This post was written by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian.
Along with sweltering heat and humidity, summer also brings with it a deep sense of nostalgia. Many of us hold fond memories of backyard barbecues, building sand castles at the beach and watching fireflies light up the trees at night. This time of year also inspires countless adults to reminisce about their youthful days at summer camp.
The first summer camps were founded in North America during the 1880s. Their establishment was highly influenced by Victorian convictions regarding the beneficial role nature played in one’s moral and physical development. Many early camps were located in wooded areas of northern New England and upstate New York.
Adirondack Camp for Boys, located along the eastern edge of Lake George, was founded by renowned educator, Dr. Elias G. Brown, in 1904. Although it has since become a coeducational facility, Adirondack Camp is still in operation today and holds the distinction of being one of the longest-running summer camps in the country.
Named for the Native American tribe, Camp Watatic for Girls was located on the Eastern shore of Lake Winnekeag, in Massachusetts. While most camps in the nineteenth century were strictly for boys, the early twentieth saw an influx of camps being organized for girls. Many camps required children to wear a lightweight uniform, similar to those worn at private schools. Here, we see a wonderful sketch of the uniform worn by Mary Sweeney, a participant at Camp Watatic from 1924 to 1927, as well as a heartfelt note from the camp’s nurse.
The Children’s Aid Society, a forerunner in the field of child welfare and social services, operated a number of summer camps, excursion programs and convalescent homes which focused on getting children out of the city and into a country setting for clean air, healthy exercise, fresh foods and plenty of fun in the sun. Who could resist a game of volleyball with this happy little girl, seen here at their Goodhue Camp, on Staten Island.
Residents of the Christodora House Settlement, located on the lower east side of New York City, were eligible for opportunities to participate in family trips to Northover Camp in Bound Brook, NJ. In the following letter from 1918, Helen Schecter writes from camp to one of her friends back at Christodora House, relaying some of the amusing antics her children were involved in.
Freda just came in with a great big frog in her bare hands and askes [sic] me if “is this not a beautiful frog” and I do not know how she can hold this in her hand, but she would not give it away for the nicest doll. The entertainment last night was very comical, for a long time I did not laugh so good. The children played their parts better than actors.
Of course, as much as outdoor entertainment and extracurricular activities were an integral part of summer camp, there was also a focus on education and intellectual stimulation. Parlez-vous Francais? This 1930 brochure for Les Jeunes Filles de L’Ecole Champlain: A French Camp for Girls included the itinerary for a typical day at Junior Camp. No lollygagging for these young women!
Now grab those backpacks and sleeping bags and get outside to make some summer memories! Happy camping from the New-York Historical Society!