In the late nineteenth century the organized summer camp movement developed as a response to anxieties about the effects of the urban-industrial age on children. Camping advocates wanted to create a countermodern alternative to the world their campers inhabited most of the year. These advocates subscribed to a set of values and assumptions about what is “natural” for children that eventually provoked a debate over the uses of nature in socializing children. Environmental historians can learn much from this debate as they try to make sense of how nature has been constructed both literally and symbolically in the twentieth century.

City life is definitely not made for children. It is not geared to their needs. It is not natural to them.
Kenneth Webb, Farm and Wilderness Camps Director (1964)

How sentimental we get about camping! We hear about “being close to nature” as if cities were unnatural. We talk about “life in the raw” as if Chicago were not raw enough. We talk about Nature as if God made it just like we see it.
Edwin Barker, YMCA Camp Director (1959)

THE HISTORY OF organized summer camping in the United States resounds with contending voices about what the camp environment could do for children and what a camp experience should be.[1] As the epigraphs suggest, in debating the value of a summer camp experience, camp leaders such as Kenneth Webb and Edwin Barker also were debating the meaning and value of nature and childhood in a rapidly urbanizing nation. These rich and largely unexamined debates tell a story that complicates our understanding of the nature/culture tension environmental historians have examined for so long.

The sharply contrasting sentiments mask, however, the extent to which summer camp advocates have, in varying degrees, embraced the ideals about nature, childhood, and modern urban civilization Webb expressed. A powerful force in organized camping for more than fifty years, Webb was nonetheless something of a maverick, carrying his back-to-nature ideals so far as to advocate nudity at his camps.[2] Few other leaders went to such lengths, nor did many match his unwavering and often strident condemnation of the city. That said, the source material from more than a century of organized camping reveals that at any given time, most camping advocates have viewed nature as inherently salubrious for children—and expressed at least some ambivalence about the effects of city (and eventually suburban) life on children. This is hardly surprising given the movement’s origins in the back-to-nature ideology of the late nineteenth century. What is intriguing, if not surprising, about these ideas about nature, childhood, and urban life is their durability over a century of profound change. As the United States has changed, human life has become ever more mediated—by radio, television, film, and more recently the Internet—strengthening the appeal of the idealism and romantic view of nature embodied in summer camping.

Equally intriguing to the environmental historian is Barker’s indictment of the prevailing assumptions about why summer camp was necessary and how a camp experience affected children. Although I discovered little about Barker’s larger role in organized summer camping beyond what is available in one essay he wrote for a YMCA magazine, he certainly was not alone in questioning the very notion of what was “natural” in modern America. As early as the 1930s, camping practitioners and theorists began wondering about how children experienced their brief sojourn in the more natural environment of a camp and about how the life they lived there transferred (or did not) to the “real” world. Postwar developments in child psychology—including the use of summer camping as therapy for troubled youth—had led William Morse and his University of Michigan Fresh Air Camp colleague Fritz Redl to suggest that, in fact, there was nothing “natural” about the camp environment from the perspective of most children. “Many adults, who would themselves shrink at the thought of one night in the open,” Morse wrote in 1947, “rashly suggest camp as the automatic remedy for the physical and mental health problems of children. The woods are categorically supposed to be wholesome and full of the enzymes of adjustment.”[3] As I will later show, Redl offered an even more searing critique of what he called the “Ego Ideal of the Good Camper.” Immersion in an environment devoid of many of the accoutrements of urban industrial life might produce growth, but not without careful guidance.

Between Webb and Barker, between those summer camp leaders who believed the more “natural,” less-mediated world of a camp offered salvation for children and those who questioned that vision, exists a fascinating spectrum of ideals, experiments, and thousands of camp advocates who, I believe, really did have the best interests of children in mind. My investigation of their work illuminated one final—and in many ways unifying—dimension of the history of organized camping. Whether a summer camp was primitive and naturalistic, resort-like, or somewhere in between, the people who operated these camps understood, if only in an inchoate way, that it was the contrast between the everyday world of a child’s life and the camp world that had the potential to help children develop. Most were not, as it seemed in my first reading of their words, antimodern; they were (and are) rather, counter modern, exalting something more “natural” and more “real” as a means to being modern in a different way.[4]

Before examining the evolution of organized summer camping and the insights into American ideals about nature and childhood such an examination provides, I want to explain the limits of this essay. The principal one is my reliance on the voices of the adults who theorized, created, and evaluated summer camp experiences for children. Early in the history of organized camping, organizers’ understanding of how their charges experienced camp were largely impressionistic if they took the time to contemplate this at all. Although camping advocates developed more sensitive evaluation tools over time, their voices convey the normative perspective with which historians of all child-serving institutions are familiar.[5] The paucity of source material created by children without explicit adult guidance makes it difficult to interpret how differently (or not) campers experienced camp as opposed to how adults expected or imagined they experienced it.

A second way I have limited this essay is to focus primarily on how summer camp advocates viewed the effects of nature on children and less on how they constructed childhood, though there is inevitable overlap. In the context of the history of summer camp Leslie Paris already has advanced our understanding of how camp leaders sought to understand and mold “children’s nature” through the camp experience. I commend readers to her impressive work for a more focused examination of this dimension of the history of summer camp.[6]

Finally, in developing my argument in this piece I make no attempt to evaluate the impact of the larger institutional values that affected the practice of summer camping. Certainly agency-sponsored camps (for example, the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, the Camp Fire Girls), private camps, and religiously oriented camps each tried to produce camp experiences that resonated with specific normative expectations.[7] The limitations of space prevent me from producing and examining a taxonomy of summer camps. I am focusing primarily on the element of summer camping that unites all camps: the creation of an environment deemed more natural than the environments child and youth campers inhabited the rest of the year.

Many of the people who created these environments have been having conversations in my head and in the pages of my writing for many years. As I have listened in on this dialogue in musty old magazines and journals, conference proceedings, training manuals, and camp brochures, I often have felt drawn into the conversation myself, at turns laudatory and judgmental. I share much of the camping advocates’ ambivalence toward modern urban American life and their reverence for more bucolic alternatives to that life. I am heartened that much recent work on the psychological effects of non-human nature on children affirms some of the goals of the summer camp movement.[8] Yet I recognize how easily sentimentality and mythmaking can, as William Cronon has put it, “get us back to the wrong nature.” There has been plenty of romantic sentiment about summer camp with its origins in adults projecting their own ambivalence about modern life onto children.

Figure 1. A 1915 Brochure.

Courtesy of the YMCA of the USA and the Kautz Family YMCA Archive, University of Minnesota.
This brochure for Camp Wawayanda, one of the oldest boys’ summer camps in the United States, evokes the countermodern ethos of the organized camping movement. Many early camp leaders focused on the power of “roughing it” in nature to build character and uplift spirits, to save the race from “dying from in-door-ness.”


THE SUMMER CAMP grew out of the changing American social fabric of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. As Peter Schmitt, Jackson Lears, Roderick Nash, and others have argued, the rapidly burgeoning urban and suburban middle class began expressing grave doubts about urbanism and industrial capitalism even as these new social and economic realities swept them to ever greater levels of material prosperity. One result of this “dis-ease” of the middle class was a re-visioning of nature as a sanctuary from the artificial, mechanized world of the city. As urbanized Americans moved further and further away—physically and psychologically—from their mostly rural origins, there evolved a sentimental view of nature and agrarian life as the locus of a simpler Arcadian past. By recreating the conditions of the wilderness frontier or the yeoman farm in recreational spaces, many Americans hoped this connection to the character-building forces of nature would revitalize bodies and spirits sagging under the weight of urban life and its conveniences—and inconveniences.[9]

Paradoxically, many summer-camp leaders also conceived their camps as laboratories for figuring out the kind of socialization necessary for modern life. They noted that in going to summer camp, children were removed from their everyday environment and placed in a different world. By the reckoning of camping advocates, camp was a better world, a place where socialization of children could happen without them being subjected to a parent’s or teacher’s will. Moreover, this could happen in the bosom of nature, without the distractions of motion pictures, radio, television, automobiles, and all the other artifice of urban civilization. The camp world could be, if nothing else, a less artificial world, an environment where children could experience the elemental in nature more directly. At camp they could build fires and cook outdoors, swim in lakes, and walk on stone and dirt trails instead of eating food prepared by someone else on a gas stove, swimming in a chlorinated pool, and walking on concrete sidewalks (or not walking at all). Children in such an environment, camp advocates believed, could develop more complete personalities and eventually contribute more fully to civil society as adults.[10]

Figure 2. Camp Dudley.

Courtesy of the YMCA of the USA and the Kautz Family YMCA Archive, University of Minnesota.
Boys at Camp Dudley, the first YMCA camp in the country, learn the finer points of axmanship, a skill intended to reconnect them with both nature and the “good life” of their frontier forbearers. As critics of this romantic construction of both nature and American history would later point out, learning to use an ax did not in itself prepare children very well for life in a modern city or suburb.

