Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-jb2ch Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-28T23:51:23.841Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

“The Child Is Born a Naturalist”: Nature Study, Woodcraft Indians, and the Theory of Recapitulation1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 November 2010

Kevin C. Armitage
Affiliation:
Miami University of Ohio

Extract

Beginning in the 1890s, the nature study movement advocated direct contact with the natural world to develop in children an appreciation for natural history, the beginnings of scientific inquiry, aesthetic and spiritual interests as well as the motivation to conserve nature. Defense of nature study pedagogy came from the theory of recapitulation. Recapitulation held that as humans developed they repeated the evolutionary history of the human race. Children were thus thought to be like Indians: primitive people with an innate closeness to nature. The most popular proponent of these ideas was Ernest Thompson Seton, widely read author, illustrator, and founder of the nature study boys club, the Woodcraft Indians. Nature study advocates hoped that the theory of recapitulation would allow them to bridge the modern and romantic, antimodern tendencies in their movement. Despite an intense focus on premodern virtues, nature study and the Woodcraft Indians mostly served to ease the tensions and incongruities of modern life.

Type
Essays
Copyright
Copyright © Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2007

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

2 Seton, Ernest Thompson, “The Woodcraft League or College of Indian Wisdom,” The HomiMc Review (June 1931): 434Google Scholar. journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 6:1 (January 2007)Google Scholar

3 Parker, Francis, “The Child,” Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association (1889): 479Google Scholar. For the Dewey quote, see Dewey, John, “How Much Freedom in New Schools?” The New Republic, July 9, 1930, p. 204Google Scholar.

4 Ibid. 481.

5 Ibid. 481. Emphasis in original.

6 Ibid. 480.

7 Recapitulation was also commonly referred to as the “cultural epoch” theory of human development. For more on the history of recapitulation, see Gould, Stephen Jay, Ontogeny and Phytogeny (Cambridge, MA, 1977)Google Scholar; and Russett, Cynthia Eagle, Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood (Cambridge, MA, 1989)Google Scholar.

8 Dolbear, Katherine E., “Nature Study for the Graded Schools,” Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association (1900): 601.Google Scholar

9 The idea that children needed to leave the classroom and experience nature first hand to develop sympathy with it was a controversial one. See, for example, the criticism of nature study leveled by renowned psychologist Thorndike, Edward, “Sentimentality in Science Teaching,” Educational Review (January 1899)Google Scholar.

10 Liberty Bailey, Hyde, The Nature Study Idea: Being an Interpretation of the New School Movement to Put the Child in Sympathy with Nature (New York, 1903), 31Google Scholar.

11 Scott, Charles B., Nature Study and the Child (Boston, 1902), 123.Google Scholar

12 Ibid., 124.

13 Ibid., 126-27.

15 Ibid., 124

16 Hall, G. Stanley, Adolescence (New York, 1904), 1: xi, xv.Google Scholar

17 Patterson, Alice Jean, “A Survey of Twenty Years Progress Made in the Course of Nature Study,” Nature-Study Review 17 (Feb. 1921): 62Google Scholar. Very little published scholarship on nature study exists. Older studies include Underhill, Orra E., The Origins and Development of Elementary School Science (New York, 1941)Google Scholar. See also Schmitt, Peter J., Back to Nature: The Arcadian Myth in Urban America (New York, 1969)Google Scholar. Dissertations include Armitage, Kevin C., “Knowing Nature: Nature Study and American Life, 1873-1923” (Ph.D. diss. University of Kansas, 2004)Google Scholar; Minton, Tyree G., “The History of the Nature-Study Movement and Its Role in the Development of Environmental Education” (Ed.D. diss., University of Massachusetts, 1980)Google Scholar, Olmstead, Richard R., “The Nature-Study Movement in American Education” (Ed.D. diss., Indiana University, 1967)Google Scholar.

18 On nature and Americans, see Nash, Roderick, Wilderness and the American Mind (1967; New Haven, 2001)Google Scholar; Fox, Stephen, John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement (Madison, 1981)Google Scholar; , Schmitt, Back to NatureGoogle Scholar; and Worster, Donald, Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (1985; Cambridge, 1994)Google Scholar.

