It was the headline that first caught his attention.
“Here comes the woman writer again.”
Like any good headline, it made him want to read more.
Barbara Oxford had time to kill while Girl Scouts took the merit badge class. He was always interested in genealogy. He decided to do research on the early figures of Scouting in his area.
Then he came across a story from the May 22, 1911 issue Anaconda Standard newspapers, and that led him down the internet rabbit hole that would eventually inspire his Wood Badge tickets… and much, much more.
“I came across this article, ‘Here comes the woman writer again,’” says Oxford. “And I was blown away by the story. So I started digging and digging and digging.”
What he found was the story of Beth Groeneveld, later referred to in the newspapers as Mrs. Charles W. Blake.
Groeneveld/Blake, it turns out, isn’t “the woman writer,” but one of the co-founders of the American Scout movement in Butte, Montana, 78 years before women were allowed to become Scoutmasters.
Oxford is the seat of advancement for Troop 1933 in Kalispell, Montana. She is also the district vice president, organizer of monthly merit badge classes across the board, business manager during the summer at Montana Council’s Melita Island Camp, and the mother of two BSA Scout boys.
“I love Scouting,” he admits.
Blake’s story spoke to him.
Blake first appears in Anaconda Standard 1910 Christmas Day Edition, just months after BSA was founded. Story notes that “a branch of the Scouts of America was organized at Butte” and describes the unit as “one troop among these scouts in which there is one patrol.”
The troop meets at a church but is open to children of any faith. It had the backing of a “local council of prominent businessmen”.
Just a few paragraphs, there is this subtitle: “Need a Scout Teacher.”
All the troops needed now was an active master scout. This spot had been filled by Miss Beth Groeneveld, who was actually in charge of the scout organization… Since a woman was not allowed to be a scout leader, Miss Groeneveld simply filled the spot and followed the boys in scout lessons.
The story goes on to note that Blake’s father agreed to issue an “organization certificate” in his name so that the troop could remain compliant with BSA leadership rules.
“Here we go again”
The following May, an unidentified woman wrote a letter to the editor entitled, “Here comes the woman writer again.”
In her letter, the woman has a strong criticism of men in her community for what she sees as a failure to adequately support the Scout movement. He wanted to make sure that the credit for starting the squad went to the right people.
The women have known about Scouts for a long time. They got all the literature they could; sending out facts about the organization’s plans and even doing some scouting stunts themselves, just to see if it was a job they could handle. …
They found it made room for the growing boy’s energy; that it teaches boys independence and masculinity; that he acquired business acumen, because he was taught to save his money. He cultivates a healthy body and a healthy mind with outdoor workouts; he learned to know and love all living things in the plains and forests; he notices the little things that make up the spin of human nature and he himself becomes more rounded.
Obviously, the writer of the letter was talking about Blake.
“I love the story,” said Oxford. “She, in her skirt, is out there hiking and going on camping trips with these boys. Women didn’t even vote in 1910 and he was out there starting his own army in Montana.”
Finally, some confessions
A decade later, BSA troops are everywhere, and Blake is recognized by one of its most prominent national leaders.
A photograph in the issue of February 5, 1922 Butte Miner newspapers showed James E. West shaking the hand of one Mrs. Charles W. Blake, as seen by local Scout executive Rev. Groeneveld and Butte.
The credit for founding the Boy Scout movement in Montana goes to a woman in Mrs. Charles W. Blake. … During a recent visit by US Scout national officials, Mrs. Blake was personally congratulated and thanked by James E. West, chief executive of national scouts. … The heartfelt congratulations from every Scout and dignitary in the state is due to Mrs. Charles W. Blake for his courage and foresight in organizing the first unit of the world’s largest boys’ club The Boy Scouts of America, and thus building in his memory as Beth Groeneveld a living monument of devotion in the ranks of invaluable citizenship. .
Blake’s story, however, was largely forgotten, until Oxford had a moment to kill during a merit class almost a century later.
“He inspired my entire Wood Badge experience,” says Oxford. “And one of my tickets is to try to get national attention for him, to try to make his story known again.”
Oxford says he is in the process of writing a book on the history of Scouting in Montana, and he owns the entire section on Blake.
“This is a great thing,” said Oxford, “which I think should be celebrated now.”