|* THE "ORDER OF THE ARROW" - SCOUTING'S HONOR SOCIETY
The Order of the Arrow is a recognized official program activity of the
Boy Scouts of America, intended to recognize those scouts who best ex-
emplify the scout virtues of cheerful service, camping, and leadership.
The BSA's Annual Report to the United States Congress for the year 1992
stated that membership in the Order of the Arrow had grown to 167,117
(there were 975,589 Boy Scouts that year in the United States). Founded
in 1915, just seven years after British General Sir Robert Baden-Powell
invented scouting in the United Kingdom, the Order of the Arrow is the
uniquely American "honor society of scouting". The "O/A's" origin and
development are tightly intertwined, like a well-made square knot, with
scouting itself in the United States. Its history is a remarkable saga
of a good-hearted visionary's effect on many generations of youth.
The new scout movement was enjoying halcyon days in an America still at
peace in 1915, while young men in Europe were dying by the thousands in
a war more terrible than any before in history. Boys in the U.S. seemed
to be donning scout uniforms everywhere as membership grew rapidly from
coast to coast. Prominent businessmen, civic and religious groups, and
politicians, including Congressmen and the President, vied to match the
enthusiasm of boys surging into scout camps across the nation, for this
popular youth organization.
As E. Urner Goodman, then a 25 year old scoutmaster, walked along Broad
Street in downtown Philadelphia in late Spring, 1915, he no doubt heard
the newsboys hawking the Philadelphia "Inquirer's" headlines, reporting
the sinking of the Cunard oceanliner "Lusitania" hit by a U-boat's tor-
pedoes within sight of the Irish coast. Urner was busy with plans that
would also have far reaching effects, for he had agreed to take the job
of camp director at the Philadelphia council's scout camp, perched on
idyllic Treasure Island in the Delaware River. What he had in mind was
to leave a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of American youth.
Although he would eventually attain a doctorate in education and become
National Program Director of the BSA, Urner's thoughts in 1915 were fo-
cused on development of methods to teach boys that skill proficiency in
Scoutcraft was not enough, rather the principles embodied in the Scout
Oath and Law should become realities in the lives of Scouts. As a means
of accomplishing this without preaching and within a boy's interest and
understanding, peer recognition and the appeal of Indian lore would be
utilized. Hence, he devised a program where troops would choose, at the
conclusion of camp, those boys from among their number best exemplify-
ing these traits, who would be honored as members of an Indian "lodge".
Those elected would be acknowledged as having displayed, in the eyes of
their fellow scouts, a spirit of unselfish service and brotherhood.
Assistant Camp Director Carroll A. Edson helped Urner research the lore
and language of the Delaware Indians who had inhabited Treasure Island,
which they combined with characters from James Fenimore Cooper's "Last
of the Mohicans", to develop dramatic induction ceremonies for the
"Order of the Arrow", as the fledgling honor society was dubbed. Even
today, these rites make a lasting impression on scouts who have been
elected to the "Order of the Arrow".
By 1921, the idea had spread to a score of scout councils in the north-
east and the first national meeting of the Order of the Arrow was held.
Initially viewed with suspicion by many scouters as a secret society if
not an affront to the egalitarian ideals of scouting, support was slow
in coming from national headquarters. For many years, the "OA" was con-
sidered to be an "experimental" program only. Not until 1948 was E. Ur-
ner Goodman's innovation fully integrated into the Scouting program.
Having observed its Diamond Anniversary in 1990, it is evident that the
Order of the Arrow has made a significant contribution to Scouting, as
we know it today in the United States. The OA's motto, "Brotherhood of
Cheerful Service", is more than just an empty slogan for many Arrowmen,
who constitute a valuable council resource for camp promotion, improve-
ment projects, and summer camp staffing. The OA, at its best, continues
to be a teaching tool for Scouting ideals.
