The Aloha Family Celebrates 100 Years

by Kathy Christie

This summer, Aloha Camp, in Fairlee, Vermont, will join many camps in the United States that have reached their centennial milestone. Aloha's founders were part of an educational community that found camp to be a natural extension of the academic experience. Harriet Farnsworth Gulick, the founder of the Aloha Camps and director of Aloha, was also among the founders of the American Camping Association (ACA). Both she and her daughter, Camp Lanakila's Director Carol Hulbert, were presidents of ACA. As ACA approaches its own centennial, the story of Aloha and the Gulick family provides an inspiring anchor in the nationwide camp movement's coming-of-age.

"Imagination necessary. The very fabric of human civilization depends on it." Harriet Farnsworth Gulick wrote these words in a notebook of ideas for assembly talks at Aloha Camp, which she founded with her husband, Edward Gulick. This remarkable couple, known always as Mother and Father Gulick, could imagine what women could become in America and in the world. They saw how a summer outdoors in nature, with good role models, creative fun, and healthful activities could help girls develop into young women prepared to accomplish great things in the world. Once Mother Gulick's imagination was touched, it kept expanding.

In 1905, daily life for girls and young women in educated society was regulated and restricted by the norms of the time. American women did not have the right to vote until 1920. Given this culture, the delight of abandoning long skirts and dresses, corsets and tight waists, and high button shoes for the bloomers, middy blouses, and comfortable walking shoes of camp was a welcomed liberty. Even more welcomed was the independence of traveling to Fairlee, exploring the mountains and rivers and lakes of New England, absorbing the variety of camp experiences, and thinking and acting on one's own. Mother Gulick often said that the sign of an educated woman is her ability to accept change, and "Aloha Maidens" were known for embracing change.

Opening Day at Aloha Camp

Aloha Camp's first Opening Day in June of 1905, was especially fulfilling for Mother and Father Gulick after a long winter of hard work in planning, arranging, and corresponding with prospective campers, counselors, and parents. In the dawning days of camp for girls, the Gulicks' generosity and imagination led them to view their summer cottage as an unparalleled opportunity for girls, including their own three daughters.

Right from the start, understanding one's inner life was equally important as taking part in activities. Most important of all was getting along with fellow campers and developing an appreciation for service to others. Service was a strong ethic passed down through both the Farnsworth and the Gulick families, who were known for their missionary work (in Turkey and Hawaii, respectively) and for their pioneering work in the American camp experience. "There is a lot for women to learn in order to be active in the world and bring peace," Mother Gulick wrote in her assembly notebook.

Along with its ideal setting, what made Aloha Camp so successful was Mother and Father Gulick's attention to the inner spirit in equal portion to their spontaneity and their initiation of "delightful activities." Each spring, Mother Gulick would advise campers on what to pack. "Most important of all that you bring . . . is what you cannot buy in the best stores of New York or Paris, nor in the bazaars of Istanbul, Cairo, or Benares! Place in your trunk great bags of the best brand of merriment, humor, courage, and good cheer. Sprinkle into all the cracks quantities of gentleness and gracious tolerance and also sympathetic imagination. Be sure that no cartons (big or little) of bumptiousness or quarrelsomeness get into your baggage. Should you find some small packages of 'I can't,' throw them out and fill spaces with plenty of parcels of 'I'll try.'"

A typical day in Aloha's first years began with 6:50 a.m. bugle reveille, followed by requisite calisthenics or a dip in the lake. After breakfast and putting tents and campus in order, the whole camp would spend at least an hour in assembly. Accompanied in the living room by Father Gulick's spirited piano playing, campers and counselors would sing hymns and songs, and Mother or Father would give a short talk about an idea, a person, a world concern, or advice about getting along with others. With music and inspiration in their step, the camp would then take on swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, crafts, gardening, and tennis.

