What’s happening in this Scouting cover? (Or: A history of ‘new Exploring’)

exploring-1“Who wouldn’t like to do Exploring in this pleasant fashion,” Scouting editors wrote in describing the April 1959 cover seen at right. “It’s a case where it might be more fun to fail than to succeed!”

It’s a cover that must have been considered risqué in its time, making it unlike any Scouting cover printed before — or since. But the image surely got readers talking, meaning it achieved its goal. I shudder to picture the stack of letters the editors must have received, though.

Because today’s Valentine’s Day, I thought it appropriate to investigate this Scouting cover a little further. Who are these teens, and what are they up to?

As you might have noticed by the logos on the young men’s jackets, the cover depicts the “new Exploring program,” described in the November 1958 issue of Scouting as the BSA “reaching out to more of these four and a half million high-school age young men where they are, on their own ground, whether or not they have been Scouts.”

Chief Scout Executive Arthur A. Schuck explained in the story that the BSA had no trouble “aiding mid-adolescent boys through that difficult stage of their development.” Reaching older teens, however, wasn’t so easy.

And so beginning Jan. 1, 1959, boys could join Exploring at age 14 and in the ninth grade or higher or at age 15 regardless of grade. Explorers chose a program of focus that most interested them, such as science, auto mechanics, law, rowing, electronics, diving or pretty much any specialty they could dream of. They teamed with schools or local businesses to find adult leaders and places to meet.

(Today’s Explorers — young men and young women — get a similar opportunity to try out careers with professionals in their communities, and older boys and girls with high-adventure interests can join Venturing.)

By focusing on a specialty, 1959’s new Explorers could enhance their experience through “trips, tours, expeditions, cruises, camps and the at-home type of superactivity which is a new feature of Exploring.” Activities were measured using six experience areas:

  • Social
  • Vocational
  • Outdoor
  • Personal Fitness
  • Service
  • Citizenship

“The officers evaluate the proposed activity to see how many it provides of the six types of experiences,” Schuck wrote. “The more the better.”

The game being played in the April 1959 cover fits the Social requirement, but anything beyond that is beyond me.

Here’s what else I know about “new Exploring”:

Explorer Code

Explorers subscribed to the Scout Oath and Scout Law as well as the Explorer Code:


Explorer Eagle Scouts

Young men in Exploring could still earn the Eagle Scout award using “an alternative Explorer method” that still included the traditional requirement of 21 merit badges.

Explorer Uniforms

The green uniform and red jacket from “old Exploring” remained, but a new option was added: the blue blazer seen in the April 1959 cover above. It was worn with gray slacks and a maroon tie, and its “campus styling and the distinctive emblem on the pocket” made it “attractive to teen-agers, both boys and girls.”

The blazer was an official uniform piece, but it was more befitting of a college student than a Scout. Perhaps that’s the best explanation yet of the cover in question. Young women in the late 1950s, apparently, just couldn’t resist a young man in a blue blazer.


The entire November 1958 article introducing “new Exploring”
Scouting magazine archives

The April 1959 issue and all other issues of Scouting are yours to browse at the Scouting magazine archive page.

Thanks to Brad Delaney, who emailed me to ask what was going on in the April 1959 cover and in the BSA in the late 50s. I hope I answered your question, Brad.

28 thoughts on “What’s happening in this Scouting cover? (Or: A history of ‘new Exploring’)

  1. Bryan, you’ll be interested to know that these changes were driven in large part by a study commissioned by the BSA and performed by the Institute for Social Research at the Univ. of Michigan. The studies findings were printed in a book–“Study of Boys Becoming Adolescents” (ASIN B000IG3SSC)–that can still be purchased on Amazon and eBay. The survey and methodology are included, so BSA could (and *should*) easily revisit the study for contemporary youth.

    • There is another book of social research on Scouting from the 1930s, “Scouting in the Schools,” which is a collection of a number of smaller, independent studies on the relationship between schools and the BSA, and the effect of Scouting on boys in schools. ISBN 0404556310 and apparently re-issued in 2012 ISBN 1258449730

  2. I earned the rank of Star Scout before moving into a Chemistry Explorer Post. Chemistry became my major in college and my career for the past 37 years–spurred on by the interesting things we did at the Explorer Post! Fun with science in those days truly was science–and fun!!!

  3. Many of us were “dual-enrolled” back in the sixties. While a JASM of my old Boy Scout Troop, I was also Secretary of an Explorer Post in town.

    That was way to keep high school boys in Scouting, knowing that we could also go a on few co-ed ski trips during the year with just kids of our own age.

  4. Back in the 70’s, there were huge Explorers conventions called the “National Explorers President Congress”, which were held at the Sheraton-Washington Hotel in Washington, DC, where over 3000 of the nation’s top Explorer youth leaders gathered to select their national leaders. It was held just like a Republican or Democratic convention. I was honored to serve as a volunteer on staff called the “Producers Circle” where we put on many of the major events during the convention. Some of the after hours social events & dances were amazing, and of course would not have happened if it was just an all male event!

