and housemaster who had taken large numbers of nude photographs of his pupils. Baden-Powell’s diary entry reads: “Stayed with Tod. Tod’s photos of naked boys and trees. Excellent.” In a subsequent communication to Tod regarding starting up a Scout troop at the school, Baden-Powell mentions an impending return visit and adds: “Possibly I might get a further look at those wonderful photographs of yours.” (According to R. Jenkyns, the album contained nude boys in “contrived and artificial” poses.)

However Jeal also shows that paintings of nude boys were regarded as art, being hung in the Royal Academy each year without causing particular stir. Also Tod’s photo’s were accepted by parents and school authorities until the sixties, when they were destroyed. Baden-Powell’s admiration of the male body was physical, as being the best example of the beauty of nature, and with that of God, the creator: “A clean young man in his prime of health and strength is the finest creature God has made in the world.” As an example he told about some Swazi chiefs with whom he met some gymnastic instructors. The chiefs were not fully satisfied until they had had the men stripped and had examined themselves their muscular development.” Baden-Powell himself did not write about or draw (he was a good amateur-artist) males in an erotic sense.

At age fifty-five Baden-Powell married twenty-three-year-old Olave St Clair Soames. Olave “altered her appearance to suit him, flattening her breasts and shearing her hair.” Shortly after the marriage Baden-Powell began to suffer from agonizing headaches: these left him abruptly two years after the birth of their third child when he began sleeping apart from his wife: “With every hint of sex removed from a relationship he could get on reasonably well with women.”

Interestingly enough, today is also the anniversary of the founding of the first Boy Scout troop, which was organized in England by Robert Baden-Powell.