Many believe that the OA helps in retaining older boys in Scouting who
otherwise tend to lose interest upon reaching high school age. Notably,
OA guidelines place great importance on preserving Lodge leadership in
the hands of its boy members, headed by a Chief, Vice Chief(s), and an
Executive Committee, all of whom must be under age 21. These youth plan
and implement Lodge activities, service projects, ceremonies, publica-
tions, budgets, and conduct troop elections as arranged with the Scout-
master. Adults are crucial to the OA program's success as advisors and
as resources (e.g., transportation, service project skills, etc.).
To be inducted into the Order of the Arrow, a Scout must:
* Be at least First Class rank;
* Have at least 15 nights of camping, including a 6-day
* Participate in the "Ordeal" and induction ceremony,
after election by his Boy Scout troop or Varsity unit.
Each Scout troop may schedule an Order of the Arrow election once an-
nually. In many Councils, these elections are held at summer camp, in
line with the traditions of the O/A's founding. This is not mandatory
however. All registered active youth troop members have a vote, both
current Arrowmen and non-Arrowmen. Selection for membership in scout-
ing's honor society is thus predominantly voted by non-members.
While Explorer posts cannot have O/A elections, a boy in an Explorer
post who has dual registration with a Scout troop (or Varsity unit)
is, of course, eligible for election by his troop or Varsity unit.
Adult scouters may be proposed for membership in the Order of the Ar-
row by unit or district committees. Once selected, they, too, undergo
the "Ordeal" and participate in the induction ceremonies.
To alleviate lingering concerns in some quarters regarding the ceremo-
nial aspects of the Order of the Arrow, the BSA has officially stated:
"The induction is not a hazing or an initiation ceremony. The
Order is not a secret Scout organization, and its ceremonies
are open to any parent, Scout leader, or religious leader.
There is an element of mystery in the ceremonies for the sake
of its effect on the candidates. For this reason, ceremonies
are not put on in public. The ceremonies...are not objection-
able to any religious group."
Following 10 months as an "Ordeal" member, the Arrowman may participate
in the "Brotherhood" ceremony, which signifies the sealing of his mem-
bership and an additional emphasis on OA ideals and purposes.
After an additional 2 years have elapsed, exceptional OA leaders may be
recognized by conferring of the "Vigil Honor". Generally speaking, only
212f the Lodge's membership may be selected each year for this highest
of Lodge honors. A special ceremony, devised by Dr. Goodman in 1915 and
closely based on ancient Indian traditions, culminates this experience.
All Order of the Arrow members are reminded that their primary duty al-
ways remains to their own troop, which elected them in the first place
as a result of their cheerful service to their fellow unit members. OA
Lodge activities are intended to *supplement*, and not *replace*, troop
activities. Probably the single most often-heard complaint directed to-
wards the OA program is that of Arrowmen who have forgotten this cardi-
OA Lodges meet with other lodges in their sections each year and attend
a nationwide gathering held on the campus of a major university every 2
years. These National Conferences, as they are called, feature individ-
ual and Lodge competitions in ceremonies, Indian dancing and costumes,
and sports, along with seminars and gala arena shows. The 1992 National
Conference at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville was attended by
6800 Arrowmen, the second largest Conference attendance in history. The
next "NOAC" will be held July 31- August 4, 1994, at Purdue Univ., Ind.
Founder Dr. E. Urner Goodman made his final Order of the Arrow National
Conference appearance in 1979 at Colorado State University, only 6 mos.
before his death at 89. He was hailed by the 4000 Arrowmen present with
a thunderous standing ovation. He spoke movingly of his creation of the
O/A as a "Thing of the Spirit" in that place... so distant in time...on
the misty shores of the Delaware River. He bade us farewell, there in
the shadows of the snow-capped Rockies, with a memorable peroration to
keep the O/A's flame of fellowship glowing brightly in our hearts. 'Tho
a frail, elderly man stood before us, stooped with age, yet the spirit
borne within would truly live on in our hearts, firm bound eternally in
youthful brotherhood, wherever men strive to love and serve one another.