Such ideals for summer camping did not develop overnight. Teachers, clergymen, and physicians began experimenting with summer camps in the 1870s and 1880s.[11] A Pennsylvania physician named Joseph T. Rothrock founded a camp for “weakly” boys near Wilkes-Barre in 1876, calling it “the School of Physical Culture.” This camp is significant for being explicitly predicated on the notion that beyond being “character-building,” the camp environment, suffused with nature, was inherently healthy for children weakened and enervated by city life.[12] Another pioneer of camping, the Reverend George W. Hinckley, began taking boys from his parish on camping trips in 1880. Though he did not provide an organized camping experience per se, Hinckley did initiate the first camp-like experience based on a church youth group, and he went on to found a camp in Maine. Hinckley’s account of his experiences focuses on the power of “roughing it” in nature to build character and uplift spirits, to save the race from “dying from in-door-ness.”[13]

It was precisely such sentiments that led to the founding of the first summer camp organized according to principles that would be recognizable to camp directors of the twentieth century. In 1881, Ernest Balch, a Dartmouth student, founded Camp Chocorua in New Hampshire. Balch was frustrated by what he saw as “the miserable condition of boys belonging to well-to-do families in the summer hotels.” So he created an environment that forced these boys to seize the initiative for building and maintaining their own shelters and cooking for themselves, activities he believed would develop self-reliance instead of dependence.[14] Just across Squam Lake from Camp Chocuroa Winthrop T. Talbot, also of elite New England Protestant stock, operated one of the few camps to take up the philosophical mantel thrown down by Balch. He became the first camping leader to explicitly offer summer camps as an antidote to what one physician described to the Boston Physical Education society in 1901 as “the tremendous pressure of American life, the rush, the tension, the steadily increasing demands of life.” As Talbot wrote to his fellow elites in the World’s Work, “The ever growing revolt against the tyranny of modern city life, has found expression for boys in summer camping.”[15]

If the conditions of urban life were hard on adults, Talbot and other early camping leaders were wondering, how much more deleterious were they for children? They were not alone in asking such questions, and the history of the early summer camp movement must be understood as but one manifestation of the impulse to guard children from urban physical and moral pollutants. Saving children from urban environments had become a preoccupation of many Progressive Era reformers, but two groups have particular kinship with the summer camp movement. The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) busied itself with permanently relocating children to more rural parts of the country (not without considerable controversy). The playground movement—institutionalized as the National Playground Association—approached reform in another way that resonated with the early values of summer camping: recreation as a means of socialization and building character. The playground movement even shared adherents with the camping movement, most notably Luther Halsey Gulick, cofounder of the Camp Fire Girls.[16] Though turn-of-the-century summer-camp advocates like Talbot had much in common with these other reformers, their undertaking remained unique. In a sense, they synthesized the approaches of the CAS and the playground movement together with the ideology of sublime wilderness and created something never before seen in the world. They proposed a temporary escape from the city to an idealized frontier encampment where recreation would teach values.

One camp brochure from the late 1890s expressed these ideals—as well as the sales pitch—of early camp advocates perfectly. “A camp in the woods bordering on a beautiful lake, breathing the healthful, bracing air of the pines, viewing Nature in her ever-changing moods, living a free, outdoor life, and having at all times the sympathetic companionship of young men of refinement, experience, and character—is this not the ideal summer outing for a boy?”[17] This outing would take place in Nature, invoked with a capital N, an adventure in a semi-divine pastoral where proper socialization and character development would happen by osmosis.

Until 1904, camp advocates’ sentiments about the inherent value of exposure to nature had seemed largely intuitive. All this changed with the publication of G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence that year. In Adolescence, Hall presented the theory that not only was immersion in nature educative for children but also a necessary part of healthy development. Suddenly the raison d’être of organized summer camping had scientific credibility, a significant form of validation in that era. Drawing on the German Romantic idea that the development of a child recapitulates the evolution of a race—ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, in the memorable phrase of biologist Ernst Haeckel—Hall advocated the nourishing of “nativistic and more or less feral instincts” in children. Keeping in step with the concerns of his day, Hall excoriated the effects of the city on children, condemning “our urbanized hothouse life, that tends to ripen everything before its time.” The antidote, he suggested, would be for all urban children to “visit field, forest, hill, shore, the water, flowers, animals, the true homes of childhood in this wild undomesticated stage from which modern conditions have kidnapped him.”[18]

Advocates of summer camping, nature study, and other similar movements embraced Hall’s nostrums as gospel.[19] Hall’s influence is obvious in much of the writing about summer camp in the years following the publication and, perhaps more importantly, popularization of the recapitulation theory. One writer praised the fact that the “the principles of primitive society pervade camp.” Embracing both the idea of childhood as a time of innocence and of savagery, he added that a child at camp does not know that by “roughing it” he “is proving the law of natural reversion and recalling racial experience…. The wisely constructed summer camp is the invaluable opportunity for the city-reared boy to establish himself in the knowledge which only nature can reveal.”[20]

“It is true,” wrote camping advocate George Walter Fiske in 1911, “that the savage is a child and the child is a savage. They both live near to nature—give them half a chance—and they know little of the conventions of society.”[21] A writer surveying the camping movement for Good Housekeeping asserted that “the race spent its youth in the open; the lives of men were once as untrammeled as their souls.” In recent times, however, the nation’s children risked being permanently stunted by their urban habitat. “The call of the wild,” he concluded, “is almost irresistible.”[22] After visiting several camps, education reformer Calvin Lewis went even further, calling camps an “invaluable part of a city boy’s education.” The summer camp, he went on, “offers the opportunity that every boy longs for—to be in the open air, to tramp and swim and angle and sleep out-of-doors; no artificial restrictions of dress or society to hamper him… Here is a boy’s paradise where he can get every good thing out of life and where he is removed from most of its evils.”[23]

By the end of World War I—which had, predictably, inspired many camp directors to create more regimented, militaristic camp experiences—the summer camp movement secured an influential place in the panoply of child and youth serving institutions.[24] There had been fewer than one hundred camps at the turn of the century, most of them located in the Northeast. By 1918, there were over one thousand.[25] Most camping advocates believed that guided play in a natural environment far from the stifling city would be sufficient to achieve the goals of camping: robust physical and mental health, an appreciation for the simpler things in life, and, perhaps, “the readjustment of children to the new conditions of society,” as Luther Halsey Gulick put it.[26] The challenges of maintaining this vision only grew between the wars.

Evoking once again that construct of the natural world as pure and uncompromising in its ability to forge character, summer camp promoters such as Porter Sargent, author of an annual camp survey in the 1920s and 1930s, and noted outdoorsman Henry Wellington Wack envisioned camp as a kind of natural gymnasium for the body and spirit: “The best training for leisure which our civilization affords both young and old is a thorough camp training out in the wilderness, where Nature treats all with equal justice. It is when the human animal is young that Nature makes her most romantic appeal, impresses her lessons most effectively, stimulates, educates, renders child life a curious aggressive campaign of wanting to know and learning to do.”[27]

Wack, indeed, devoted an entire book about the summer camp to this theme with the subtitle “Training for Leisure.” In addressing the artificial existence he believed to be at the root of the ennui of youth, summer camps would be “instruments of juvenile redemption.” If society became dominated by those “who have never learned what to do with time except to ‘kill’ it,” the inevitable decline and fall of civilization would surely result.[28] Wack was by no means unique in celebrating the summer camp as the “natural” (literally and figuratively) solution to the leisure “problem.” One of the first presidents of the Camp Director’s Association (later to become the American Camping Association, or ACA), H. W. Gibson had characterized camps as “places where those who are gorged with luxury and who are anemic with the pastries of modern life can find contentment and happiness in simple needs and simple pleasures where nature can teach her wonderful lessons.”[29]

For all of the growth of organized camping, Wack, Sargent, and Gibson had in mind a kind of summer camp that evidently was in short supply. As organized summer camping had developed in the previous three decades, the primitivism that was to be the antidote to materialistic modern life had eroded. Modern conveniences had become so prevalent at many camps that children at them experienced a change of scenery but not of lifestyle. The first serious debate within the camping movement, then, was not about whether camp life or city life was more “natural.” Instead, the debate was whether there was even that much difference between the two. If the camping movement were to be the answer to the question of how to educate American children for the adequate use of the projected surfeit of leisure, it would have to purge the city from the camp, as it were. “Piffling, noisy artificialities in the heart of tranquil nature” could not be allowed.[30]

But Wack found in his survey of camps that many things of that sort were being allowed, and the contrast between the world of camp and the world beyond faded: “The casual entertainments of sports clubs, summer resorts, and boarding houses” had at too many camps replaced the “arts and activities of the forest, field, and stream.” The menu of activities at camp featured too prominently the “pastries” of civilization: movies, radio, tennis lessons—leisure and recreation, yes, but not pursuits that utilized the uniqueness of the camp environment. Such reliance on “artificial” sources of entertainment was a “sure symptom of intellectual and spiritual illiteracy,” lamented Hedley Dimock and Charles Hendry in Camping and Character, a foundational text for camp administrators in the 1930s. “We do everything in camp except camp,” Ben Solomon told an assembled group of camp people at the Columbia University Teacher’s College. “Every activity we can find to fit into the daily program is put in, but there is a notable lack of camping—living out in the open—the very thing that gave the movement its birth.”[31] Speaking before the New York section of the ACA in 1931, Frank Hackett told his fellow camping leaders that “too often we give [campers] the stones of protection, of luxury, of imitation of the very city life they are fleeing.” The “movies, shows, highly-organized sports and other transferences from the accustomed environment” were “a representation of life[,] not life itself.”[32]

Expressions of faith in the nature of camp as a tool for building better children remained central to leaders’ vision even as experiences with the natural world at camp became ever more diluted at many camps. “The child who is without fear and is allowed frequently to be alone in a beautiful place … will know the true meaning of reverence for elemental things and will have laid the foundations of a spiritual reserve which may be drawn on through the years,” reads CDA’s “The Place of Camping in the Field of Education” report from 1928.[33] The pages of Camping Magazine are filled with similar reassurances about the healing and educative power of nature. “A life in the open, the restful atmosphere of the woods, the glory of the sky, its clouds, sunsets, the lake and shore, the naturalness of living, always brings revitalization of mind and body,” opined a representative editorial in 1932. “Sounds idealistic, doesn’t it? Well, perhaps so, but really it is but the natural longing of every human heart. Children, and those who refuse to grow old, respond joyously to this appeal of nature.”[34] It is idealistic, but many did (and do) have such longings, as the huge increase in outings to state and national parks and other conservation areas during the 1920s and 1930s attest. Mass automobility had exponentially expanded access to “the restful atmosphere of the woods.”[35] Yet just as these tourists brought with them attitudes about nature conditioned by urban life, so too did most of the children and staff of summer camps, argued Carlos Ward, author of the 1935 Organized Camping and Progressive Education. “From the point of view of the Gestalt psychologists one questions whether camps are grasping the real opportunities for enriched living which their camp environment offers,” Ward wrote. “So much of the artificial enters into camps that campers may spend a whole summer without coming to feel the realities of camp. So many urban activities are imported into the country along with the campers and counselors [that] campers see the hills as they have seen them in pictures.”[36] He did not question the underlying premise of summer camping, however: that the reality of home was less natural to children than the reality of camp. But others were beginning to.


