Section 2: The Literary Links to Experiential Romanticism

September 27th, 2017 by Rebecca

The parents who sent the first generation of children to summer camp longed to connect to the America that they believed existed before the urbanization and industrialization that marked the late nineteenth century. This nostalgia was not rooted in any experience from their own youth; rather, it was based on the idealized image of America crafted by the romantic poets, authors, and artists popular during the period.

Alvan Fisher. "Mt. Jefferson on Rte from Gorham to Glen House N.H." 1859. Oil on Canvas. John Hession photo. Courtesy of Michael Mooney and Robert Cram.

Alvan Fisher. “Mt. Jefferson on Rte from Gorham to Glen House N.H.” 1859. Oil on Canvas. John Hession photo. Courtesy of Michael Mooney and Robert Cram.

 

The romantic literature of the day stressed a deep connection to nature and a rejection of modern life including technology. As early camp directors worked to craft a curriculum of activities, they turned to popular wilderness motifs, providing opportunities for hiking, paddling, campfires, and nature study while also fusing them with the Progressive ideals of the time.

Novels by authors like James Fennimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Rudyard Kipling were very influential in the formation and early years of the summer camp movement. When Elizabeth Ford Holt founded Camp Mowglis, a camp built around the the ideals expressed Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books, in 1903, she did so with Kipling’s permission and blessing.

Camp directors regularly read poetry and short stories to their campers in the evening as part of the moral education of the campers. In the case of Ogontz White Mountain Camp, poetry readings were the focus of every Thursday night, and highlighted the works of Emerson, Thoreau, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Browning, as well as the camper’s own compositions.

Experiential romanticism continues to be a foundational building block for the summer camp movement, representing both nostalgia for a desired past and a refuge from the ever increasing stressors of modern life and technology.

Samuel Lancaster Gerry. "Old Man of the Mountains." c. 1886. Oil on canvas. John Hession photo. Private collection.

Samuel Lancaster Gerry. “Old Man of the Mountains.” c. 1886. Oil on canvas. John Hession photo. Private collection.

 

 

Walk Through the Exhibit

Section 1: Children’s Resorts in the White Mountains

Section 2: The Literary Links to Experiential Romanticism

Section 3: Satellite Campuses for America’s Top Schools

Section 4: Camps for All, or the Egalitarian Worlds of Summer Camps

Section 5: Constructing Meaning and Finding Lessons from Native Americans

Section 6: The Technology Needed to Reject Technology

Section 7: The Legacy of New Hampshire Summer Camps

Return to Exhibit Information