Summer Camps: The White Mountains Roots of an Iconic American Experience

September 27th, 2017 by Rebecca

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Courtesy of Camp Pasquaney

Courtesy of Camp Pasquaney

 

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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Section 3: Satellite Campuses for America’s Top Schools

September 27th, 2017 by Rebecca

From their inception, summer camps were educational institutions working in large part to either supplement students’ learning or to prepare the campers for their next stage of life. Because of this, early summer camps stressed a close connection to America’s universities, especially the Ivy League. Many camps drew their counselor staff from elite colleges, helping to turn the camps into training grounds for collegiate life.

Peter Ferber. "Summer Hangout." 2013. Watercolor on paper. John Hession photo. Courtesy of Michael Mooney and Robert Cram.

Peter Ferber. “Summer Hangout.” 2013. Watercolor on paper. John Hession photo. Courtesy of Michael Mooney and Robert Cram.

Camps like Pasquaney, founded on Newfound Lake in 1895, maintained close connections with Universities, students, and alumni. At Pasquaney, which was closely linked with Yale,  college traditions found their way into to daily camp life, including the attire, athletics, songs, dining hall practices, and the similarity of cabin décor and dorm room life.

Most early twentieth century summer camps stressed their links to American colleges and universities by specifically identifying their relationship in promotional brochures aimed at parents and potential campers. Camp directors and founders were often affiliated with elite schools and counselors’ names were listed with their college affiliation as a way to stress the quality of the camp. Some camps even operated as a direct extension of a school or college.

Not all summer camps venerated New England’s elite universities. In a possibly tongue in- cheek swipe at the Ivy Leagues, the campers at Camp Belknap on Lake Winnipesaukee whose parents were more likely to be mill managers than mill owners, referred to their latrines as “Scollages,” bestowing upon them the names of Harvard, Dartmouth, and Princeton.

Courtesy of Camp Pemigewassett.

Courtesy of Camp Pemigewassett.

Dudley Sargent, the nation’s leading voice in physical education at the turn of the century and founder of Sargent Camp in Peterborough, New Hampshire, said:

There is little question that the summer camp is here as a permanent addition to our educational institutions. Already the camps have done more than save the boy’s summer, – they have made him a hardier, more resourceful boy, the promise of a more self-reliant, better disciplined man.

Courtesy of Camp Pemigewassett.

Courtesy of Camp Pemigewassett.

 

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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Section 6: The Technology Needed to Reject Technology

September 27th, 2017 by Rebecca

The romantic wilderness ideals that attracted so many to recreate in the outdoors and to send their children to camp rested on an anti-modern belief that assumed technology was unnatural and destructive to human health.

The common concern was that modern life and its accompanying technology was having catastrophic effects on American culture. What people felt they needed was to retreat to a simpler and healthier environment free from modern technology. Summer camp appeared to be the perfect medicine. Yet paradoxically, summer camps have always relied upon the use of ever-expanding technologies in order to maintain that safe and healthy environment that parents desire.

The most important technological innovation in the history of summer camp was the one that made camp possible: the railroad. Before the railroad, there was no efficient way to move large numbers of campers from the cities to remote mountain summer camps. With it, the iconic experience of camp began.

Groton School Camp. Courtesy of the Mayhew Program.

Groton School Camp. Courtesy of the Mayhew Program.

By the 1960s, as cars took over from trains as the most important means of transportation, the age of the camp train was replaced by the ritual of riding busses or of campers being dropped off by car.

Courtesy of Onaway.

Courtesy of Onaway.

Technology found its way into camp throughout the twentieth century. Electricity proved to be safer in tents and cabins than candles or lanterns. External- framed backpacks, down sleeping bags, portable stoves, and free-standing exoskeleton and dome tents meant that campers hiking in the White Mountains did so with greater ease, comfort, and safety. Technological innovations also introduced entirely new types of adventure activities into the summer camp experience, like ropes courses.

The digital age has brought its own waves of technology to the world of summer camps, even as camps are promoted as a means for campers to unplug from society. In addition to hand-held radios, camp staff use cell phones to text messages between the camp office and groups in the field. Smartphones allow for instructors to have realtime Doppler radar information as they decide whether or not to begin a ropes course or head.