FOR SOME SUMMER camp leaders, the camp environment represented a unique opportunity to synthesize the values inherent in living in a simple, even primitive environment with the better aspects of modern civilization. But they believed nature and culture remained opposed in fundamental ways. Nature offered the “essential realities” of woods and water as opposed to “the artificial realities and conventionalities” of “routine living, especially in our cities,” wrote one camp advocate in Child Study. Compared with the sounds of nature, wrote another, “the camper’s soul responds with sympathetic vibrations of a widely different tone from his response to the roar of rushing subway trains, or to the resonant rumbling of a big city.” Hedley Dimock and Charles Hendry saw it too. Camping experiences were valuable because “the naturalness and simplicity of life in the woods” stood in contrast to “the complexity and artificiality of civilized city life.”[37]

Yet they also believed the tension of this dialectic had the potential to produce a new social order and set of social values. By the 1930s, the theory and practice of group work as articulated by reformers such as Eduard Lindeman had provided the summer camp movement with a new rationale. By using the more natural environment of camp to stimulate democratic group dynamics, a new world might emerge.[38] The well-conceived camp experience, leaders of the movement believed, embodied this tension between civilization and nature and therefore was the most promising environment for synthesis. Margaret Johnston, one of a growing number of women directing camps and contributing to print and conference discussions about the philosophy and theory of camping, eloquently articulated this synthetic potential of camping in 1937: “From the camping movement may come the most significant contribution society can receive—men and women who combine the graces of culture of the best urban types with the strength, serenity, poise, and wisdom of the true nature lover who can live alone in the woods if he chooses, or with equal grace in the most cultured society, of which he will be the ideal representative. Only by means of such men and women can we build a civilization that is at once refined, humane and balanced.”[39]

The ultimate purpose of camp in this view was not a wholesale or even partial repudiation of civilization. Nor was it the creation of a world entirely separate from life the rest of the year. By the 1930s, a few outspoken leaders of the camping movement saw the summer camp functioning not merely as an escape but as a laboratory—a place where the most degrading influences of the machine age would be absent and where the work of compounding civil society from the energy and curiosity of children with the invigorating power of nature could proceed most smoothly. Stewardship of the earth’s natural resources (which did not preclude the use of them) was not only an end in itself but a means for harmonious social organization. In discovering those “essential realities” children would draw on “resources that operate under simple conditions of living and under simple relations with people and nature.”[40] The result would be “a helpful citizen rather than an ailing dependent.” H. W. Gibson, now a grand old sage of the movement, found much to like about this conception of camping. He too believed the camp experience would forge citizens out of ideals made clear in nature. At camp the “moral distortion” of modern society would diminish if leaders established “a community life where truth and honesty shall reign supreme and become fixed habits.” With “mutual cooperation” as the guiding and necessary principle of camp life, camps would “contribute to the making of fine and noble standards of living, the development of a better citizenship and the kind of a character that will continue to produce when campers return to their homes and their schools and their communities.”[41]

In Camping and Education Bernard Mason contemplated the camp as “a society in itself and a fragment of the great society.” Because it was “subjected to the same social laws, motivated by the same social forces, controlled by the same social methods,” the summer camp was an ideal environment for preparing children for the real world. At camp, children would learn the process of give and take, they would learn to reconcile individual needs and desires with that of the group. He urged his readers to “comprehend the vastness of the social potentialities of camping. I can think of no other place outside the family where imitation—harmonizing with group customs and ideals—can affect character so profoundly as in the intimate contacts of camp, which is an isolated harmonious society.”[42]

Yet some camping leaders viewed even the family as inferior to the camp as an environment for inculcating values and ideals. Unlike the camp, they argued, the family, school, and church remained physically and psychologically embedded in the “real” world and thereby inhibited the kind of social adjustment that could happen away from that world. The socialization that occurred in these contexts merely reproduced the existing social order and its problems. A camp, on the other hand, offered “parent substitute[s] who will be interested in [the child] but not be emotionally entangled with him,” wrote Ralph Hill. “The camp has its children in small groups lifted free of faulty home patterns, free of the adult city world whose vital processes are inaccessible to youth, free of the rush and pressure of the age.” The camp was far from “the disturbing influences often found in the home or community relationships of the child,” argued Boyd Walker, associate secretary of the Detroit YMCA. “The very freedom of the out-of-doors contributes to the naturalness of such social adjustment.”[43]

Figure 3. Harlem Children Prepare to Leave for Camp.

Courtesy of the YMCA of the USA and the Kautz Family YMCA Archive, University of Minnesota.
By the 1950s, when these Harlem children were preparing to leave New York City for an upstate YMCA camp, most camping advocates took it as an article of faith that a sojourn with nature at summer camp would be automatically salubrious for children. Critics of this assumption had begun to emerge, however. William Morse, director of the University of Michigan Fresh Air Camp, had written in 1947 that “Many adults, who would themselves shrink at the thought of one night in the open, rashly suggest camp as the automatic remedy for the physical and mental health problems of children.”

As appealing an idea as synthesis was, parents, educators, and camp leaders themselves wondered whether it was, in the end, possible. Although none of them expressed it as psychologist Fritz Redl would a few years later (certainly no one suggested that the camp environment could be psychologically disturbing), many seemed to acknowledge that a summer camper’s natural habitat was, in fact, the city and its institutions. However connected to the institutions of the outside world even the most progressive camp might be, the patterns of life at camp really were not replicable once a child departed camp. “Without indulging in dialectics as to what constitutes real and unreal life,” wrote camp director A. E. Hamilton, there is “a vast difference between living at camp during the summer, and living in urban homes and going to school during the winter.” It was enormously difficult to replicate the “intensely vital life” of camp in a world where “commercialized recreation” dominated. Unless “parents, teachers, politicians, educators, and lovers of youth” could “carry on and bring the lessons and spirit of the forest and lake and open field into the wintertime lives of boys and girls,” he concluded, “the spring wound up at camp [would] run down.”[44] The camper might return to her home, to her school, and to her neighborhood more confident, competent, and filled with the vitality of nature, but her interactions with peers in the “real” world would be shaped by the fact that the overwhelming majority of these peers never went to camp. The outside forces of socialization remained stronger than those of the camp, muting the potential for growth generated by the contrast.

Although an unabashed enthusiast of organized camping, even William Kilpatrick—head of Columbia University’s Teachers College—wondered about the “abiding weakness” arising from the discontinuity of the camp world and the real world. “The camp is… intentionally removed from ordinary life,” warned Kilpatrick in his introduction to Camping and Character. “It suffers from discontinuity… Many lines of conduct in ordinary life have no counterpart in camp. Some camp conduct has little counterpart outside.” Conditions are so different that “‘transfer’ of learning is lessened from what we should like.” Once home, wrote another skeptic of the possibilities of synthesis, “camp interests and camp skills, despite their potential value, have a particularly high mortality rate.” Dimock and Hendry commented on the problem themselves. “If the individual as a social being is viewed realistically… the ‘civilized’ life of the town or city is his natural habitat,” they wrote. “Life in the woods is ‘unnatural.’ Wholesome values, satisfying activities and effective adjustments should characterize the normal community life of the individual. We may discover that the greater the hiatus between camp life and civilized life, the less the likelihood of transfer of the attitudes and habits stimulated in the camping environment.”[45]

In suggesting that the town or city might be more natural for children, Dimock and Hendry anticipated the turn toward psychology in camping theory after World War II, when Fritz Redl and William Morse took the camping community to task for assuming children instinctively belonged in the woods. No one in the 1930s was suggesting that the more natural environment of summer camps could actually be a psychological liability. They were merely concerned that the values learned in camp would, like a suntan, fade once the camper had left their laboratory, the dominant gene of civilization would reclaim the organism they had tried to engineer.


LIKE ALL INSTITUTIONS in American society, organized summer camping underwent a significant transformation during World War II. Camp directors and camping theorists modified their ideals to meet the needs of a society mobilizing for total war. Not surprisingly, militarism permeated many camps’ activities.[46] Many camps served the war effort directly by providing agricultural labor or creating large Victory Gardens to provision themselves, each of which was often advertised as “reconnecting” with “frontier” or “pioneer” heritage.[47] Camp leaders became intensely focused on indoctrination about democracy as an ideology to rival Nazism.[48] And the war atmosphere both blurred and made sharper the distinctions between nature and civilization that American society in general, and leaders of the camping movement in particular, had constructed.

The war years abound with examples of camp directors and other advocates promoting the nature found at camp as a balm for young psyches unsettled by war.[49] The camp was, in the words of one leader, “far from the madding crowd.” Camps could be refuges or retreats. By invoking not only the need to protect children from war’s excesses but also the importance of natural patrimony to a society worth fighting for, camp advocates secured a certain place in the home front agenda. An ACA bulletin published in early 1942 captures these sentiments well: “Summer camps tucked away in the hills are not only havens of physical safety, but the normal, happy life of these camps is the best antidote yet discovered for the nerve tension, emotional excitement and hate engendered by the war of nerves, and the constant fear of attack experienced by those who live in cities.”[50]

An article in Parents magazine at the beginning of camp season in 1942 reassured parents about a camp’s salubrious qualities: “Your child will be safe from the alarms of war at camp where lusty outdoor living develops both physical and moral stamina,” wrote Ross Allen. “If camps take children away from the adult discussion of current war events, they will do much to preserve the emotional balance of our youngsters.”[51]

More significantly, however, was one writer’s clear evocation of camp as another world, altogether different from the “real” world. Nature and tranquility reigned in one space, the culture of war in the other. Though city youth workers might resort to stirring up hatred of the enemy in children, he wrote, “camp directors and counselors should “at least try to keep the war out of camp.” For him, the contrast between nature and culture seemed starker than ever before.[52]

