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

September 13th, 2017 by Rebecca

Although summer camps began as a supplement for the children of wealth and privilege, the value of a summer in a White Mountain summer camp was quickly harnessed by those working with children who didn’t fit the stereotype of wealthy, white, and male.

Progressives saw the potential of camp life as a means to uplift the poor, to Americanize immigrants, and to empower women. As a movement, the Progressives aimed to create a better and more just American society. Through camp, they could demonstrate that ideal as a livable reality on impressionable young minds.

The Groton School Camp opened as an outreach project of the Groton School’s Missionary Society in 1893. The aim of the Groton School Camp was to bring together the wealthy elite students of the Groton School and the rough and ragged “street urchins” of Boston’s tenement houses. Among the many children who learned formative lessons about the common ground between people at the Groton School Camp was a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Organizations such as urban settlement houses specifically developed programs for the most at-risk youth in the community. One such program was the Hale House, located in Boston’s South End. In the summer of 1900, Hale House sent 14 inner-city boys to Onset Island in Buzzards Bay for a one-week camp session. The following year they shifted their camp to the shore of Squam Lake.

These relationships were of tremendous importance to the community’s social fabric because the camp was run by a community-oriented settlement house whose social mission served the youth even when they were not camped on the shores of Squam Lake.

Another innovative type of summer camp developed by the settlement houses of Boston was caddy camp. Serving older boys, caddy camps were a partnership between the children from settlement house neighborhoods and elite country clubs in the White Mountains. Golf carts may have replaced caddies, rising prices may have made camp more expensive to run, and the grand hotels may have closed, but the caddy camps made a lasting impact on the lives of many inner-city boys.

It was the first time I ever saw a rainbow. … Also, having never seen anything but the short, stubby, withering trees that dotted the North End [of Boston] streets, I never imagined a tree could be so large and glorious.” – Dante DeCristoforo, a caddy camper at the Maplewood Caddy Camp in Bethlehem, New Hampshire

Camps began with boys, but soon evolved to include young women. From the beginnings of White Mountain tourism, women were able to find opportunity and adventure in the backcountry of New Hampshire. Both in the recreational opportunities and in the ways they were represented in the mass media, women were able to find a level of freedom and independence that was denied them in the cities and suburbs at lower altitudes.

Girls summer camps both challenged and reinforced the dominant gender norms of early twentieth-century American society. National programs like the Camp Fire Girls stressed a traditional model of womanhood where campers learned to tend to the hearth and other trades of the home. The Girl Scouts and programs like Sargent Camp challenged traditional norms by stressing the importance of physical education and women’s empowerment.


As Abby Sutherland, founder of Ogontz, White Mountain Camp described in 1935:

While the school disciplines the girl to habits of good daily adjustment, the camp does more than this: it also awakens her to her native air, the open, the woods and sky. As a camper, she is a citizen of two worlds, the manmade world of school, of art, and of society, and that great natural world of the trail, the woods and the sea.


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

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