Local leaders incorporate Boy Scouts of America branch in Seattle on April 18, 1911.

  • By Fred F. Poyner IV
  • Posted 10/09/2017
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20450

On April 18, 1911, a group of Seattle civic leaders adopts articles of incorporation for a local branch of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), which was founded on the East Coast just the year before. This marks the beginning of scouting in Seattle, greater King County, and the state of Washington as a whole. More than five years later, the Chief Seattle Council will finally receive a charter from the national BSA on December 8, 1916.

Scouting Comes to Washington

In early 1911, public word about a new organization in the United States dedicated to teaching boys about the outdoors had reached the West Coast. Founded just a year before, on February 8, 1910, by newspaper magnate William D. Boyce (1858-1929), the Boy Scouts of America started with an initial enrollment of 2,000 Boy Scouts and leaders in that first year. The program was originally designed as a year-long schedule for boys, but with an emphasis on summer camps that offered camping, hiking, archery, woodcraft skills, and other outdoor activities involving the water, forests, and mountains. Such a program was well-matched for the natural terrain and environment of the Pacific Northwest, including the North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula regions.

The Seattle branch of the Boy Scouts was incorporated on April 18, 1911, by local businessmen and political figures to promote, the articles of incorporation said, "the moral, physical and mental training of the boys of King County and the state; the inculcation of loyalty and obedience to parents and superiors; the adherence to the Scouts' oath and the protection of girls and women" ("Seattle Boy Scouts ..."). Among the leaders of the local branch were State Senator Josiah Collins (1864-1949) as president, Major Edward S. Ingraham (1852-1926) as secretary, and an executive committee that included A. G. Douthitt, Tracy Strong, Dr. W. C. Woodward (1877-1947), C. A. Player, and J. Howard Stine (1881-1957). The founding board of trustees included such prominent citizens as Charles Metsker, Clarence B. Blethen (1879-1941), William W. Chapin (1846-1922), and Laurence J. Colman (1859-1935).

Just one month later, local Scouting had taken off in Seattle. A headquarters had been set up in the Haller Building at 2nd and Columbia in downtown Seattle, and a public call went out asking for more scoutmasters to join and offer their time and mentorship to the new Scouting program. Ingraham, who led these early efforts to build the group, called the Boy Scout movement "one of the leading agencies in the development of true character ... becoming recognized all over the world as a permanent institution of great good" ("Busy Summer ..."). Ingraham went on to become the first Scout Commissioner for the Seattle council when it was finally officially recognized by the BSA, which took five years to accomplish.

In the meantime, several Boy Scout "patrols" or "troops" were formed in just a short time, with more added throughout King County over the next several years. Participation by adult leaders kept pace with the growing youth interest in the program. In 1914, outdoor enthusiast and University of Washington history professor Edmond S. Meany (1862-1935) led a group of Boy Scouts during a summer excursion up a then-unnamed peak in the Olympic Mountains. The professor promised to have the peak named after the first boy who reached the top, who turned out to be 13-year-old Tom Martin. Today the peak, located in Olympic National Park, is known as Mount Tom. Meany would go on to serve as Seattle Council president in 1925 and Scout Commissioner for the council in 1934.

Seattle Receives Its Charter

Despite its popularity as a countywide program, the local Scouting group began 1916 still lacking formal recognition from the national Boy Scouts of America as a chartered branch. According to longtime scoutmaster Del Loder (b. 1929), this was because the calendar for new charter applications was "continually full" (Loder interview). However, with help from the state legislature, a charter application for what would now be known as the Chief Seattle Council of the BSA was approved, with the charter issued on December 8, 1916. Concurrent with the charter award, the council moved its operations to a new downtown Seattle office located on Marion Street.

The effort to gain a charter from the national organization was led by Edward Ingraham and Seattle businessman and philanthropist Reginald H. Parsons (1873-1955), who also worked together to secure land for a Boy Scout camp on Hood Canal (later named Camp Parsons). The camp was seen as an integral part of the newly recognized council's operations and a $55,000 budget, adopted in 1918 to operate the council for the next three years, included funding to purchase and develop it. In recognition of his leadership and support of the Scouts, Parsons was named the first president of the now-chartered Seattle council.

Three years later, on November 8, 1919, Parsons, along with L. S. Booth, J. V. A. Smith, Worrall Wilson, and R. R. Frazier, filed with the Washington Secretary of State's office Articles of Incorporation for a nonprofit corporation called the Seattle Council Boy Scouts of America. (The articles were renewed under the official name Chief Seattle Council Inc. on July 1, 1969.)

The BSA Is Here to Stay

Even before the Seattle council's BSA charter was issued, Seattle Troop No. 4 had been formed on June 15, 1916, by scoutmaster Floyd Oles (1896-1996). For the next two decades, Oles led his Scouts during wintertime campouts, skiing at Silver Peak, and hiking trips on Elkhorn Mountain in Clark County. Troop 4's patrol roster from 1933 listed the boys collectively under self-selected group names such as "Blazing Arrows," Flying Eagles," and "Summit Climbers" ("History of Boy Scout Troop 4 ..."). In the lead-up to U.S. involvement in World War II, troop members served in citywide blackout security with duties as message-runners beginning in February 1941.

Another early standout on the King County Scouting front was Mae Belle Esty (1881-1941), who started a Wolf Cub Scout den in Kirkland, on Lake Washington's Eastside. Esty, who was blind, was the first woman to run a Scout den. The Kirkland den was the first Cub Scout den formed in the state and Esty was the nation's first "Cub Mistress" after the BSA launched the "Cubbing" program for younger boys in 1930. By the end of that first year, the Cub Scout program had 5,102 boys ranging in age from eight to 11 registered across the nation, with ranks of Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, Lion, and Webelos (a shortened version of "We Be Loyal Scouts").


"Seattle Boy Scouts Effect Organization," The Seattle Times, April 19, 1911, p. 8; "Busy Summer in Sight for Local Boy Scouts," The Seattle Times, May 28, 1911, p. 27; "History of Boy Scout Troop 4, Seattle, WA, 1935-1943" (scrapbook), Manuscript Sc. 172, Catalog no. 1987.45.1, Call no. SC-C-13 (2 volumes), Special Collections, Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma, Washington; "History of Cub Scouting," Boy Scouts of America website accessed August 1, 2017 (http://www.scouting.org/Home/CubScouts/Parents/About/history.aspx); Fred Poyner IV interview with Del Loder, July 16, 2017, transcript in possession of Fred Poyner IV, Issaquah, Washington; John Pagett, email to Fred Poyner IV, July 5, 2017, in possession of Fred Poyner IV; Alan Hutchison, email to Fred Poyner IV, September 21, 2017, in possession of Fred Poyner IV; Alan Hutchison and Michael Bruce Johnson, "A Timeline History of Camp Parsons," 2017 working draft, Camp Parsons Museum Collection, Camp Parsons, Brinnon, Washington; "Kirkland Woman's Club Nominated for Landmark Status," The Kirkland Reporter, March 3, 2011 (http://www.kirklandreporter.com/news/kirkland-womans-club-nominated-for-landmark-status/); "Articles of Incorporation of the Seattle Council Boy Scouts of America," October 28, 1919 (filed November 8, 1919), copy available at Washington Secretary of State Digital Archives website accessed July 28, 2017 (https://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Record/View/F061D0FA7435860376DDFB763EC3CA54).

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