Calvin Coolidge was a great admirer of the Boy Scouts of America, though they hadn’t even existed when he was a boy growing up in Plymouth Notch, Vt. He believed scouting taught the virtues he’d learned on his family farm.
“…Every boy who has the privilege of growing up on a farm learns instinctively the three fundamentals of scouthood,” he told a group of Boy Scouts over the telephone in 1924. Those fundamentals were reverence for nature, reverence for law and reverence for God.
The U.S. branch of the Boy Scouts was founded in 1910, when Coolidge was a rising Massachusetts politician in his late 30s. Within 16 years, 3 million boys between 12 and 17 had become scouts, and a half-million adults had served as scoutmasters and assistant scoutmasters.
The Boy Scouts got a boost from the White House: The first annual meeting was held in the White House in 1911, and President William Taft served as the first honorary president. Coolidge’s friend, Boston investment banker James Storrow, had been the second national president.
Coolidge gave a speech praising the Boy Scouts of America in a ceremony honoring Sir Robert Baden-Powell on May 1, 1926. He said the Boy Scouts had protected birds and wildlife, reforested woods, cooperated with churches to promote wholesome reading, carried out ‘safety first’ campaigns, helped in Liberty-loan and get-out-the-vote campaigns.
“If every boy in the United States between the ages of 12 and 17 could be placed under the wholesome influences of the scout program and should live up to the scout oath and rules, we would hear fewer pessimistic words as to the future of our Nation,” Coolidge said during that address.
The photo was taken a year before; the caption reads, “President greets visiting boy scouts. 1500 boy scouts from N.Y., N.J., & Conn. making annual pilgrimage to the Capitol being greeted at the White House by President Coolidge.”
Photo courtesy Library of Congress, American Memory, ‘Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929.’