History Highlights #6: THE EARLY YEARS 1913 ~ 1919

A flag ceremony at an early LDS Boy Scout campout

There is no religious side to the movement. The whole of it is based on religion, that is, on the realisation and service of God.
—Lord Robert Baden-Powell


The Boy Scouts of America gained momentum and popularity across the country. By January 1913, over 6,000 troops and 300,000 boys were active in the growing movement. The MIA Scouts organization continued to grow as well, and by January 1913, approximately 1,500 troops and 20,000 boys were involved in the Church program.

John H. Taylor, YMMIA athletic director, traveled among Church stakes promoting and assisting with MIA Scouting. He was often asked why the MIA Scouts were not affiliated with the national organization of the Boy Scouts of America. The question was posed to the YMMIA Athletic Committee, and it was suggested that Brother Taylor informally investigate the advantages and disadvantages of affiliation in order to make a recommendation to the general board.

After reviewing available Boy Scout literature and interviewing several gentlemen, he contacted the national organization for assistance. National Field Scout Commissioner Samuel A. Moffat was enroute to the West Coast on Scouting business, and a meeting was arranged in Salt Lake City.

Pictured left to right: Oscar A. Kirkham, Brigham F. Grant, Bryant S. Hinckley, John H. Taylor


On the morning of Wednesday, January 8, 1913, Commissioner Moffat met with Heber J. Grant, Brigham H. Roberts, Lyman R. Martineau, Bryant S. Hinckley, Brigham F. Grant, Oscar A. Kirkham, and John H. Taylor at the YMCA building. The mechanics of a possible partnership were discussed. The brethren wanted to know if the word “promise” could be interchanged with “oath” in the Boy Scout Oath. They also discussed the commission of a Church leader to manage Scout work in LDS troops. Commissioner Moffat emphasized maintaining national advancement standards. The Boy Scouts of America had not yet officially affiliated with any organization, and the provision for such an arrangement required forethought and discussion from both parties. Commissioner Moffat assured the Brethren that a potential affiliation would be “effective and agreeable.”

At the general board meeting that evening, Athletic Committee Chairman Lyman R. Martineau reported on the earlier affiliation discussion, and Heber J. Grant expressed that he had been “very favorably impressed” with Mr. Moffat. It was also shared that twenty-one LDS boys in Logan, Utah, had joined the Scout troop of the Reverend Mr. Jones in order to receive the official BSA badges, reflecting the fact that some LDS young men and leaders were involved in the national Scouting program in addition to the MIA Scout activities. A motion of the board authorized the committee to further investigate a potential affiliation.

During the following weeks, Church and Scouting leaders corresponded. James E. West, Chief Scout Executive, sent copies of the BSA Articles of Incorporation and bylaws as well as excerpts from the BSA Handbook for Boys for review by YMMIA leaders.


The YMMIA Athletic Committee recommended affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America for five reasons:

Broader opportunities as Scouts

Definiteness of purpose and standardization of merit

A general uplift and fellowship of the boys of the nation

The missionary work of our boys, associating with their fellows

A worthy spirit of fellowship and brotherhood with the national organization


After several weeks of study, the Athletic Committee wrote a letter to the YMMIA general board stating, “We regard the advantages as far greater than the disadvantages of affiliation. . . . In view of all we can learn, therefore, your committee recommend affiliation with the ‘Boy Scouts of America.’”


On February 26, 1913, the general board voted unanimously to affiliate, and requested that Athletic Director John H. Taylor be commissioned by the BSA National Council and given jurisdiction over the LDS Scouts in the western states. The following week, an official resolution to affiliate was presented to the YMMIA, and on March 15, 1913, the resolution was passed by the general board.

Bryant S. Hinckley presented the resolution in favor of affiliation to the general board. Elder Anthony W. Ivins carried the motion to the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency, and President Joseph F. Smith agreed to adopt the national Boy Scout program in the YMMIA.


“Trusting that this action will result in greater opportunities for good to our organizations.” ~Letter from YMMIA general secretary Moroni Snow to Chief Scout Executive James E. West, May 9, 1913


Lyman R. Martineau sent a letter to James E. West on March 24, informing him that the resolution to affiliate had been adopted by the general board. On May 2, the BSA National Executive Board voted unanimously to accept the affiliation of the MIA Scouts with the Boy Scouts of America. An official charter was issued on May 21, 1913, authorizing the Church to use the Boy Scouts of America program for its boys throughout the United States as well as in Church Scout troops in Canada and Mexico.

On June 9, 1913, in conjunction with the annual MIA conference, the charter was signed and a celebration was held in honor of the affiliation between the Church and the Boy Scouts of America. Scouts gathered at Wandamere Park in Salt Lake City for a day of Scouting activities. A dynamic partnership, destined to affect millions of boys, had been formed.


A YMMIA conference was traditionally held each June, near Brigham Young’s birthday (June 1) to commemorate the organization of the YMMIA by Brigham Young. June was also the beginning of the MIA year and was a time for celebration, calendaring, and starting a new curriculum.

“The General Board has decided to give the Saturday afternoon of the June Conference . . . to demonstrations and contest work in Boy Scout activities. The scout program will consist of life-saving, carrying and bandaging, signal work and tent raising. . . . The stakes are invited to send one or more patrols to contest in any part of the work.” —Improvement Era, May 1913, 741


The official affiliation of the MIA Scouts and the Boy Scouts of America combined the efforts and resources of two influential youth organizations. LDS young men, who had the foundations of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, were introduced to the meaningful activities and recognitions provided by the BSA, while the nationally exploding Scouting organization gained the enthusiasm of dedicated Church leaders and youth. The synergistic partnership propelled Scouting forward across the United States and throughout the Church as Scout troops were registered in every ward.