    • I was honored to serve as Post President of a Business Explorer’s Post with IBM and attended the President’s Congress in April 1974. The Explorer program offered the most amazing leadership opportunities for boys and girls and spurred my career interest in business. Although my navy blazer is long gone, I still have the embroidered “E” patch from that blazer and the lapel pin. My son, an Eagle Scout, can’t get over the fact that I was a Boy Scout back in the day.

  5. The game was almost as much fun as passing an orange under your chins without using your hands! Or trying to get out of interlocked string handcuff without breaking the string (much more fun)..

    • Not on your life. We are not even allowed to let Scouts go to the bathroom by themselves (something my kids mastered at about for years of age; but that was a long time ago, before helicopter child rearing was the norm.)

  6. This is appalling! So the BSA was basically using sex (and pretty girls) to help sell boy on the idea of joining Exploring? Even by 1959 standards, that seems sexist and wrong (and un-Scoutlike). Were girls just allowed into the BSA just as a prop to help hold the attention and interest of “high-school age boys everywhere”? I’m glad they’re not using the same kind of tactics to sell Venturing to young men (or young women). Ugh.

    • Calm down please, we are looking back on a different time and different social norms. Of course this would not happen today and I would not allow that to occur in my daughters Crew, but it is interesting to step into the “Way-back-machine” from time to time.

    • Don’t worry. BSA is actively opposing heterosexuality now. I remember when the literature for older Scouts and Explorers often featured boys and girls together. None of that is allowed now. But if a boy feels desire for another boy, he can sign right up, raise his hand in the Scout sign and promise to be morally straight. And no one bats an eye. But one of the recent homosexual Eagle Scouts has promised he is going to submit an application to become an adult leader and keep the pressure on BSA until they crack.

    • No you are not. Venturing Youth Protection demands you closely monitor all relationships between male and female crew members. None of this heterosexuality is allowed. I was told by a high ranking council member that if two Venturers get married they are not allowed to be in the same crew! But BSA has gone gay in a big way. Go figure.

      • First, this is not sexual expression. It’s a group of kids having a lifesaver relay! It’s boys finding a place in the BSA for their girl friends. (Just like how they would soon be doing for their black and Hispanic friends in a decades or so.)
        Second, I had a husband and wife youth on my roster last year. I specifically called HQ to make sure I correctly registered them and their emergency contact info. No problem.

    • Go for it, mark! It will be a barrel of fun. The boys have from time to time have played this or similar cooperative games around the campfire. It’s always great to resurrect the “old standards!”

  7. That was some pretty heads up thinking in 1958 introducing the Explorer program to reach out to older kids. Boys Scouts needs to do something similar today to keep the older kids engaged.

  8. Bryan, are there any archives with letters to the editor regarding this article? It would be interesting to see what scouters of yesteryear thought about opening the doors to girls in scouting?

    • They weren’t “opening the doors” back in 1958. Girls did not participate in Exploring until the 1970s or so. The postmodernist lens through which you view Scouting is distorting your view. Maybe even getting “stale and boring”.

  9. Let me rephrase. It would be interesting to see what scouters thought of girls taking a spot on the cover of the magazine for leaders of a boy’s club. I’m sure no reader in 1958 had in mind changes that were to be codified just 12 years later.

  10. I doubt any Scouters in 1959 imagined that girls and women would become members of BSA (other than den mothers … remember them?). As for the girls appearing on the cover of Scouting, most likely they would not have given it a second thought. The two young men are wearing the Explorer dress uniform with blazer and necktie. The young ladies are wearing party dresses (remember those?). And the young man in the foreground has a fresh haircut (what we used to call a “whitewall”). Explanation: Explorer Post is hosting a party for members and their girlfriends. The Lifesaver-toothpick game used to be popular way back when. Exploring included some activities that young men could attend with a date. BSA was trying hard to stop the loss of older youth to what we sued to call “the fumes” – car exhaust fumes and perfumes (i.e., cars and girls taking a bigger part of the young men’s interests.

    • I suppose you’re right. And the female sunbather in the page 2 drawing is probably not participant in the posts’ life, but rather the fellas are hauling wood and lighting a fire in attempt revive a hypothermia victim. 😉 The next issue of _Scouting_ has a trailer for Explorer Quarterly with plans for “a beach party … a co-ed activity that will mean food and fun for everyone.” It’s not entirely clear that girls would be out of the picture in program planning for some posts. The model presented was “boys host one activity, girls invite to another activity.”
      I understand that girls were not an official part of the program, but it would be interesting to hear traditional scouters’ reaction to this “introduction” and how it compares/contrasts to the reactions many of us advisors hear these days.

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