In an effort to sort out all these concerns, the February 1942 issue of Camping Magazine, the first issue to be published after the United States’ entry into the war, was devoted to camping professionals defining and explaining camping’s vital role in American education, recreation, and “democratic traditions,” a concept camping leaders were still trying to define. “What Do We Mean by Camping?”—this was the question each writer was supposed to address. It turned out that “camping” meant many things, although the predominate notion was of camp as a retreat or refuge in nature, a contrast with the workaday world, that would be healthy for children. “To go camping,” wrote Barbara Ellen Joy, a future ACA president, “means to go out from our usual habitat to some place vastly different, where living is simpler, freer, more meaningful, more stimulating, more adventuresome.” Because of this simplicity and primitiveness, wrote another contributor, “camps are in a better position… to bring to fruition the tradition that was born on the frontier,… an emphasis on everyday living, on the importance of the life of the common man. Highlighting the values needed to survive the current crisis, L. B. Sharp wrote that “of all the riches that constitute our American heritage, deep understanding and appreciation of our land is one of the most valuable. To return to [children and youth] the opportunity to secure this precious birthright is the greatest contribution camping can make to America and its future.” “Now more than ever the time was ripe to arrest the trend of camps drifting toward ‘the easy life’ and purge camps of urban recreational activities,” urged Fay Welch, a recreation education specialist at Syracuse University and camp director. “To sleep on a bed of balsam bows” should be the essence of the camp experience now and the best antidote to the urban world and its war-like orientation.”[53] In another forum, John B. Kelly, director of physical fitness for the Office of Civilian Defense, argued that the war and its privations would serve as a wake-up call to a nation that had “[fallen] victim to the comforts afforded by the machine.” Camping would help children reclaim the physical and spiritual heritage of their hardworking pilgrim and pioneer forebears: “Taught the more simple forms of enjoyment and social recreation they would be better fitted to meet the problems of life as the years go by.”[54]

The world of camp in the vision of these promoters continued to be a world apart from the sooty, complicated realities of the machine age, not only in space but also in time. Children would retreat from the modern world of total war to the past, where things had been simple and forging character had come simply through daily life. They would find themselves in a laboratory from which, it was hoped, they would emerge as citizens unalloyed with the mindless materialism that was perceived to be the root of so much evil in the world. In becoming dependent on the land once again in the controlled environment of camp children would reclaim “an important part of our heritage,” finding again “the realistic and purposeful life of America’s early settlers.” “Only the opportunity of withdrawing into the natural environment of fields and woods, streams, lakes, and hills, or by the seashore makes it possible for a boy or girl to gain a new perspective on life, and return after 2 to 4 weeks of camp ready again for life on the sidewalk,” opined one camping advocate before the annual Camp Director’s Conference in late 1942.[55]

When the Camp Seminar—an annual meeting of summer camp leaders and theorists from across the country—convened at the YMCA’s George Williams College in Chicago in March 1942, the effect the war would have on children and summer camping was still an open question and foremost on the participants’ minds. They promoted camp “as a source of stability in these times,” a refuge from the war. But it would be less the camp as an institution than the setting of camp that would stabilize the fragile psyche’s of children. “The Great Earth Mother” would provide “calm and poise,” stirring in campers a “sense of pride as bearers of the cosmic social heritage; a feeling of togetherness with all men everywhere… a warm glow of at-homeness in the natural world.” This at-homeness, a “mystical oneness with nature” would fortify the spirit against the “momentary earthquake of war.”[56]

In the end, the idea that summer camps could exist as islands of calm amidst the disturbing influences of war never really had a chance. The ubiquity of the war in every other dimension of a child’s life mitigated against an absolute retreat from “a world of confusion,” as one optimistic camp director envisioned his camp in 1942. Eliminating radios, newspapers, war topics in discussion groups, and references to the war in parents’ letters could not lessen the impact of the war in the outside world where children’s lives were absolutely suffused with the war.[57] The ACA itself pledged complete cooperation with war agencies, including a promise to make adolescent fitness for combat a priority in camp recreation programs.[58] The boundary between the two worlds of a camp child’s life had always been a permeable one, with the camping advocates hoping children would jettison the “constant outside stimulant” of materialistic American culture shortly after arriving at camp and carry the values developed through simple living back into their school, family, and neighborhood world.[59] With family members often directly involved in the war effort, schools heavily propagandized, and popular culture dominated by images of the war, the war inevitably intruded on the camp experience.

The war changed camping, just as it changed American society generally. The social, physical, and psychological dislocations it produced helped usher in the age of psychology that followed.[60] The assumptions about what a camp experience might contribute to the emotional and mental health of children came under renewed scrutiny. The reality was that neither in peacetime nor war was camp a sanctuary for children from the outside world. In the years after the war, the camping movement would begin to grapple with the tension between the rhetoric of creating rustic sanctuaries for children and the reality that camps were, in fact, part of a modern world.


IN THE YEARS following the war, many camping leaders continued to believe the worries of the atomic age—from apprehension about the bomb itself to fears of Communism to the ever-increasing rationalization and conformity of everyday life—could be kept at bay in the world of camp. Said one former director of the New York Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund, “many of us feel that camping ought to be an antidote to the anxieties which prevail in our culture.” Alan F. Klein was more specific: “In a very real sense, most of us are lost in a crowd. … There is a need for a ‘fix’—a reference point—some solid reliable basis for judgement. A sound camp experience can do much to help one to find oneself.” Barbara Ellen Joy believed camp professionals had to embrace a healing and fortifying approach to camping so the camper would be “able to resist the pressures of modern life which seem to conspire to crush him and to make him conform to a stereotype set by government and group and public pressures.”[61] At camp, children could adjust to the conditions of the outside world without having to confront them directly. They could adjust as individuals within groups, benefiting from intimate, controlled encounters with other personalities, yet hopefully without undue pressure to conform. “Camping,” said a speaker at the National Social Welfare Assembly’s Camp Consultation in 1955, “nurtured in a sylvan setting, concerned with each precious individual in a non clinical way, desperately trying to give the uprooted a sense of belongingness with the native earth and with people, forever stressing the values of simple and cooperative living in a self-contained community, can rightfully become… part of the treasured social work instruments in our country.”[62]

During the post-war years summer camping came under the influence of psychological expertise that dictated normative—albeit constructed—behavior patterns for children and adults alike, “joining the comprehension and change of self to the comprehension and change of society.” Post-war America was, as Ellen Herman has pointed out, an “age of psychological experts” and their discourse about what was ailing American society—American children in particular—pervaded the camping community. For if these experts viewed “society as a sick patient in need of a cure,” then their critique of the world resonated in a fundamental way with that of a good many summer camp advocates.[63] As one psychologist wrote of the therapeutic value of camping in the Journal of Social Issues, “it was inevitable that our increased consciousness of the importance of early formative experiences and our growing recognition of the symptoms of disturbance in our youth would press all of our child facilities into therapeutic service.”[64]

The idea that summer camps had therapeutic value for children from all backgrounds developed quickly after the war. Many psychologists and youth workers feared the experience of growing up during World War II had produced a generation of troubled, insecure youth. One survey of families published just after the war prophesied that the generation of children from the war years likely would be characterized by “much future suffering and instability.”[65] Such prognostications guided many assumptions about how best to serve children and youth in the post-war years. During the late 1940s and early 1950s many summer camp leaders based their approaches to summer camping—at least in part—on these assumptions.

Even camp advocates without training as psychologists recognized that adjusting to all the alien aspects of camp life could present enormous challenges. In a speech at the National Social Welfare Assembly Institute on Camping, camp director Graeme Berger referred to the same disjunction between life at home and life at camp Redl had observed. “The wonder is that camping does not create more problems than it resolves,” he told the gathering of camp directors and administrators from a host of non-profit camp sponsoring agencies. The camp environment, with its unaccustomed sensations and less mediated connection to the elemental, often caused well-adjusted children to ” break down and manifest emotional disturbances…. environment must be considered to be of only limited value.”[66] William Vinal agreed. “To pass from the complicated network of traffic arteries, the multitude of stores, the throngs of commuters hurrying in every direction, to a new environment of spacious forests; to intriguing woodroads and trails, to tents and cabins; to go from a don’t program to a positive program for raising standards of living is pole-vaulting too large a chasm.” For summer camping to be most effective, Vinal argued, there needed to be pre-camp preparation in the life of children the rest of the year.[67]

As Fritz Redl pointed out, however, many of the assumptions about the nature of summer camping were often wrong, the products of adults projecting their own romantic views of the camp world onto children. Redl had himself spent several summers working with and studying children as the clinical director at the University of Michigan Fresh Air Camp.[68] He appreciated the therapeutic and practical value of a summer camp experience for children and youth, especially those who were troubled in some way. As a child psychologist who specialized in group work, however, Redl tried to view the world of summer camp from the perspective of a child in a way few before him had. “For the city child, especially, large-scale group life far away from his home, exposure to nature in the raw without the protective comforts of the mechanized urban environment are sometimes quite a problem,” he argued. “In most cases these difficulties can be counteracted, handled, adequately met. But we want to be sure that we can meet them.”[69] Redl was suggesting that the “nature as healer” construction was only one possible way of seeing the environment of camp. The natural world also could seem alien and threatening to children who were used to asphalt, street lights, and constant noise. William Bradford saw nature as a “howling wilderness.” John Muir saw it as “God’s own temple.” One’s sense of perspective determines to a great extent the way one views nature. Clearly, camping advocates who believed in that categorical wholesomeness of the woods were to some extent engaging in the projection of their own values, derived from their own revitalizing experiences, onto nature.

Redl was even more concerned with what he called the “Ego Ideal of the ‘Good Camper,'” a normative construction cobbled together from mythology and social expectations that could be a “psychopathological risk” for children. The hodgepodge of “Indian lore,” the “nostalgic reminiscences of a world which our nation has left behind,” and “the different shades of religion, philosophy, the varying styles of group life from autocratic militarism through various forms of cultist groups of “friendship for friendship’s sake” were, Redl believed, bad enough. After all, what lessons did a camper learn from the implication that our best days as a nation were behind us?[70]

Redl’s provocative, insightful critique also questioned the long-held assumptions about the general environment of camp—that is, the physical and social environment. The synthesis so many camp people believed developed as a result of the dialectic between nature and culture could be quite problematic in fact. The tension between the need to simultaneously adapt temporarily to the camp world and to preserve character traits necessary for social adjustment in the real world could become a stressor, a “psychopathologic risk” of camp life in Redl’s words. “The word ‘psychopathologic’ refers only to camp life, not to the camper,” Redl wanted his readers to be sure to understand.[71]

The “Ego Ideal of the Good Camper”—that is, the camper who makes all of these adjustments and returns home replete with a tool kit of new skills for dealing with the real world—struck Redl as another of the unquestioned pillars of organized camping. “We are using camping on various levels to help youngsters grow up. We use the camp for character training, for supportive mental hygiene, for the treatment of disturbed children, and to stimulate normal values. But just because camping is such a powerful drug, it also shares the properties of all other powerful drugs on the market. It is risky, if the wrong person swallows it, or if the right one swallows too much of it, or at the wrong time. In short, the camp itself is not only something through which children are supposed to adjust better, but also something to which they have to adjust.”[72]

A child subjected to some admixture of this Ego Ideal is adjusting to a temporary lifestyle—it is a personality ideal for rent only, not for sale. If the summer camp is to have enduring value, Redl argued, if it is to have “therapeutic” value, then camp leaders must recognize the two world paradox and communicate it to their charges, have them understand they should not “swap their identity with the complexity of urban occupations for … dated daydreams; we only want them to use some of the trappings of these ego ideals during the rental period for the inculcation of some of the values smuggled in under their romantic disguise.”[73]

These passages from Redl’s rich essay merit such lengthy citation and exegesis, I believe, because they so eloquently articulate the most intriguing and complicated dimension of the history of summer camp. Because Redl was a child psychologist and therapist, the drug metaphor probably came naturally to him, but it captures well the historical tensions over the role of a summer camp experience in a child’s life. Even those camp leaders who expressed no reservations about the “drug” they were using to “treat” the pathologies of modernity often conceptualized summer camp and society in similar terms. According to many camp advocates, the solution to the problem (at least as they saw it) of adaptation to the twentieth century urban existence required a temporary retreat to a very different kind of environment: “This urban civilization that is creeping up on us more and more is one thing that has made camping, as a corrective, more and more important,” as Howard McClusky put it.[74] This “treatment,” with its usually unexamined but keenly felt paradox, could intensify feelings of alienation from peers and society even as it forged a deeper connection to the natural world. Or it could produce alienation from the camp environment itself. Or it could result in the “growth of wholesome, adjusted, integrated, highly motivated personality expressed in constructive adventurous living,” as a speaker before an ACA regional conference asserted in the mid-1950s. For this to happen, though, camp directors had to create an environment that “exalts the camper’s impulses and interests in the current happenings in a dynamic world of nature and the problems of a changing society,” wrote Gerald Burns in The Program of the Modern Camp in 1954. One could not “promote… nature without society.”[75] Rudolph M. Wittenberg, a New York City consultant who addressed the Pacific Camping Federation Conference in 1953, presented the same idea as an indictment. “We have been exploiting nature to hide our lack of concern for people,” he said. “We have said that we are providing the most magnificent scenery. Our job is to understand people and to work with them. We can use nature in the process, but we certainly cannot use the mountains as an excuse for doing a mass job”—that is, assuming that merely surrounding kids with trees and lakes would help them grow.[76]

But constructing nature as a munificent, restorative, character-building agent fundamentally opposed to civilization had been a key selling point of the camping experience since the late nineteenth century. So it remained after World War II. “The organized camp is the child-serving institution that can best use nature as a resource,” wrote North Carolina camp director C. Walton Johnson in an influential essay in 1960. “Moreover, it is the only medium through which large numbers of children can have this intimate, personal contact with nature.”[77] Others waxed even more romantic about nature at camp. The summer camp was like a spring of sweet water in a saline land. “Like Anteaus,” Barbara Ellen Joy told a camping convention, “we shall renew our wisdom and our strength every time we go back to, and shall remain invincible in our purpose as long as we maintain contact with Mother Earth.”[78] Or nature’s perceived adversarial relationship could be more strongly felt. A young person today, said John Ledlie at the 1962 ACA convention, “deprived of many of the benefits of the struggle with the environment,” at camp has “the chance to grapple with his surroundings, to change them, subdue them, improve them, or just battle them.”[79]

Johnson’s essay, “The Unique Mission of the Summer Camp” (which was reprinted in abridged form in Camping Magazine by the ACA and widely circulated in booklet form), articulated the principles for operating a camp that suggested guidance from nature was the most important kind of guidance. Redl’s Ego Ideal was a desirable condition for Johnson. He wrote: “It is becoming increasingly evident that the real mission of the summer camp can be accomplished only by child-centered camps with nature-oriented programs,” Johnson wrote, expressing that decades-old sentiment that children and nature go together.[80] For Johnson, whose participation in the camping movement stretched over most of three decades, nature provided all the answers for living an ethical, healthy, aesthetic life: “Every child needs the soul-enrichment that comes from an appreciation and love of nature and from life in the out-of-doors. Man has a kinship with nature, not only because he has a physical relationship with the earth, but mostly because nature embodies Truth, Beauty, Goodness—the great concepts by which men live.” In this idealized form, nature functioned as a kind of divine code, the ultimate source of ideals, a Ten Commandments writ not on stone tablets but diffused throughout the woods, visible sometimes from a mountaintop, other times from the banks of a stream, audible in the cry of a loon or in waves of water on a shore. “No child ever learned to lie, steal, or to deceive from nature,” Johnson asserted.[81] Johnson extended this Edenic trope to include Early Republican America—civic virtue, too, was rooted in raw nature. “Was it not the woods of Virginia, the wilderness of Kentucky, the Plains of the West that nurtured the young lives of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Lee, and Theodore Roosevelt?” he asked. Close contact with nature was the edifice upon which American Heritage rested.[82] The desire to somehow preserve this heritage had helped summon the summer camp into being. For Johnson, contact with nature at camp inscribed incipient American citizens with that heritage.

Many camping leaders and advocates shared Johnson’s worldview. “[Boys and girls in organized camps]… seem naturally to fall into [the Indian’s] way of living, gradually begin to understand the ideals the Indian fought for, and unconsciously ‘inherit’ his love for nature, the forests and its inhabitants,” wrote one camp director in Camping Magazine. “Living with nature and being guided by nature’s rules, teaches [a camper] resourcefulness, originality, and self-reliance,” wrote another.[83] Beliefs such as these continued to sustain the camping movement and provided powerful connections to national mythologies and symbols that helped make camp attractive.

In the years after 1960, there were new reasons why the ideal of good camping Redl questioned retained its appeal. From the sexual revolution to suburbanization to the decline of an industrial-based economy, the social transformations that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s seemed to many camp advocates to presage the collapse of an already fragmented, overcivilized society, making their camp work all the more relevant and important. More than ever the camp would be “a haven where the damage done by [modern] tensions can be repaired.” “Today’s young people,” wrote ACA executive director Ernie Schmidt, “crowded into cities, battered by noise both audible and ideological, and cast adrift from the old firm ties of family and land need what we in camping have to offer” an offering that included “quiet places to see and appreciate the life of the pioneers and their gifts to us.” Although he had written and spoken about the virtues of summer camping during the first three decades of his career as a camp director, after 1965 Kenneth Webb grew ever more despondent about modern American society and therefore more strident in both the condemnation of the modern and the celebration of the past. He and the many others in the camping movement who shared his vision for the summer camp experience found consolation in the potential for a few weeks at camp to solve innumerable social problems, from teenage ennui to the organization man. He encouraged his charges at one camp to take the “Great Leap Backward,” closing the road to vehicles so that the only supplies for their “Indian village” arrived by backpack.[84]

Although the dark view of contemporary civilization that Webb articulated tended to prevail among campers, the ember of hope that a camp experience could synthesize nature and civilization, past and present, continued to glow. By providing a safe, simple environment in which children could tackle contemporary social and psychological challenges, some camp leaders hoped to validate the past, present, and future. In an essay that was part of the Occasional Papers series sponsored by the ACA’s Fund for the Advancement of Camping, long time camp director James Mason urged camp leaders to shake off the nostalgia, sentiment, and uncertainty that settled over organized camping in the 1970s. Synthesizing experience, he believed, was camping’s true mission and purpose. Are we an “escape from society or vision of a new community?” he asked. We are both—and more, was his answer. “It is true that camping needs to provide sanctuaries in which people can more fully realize the rich and complex dimensions of personal experience,” he went on. “But it also needs to find ways of connecting camp experience with the real world, fostering an awareness of the social and cultural predicament of persons in highly organized society and providing resources for people to participate in change.[85]

If the “tradition-burdened institution” of organized summer camps could focus its gaze forward instead of backward, Mason believed, they could become a “highly useful and purposeful settings for meeting critical institutional and educational needs during the next several decades.” Among other things, summer camps could serve as models “for new kinds of encompassing educational settings and communities; for centers designed for the support of more humanized, simpler modes of life; for lively demonstrations of uncontrived human diversity interacting in work and play.”[86] Visioning organized camps as models for a better society presumed a faith in the future and a faith in the children who would inhabit and shape that future. “The sources of camps still lie with the dreams of a new world and the search for fully-lived human destinies within that world,” Mason concluded.[87]


ALTHOUGH ORGANIZED SUMMER camping has changed a great deal in the years since C. Walton Johnson wrote his manifesto about nature as the ultimate arbiter of truth and beauty, one need look no further than the YMCA’s 1984 Centennial of Camping celebration to see the persistence of his vision of a world divided between nature and culture—and the near absence of the synthetic vision of Redl and Mason.[88] Over the course of those one hundred years, summer camping had become a cornerstone of YMCA youth programming. With its origins rooted in a fear of moral and physical dissipation resulting from urban life, the YMCA had somewhat predictably embraced camping as the panacea for urban life for children. When Sumner Francis Dudley founded the first YMCA camp in New York in 1884, he was among the vanguard of the summer camp movement.[89] As an invitation to the Centennial Consultation, the national board of the YMCA sent out a video to the hundreds of camping leaders who might attend the event.

(AUDIO-VISUAL) City street at night: cars, lights, crowds and noise—lots of noise: loud voices, music coming from bars, car horns, etc.

