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Robert Baden-Powell's sexual orientation

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Robert Baden-Powell's sexual orientation has been brought into question by some modern authors. Even though he married and had three children, circumstantial evidence suggests he may have taken an erotic interest in men. The possibility that Robert Baden-Powell was not exclusively heterosexual is controversial given his iconic status as the founder of the worldwide Scouting movement and the objection to homosexuality in some local organizations.

While early works on the life of Baden-Powell tended towards the hagiographic, two modern biographers, Michael Rosenthal of Columbia University and Tim Jeal in his book Baden-Powell, have reached the conclusion that he was probably a repressed homosexual.[1][2]

Baden-Powell "…consistently praised the male body when naked. At Gilwell Park, the Scouts' camping ground in Epping Forest, he always enjoyed watching the boys swimming naked, and would sometimes chat with them after they had just 'stripped off.'"[3] Jeal cites a revealing account by Baden-Powell of a visit to Charterhouse, his old public school, where he stayed with a bachelor teacher and housemaster who had taken large numbers of nude photographs of his pupils. Baden-Powell's diary entry reads: "Stayed with Tod. Tod's photos of naked boys and trees. Excellent." In a subsequent communication to Tod regarding starting up a Scout troop at the school, Baden-Powell mentions an impending return visit and adds: "Possibly I might get a further look at those wonderful photographs of yours." (According to R. Jenkyns, the album contained nude boys in "contrived and artificial" poses.)[4]

However Jeal also shows that paintings of nude boys were regarded as art, being hung in the Royal Academy each year without causing particular stir. Tod's photos were accepted by parents and school authorities until the sixties, when they were destroyed, "to protect Tod's reputation."[4] Baden-Powell's admiration of the male body was physical, as being the best example of the beauty of nature, and with that of God, the creator: "A clean young man in his prime of health and strength is the finest creature God has made in the world." As an example he told about some Swazi chiefs with whom he met some gymnastic instructors. The chiefs were not fully satisfied until they had had the men stripped and had examined themselves their muscular development."[5] Baden-Powell himself did not write about or draw males in an erotic sense, although he was a good amateur artist.[6] Jeal stresses that Baden-Powell is not known to have acted on his attraction to boys, nor did he tolerate scoutmasters who indulged in sexual escapades with their charges, recommending flogging for such offenses.[7]

At age fifty-five Baden-Powell married twenty-three-year-old Olave St Clair Soames. Olave "altered her appearance to suit him, flattening her breasts and shearing her hair."[8] Shortly after the marriage Baden-Powell began to suffer from agonizing headaches: these left him abruptly two years after the birth of their third child when he began sleeping apart from his wife: "With every hint of sex removed from a relationship he could get on reasonably well with women."[9]

Geoffrey W. Bateman remarks, "Jeal's conclusion may or may not withstand scrutiny, but his discussion emphasizes an important undercurrent to Baden-Powell's life. He intensely identified with and enjoyed all-male culture and the activities that accompanied it. Whether this interest was simply an extension of a Victorian sensibility toward male friendship or a latent indication of homosexuality, we may never know."[8]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Jeal, Tim (1989). Baden-Powell. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-170670-X. 
  2. Rosenthal, Michael (1986). The character factory: Baden-Powell and the origins of the Boy Scout movement. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-39-4511697. 
  3. Jeal, p. 92
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jeal, p. 93
  5. Baden-Powell, Robert (1955). Rovering to Success, pp. 119. 
  6. Boehmer, Elleke (2004). Introduction to Scouting for Boys. Oxford University press, pp. XXXiii. 
  7. Jeal, p. 510
  8. 8.0 8.1 Geoffrey W. Bateman, in Baden-Powell biography in glbtq
  9. Jeal, p. 101

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