15 Cremin, Lawrence, The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education 1876-1957 (New York, 1964), viii-ixGoogle Scholar. The literature on progressive education is vast; to begin, see Kliebard, Herbert, The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893-1958 (Boston, 1986)Google Scholar; Reese, William J., Power and the Promise of School Reform: Grassroots Movements during the Progressive Era (Boston, 1986)Google Scholar; and Ravitch, Diane, heft Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms (New York, 2000)Google Scholar. Two important essays are Smith, Timothy L., “Progressivism in American Education, 1880-1900,” Harvard Educational Review 31 (Spring 1961): 168–93Google Scholar; and Reese, William J., “The Origins of Progressive Education,” History of Education Quarterly 41 (Spring 2001): 124CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 Agassiz, Louis, Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of North America (1857)Google Scholar. The standard intellectual biography of Agassiz is Lurie, Edward, Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science (Chicago, 1960)Google Scholar.

21 For the racism of Agassiz, see Menand, Louis, The Metaphysical Club (New York, 2001), 103–16Google Scholar.

22 For a close study of Hall, see Ross, Dorothy, G. Stanley Hall (Chicago, 1972)Google Scholar.

23 Though still rejecting strict recapitulation theory, the notion that there is a connection between the evolution of species and the development of individuals is once again the rage in the biological sciences. This area of research is known as “evolutionary developmental biology,” or “evo devo” for short. For an entertaining overview of evo devo written for non-specialists, see Carroll, Sean, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo (New York, 2005)Google Scholar.

24 Robinson, E.M. of the YMCA argued that “the higher Christian values are built on savage virtues.”Google Scholar For this quote and more on this point, see Macleod, David, Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920 (Madison, 1983), 99Google Scholar.

25 Hall, G. Stanley, Adolescence, 1: xiii.Google Scholar

26 , Macleod, Building Character in the American Boy, 100.Google Scholar

27 Hall, G. Stanley, untitled essay, Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association (1904): 443.Google Scholar

28 Hall, G. Stanley, untitled essay, Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association (1896): 157.Google Scholar

29 Hall, G. Stanley, Adolescence, 1: x.Google Scholar

30 , Schmitt, Back To Nature, 92.Google Scholar

31 “Use and Abuse of America's Natural Resources,” Report of the National Conservation Commission (1909; New York, 1972), 637Google Scholar. The Yale economist Irving Fisher wrote this section of the report. Fisher was an avid advocate of eugenics and health food diets. He made a for-tune with his visible index card system—known today as the Rolodex—and advocated the establishment of a 100 percent reserve requirement banking system. He lost his fortune and his reputation because just days before the 1929 Wall Street Crash he reassured investors that stock prices were not over-inflated but had achieved a permanent plateau. For more on Fisher, see Allen, Robert Loring, Irving Fisher: A Biography (Cambridge, MA, 1993)Google Scholar.

32 Ibid., 630. For more on the National Conservation Commission, see Hays, Samuel P., Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920 (Cambridge, MA, 1959), 129–40.Google Scholar

33 Edwards, Charles Lincoln, “Nature-Play,” The Popular Science Monthly, April 1914, 330.Google Scholar

34 Ibid., 342-43.

35 On this point, see , Russett, Sexual Science,Google Scholar

36 Fairbanks, Harold W., “The Relation of Geography to Nature-Study in the Elementary School,” The Nature Study Review 1 (Sept. 1905): 175.Google Scholar

37 Ibid., 177.

38 Cropsey, N., “The Higher Use of Nature Studies,” Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association (1894): 199.Google Scholar

39 Ibid., 201.

40 Hoyt, W.A., “Children's Love of Nature,” Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association (1894): 1013.Google Scholar

41 Advocates of nature study even bolstered the recapitulation rationale for their discipline through their own research findings in evolutionary psychology. The research attempted to correlate data from questionnaires to childhood affinities for nature. See Mau, Laura Emily, “Some Experiments with Regard to the Relative Interests of Children in Physical and Biological Nature Materials in the Kindergarten and Primary Grades,” The Nature-Study Renew 8 (November 1912): 285–91Google Scholar, and Downing, Elliot R., “Children's Interest in Nature Material,” The Nature-Study Review 8 (December 1912): 334Google Scholar.

