INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY and CAMP!
Waking on March 8 2018 to International Women’s Day, was inspirational! Coverage of the parades and celebrations around the globe was lavish! In Cambodia, a country with strong ties to Camp Betsey Cox, women who are part of a group of land activists released balloons to honor the day. Women in China, gathered with bouquets of flowers as they prepared to participate in the plenary session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Nearby, students at famed Tsinghua University made banners making light of the proposed amendment to eliminate presidential term limits in the Chinese constitution. South Korean women expressed their support of the “Me Too” movement (in opposition to sexual harassment) with signs and parades. Marches occurred in India where women protested wage inequality. In Ukraine, a woman stood in the town square with a large bouquet of purple balloons and a sign that read “We are Wonder Women”! And around the US, any number of parades and protests brought women out to raise their voices on any number of issues. It was an exciting day!
The energy of the day brought me around to investigating the history of girls’ camps. I knew that, prior to the early 1900s, camps existed for middle and upper-class boys only. It was thought that these boys needed plentiful activities to get them through the long summer vacation while lower-class and rural boys worked either in factories or out on the farm. Rustic living, vigorous outdoor exercise and competitive activities, all found in the camp experience, would mold boys into successful men. Girls? Well….their life skills were necessarily different and should be focused on home-making. So the culture of the time claimed!
Early in the 20th century, male camp directors joined to create The Camp Director’s Association of America. Even as interest in the development of girls’ camps grew, women who were inspired to develop such institutions were denied membership. Certainly the fact that the women’s suffrage movement was well underway meant that women fighting for representation across America’s institutions would turn their energies to camp, too.
In 1902, one Laura Mattoon, head of the science department at New York City’s Veltin School and an exceptional teacher, founded Camp Kehonka in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In the camp’s first year, eight girls joined Miss Mattoon for the time of their lives! The girls lived in tents, built their own furniture, swam, hiked, cooked and thrived in the outdoors. Believing that camping was an excellent means for building character, she modeled a system of shared leadership and taught proper “attitudes of the mind” rather than stressing competitive activities.
Other “experiments” in girls’ camping followed. The first Vermont girls’ camp, Camp Aloha, was founded in 1905. Girls at Aloha wore bloomers for the first time! In 1910, Mrs. Charlotte Gulick founded the Camp Fire Girls (now Camp Fire, a co-ed organization), and in 1912, Juliet Low founded the Girl Scouts. In that same year, after nearly 20 years of efforts to join the Camp Directors’ Association of America, women camp directors organized themselves into the National Association of Directors of Girls’ Camps. While most of the emerging girls’ camps were owned by men, most directors were female. Camping was taking off!
Fast forward to 1953! That’s the year that Jean Smith Davies and her spouse, Charlie Davies, put their shovels into the ground and built Camp Betsey Cox. From its first year, Camp Betsey Cox girls have gathered together in the best girls’ camp traditions of happy, healthy living in the outdoors.
And in the tradition of the first girls’ camps in America, Betsey Cox girls grow in character and leadership! They find their voices at camp, and go on to raise them on International Women’s Day or on any other day when circumstances require them. On this particular International Women’s Day, we celebrate the women campers who came before us and paved the way!