Camp Fire Girls
and the Boy Scouts of America

- by Alice Marie Beard

I grew up in the '50s and '60s, knowing that the "sister organization" to the Boy Scouts of America was Camp Fire Girls. The two organizations have a definite historical relationship. The Camp Fire Girls organization was begun in the United States with the joint efforts of some of the very people who were instrumental in founding Boy Scouts of America, and by the sisters and wives of the men who built BSA in this country. James E. West, first Chief Scout for BSA, always made clear that Camp Fire Girls was the "sister" organization to BSA; West served as the top executive officer of BSA from 1911 to 1943.

In more recent years, that historical relationship between Camp Fire and Boy Scouts of American is sometimes forgotten. Below are a few traces of history:

  Everyone helps Smokey Bear.
To help children and their parents remember Smokey's fire prevention message, a new Smokey Bear poster was produced every year. This one shows a Boy Scout and a Camp Fire Girl helping Smokey.

The Boy Scout is in the traditional olive colored BSA cap with the familiar red neckerchief. The Camp Fire Girl is in the uniform of the 1950s: navy blue beanie cap with the crossed logs and flame symbol, white blouse, and red neckerchief.

Note that a Camp Fire Girl closed her neckerchief differently from a Boy Scout: A Scout pulled both corner points of his 'kerchief straight down into the "ring" which held the two sides side by side, points pointed downward. A Camp Fire Girl, however, threaded the corner points into the ring from opposite sides; thus, the two sides crossed over and formed an "X."

In 1985, the United States Postal Service
issued a block of four stamps.
The block had stamps recognizing
YMCA, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire,
and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

O it's dip and sway and slip away
Into a world of blue.
The Camp Fire gleams like a home of dreams
From the Scout patrol's canoe.
This postcard shows two people paddling a canoe. In front is someone in the early costume of a Camp Fire Girl, and the flag in front shows crossed logs and a flame, the symbol for Camp Fire. In back is someone in a Boy Scout's uniform, with the American flag flying behind. The verse is by Florence J. Martin.

Here is another postcard from the 1920s, with verse by Florence J. Martin. This one seems like a valentine:

Camp Fire Girl, my heart is scouting,
And there isn't any doubting
What is knows.
All the Secret Code is showing
In your cheek where fire is glowing
...... .. .....

The girl is dressed in traditional Camp Fire "Indian maiden costume," and the boy is dressed in a traditional BSA uniform.

This is from the top of a box containing roasting forks. It was manufactured and sold in about 1920. The packaging reads, "Every Campfire Girl and Boy Scout will wish for this fork, without a doubt, when sausages over a fire they are roasting." Whether BSA or CFG was paid for use of their names is unknown. The purpose here is only to show that the two were seen as brother-sister organizations by society at large.

The graphic above is from the October 1921 "Ladies' Home Journal." There was a two-page spread advertisement by "Wool Soap" which talked about the "code of cleanliness" for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls:
"A Scout is clean" -- reads the 11th point of the Scout Law."Keep clean inside and outside each day" -- says the Book of the Camp Fire Girls."
Personal cleanliness is emphasized as a fundamental in correct, all-around development, by the Boy Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls. That the principles of training of these two live organizations are sound and successful is apparent to anyone who has watched a patrol of Scouts start off on a week-end camping trip or a Camp Fire group on a day's hike in the open.
The 11th point of the Scout Law reads: "A Scout is clean. He keeps clean in body and thought, stands for clean speech, clean sport, clean habits and travels with a clean crowd."
The official Scout Handbook says: "A boy ought to take a good soap bath at least twice a week and always after he has played a hard game or done work or a nature that has caused him to perspire freely. Each morning a quick sponge bath should be the first order of the day."
To Camp Fire Girls their book has this to say: "Fine people seem to have fine skin. This means not only that they keep dirt off it, but that the skin is kept responsive by contact with hot and cold water. Fineness of feeling begins with the skin. Keep clean inside and outside each day if you wish to be your own best self."
We have a trial cake of Wool Soap for every Boy Scout and Camp Fire Girl. Fill out the coupon below carefully and we will send it to. Swift & Company, U.S.A.

Part of the advertisement was a four-panel piece of art. The first panel shows Boy Scouts hiking and using flag signals. The second panel shows Boy Scouts cooking in a fry skillet at at outdoor fire. The third panel shows Camp Fire Girls washing dishes at camp, and the narrow fourth panel shows a Boy Scout hiking. Artist unknown.

Above is a photo of one panel in a large scroll from the 1920s. The scroll appears to have been used for educational purposes, most likely for grammar school children. The scroll included panels with lessons for arithmetic, geography, history, the U.S. Constitution, Bible studies, the alphabet, etc. Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls were the only two youth organizations featured on the scroll.

In 1914, Dr. Charles A. Eastman, a Sioux Indian who was also known as "Ohiyesa," wrote the book Indian Scout Talks: A Guide for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls. It was republished in 1920. Dr. Eastman had worked for the YMCA during the time that Dr. Luther Gulick (credited as founder of Camp Fire Girls) had headed the YMCA organization. Dr. Eastman was one of the small group of men who helped to found Boy Scouts of America, and he was part of the small group of men and women who soon after helped to found the Camp Fire Girls organization.

Mahawe's Memory Book
|basic info| |BSA-CFG connection| |historical origins of Camp Fire|
Dr. Charles A. Eastman: Ohiyesa|
Camp Fire symbolgrams| |CF in children's fiction|
emblems| |honor beads| |friendship sticks|
cookie recipes| |old memories| |CF 4-260|

Search this site

email Alice
site by Alice Marie Beard,