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Dakota Datebook

William Boyce, Boy Scouts Founder


It was on this date in 1910 that William Dickson Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America. His mission was inspired by an event a year earlier when he got lost in a thick London fog. A young man did him a “good turn” by helping him find his way. But when Boyce offered him a tip, the boy refused it, saying he was merely doing his duty as a Boy Scout. Boyce was so impressed he helped establish an American counterpart of the group when he returned to the United States.


Boyce was born in June 1858. His family farmed in rural Pennsylvania. By all accounts, Boyce was a charmer who loved travel and adventure. He was also a savvy businessman, and he prospered as a newspaperman. He co-founded a Winnipeg newspaper and worked as a reporter in Fargo. Then, in 1882, he settled in Lisbon, ND, and started the Dakota Clipper, a weekly paper. Three years later, Boyce sold the paper and went to Chicago, where he used his rural experience to set up a syndication service for small-town newspapers. He also started, or bought, several more papers.


By the time he got lost in the London fog in 1909, Boyce was a multi-millionaire. After the young “Unknown Scout” explained the organization to him, Boyce went to meet the group’s founder, Lt. Gen. Baden-Powell. Lord Baden-Powell explained his concept to Boyce and sent him home with a trunk full of Boy Scout materials, including uniforms and insignias. Four months later, Boyce had the organization up and running in the States.


Boyce was employing some 30,000 paperboys at that time and had a clear picture of what their lives were like. Unlike most other publishers, he had made some effort to look out for their welfare. In addition to drawing from their experiences, he was inspired by his own childhood love of nature to incorporate Indian lore into the new Boy Scout movement.


Unfortunately, the venture failed because of poor organization. Several YMCA executives had a deep interest in seeing the movement succeed, however, and helped Boyce begin again with better management. During the next year, Boyce personally contributed a minimum of a thousand dollars a month to keep the organization afloat. He had one condition: in exchange for his generosity, the Boy Scouts of America had to accept all boys, regardless of race or creed.


Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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