(NARRATION) This is a test … can you find a system of values in this picture? … A system of solid, lasting values … Like right and wrong? … respect for self and others … citizenship … justice … integrity and strength of character …. wisdom and understanding?

(Sound resumes. Screen goes from wide-angle street view to close-up of a young boy standing under a streetlight. Sound fades.)

(NARRATION) More important, can a child find values here? For this child, and for millions of others, this is not a test. It is life … It is real … and it will teach our children … for better or for worse. If a child cannot find strength and lasting values here, then where? Can society provide a better way?

(Nineteenth-century shots of children in the city.)

(NARRATION) The answers to these questions go back many years. Of course, life today is much more complex—technically sophisticated, competitive, and faster-moving. But it hasn’t really changed in the important ways. Back in 1885, a man named Dudley—Sumner Francis Dudley—asked those same questions, “Can society find a better way to teach young people about themselves … about values … about life?” His answer was Camp Dudley, the beginning of the longest, continuously operating YMCA camping program … For millions of children, it’s a beginning, as well. A beginning with answers … a beginning of personal strength, responsibility, wisdom and leadership … A beginning which says … strength of character can be found here … on the crystal winds … born above timberline … to live in pines and quiet lakes … in wooded valleys … in the desert sunset … in every wave in the seas. Through YMCA camping, generations of children have found a powerful new sense of self-respect … of responsibility and self-reliance … in nature.[90]

One of the ideals that animated Dudley and the other pioneers of organized camping in the late nineteenth century is extraordinarily well-preserved in this video: an antipathy or at the very least ambivalence toward the urban environment (especially as a place for children to learn values) opposing a view of nature as inherently enriching. Despite a century of tremendous change in American culture, the YMCA camping committee that created this film still believed the contrast between urban life and nature was the basic rationale for operating summer camps. Nature remained a reference point for self-actualization—something “out there” beyond the artifice of streets, houses, and backyards. The history of organized camping, with its very small minority of voices questioning the naturalness of the camp environment, reinforces William Cronon’s argument that by privileging the nature that is “out there” we give ourselves permission to denigrate and neglect the homes we inhabit most of the time. The organized summer camp often has abetted the process of “getting back to the wrong nature.”[91]

A National Public Radio interview during the summer of 2001 captured many of these tensions and paradoxes of summer camping in American history. The interview suggests that children make sense of their camp experience in ways Redl would have understood but Kenneth Webb, H. W. Gibson, and C. Walton Johnson would have found perplexing. As part of a series on memorable summers, Susan Stamberg interviewed Michael Eisner, CEO of the Disney Corporation, about his summers at Camp Keewaydin, a private boys camp near Salisbury, Vermont. The exchange was pregnant with the above-mentioned tensions—and with the tension Stamberg generated by trying to force Eisner’s experiences into categories that aligned poorly with those experiences.

Stamberg clearly wanted Eisner’s real experiences to seem ironic. “Michael Eisner’s Disney environments include theme parks, cruise ships, movie studios, TV networks—it’s the largest entertainment network in the world,” she said by way of introducing the segment. “But,” she went on, “Mr. Eisner spent his formative years at Camp Keewaydin,” as though the world of Disney and the world of camp were completely incompatible. Eisner was having none of it. Camp was not a peculiar anomaly in the life of an entertainment mogul but preparation for it. “You learn all the things that you have to take with you through your whole life,” he said. “Things like teamwork, things like leadership, things like cooking, finding a place to stay…. And basically being on your own and being a responsible child getting ready to be a responsible adult.”

He did not deny that there was an enormous contrast between the city and the woods of Vermont. “It was a completely different life,” he told Stamberg. “And when you’re growing up in the middle of Manhattan, which I did, you don’t know that there is a different life…. I learned how before there was an environmental movement how to discover a camp site and how to leave it better than you found it and how you make a fire from birch bark off a dead tree as opposed to off a live tree. And I learned how to work with seven or eight other kids in getting through storms, I mean really physical rain storms, and all those things were kind of metaphors, I mean building a fire was a metaphor; a spark starts a twig and the pine needles and kindling—all of that is metaphorically unconsciously setting you up.”

Stamberg kept pressing, however, trying to get him to acknowledge the irony, the paradox of this “mogul of illusion”—whose role in American culture was to produce fantasy in theme parks and films—having the fundamental experiences of his life happen through “encounters with reality, with rubbing two sticks together, with making the fire, with getting the canoe to go along the lake.” Without hesitating Eisner replied, “Well, if you grow up in Manhattan, [camp’s] really not the reality, that’s a fantasy as well. To be on Lake Onmora, to be in a place where you’re portaging canoes, that is a kind of fantasy, so I think it’s consistent. The reality is the city today, in today’s world. The fantasy is the forest…. I’m not so sure I was living a reality life in the forest. However, it was a helpful life and it was a constructive life and it was a healthy life.”[92]

This was, to me, an extraordinary exchange. Eisner had completely inverted the way Susan Stamberg—not to mention four generations of camping advocates—have conceived the camping experience. He seemed not to have experienced what so many camping leaders had taken as an article of faith—that the camp world, suffused with the elemental, was more real than the world campers come from, where all experience was too mediated to be “real.”

I must confess that my initial reaction to this interview was to scoff at Eisner’s way of framing his experience. So this is what it’s come to, I thought. The summer camp has become indistinguishable from Disney World. I thought of Bambi, The Lion King, and the host of Disney nature documentaries that have given children such a distorted idea of nature.93 How could Michael Eisner contribute to how I wanted to understand the role of summer camp in American culture?

Only after rereading the transcript of the interview and listening to the interview again, a year later, did I understand that Eisner’s refusal to be ironic about his summer camp experience was very illuminating. The handful of camping leaders who have asserted that the streets, the cars, the city noises are a child’s reality—indeed, are my reality—had it right. The contrast between the camp environment and the city environment is real, but not because camp and the nature found there are more real. The issue may be a semantic one. Eisner describes the camp experience as a fantasy. Camp leaders and many campers very often describe their experience as “more real” than their regular lives. I’m inclined to believe they mean the same thing. The different social and physical environment of camp contributes to an intensity of experience—of love, of friendship, of fear, of smells, and sounds—all of which make the experience feel more real, less quotidian. Nature feels more real because of fewer distractions.

None of this is to suggest that the camping advocates who framed their vision of summer camping in terms Susan Stamberg would have accepted were insincere. What they recognized about summer camps was their tremendous potential to provide contrast for children from urban environments. Whether they talked and wrote about the camp environment and the home environment being real or less real, natural or less natural, democratic or less democratic, they understood that growth could be fertilized by intense experience. Providing contrast was a good way to generate intensity.

Participants in the organized camping movement at every level have viewed the camp environment as the ideal space for clarifying values, testing them, and deciding which ones were worth carrying back to the real world. The unique contribution of the summer camp has been to create a temporary world of contrasts for children, even if this world was not as natural or primitive as some camp leaders would have liked.

Michael B. Smith teaches history and environmental studies at Ithaca College. As a 2005–2006 Carnegie Scholar with the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) he is studying how students develop a sense of ecological citizenship through local environmental history projects. He also is working on a book on the history of summer camping.


I would like to thank Michael Trotti, Jeff Cowie, Rob Vanderlan, and Derek Chang—members of the incomparable Chapter House writing group in Ithaca, N.Y.—for their careful reading of an early version of this article. Without their judicious critiques, this final version would not exist. The two anonymous referees also provided much needed advice. I would also like to thank Mark Cioc and Adam Rome, present and past editors of the journal, for their editorial direction as this piece evolved.

1. The kind of camping I am concerned with in this article is organized summer camping. By this I mean a permanent or semi-permanent encampment conducted primarily during the summer months with young-adult and adult leaders overseeing the activities of children and youth campers. My main focus is on camp experiences lasting for at least a week—the so-called “sleep-away” camp. The word “camp” evokes many things, from a military training facility to an impermanent encampment in a clearing in the woods where a person or small group of people spend a night or two. In this article I use the word camp to mean organized summer camp. Indeed, in the interest of lexical variety I use the words or phrases “camping,” “summer camp,” “summer camping,” “organized summer camping,” and “organized summer camp” more or less interchangeably. Within organized summer camping itself there are and have been camps for adults and families. Although the existence of these other kinds of camps and the camping practiced at them illuminate many of the same tensions I examine here, I have limited my analysis to childhood and adolescent (ages 5–18) experiences.

2. Kenneth Webb referred to nudity as “the fifth freedom,” which, along with freedom from fear, want, hunger, and religious persecution would help recreate the conditions of that first Garden. For other examples of Webb’s philosophy of camping, see “Camps Can Set a New Life Style,” Camping Magazine, January 1976, 10–12; “The Wilderness Can Be Your Best Facility,” Camping Magazine, September–October 1974, 6–8; and Kenneth Webb, As Sparks Fly Upward: The Rationale of the Farm and Wilderness Camps (Canaan, N.H.: Phoenix Publications, 1973), 190–91. See also “A Modern Camp for the New Generation,” an occasional paper issued by the Fund for the Advancement of Camping; Camping Magazine, February 1979, 15–18; “Summer Camps: Security in the Midst of Change,” an occasional paper issued by the Fund for the Advancement of Camping, ACA Archives; and Kenneth Webb and Susan Webb, Beyond Our Wildest Dreams: The Story of the Farm and Wilderness Camps, 1939–1989 (Springfield, Vt.: Curtis-Lieberman, 1990), written with his wife.

3. William Morse, “From the University of Michigan Fresh Air Camp: Some Problems of Therapeutic Camping,” The Nervous Child (April 1947): 211–12.

4. For this idea of countermodernity I am indebted to Jennifer Price. See Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America (New York: Basic Books, 1999), esp. 235–56.

5. Folklorists have been more sensitive to this dimension of summer camp history than historians. See especially Jay Mechling, “Children’s Folklore in Residential Institutions: Summer Camps, Boarding Schools, Hospitals, and Custodial Facilities,” in Children’s Folklore: A Sourcebook, ed. Brian Sutton-Smith, et al. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1999), 273–91. See also Jay Mechling, On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), which brings together several decades of studies of folklore at a Boy Scout camp; and Bill Ellis, “The Camp Mock-Ordeal: Theater as Life,” Journal of American Folklore 94 (1981): 486–505.