Online portals allow parents to send messages to their children, while also viewing daily photos from camp. Parents also have the opportunity to order mugs or mouse pads with the image of their child at archery practice the day after that child first took up the bow. The primary way camps promote themselves today is through exciting and interactive websites, complete with embedded videos that highlight the advantages of a summer spent away from technology.

 

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

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

Section 5: Constructing Meaning and Finding Lessons from Native Americans

September 27th, 2017 by Rebecca

Romanticized and stereotyped Native American imagery, philosophy, rituals, and culture play a complicated role in camp life.

In his novels, James Fenimore Cooper cast the native people’s of the northeast woodlands as the romantic ideal for nineteenth and twentieth century American audiences. Cooper’s heroes, both white and Indian, find adventure while travelling through the wilderness, hiking, paddling, tracking, cooking over campfires, sleeping under the stars, and learning from the natural world. These images went on to influence pulp literature, dime novels, theatrical performances, movies, and eventually television. Capturing the romantic understanding of what that involved, Camp leaders infused these romantic experiences into the core curriculum of camp.

Summer camps in the White Mountains and beyond often adopted Native American sounding names to promote their strong and intentional connections to romanticized Indian culture.

Courtesy of Camp Pemigewassett.

Courtesy of Camp Pemigewassett.

Both of the first two summer camps, Camp Chocorua and Asquam, assumed Indian place names. Camp Pasquaney took its name from the Abenaki word for “White Birch.” Camp Onaway’s name came from the scene in Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha where Hiawatha marries Minnehaha. Camp Ogontz took its name from an Ottowa chief who lived in what is now Ohio; when Abby Sutherland rented the Ogontz mansion for her girls’ school, she adopted the name, and when she opened her camp in New Hampshire in 1923, she took the name along with her.

Original Mowglis themed artwork by former staff member and celebrated Native American artist, Richard West (Cheyenne name Wah-pah-nah-yah). Courtesy of Camp Mowglis.

Original Mowglis themed artwork by former staff member and celebrated Native American artist, Richard West (Cheyenne name Wah-pah-nah-yah). Courtesy of Camp Mowglis.

Euro-American perceptions of Native American culture influenced more than just the naming of summer camps; they were also fundamental to the educational curriculum of camp and the social science used to support the camp movement. Popular generalized representations of Native American religion became the standard within the curriculum of summer camp in the twentieth-century, in large part because of the work of Ernest Thompson Seton. Seton organized and popularized the Woodcraft Indian Movement, a role-playing experience where white children could live out their fantasies of being an Indian as sure as the Lost Boys of Neverland.  Even in camps that did not directly use Seton’s Woodcraft curriculum, Native American concepts impacted the experience of camp.

By the late twentieth and twenty-first century, Americans began to show a greater sensitivity to the racial assumptions, stereotypes, prejudice, and injustice visited upon Native Americans and many summer camps changed their programs to meet this larger awareness, especially in regards to the racialized images and rituals that had been practiced for over a century.

For some camps however, the focus on tradition and nostalgia within the culture of summer camp gives these rituals meaning apart from the Native American images they were meant to simulate. As camp became a truly intergenerational experience with children attending the same camps and participating in the same rituals their parents and grandparents had experienced, these rituals assumed a level of sanctity all their own. Although they are most certainly not authentic to the Native American practices, this sanctity of has made these traditions difficult to abandon.

Courtesy of Camp Mowglis.

Courtesy of Camp Mowglis.

 

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

Section 7: The Legacy of New Hampshire Summer Camps

September 27th, 2017 by Rebecca

The experience of leaving home and family in the city to discover a new home and family in the forest at summer camp has become one of the most iconic experiences of American childhood. For over a century, children have spent their summers living in cabins, singing songs around campfires, practicing arts and crafts, building strong relationships, and connecting to the natural world.

Woolsey S. Conover. "Next Generation." Oil on canvas. John Anderson Photo. Courtesy of the artist

Woolsey S. Conover. “Next Generation.” Oil on canvas. John Anderson Photo. Courtesy of the artist

Although the idea of summer camp was born in the nineteenth century, it still maintains a strong twenty-first century appeal. In 2015, over five million children went to summer camp in the United States and 82% of camps reported that enrollment was either steady or rising.

