Monday, May 16, 2011

James E. West - (May 16, 1876 – May 15, 1948)

Today I am going to take a short break from my three part series around the subject of disclosure of your scout's diagnosis of Autism and will finish it up sometime this week.

I wanted to shift gears just a bit and pay tribute to James E. West who was the first Boy Scout of America’s First Chief Executive. 

Yes, this blog is dedicated to scouting and Autism support but I feel that taking a moment to recognize all of the accomplishments of James E. West on this date that he was born would be the right thing to do since he is a symbol of disability awareness and scouting in the United States. 

James E. West was born May, 16 1876 to a mother who had just lost her husband. Then when he was seven years old he was left without a mother because she had caught tuberculosis the year before. He was placed in a Orphanage and a year later in 1883 also contracted tuberculosis and by 1885 was crippled.  

He had a very difficult childhood but worked his way throughout school while having to work.  He never forgot his younger years and became a lawyer in 1901 after passing the bar exam and became a strong advocate of children's rights when they did not have many. 

His career started out as an Assistant to the General Secretary of the YMCA, and during the Spanish–American War, he acted as General Secretary. 

He worked for President Theodore Roosevelt and helped establish the juvenile court system in the US by making sure a bill was passed by congress. 

In the early 1900s, he was the finance chairman for the Boys' Brigade and the secretary of the Washington Playground Association, later the Playground Association of America. He later served as secretary of the National Child Rescue League, responsible for placing orphaned children into homes. West was then the secretary of the White House Conference on Dependent Children, pushing for reforms in the management of orphanages. His early childhood experience in these orphanages was never lost and remained part of him. 

In 1910 when the BSA was formed and was searching for the person to run the day to day operations, West’s name came up many times. He finally agreed to work for the organization for only six months.  He started the six months in 1911 and ended in 1943 as the Chief Executive Scout. 

During his first month, he organized the first six BSA Councils as well as started work on the first edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. 

West is credited in helping to expand the Boy Scout Oath to include:
To help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

He was also credited to help expand the Boy Scout Law to include:
brave, clean, and reverent

His time as the Chief Executive was not without conflict. He had conflicts with Daniel Carter Beard who was one of the founders of the BSA and published Boy’s Life. The split had caused Beard to leave and a stopping of the publication of Boy’s Life for a short time until the BSA purchased Boy’s Life. 

In 1915, he had a conflict with William D. Boyce one of the other founders which caused Boyce to start his own organization called Lone Scouts of America. In 1924 the Lone Scouts of America were merged back into the BSA. 

West fiercely defended the use of the term Scout and the right to market Scouting merchandise. By 1930, West claimed to have stopped 435 groups from unauthorized use of Scouting; both as part of an organizational name and in the use of commercial products. When the Girl Scouts of the USA started, West discouraged the program. In 1911, West worked with Luther Gulick when the Camp Fire Girls were established and always considered them to be the sister program of the BSA. When the Girl Scouts refused to give up their name in 1918, West appealed to Baden-Powell with no results. Lou Henry Hoover became the president of the Girl Scouts in 1922 and First Lady in 1929; West stopped his campaign to rename the Girl Scouts.

After James E. West retired as Chief Scout Executive, Dr. Elbert K. Fretwell succeeded him. Upon retirement, West was given the title of "Chief Scout" of the BSA, the same title that Seton had held. Dr. West served on the World Scout Committee of the World Organization of the Scout Movement from 1939 until 1947. International Scouting honored West with the Bronze Wolf Award.

Scouts of all abilities can learn from Mr. West. He could have given up but he fought and did not let his disabilities define him but he did not forget that it was part of him.  He was a tireless advocate for children’s concerns and the defense of scouting. 

Happy Birthday Dr. West: (May 16, 1876 – May 15, 1948)


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