42 Bigelow, Maurice A., “Are Children Naturally Naturalists?The Nature-Study Review 3 (November 1907): 236.Google Scholar

43 Ibid., 238

44 Clute, Willard N., untitled letter, The Nature-Study Review 4 (January 1908): 30.Google Scholar

45 Parker, Clayton F., “Are Children Naturally Naturalists?The Nature-Study Review 4 (January 1908): 29.Google Scholar

46 Schlossman, Steven L., “G. Stanley Hall and the Boy's Club: Conservative Applications of Recapitulation Theory,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 9 (April 1973): 140–41.3.0.CO;2-W>CrossRefGoogle Scholar

47 Lee, Joseph, Play in Education (New York, 1915), 218.Google Scholar

48 Theodore Roosevelt to G. Stanley Hall, Nov. 29, 1899. Cited in both Ross, G. Stanley Hall, 318, and Bederman, Gail, Manliness and Civilisation: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago, 1995), 100–01CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 Anderson, H. Allen, The Chief: Ernest Thompson Seton and the Changing West (College Station, TX, 1986), 131Google Scholar. On Seton, see also Wadland, John Henry, Ernest Thompson Seton: Man and Nature in the Progressive Era, 1880-1915 (New York, 1978)Google Scholar. For Seton as an antimodernist and appropriator of Indian-ness, see Deloria, Philip J., Playing Indian (New Haven, 1998), 95128Google Scholar.

50 John Burroughs, among others, criticized Seton's fanciful stories for their lack of veracity. Seton thus became entangled in the “nature faker” debate. See Lutts, Ralph H., The Nature Fakers: Wildlife, Science and Sentiment (Golden, CO, 1990)Google Scholar.

51 Forbush, a Congregational minister, was a staunch proponent of recapitulation and of character building in the American boy. He also found in recapitulation theory a justification for contact with nature: “The infant,” wrote Forbush, “is like the wild creature of the wood, and it is as cruel to confine the physical activities of young children as those of squirrels and swallows.” Forbush, William Byron, The Boy Problem: A Study in Social Pedagogy (Boston, 1901), 10Google Scholar. Forbush recommended nature study, school gardening, the Agassiz Association science club and summer camps to put boys into contact with nature.

52 MacDonald, Robert H., Sons of Empire: The Frontier and the Boy Scout Movement (Toronto, 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a clear elaboration of his theory of instincts, see Seton, Ernest Thompson, “The Woodcraft League,” 434–39Google Scholar.

53 Seton, Ernest Thompson, “The Boy Scouts in America,” Outlook, July 23, 1910, 630.Google Scholar

54 Parker, Francis, “The Child,” 480.Google Scholar

55 Seton, Ernest Thompson, Gospel of the Red Man: An Indian Bible (1937; Seton Village, NM, 1966), 105.Google Scholar

56 , Seton, “The Boy Scouts in America,” 630.Google Scholar

57 Ibid., 435.

58 Seton, Ernest Thompson, “Organized Boyhood: The Boy Scout Movement, Its Purpose and Laws,” Success Magazine, December 1910, 804.Google Scholar

59 Ibid., 804.

60 , Seton, “The Boy Scouts in America,” 630.Google Scholar

61 For romantic intellectuals' attachment to medieval tropes see, Lears, T.J.Jackson, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (Chicago, 1981), 141–82Google Scholar.

62 , Seton, “The Boy Scouts in America,” 630.Google Scholar

63 , Seton, “The Woodcraft League,” 435Google Scholar. Though Seton clearly romanticized his depiction of Native Americans, he also had a good deal of contact with actual native peoples and was an ardent reformer and critic of governmental relations with Indians. Seton attended the organization meeting of the Sequoya League in 1901, cementing his friendship with Charles Eastman. Seton remained a reformer for decades, eventually endorsing John Collier's Indian New Deal.