Few Americans are now concerned about the deleterious impact of the railroad on American youth, but fears for children still abound regarding too much screen time and too little time outdoors, which has led to the widespread popularity of groups like the Children in Nature Movement.

Courtesy of Camp Hale.

Courtesy of Camp Hale.

With all of the social and technological changes that have transformed America from the nineteenth century into the twenty-first, summer camp has maintained a unique role in our culture. That role is as vital today as it was when Ernest Balch founded Camp Chocorua, or when Alcott Farrar Elwell wrote of camp in 1925:

School books are closed, social qualities should dwindle, and the out-door be teacher. The child has placed his finger on the pulse of life that throbs in the little wood-folk as lustily as it does in his own comrades. The birds sing above him, the stars shine at night, the wind rustles the treetops as it goes murmuring through the forest. All weave into the imagination of the child, yet it must be linked into meaning by the guidance of mature minds. It cannot be emphasized too often that camp can never be an escape from present day life – if it is to be worthy. It is preparation for life, teaching how to find peace and understanding in order to play the game of life better in the surroundings in which modern man finds himself.

Courtesy of Camp Pemigewassett.

Courtesy of Camp Pemigewassett.

 

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

Section 1: Children’s Resorts in the White Mountains

September 27th, 2017 by Rebecca

In the summer of 1880, Ernest Balch, a recent Dartmouth College dropout, and a few friends set up camp on the shore of Squam Lake in New Hampshire. There Balch developed an idea that would transform the lives of millions of American youth from all walks of life, the American Summer Camp.

In the last half of the nineteenth century, New Hampshire’s White Mountains were home to a rapidly developing tourist industry catering to the wealthy elites of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Balch believed this was harming the children kept in tow as their parents enjoyed the luxury of the fashionable resorts.

"Pemigewassett House, Plymouth, N.H." c. 1855. J.H. Bufford, Lith, (Boston MA). John Hession photo. Courtesy of Bryant Tolles, Jr. White Mountain Collection.

“Pemigewassett House, Plymouth, N.H.” c. 1855. J.H. Bufford, Lith, (Boston MA). John Hession photo. Courtesy of Bryant Tolles, Jr. White Mountain Collection.

Rather than let the self-indulgence of high society erode the character of these youth, Balch envisioned a different kind of resort; one where boys could learn self-governance, the value of money, and a strong work ethic, while still experiencing fun and adventures. In 1882, Balch created Camp Chocorua on Squam Lake’s Chocorua Island. His campers cleared trails, built cabins and canoes, cooked meals, and washed dishes.

The camp, along with Camp Harvard (which opened in 1885 after being inspired by Balch’s ideas), soon gained national recognition when St. Nicholas magazine ran stories on these innovative programs in their June 1886 issue.

They camp out at night and have many amusing adventures by day…[They are] jolly, brown-faced, red-capped lads, who make the hills ring cheerily with their songs and laughter…Were I a boy, the life at Camp Chocorua would be my idea of a thoroughly good time, combining as it does plenty of fun and a free, open-air life, with the acquisition of much useful knowledge for one’s self, and helpfulness
to others.

Finding opportunity in an eager public and inexpensive waterfront property, emerging summer camps looked to the model first formed on Chocorua Island in Squam Lake and over the next twenty years spread across New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

"Camp Wachusett." Litting & Co. NY. John Anderson photo. Courtesy of Ross Deachman and the Holderness Historical Society.

“Camp Wachusett.” Litting & Co. NY. John Anderson photo. Courtesy of Ross Deachman and the Holderness Historical Society.

As the idea of summer camp expanded, it also diversified, moving beyond the role of serving wealthy boys. But whether they served rich or poor, boys or girls, the educational experiences of summer camp maintained certain similarities. Youth left home for an extended period of time in the summer to live in a rustic environment grounded in the landscape where their physical activity and adventures together taught them lessons they could not learn in the traditional academic classroom.

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

Walk Through the Exhibit

September 27th, 2017 by Rebecca

 

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

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

Return to Exhibit Information