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Order of the Arrow History

Dr. E Urner Gooman

The Order of the Arrow is a thing of the outdoors rather than the indoors. It was born in an island wilderness. It needs the sun and rain, the woods and the plains, the waters and the starlit sky.

The Original Induction Experience

General History

In 1915, Camp Director E. Urner Goodman and Assistant Camp Director Carroll A. Edson searched for a way to recognize select campers for their cheerful sprits of service at Treasure Island Scout Camp in the Delaware River.  Goodman and Edson founded the Order of the Arrow when they held the first Ordeal Ceremony on July 16th of that year.  By 1921, as the popularity of the organization spread to other camps, local lodges attended the first national gathering called a Grand Lodge Meeting.


The Order of the Arrow was one of many camp honor societies that existed at local Scout camps across the country.  As the years went on and more camps adopted the Order of the Arrow’s program, it gained prominence and became part of the national Boy Scout program in 1934.  By 1948, the OA, recognized as the BSA's national brotherhood of honor campers, became an official part of the Boy Scouts of America.  Toward the end of the twentieth century, the OA expanded its focus to include conservation, high adventure, and servant-leadership.


Throughout the years, the Order of the Arrow has played an integral role in the program of the Boy Scouts of America and in the community service its members contribute to their communities.  To date, more than one million people have been members of the Order of the Arrow.


Presently, the Order of the Arrow consists of nearly 300 lodges, which form approximately 48 sections in four regions.  Leadership positions and voting rights are restricted to members under the age of 21.  Through the program, members live up to the ideals of brotherhood, cheerfulness, and service set forth by E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson.

The Founding

Dr. Goodman was the Camp Director of Treasure Island, the Philadelphia Council Scout Camp. He observed that when Scouts came to camp, there were often individuals who either shirked their duties or went about in a grouchy manner. Dr. Goodman was an experienced camper and Scoutmaster, and he knew how this negative attitude reduces a unit’s efficiency.


He thus saw a need for more emphasis on the virtues of Cheerfulness and Service in the unit camp. He knew that when each Scout pulled his load, not from outward compulsion, but in a happy and cheerful spirit of his own, the camp would be a successful and profitable experience for everyone. Yet how could such traits be promoted in camp? It was clear that these virtues could not be instilled by conversation or lecturing alone. It would be necessary to dramatize these prin­ciples to the Scouts by giving them living examples of Cheerful Service. 


The Scouts would then be able to understand how these otherwise abstract ideals are put into practice. The founders now faced the problem of locating those who would set the examples which would inspire the Scouts to Cheerful Service. It was obvious that the persons chosen to set such examples would have to be obtained from the Scout units, for only then would the Scouts have examples they could see and appreciate throughout the year. It was now necessary to identify those individuals in the unit whose examples would actually “speak” to the Scouts and stimulate them to recognize the “greater good in the life of Cheerful Service.” Although the unit leaders were already in this position, it was obvi­ous that a better recognition of this principle would come about if the Scouts could associate these qualities with some of their own companions.


From his experience as a Scoutmaster, Dr. Goodman knew that in every unit there were members who, by virtue of their dedication to the Scout Oath and Law, distinguished them­selves in Cheerful Service to the extent that they inspired others to a similar dedication. A Scout whose dedication to the Scout Oath and Law is so great that he is an inspiration to his fellows is an Inspirational Leader. This outstanding character trait is not dependent on age, rank, or position in the unit. To recognize and support inspirational leadership, Dr. Goodman decided to ask the members of each unit to select, for the highest camp honor, those who most inspired the min the ideals of Scouting; particularly Cheerfulness and Service. He knew this election would help all Scouts in the unit to become aware of these qualities, and encourage those selected to maintain their examples.


The founders now saw that these representatives from the units would be very re­sponsive to further instruction in the ideals for which they had been honored by their units. Advantage could be taken of this fact by developing a character building device and having all the Inspirational Leaders take part in this training. By giving them a tremendous inspira­tion to continue in Cheerful Service and then returning to their units, it would be possible to transmit the meaning of Cheerful Service to all the Scouts in camp through the example of their own Inspirational Leaders. In developing the character-building device, some important problems had to be solved. The original desire to avoid obvious “preaching” would be defeated if Scouts were told what they were about to undergo was a character-building program and that they were supposed to be inspired by it. In addition, some incentive for taking the training was required, and the program would have to have an appeal that would keep the attention and interest of all participating. Realizing that those who adhere to similar ideals tend to band together, the founders saw the solution to these problems in the concept of an induction into a “Brotherhood of Cheerful Service.” The actual character-building devices would be presented as “tests” that the Scout would be told he must complete before being admitted into the “Brotherhood.”  The tests would be developed so that they would place the Inspirational Leader in a position to discover the meaning of Brotherhood, Cheerfulness, and Service for himself; to stimulate his own character development.  


As a perfect device for generating appeal and interest, Carroll A. Edson, Assistant Camp Director of Treasure Island, suggested an Indian theme for Dr. Goodman’s idea of an “Award for Proficiency in the Spirit of Scouting.” Using the Indian traditions of the area around Trea­sure Island, the founders molded their ideas into the first crude Induction. The “tests” were substantially the same as our present tests of the Ordeal, and the ceremony that followed resembled the present Brotherhood ceremony. Originally, there was only one major ceremony in the Induction. Later it was felt that the Induction would better accomplish its inspirational purpose if it were split into two parts. The first would introduce the three virtues through the “tests,” examples, and symbols. After giving the Scout sufficient time to reflect on this initial inspirational experience, a second ceremony would expand the symbolism to a climax. Thus the character building was to take place over a period of months, and the higher meanings of Brotherhood and Cheerful Service would be introduced as the member’s ability to comprehend them grew.  


Although the original purpose of the Order was fulfilled when the Inspirational Lead­ers of the units had completed the Induction and were back in their units, it was realized that such an organization of honor campers could render other distinct services to Scouting. Camping promotion and the developing of camping spirit through a colorful Indian lore program were recognized as ideal projects for the Order.


Service to camp and the camping program have become a fundamental purpose of each Order of the Arrow lodge, while the Order has become a perfect vehicle for providing additional leadership opportunities for older Scouts on a district or council level.

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