64 , Hall, Adolescence, 1: x.Google Scholar

65 Seton, Ernest Thompson, How To Play Indian: Directions for Organising a Tribe of Boy Indians and Making Their Teepees in True Indian Style (Philadelphia, 1903), 3.Google Scholar

66 , Seton, Gospel of the Red Man, 108Google Scholar. For antimodemism, see Lears, T.J. Jackson, No Place of GraceGoogle Scholar; Clifford, James, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature and Art (Cambridge, 1988)Google Scholar; and Adorno, Theodore W. and Horkheimer, Max, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. Cumming, John (New York, 1993)Google Scholar.

67 Huyssen, Andreas, “Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism's Other,” in After the Great Divide (Bloomington, 1987), 4464Google Scholar. For a discussion of authenticity and mass culture, see Lears, Jackson, “Sherwood Anderson: Looking for the White Spot,” in The Power of Culture: Critical Essays in American History, ed. Fox, Richard Wightman and Lears, T.J. Jackson (Chicago, 1993), 1338Google Scholar. See also Shi, David E., Facing Facts: Baalism in American Thought and Culture, 1850-1920 (New York, 1995)Google Scholar.

68 My discussion is indebted to , Bederman, Manliness and Civilisation,Google Scholar which provides further investigation of the relationship between gender and dominant understandings of civilization.

69 Seton, Ernest Thompson, Two Uttle Savages: Being the Adventures of Two Boys Who Lived as Indians and What They Learned (New York, 1903)Google Scholar. David Macleod notes that Two Uttle Savages was one of “the most widely read and widely remembered boys' books of its generation,” , Macleod, Building Character, 132Google Scholar. For one memory of the book, see Atkinson, Brooks, “A Puritan Boyhood,” Massachusetts Review 15 (summer 1974): 353Google Scholar; some boys even copied the book by hand.

70 , Seton, Two Uttle Savages, 326.Google Scholar

71 Ibid., 375-76.

72 Ibid., 56.

73 The 200,000 number comes from Seton's biographer, H. Allen Anderson, who cites Seton's own estimates. Journalist McCready Sykes estimated the number as between 150,000 and 200,000. See , Anderson, The Chief, 148Google Scholar, and Sykes, McCready, “Let's Play Indian: Making A New American Boy Through Woodcraft,”Google ScholarEverybody's Magazine, October, 1910, 481Google Scholar.

74 , Macleod, Building Character, 130–32.Google Scholar

75 Burroughs to Roosevelt, July 2, 1906, quoted in Schmitt, Back To Nature, 107.

76 Roosevelt to West, Nov. 30, 1915, in , Roosevelt, Letters VIII, 992–93Google Scholar, quoted in , Anderson, The Chief, 174Google Scholar.

77 “Seton Still Insists on Quitting Scouts,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 1915Google Scholar, quoted in , Anderson, The Chief, 174Google Scholar.

78 For more on the Camp Fire Girls, see McCallum, Mary Jane, ‘“The Fundamental Things’: Camp Fire Girls and Authenticity, 1910-1920,” Canadian Journal of History 40 (April 2005): 4566CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

79 Vinal, William Gould, “The Call of Girls' Camps,” The Nature-Study Review 15 (May 1919): 201.Google Scholar

80 Ibid., 202.

81 Buckler, Helen, Wo-He-Lo; The Story of Camp Fire Girls, 1910-1960 (New York, 1961), 2223.Google Scholar

82 , Deloria, Playing Indian, 96.Google Scholar

83 Seton, Ernest Thompson, “On Nature-Study” in Library of Natural History, ed. Lydekker, Richard, Vol. I (New York, 1904), iii.Google Scholar

84 Quoted in Bell, Nancy, “The Work of Ernest Thompson Seton,” The Humane Review, April 1903, 1819Google Scholar.

85 , Sykes, “Let's Play Indian,” 481Google Scholar. Sykes was especially impressed with the way Seton's Indians replaced the idea of competition as something normally coming at the expense of another with the woodcraft view of competition as a betterment of one's self.

86 , Bell, “The Work of Ernest Thompson Seton,” 11, 14.Google Scholar

87 , Russett, Sexual Science, 157.Google Scholar

88 , Seton, “The Woodcraft League,” 435–36.Google Scholar

89 Burroughs, John, “Nature Study,” Outlook, February 4, 1899, 328.Google Scholar