The history of summer camp


The history of summer camp is way more political than you realize.

America’s first private camps started in the 1870s, at the end of the country’s first wave of mass urbanization — the idea being to give overstimulated urban children a chance to commune with nature. As Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock, founder of a private summer camp for boys in 1876 near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., put it, the idea was to take “weakly boys out into camp life in the woods … so that the pursuit of health could be combined with the practical knowledge outside the usual academic lines.” For the privilege, he charged youths from Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre $200 for four months of “physical culture.” And for “tired young women wearing out their lives in an almost endless drudgery for wages that admit no thought of rest or recreation,” there was the first Young Women’s Christian Association camp, offered during the summer of 1874. In an illustration of the common gender stereotypes of the time, the first women’s camp was offered not in the woods, but at a boarding house in Asbury Park, N.J., and called “Sea Rest.”

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