6. Leslie Paris, “Children’s Nature: Summer Camps in New York State, 1919–1941” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2000); and Leslie Paris, “The Adventures of Peanut and Bo: Summer Camps and Early Twentieth Century American Girlhood,” Journal of Women’s History 12 (Winter 2001): 47–78. See also Susan A. Miller, “Girls in Nature/The Nature of Girls: Transforming Female Adolescence at Summer Camp, 1900–1939” (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2001). The literature on the construction of childhood is vast. For a good overview of the recent work on children and nature see Bernard Mergen, “Children and Nature in History,” Environmental History 8 (October 2003): 643–69. Of particular interest to historians of summer camp and outdoor education are Edith Cobb, The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), especially 25–31; Louise Chawla, In the First Country of Places: Nature, Poetry and Childhood Memory (Albany, N.Y.; SUNY Press, 1994); Richard Coe, When the Grass Was Taller: Autobiography and the Experience of Childhood (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984); Paul Shepard, Nature and Madness (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1982), 96–108; Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble, The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994); Chris Jenks, Childhood (London: Routledge, 1996); Alison James, Chris Jenks, Alan Prout, Theorizing Childhood (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1998).

7. This list does not include the specialty camps—for sports, computers, weight-loss—that have developed since the 1960s and now number in the hundreds. While some of these camps retain some patina of the traditional sleep-away summer camp, most do not fall under the definition of summer camp I am using here.

8. See, for example, Peter Kahn and Stephen Kellert, eds., Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002).

9. Peter Schmitt, Back to Nature: The Arcadian Myth in Urban America (New York, 1969); T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1980); Paul S. Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Harvard University Press, 1978), esp. 132–233; Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, chaps. 6–10, William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. William Cronon, (New York: Norton, 1996), 76–80.

10. Until quite recently, the only historical account of the summer camp movement writ large was a rich but poorly documented and organized book published by the American Camping Association: Elenor Eell’s History of Organized Camping: The First 100 Years, (Martinsville, Ind.: ACA, 1984). Other historians have examined elements of the early movement in the service of a larger argument. See Schmitt, Back to Nature, 95–105; Philip Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 101–2, 111–13; Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880–1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 108–15, 156–61; David I. Macleod, Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870–1920 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983); Timothy Bawden, “Reinventing the Frontier: Tourism, Nature, and Environmental Change in Northern Wisconsin, 1890–1930” (PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, 2001), 240–90. Four recent dissertations have examined the history of children’s summer camps or elements of that history. See Miller, “Girls in Nature; Sharon Wall, “Negotiating Modernity: Nature and Nurture at Ontario Children’s Camps, 1920–1955” (PhD diss., York University, 2003); Paris, “Children’s Nature”; and Michael B. Smith, “‘And They Say We’ll Have Some Fun When It Stops Raining’: A History of Summer Camp in the United States” (PhD diss, Indiana University, 2002).

11. Many histories of the origins of organized summer camping begin with an undocumented account of one Frederick Gunn’s camp for boys who attended his private school in Connecticut in the years following the Civil War. Apart from the repetition of the experience over several summers, it seems to have had little in common with the organized camps for children that developed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. See Eell’s History, 5–7; and Carlos E. Ward, Organized Camping and Progressive Education (Fairfax, Va.: 1935), 2–7.

12. Eell’s History, 9; and Ward, Organized Camping, 5. See also H. W. Gibson, “The History of Organized Camping,” Camping Magazine, January 1936, 15–16.

13. See George W. Hinckley, Roughing It with the Boys (New York: Association Press, 1913).

14. Ernest Balch, quoted in A Handbook of Summer Camps (1926), 18 (an annual published from 1924–1936). See also A. Balch, “Camp Chocorua; A Boy’s Republic,” McClure’s Magazine, 1 (1893): 242–48. The best recent history of the world of these early private boys camps is W. Barksdale Maynard, “‘An Ideal Life in the Woods for Boys’: Architecture and Culture in the Earliest Summer Camps, “Winterthur Portfolio 34 (1): 3–29. Interestingly, one prominent dimension of summer camp ideology that was entirely absent from Balch’s camp was the use of Native American rituals and names. The impetus for this turn in the development of camping, speculates Philip Deloria in his study of Native American imagery in American culture, seems to have been Frederick Jackson Turner’s famed pronouncement of the end of the frontier several years later. See Playing Indian, 100–101.

15. Robert W. Lovell, American Physical Education Review 6 (December 1901): 302. Winthrop T. Talbot, “Summer Camps for Boys,” World’s Work 10 (May 1905): 654. On Camp Asquam, see Maynard, “An Ideal Life,” 8–9.

16. On the Children’s Aid Society, see Stephen O’Connor, Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001); and Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1999). See Dominic Cavallo, Muscles and Morals: Organized Playgrounds and Urban Reform, 1880–1920 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981); Carry Goodman, Choosing Sides: Playground and Street Life on the Lower East Side (New York: Schocken Books, 1979). On Gulick, see Stephanie Wallach, “Luther Halsey Gulick and the Salvation of the American Adolescent” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1989).

17. Quoted in Louis Rouillon, “Summer Camps for Boys,” Review of Reviews 21 (June 1900): 703.

18. G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence; Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education (New York: Appleton and Co., 1904), xi. See also Amy S. Green, “Savage Childhood: The Scientific Construction of Girlhood and Boyhood in the Progressive Era” (PhD diss., Yale University, 1995). Dorothy Ross, G. Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972). On Hall’s connection to antimodernism see Lears, No Place of Grace, 247–51.

19. On the response to Hall in youth work circles see Green, “Savage Childhood,” 100–120; and Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), chap. 3.

20. William. H. Kinnicutt, “The School in the Camp,” The Outlook 83 (July 28, 1906): 706.

21. Quoted in James F. Page, Socializing the New Order (Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana College, 1919), 45.

22. Peter Clarke MacFarlane, “Schools of Fun and Fellowship,” Good Housekeeping, May 1914, 585.

23. Calvin Lewis, “Camps,” The Outlook 80 (June 19, 1905): 378.

24. For examples of the effect of the war on the theory and practice of camping, see Dr. J. H. McCurdy, “Lessons from France,” American Physical Education Review 24 (May 1919): 351; and “Camp Roosevelt—Boy Builder,” Playground 16 (April 1922): 18. See also Lillian Evertson, “Camp Roosevelt as a Boy Builder,” Modern Medicine 3 (January 1921): 9–10; and “Camp Roosevelt,” Playground 14 (May 1920): 685–86; Charles K. Taylor, “A Boys’ Camp of Tomorrow” The Outlook 130 (18 January 1922): 107.

25. Eell’s History, 60. Estimates of the number of camps and campers at any one time have varied widely since no comprehensive census has ever been taken and camps, especially in the early twentieth century, could be rather inaccessible.

26. Luther H. Gulick and Grace Potter, “The ‘Why’ of the Summer Camp for Boys and Girls,” Good Housekeeping, June 1912, 829.

27. Henry Wellington Wack, “Give Every Child a Chance,” in Camps and Camping, ed. Lehman (New York: American Sports Publishing, 1926), 56, emphasis in original. An annual published from 1922–1935. Sargent wrote, “The camping instinct is primeval. Camping was the primal and original mode of life of our remote ancestors. Most of our primitive virtues are due to this outdoor life of our remote ancestors, who were perpetual campers in the closest contact with nature. These same primitive virtues were brought out in the pioneer life of the earliest settlers of this country.” A Handbook of Summer Camps (Boston: Sargent, 1926), 17.

28. Henry Wellington Wack, More About Summer Camps (New York: Red Book, 1928), 146; and Henry Wellington Wack, The Camping Ideal: The New Human Race (New York: Red Book Magazine, 1925), 35.

29. H. W. Gibson, “Camp as a Social Adjustor,” Camping Magazine, February 1927, 1. See, for example, Charlotte V. Gulick, “The Organized Camping Movement: A Radio Address,” reprinted in Camps and Camping, 1925, ed. Lehman, 57–64; E. L. Gulick, 85, who wrote “a good camp educates for leisure and the durable satisfactions of life”; and Frederick L. Guggenheimer, “Camp Association Exhibit in Parents’ Exposition in New York City,” Camping Magazine, May 1928, 1. The title of the exhibit, proclaimed by an enormous banner, was “TRAINING FOR LEISURE.” On the contemporary concerns about the impending surfeit of leisure time, see George B. Cutten, The Threat of Leisure (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1926); Herbert L. May and Dorothy Petgen, Leisure and Its Use (New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1928), 6. For a general history of the ideas and use of leisure in the modern West, see Gary Cross, A Social History of Leisure (State College, Pa.: Venture Publishing Co., 1990), esp. chaps. 8 and 11 on leisure debates in the first few decades of the twentieth century.

30. See Frederick L. Guggenheimer, “Balancing the Camp Program,” Camping Magazine, January 1934, 1–4; and “What of the Morrow?” Camping Magazine, April 1933, 2.

31. Henry Wellington Wack, The Camping Ideal, 38–48; Hedley Dimock and Charles Hendry, Camping and Character: A Camp Experiment in Character Education (New York: Association Press, 1939), 5; Ben Solomon, “Camping as a National Movement,” Camp Life, March 1930, 39.

32. Frank Hackett, “Camping: A Life Experience,” Camping Magazine, January 1932, 10–11.

33. “The Place of Camping in the Field of Education,” ACA Archives, History Box 1.

34. “What Is the Answer?” Camping Magazine, June 1932, 2.

35. See Paul S. Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight Against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (Seattle : University of Washington Press, 2002).

36. Ward, Organized Camping, 139.

37. Sidonie Matsner Gruenberg, “Shall It be Camp this Summer?” Child Study 16 (April 1939): 161; “Subtleties of the Camp Environment,” Camping Magazine, April 1933, 12; Dimock and Hendry, Camping and Character, 4.

38. See Eduard Lindeman, The Meaning of Adult Education (New York: New Republic, 1926); Joshua Lieberman, Creative Camping (New York Association Press, 1931); Louis H. Blumenthal, Group Work in Camping (New York: Association Press, 1937); Ernest G. Osborne, Camping and Guidance (New York: Association Press, 1937).

