What is the history of summer camps in the United States?
For children and adolescents, summer camp has been a fixture of American life. In the summer months, parents have often placed their children in summer camps to avoid boredom or even keep them out of trouble. Summer camps can be educational but also fun for those involved, helping to get through the summer months. For adults, it provides a form of childcare as well. The history of summer camps has in the United States has its origin in the evolution of modern, industrial life in the 19th century that changed the national economy and country.
Early History of Summer Camps
As the Industrial Age progressed after the Civil War in the 1870s, families began to increasingly migrate to cities, escaping country life that promissed fewer opportunities for families. As adults, often men, worked in factories and sometimes offices, children would often have little to do, in particular during the summer months when there were prolonged breaks from school. Increasingly, as families began to spend more of their time in the city, they also saw that children would spend a lot of time indoors, where many urban houses or apartments also offered limited outdoor space. This created an initial movement to begin to develop summer camps as opportunities for children to reconnect with the outdoors and the countryside. Effectively, the earliest summer camps were about escaping the big city and reconnecting with the nature. People saw that being outdoors build character and families began to place their kids into the relatively few summer camps that established themselves in the 1870s-1880s. Camp Chocorua was the first known dedicated summer camp, which was founded in New Hampshire by Ernest Balch, who was a student at Dartmouth college at the time. This camp was seen as a way for children to heal from potentially negative effects of cities and help develop their character. Some also held that boys spending a lot of time at home, rather than being outdoors as they would have in the country, would become more femanized. This meant that many early camps generally catered towards the upper classes and boys. There was also a fear that boys would grow up to be morally corrupt if they only experienced urban life, leading to religious and community leaders pushing for the establishment of summer camps. However, throughout the 19th century, these were mainly upper class activities. Summer camps became not only places for playful activities and sports, but structured education, particularly with moral behaviour, was part of the routines. Educators, philanthropoists, health professionals, and religious leaders all soon became major proponents of summer camps.