This summer, #Summer2017 to put it in very contemporary terms, Camp Alleghany for Girls is celebrating its 95th Anniversary — our 96th summer of hosting girls in the scenic wilds of West Virginia, astride a river, blanketed by sunshine and at night, by stars.
Ninety-sixth summer, 95th Anniversary? Huh? Is that confusing? Yes, it is. It’s just like having a baby. The first day of her life she’s a one-day old. But a year later, after her first year of life, she’s still one. We count the first summer of camp as our first summer. However, the next year, it’s our 1st anniversary. And so on up to our 96th summer and our 95th Anniversary this year! Huzzah!
And as it turns out, allllllllll that time hosting a retreat-based summer camp for girls is pretty closely in line with the trajectory of the summer camp movement in America (and relatedly, elsewhere in the world) over time. Historically, that is.
A History of Summers
I was reading an article recently on the academic/historic website JStor Daily titled, Summer Camp, History Of. It was a short little piece that gave a broad overview of America’s summer camp tradition, drawing a line between its origins and what many camps today do that are in line with the original intention of American summer camps. That is, preserving childhood, giving a taste of nature, and providing a context for building character and resilience in kids.
Keep in mind that Summer Camp, History Of is a very brief history of summer camps in America — which began in the 1860s! Likely a whole book could be written on the subject.
Still, the author, Livia Gershon, touches on one of the most important aspects of the origins of camps — making a case to parents that kids in urban areas need nature, need to get back to basics, need to learn some essential life skills, and need to try their wings in a setting away from home as part of their whole education.
Parents in earlier eras were convinced that this was true, and by 1904, when psychologists were weighing in on the merits of camps, parents took it seriously. Gershon writes,
Summer camps flourished in the years that followed. In 1900 there were fewer than one hundred camps in the country. By 1918, there were more than 1,000.
And though camps didn’t always stay true to their original missions, often adopting more and more amenities from the “outside world” like movies, radios, and a smorgasbord of activities, many camps, like Camp Alleghany for Girls, have largely retained that original impetus, staying low-tech, and balancing simplicity — camping truly outdoors in tents — with a wider range of activities than simply hiking and building campfires!
We’re not the oldest American camp, nor even the oldest girls American camp, but we’re sure proud to be, at nearly 100 years, among the oldest, most tried-and-true camps out there. Actually, you can enjoy a small sampling from our historic archives in the gallery below, and see more contemporary shots on our Facebook page and Instagram.
For 96 summers we’ve been welcoming girls to our little slice of paradise to sing, dance, act, run, jump, and play, to shoot, to paddle, to draw, and write (skits, letters home, etc.); we’ve seen girls grow up at camp, and we’ve enjoyed the legacy of an amazing group of women in our strong and vibrant Alumni Association.
We’ve played friendly color team rivalry games over decades, while a felt board of wins and losses showed the history of it all. We have troves of archives of pictures from girls and women all the way back to the 20s who donned costumes to play roles, fiercely swam the Greenbrier, trod the stairs to our open air Dining Hall, and who gathered around a roaring fire to share meaningful stories and songs that touched our hearts.
More traditional style summer camps today make those same cases to parents as were made over a hundred years ago, at the turn of the 20th century. Your child needs this.
Yes, she will return to “modernity” when it’s all over for the summer, and yes, she’ll be lured back into her smartphone and compelled by the latest fashion trend, schoolyard drama, and A-list celebrity. But lest she become unbalanced in that direction, there’s camp to keep her grounded in something bigger, more enduring, and, for its absence from modernity, giving her an experience of the fuller picture of life and time and people.
Camp history in general is going strong, and Camp Alleghany for Girls is right there in the thick of it. We’re 96 summers and proud. To quote a famous postcard line, “Wish you were here!”
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls
PS, get my FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Journey Early: