Summer Camp – A Childhood Experience

Summer Camp – A Childhood Experience

Campfires, s’mores, midnight swims, bunk beds, and learning to ride…all these wonderful memories swirl up when anyone speaks of summer camp. Where else besides camp can a young girl master archery, crazy campfire songs, diving off an old pier, and being totally self-reliant? Most of all, summer camp provides young girls the chance to be their true selves while building a summer of irreplaceable memories and life-long friendships.

Summer camps have existed in the United States since the 1860’s. The traditional, residential summer camp is usually located in a wooded spot-often near a lake. The simple outdoor setting fosters a sense of connection with nature and requires the campers to get in touch with the basics that provide a sound foundation for life.

Many of the earliest camps were founded in the Northeast and upper Midwest away from large urban areas; a number of them are still in operation today. In 1861, the first summer camp was started by Frederick and Abigail Gunn. Headmasters of a small home-school for boys in Connecticut, they took the school on a two week trip filled with camping, hiking, trapping, and fishing. The Gunnery Camp continued for another 12 years. The idea spread as additional camps were sponsored by organizations such as the YMCA and the Boy Scouts.

Girls’ camps soon followed; the earliest was established by the YWCA in 1874 as a vacation house providing respite for young working women. In 1902, the first private girls’ camps were founded in New Hampshire and Maine. Soon after, residential girls’ camps were flourishing in America. The Camp Fire Girls, founded in 1910, launched their camp program in 1914. Girl Scouts camps, started in 1912, grew to over 300 by 1925. As of 2005, according to the American Camp Association, there are more than 12,000 residential and day camps in the United States, serving over 10 million children. Approximately 30% of these are all-girl camps.

From the beginning, girls’ camps have focused on developing girls into self-reliant young women, full of the character and confidence necessary to transition into the adult world with ease. As girls move through the camp day, they master archery, horseback riding, swimming, how to build and douse a fire and the creation of fireside skits; yet, other intangible results occur. These same young ladies discover leadership, resourcefulness, the self-esteem built on mastery of new tasks, team building and friendships, community and compromise. As they learn to accept themselves and others without pretensions, girls absorb lessons that will stay with them for a lifetime. As young women face the complex world of today, they often draw on the messages of strength and leadership they first encountered in summer camp.