The National Boy Scout organization noted in their 1914 annual report that “leaders of the . . . Mutual Improvement Association . . . have been doing with much enthusiasm, and at present time there are troops connected with Mormon institutions, obligated to the Scout Oath and Law and carrying out the Scout program in the same manner as all other troops of Scouts.”

Further commitment to the national organization occurred in December 1913, when the Church announced that twelve-year-old boys, who had formerly been members of the Primary Association, would automatically be enrolled in the YMMIA, along with young men up through age eighteen. This change harmonized the ages of Scouting and Aaronic Priesthood boys.


“We sincerely believe that our leaders, who . . . brought Scouting into the Church and made it a part of the MIA program for boys, did realize that with the blessings of our Heavenly Father it would grow and develop into the wonderful program which we have today.”
—Oscar A. Kirkham, 1913 YMMIA board member, Say the Good Word, 96


Congressional Charter Granted

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the first organization to form an official affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America. This partnership not only blessed the two respective organizations but also provided a pattern for other organizations to charter Scouting units. In addition, the added strength and membership of the MIA Scouts assisted the BSA in acquiring a national charter from the Congress of the United States of America on June 15, 1916.

The Boy Scouts of America was granted a federal charter from the U.S. Congress in 1916, which gave special protection to the Boy Scout name and insignia, and limited members to U.S. citizens. The bill passed both houses unanimously and was signed by President Woodrow Wilson on June 15, 1916.

Within a few years Scouting was woven into Church curriculum and culture. Leadership training meetings were often held at the Deseret Gym in Salt Lake City. A special award, originally titled a “Church Merit Badge,” was introduced and could be earned when a boy read the entire Book of Mormon and New Testament, regularly attended YMMIA and priesthood quorum meetings, and abstained from tobacco and liquor.

“Scout Sunday” originated in February 1914 to celebrate the anniversary of the Scouting organization. The YMMIA board set aside a Sunday evening in February as MIA Boy Scout evening. Suggestions in the Improvement Era included discussing Scouting aims and purposes. The January 1917 edition encouraged speakers to use the Boy Scout Handbook as a reference, and the young ladies of the YWMIA were invited to “cooperate . . . in making this a big event.”


In 1918, future Church President Ezra Taft Benson was commissioned as assistant Scoutmaster, and later as Scoutmaster, of his Whitney, Idaho ward Scout troop.


A June 8, 1916 Boy Scout leader training meeting held at the Deseret Gym included talks by Church Scout Commissioner John H. Taylor, Waterloo Ward Scoutmaster Thomas George Wood, Bryant S. Hinckley, and other prominent Church Scouting leaders. Scouting specifics were discussed, and Scout songs and yells were demonstrated. Elder Heber J. Grant presided, and President Joseph F. Smith was in attendance at an evening campfire program.


World War I

The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. “Every Scout to Save a Soldier” became the national Boy Scout theme, and YMMIA boys and leaders were advised to also adopt this slogan. “Duty to country” took on new meaning for Scouts as thousands of boys actively sold Liberty Loan bonds and war stamps, distributed government literature, and grew gardens. Hundreds of acres of land across the United States—including Utah—were transformed into Scout gardens. Scouting and Church efforts progressed hand in hand as MIA leaders were asked to “lend their best endeavors to sell thrift stamps and war savings certificates.” MIA boys, ages sixteen through twenty-one, were encouraged to volunteer for the “U.S. Boys’ Working Reserve,” replacing men who had gone to war by working in machine shops, textile mills, and other industries. Extensive travel and activities were limited as youth and leaders devoted their time and energy to assisting the war effort.

Scout Councils

Scouting continued to flourish throughout the Church in North America, with local LDS troops chartered under the direction of the YMMIA. It soon became apparent that the program was too large to be administered by one Church Scout commissioner. In 1919, Utah was divided into four Scout councils, and paid Scouting professionals were hired to assist in the program administration. This division of regions, troops, and activities made the growing program more manageable. As national membership grew, the development of councils became the standard for Scouting throughout the United States. LDS troops were encouraged to participate in all council activities, to use their facilities, and to assume their own full share of financial support for the essential work of the local Scout councils. Although the majority of Scout leaders were volunteers, it was clear that some paid professionals were needed to maintain the movement. However, national Boy Scout policy sought “to reduce to a minimum the machinery or organization.”

Scout councils were formed by calling together the leading men of the town or city. First Class councils were formed in urban areas, with paid commissioners or executives, while Second Class councils were formed in more rural areas and were managed through volunteer commissioners.


Oscar A. Kirkham was a Scouter, musician, and Seventy. In 1912, he was appointed to the YMMIA board, and in April of 1919 became Scout Executive of the Salt Lake Boy Scout Council. He served the National Boy Scouts of America for over thirty-five years, attending numerous national and world jamborees as a morale officer. Elder Kirkham was sustained as a member of the First Council of the Seventy in 1941.


President Heber J. Grant and Oscar A. Kirkham with Utah Scouts at the 5th World Scout Jamboree, Netherlands, 1937

The first World Scout Jamboree was held in England in 1920. Scouts from over thirty countries gathered in a spirit of peace and goodwill, a powerful expression after the recent World War I. Oscar A. Kirkham attended the jamboree as Chief Morale Officer.


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

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  1. Kade says:

    I have always maintained that the “Definiteness of purpose and standardization of merit” is one of the great strengths at bringing this worthy program to the young men and boys in our church. It is what is lacking in the young women and girls programs.

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