39. Margaret J. Johnston, “The Ministry of Nature,” Camping Magazine, March 1937, 5. A. E. Hamilton, “Is America Camp Crazy?” Parents, May 1931, 23.

40. Gruenberg, “Shall It be Camp this Summer?” 161.

41. H. W. Gibson, “Better Citizenship through Camping,” Camps and Camping, ed. Lehman, 82.

42. Bernard Mason, Camping and Education (New York, The McCall Company, 1930), 236, 20.

43. Ralph Hill, “What Kind of Camp?” Child Study 15 (April 1938): 207; and “Creative Activity in the Summer Camp,” Progressive Education 4 (April/May/June 1927), 113. Boyd I. Walker, “Some Viewpoints Underlying Program Building,” Camping Magazine, January 1985, 3–4.

44. Hamilton, “Is America Camp Crazy?” 62–64.

45. William Kilpatrick, “Introduction,” Camping and Character, xi. James L. Hymes, Jr., “Year-Round Value from Camp,” Parents, February 1937, 23, 67. Dimock and Hendry, Camping and Character, 6. Bernard Mason remained more sanguine, writing that although, “on his return [the camper] tends to take on the ways of home society again … his reaction to the home and neighborhood environment is different because of his experience at camp.” Camping and Education, 19.

46. The first war summer of camping witnessed the inclusion at many camps activities such as “making a list of things you might want to do in your leisure time in a fox-hole on the Bataan Peninsula” and “coordinating a camp defense unit with the community defense plans.” William Gould Vinal, “A Program for Wartime Camping,” Camping Magazine, June 1942. The editor of Camping World wanted a change in camp music, “less of the sweet soft, sentimental type of song, more of the patriotic, militant warlike song.” L. Noel Booth, “What Shall We Do at Camp This Summer?” Camping World, May-June, 1942, 7. The Michigan Camping Association took this philosophy even further, devoting its entire February 1943 newsletter to the theme of camping’s contributions to military life and to war production, showing how the survival skills learned through campcraft could benefit future soldiers. See Newsletter, February 1943, Michigan Camping Association, ACA Archives, History Box 1.

47. See, for example, “Camping as the American Way,” Vivian Carter Johnson, and “Summary of Workshops,” ACA Central States Convention, 1944, ACA Archives, History Box 1; Howard Zahniser, “Campers Go Gardening,” Camping Magazine, April 1943, 3; Symposium on Harvest Camping, “Camping and Wartime Agriculture, A Symposium,” February 1943, 2–7, ACA Archives, History Box 2; “Some Standards for Harvest Camps as They Relate to Living and Working Conditions,” San Francisco Wartime Harvest Council, ACA Archives, History Box 1.

48. The entire 1940 ACA convention was devoted to the theme of democracy and camping. See ACA Convention Proceedings, 1940, ACA Archives. See also “Camping in a Democracy: A Report of the Camp Seminar Held at George Williams College, 1940” (New York: Association Press, 1940); Hedley Dimock, “The Contributions of the Camp to Democracy,” Camping Magazine, April 1939, 3–5, 23–24.

49. On the experience of being a child during the war, see William M. Tuttle, Jr., “Daddy’s Gone to War”: The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). See also Robert Wm. Kirk, Earning Their Stripes: The Mobilization of American Children in the Second World War (New York: Peter Lang, 1994).

50. Hedley Dimock, “Camps on the March,” Camp Director’s Handbook, February 1942, 6. “The Summer Camp and War,” ACA Bulletin #1, 1942, ACA, History, Box 1.

51. Ross Allen, “Camps Forward March!” Parents Magazine, May 17, 1942, 34

52. “Camping and Community: A Report of the Camp Seminar Held at George Williams College, 1942” (New York: Association Press, 1942), 8.

53. Barbara Ellen Joy, “Simple Living in the Out-of-Doors,” Camping Magazine, February 1942, 4; Boyd Bode, “The Role of Camping in a Living Democracy,” Camping Magazine, February 1942, 71–2. L. B. Sharp, “The Role of Camping and Our American Heritage,” Camping Magazine, February 1942, 33. Fay Welch, “The Role of Camping and the Natural Setting,” Camping Magazine, February 1942, 28–29.

54. John B. Kelly, “Hale American and Camping!” Camp Director’s Handbook, February 1942, 8–9.

55. “Addresses and Discussions,” Annual Camp Director’s Conference, November 20–21, 1942, ACA Archives, History, Box 1.

56. “Camping and Community,” 8.

57. Rogers, 17. On the ubiquity of war in children’s lives see Tuttle, “Daddy’s Gone to War,” esp. 91–93.

58. “Camping—A Wartime Asset, A Report of a Conference of the American Camping Association with Representatives from Eleven United States Government Agencies,” October 22–25, 1942, Alexandria, Virginia, ACA Archives, History, Box 1.

59. “Camping Today,” Camp Fire Girls Camping Bulletin, 1942. Camp Fire Girls Archives (CFGA), PR.c7.30.

60. See Ellen Herman, The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995).

61. Marvin Rife, “Achieving Goals for Children’s Camps Today,” NSWA—A Report of the One-Day Institute on Camping, April 4, 1955, 18, NSWA Papers, Box 27, Social Welfare History Archives; Klein, 16; Barbara Ellen Joy, “Better Camping for All,” ACA Region V Convention, ACA Archives.

62. Graeme Berger, “Camping in a Changing Community,” NSWA Assembly Camp Consultation, NSWA Box 27, SWHA.

63. Herman, The Romance of American Psychology, 12. See also Stephen Mintz and Susan Kellogg, Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of Family Life in America (New York: Free Press, 1988), 187–90.

64. Herman, The Romance of American Psychology, 12. McNeil, 3.

65. Ernest R. Groves and Gladys Hoagland Groves, The Contemporary American Family (Chicago: Lippincott, 1947), 200. See also Tuttle, “Daddy’s Gone to War,” 236–53.

66. “Report: It’s Everybody’s Camp!” NSWA Committee on Camping, NSWA papers, Box 27, SWHA.

67. William G. Vinal, “The Roots of Camping Education Go Deep,” Education 73 (September 1952): 27.

68. On Redl’s life and work see Joseph Masling, “Speak, Memory; or Goodbye Columbus,” Journal of Personality Assessment 78 (February 2002): 4–10; William C. Morse, “A Half Century of Children Who Hate: Insights for Today from Fritz Redl,” Reclaiming Children and Youth 10 (Summer 2001): 75–78, 82; Henry W. Maler, “Pioneer House: Reflections on Working with Redl and Wineman in 1947,” Reclaiming Children and Youth 10 (Summer 2001): 71–74. See also Harold L. Raush, “Fritz Redl,” American Psychologist 47 (September 1992): 1143.

69. Fritz Redl, “Psychopathologic Risks of Camp Life,” The Nervous Child 6 (April 1947): 139.

70. Ibid., 142.

71. Ibid., 139.

72. Ibid.

73. Ibid., 143.

74. Howard McClusky, 14, emphasis mine.

75. “The Significance of Group Experience I Modern Society,” Proceedings of the Middle Eastern Conference of the ACA, 1949. ACA Archives, History Box 1. Gerald Burns, The Program of the Modern Camp (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1954), 24.

76. Rudolph M. Wittenberg, “The Inner Reality of the Camper,” Pacific Camping Federation Biennial Conference Proceedings, 1953, ACA Archives, History Box 1.

77. C. Walton Johnson, “The Unique Mission of the Summer Camp” (Weaverville, N.C., 1960), 5.

78. Joy, “Better Camping for All,” ACA Archives.

79. Ledlie, “The Camp Community,” 98–99.

80. Johnson, “Unique Mission,” 6.

81. Ibid., 7–8, 24.

82. Ibid., 16, 21–2.

83. Mary Hanwiler, “How Your Campers Can Follow the Trail of the Redman,” Camping Magazine, December 1956, 12; Dan O’Gara, “Kids’ Lives Can Change in a Few Weeks,” Camp Manitowish Newsletter, 6 May 1955, YMCA Archives.

84. Kenneth Webb, “The Wilderness Can Be Your Best Facility,” Camping Magazine, September–October 1974, 6–8.

85. James A. Mason, “Uncertain Outposts: The Future of Camping and the Challenge of Its Past,” an occasional paper issued by the Fund for the Advancement of Camping, ACA Archives, 29.

86. Ibid., 25.

87. Ibid., 31.

88. Among the most dramatic changes in organized camping was the emergence of specialty camps that focused not on traditional camp activities but on computing or even investing. The rise of the modern environmental movement also shaped camping profoundly. For a detailed description of these changes, see Smith, A History of Summer Camp, 189–234.

89. Gibson, “History of Organized Camping,” 18–19, 26–27; Charles H. Hopkins, History of YMCA in North America (New York: Association Press, 1950); Sherwood Eddy, A Century with Youth: A History of the Y.M.C.A. from 1844–1944 (New York: Association Press, 1944).

90. “YMCA—100 Years of Camping,” Centennial of Camping file, YMCA Archives. There are manifold examples of this sentiment in the writings and speeches about camping from 1965 through the 1990s. See, for example, Theodore Cavins, “What Should Camps Stress in Our Affluent Society?” Camping Magazine, February 1965, 17; Ernest F. Schmidt, “An Oasis for Youth,” Camping Magazine, September/October 1969, 4; Robert K. McClarty, Jr., “Spiritual Values in Camping,” a speech delivered to the Southern Section of the ACA, Athens, Ga., October 1, 1966, ACA Archives, History Box 1. Goodrich, “What Are the Essentials of Camping?” ACA Archives, History, Box 1, emphasis in original. Webb, “Camps Can Set a New Life Style,” 10–12. Webb, “The Wilderness Can Be Your Best Facility,” 6–8. Webb, As Sparks Fly Upward, 190–91.

91. Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness,” 87.

92. Michael Eisner, interview by Susan Stamberg, “Morning Edition,” National Public Radio, July 3 , 2001.

93. See Gregg Mitman, Reel Nature: America’s Romance with Wildlife on Film (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), esp. chap. 5.