Mother Gulick believed that spontaneous interest is the best incentive, that inner satisfaction is the greatest reward in work or play, and that rewards work better than punishments because they "keep the girls always striving to improve, eager and happy in emulation," as she wrote in the 1915 Aloha Kanaka. From the start, campers made free choices of program from a rich array of opportunities, and then participated for the joy of the work or the love of the game. Aloha worked "for that wise mingling of freedom and restraint which leads to a healthy and self-reliant womanhood."

Opening Aloha Club

After a courageous first year, Mother and Father Gulick had to take out a loan to pay their debts. But successive summers brought more campers and counselors — as enthusiasm spread by word-of-mouth, bringing resources with which to expand the Main House, buy more tents and canoes, and construct new buildings. Next, the Gulicks turned their imagination to opportunities for women "age eighteen to eighty," opening Aloha Club in 1910 on the secluded shore of Lake Katherine in Pike, New Hampshire. This unique camp for adult women was self-governing, rather than counselor-directed. Adapting the Wellesley College system, they elected officers and wrote and followed their own daily schedule. These were adventurous and independent women, consciously carrying their Aloha heritage in all they set out to do.

Opening Aloha Hive in 1915

The success of Aloha Camp and Aloha Club inspired Mother and Father Gulick to imagine how camp could benefit younger girls. Having purchased 400 acres of farmland on Lake Fairlee in Ely, Vermont, they envisioned all kinds of swings and hammocks for play, a green for dancing and games, and even a pen for animal pets. Their 1915 brochure announced the opening of Aloha Hive, featuring "all the same attractions which have made the other camps so popular, with the additional mothering which younger girls desire and need." Guided closely by her counselor, each Hiver was encouraged to develop her own personality, stand on her own, and take responsibility. Hive's first Director was Ellen Farnsworth, Mother Gulick's sister. Successive directors included Mary Knapp, Helen Gulick King, and Helen Shaw, who each brought her own personal touch to Hive's "summer full of fun and interesting experiences." Director Helen Shaw brought her enlightened leadership, encouraging spirit, and humor to Hive for so many years (1944-1970) that the Trustees later dubbed her "a Gulick who did not bear the family name."

Something for the Boys — Camp Lanakila

After launching Hive, the next question for Mother and Father Gulick's imagination was "what about all the little brothers of Aloha and Hive campers?" Granted, their first zeal was to fill the cavernous need for girls' camps, but since numerous sons of staff usually spent the summer at Aloha, the Gulicks knew the Aloha Spirit would work well for boys. Far from the military camps that prevailed for boys in those days, they envisioned a camp that promoted a spirit of adventure, discovery, creativeness, respect for others, and individual growth. The Gulicks' daughter, Carol, and her husband, Chauncey, lead the camp initially, although they were only in their 20s. When Chauncey died only two years later, a very young "Mrs. Carol" courageously took up the reins, which she held devotedly for forty-six years.

Known for enjoying practical jokes, Mrs. Carol was one of few women in the camp, and she had the respect of everyone. She was a wonderful storyteller, and her message — expressed in different ways — was to be true to yourself and to help out the other guy. Although there was competition until the mid-1930s between Gray and Green teams — and for a few years a White team as well, Mrs. Carol's leadership encouraged intramural team competition. Victory at Lanakila was about one's personal effort — a victory over self. Mrs. Carol delighted in imaginative projects, and each summer in those early years, the boys built creative structures such as a wooden railroad with a functioning engine, a lighthouse, a mill house, a Spanish galleon, and the Castle, an enduring landmark.

Current Directors of The Aloha Foundation
Posie Taylor
Executive Director
Nancy Linkroum Pennell
Aloha Camp
Helen Rankin Butler
Aloha Hive Camp
Barnes Boffey
Camp Lanakila
Andy Williams
Hulbert Outdoor Center
Danny Kerr
Horizons Day Camp

An Appreciation for Different Cultures

From Aloha's opening day, Mother and Father Gulick had sought to help children understand the world's economic, social, and political upheavals of their time. As their own childhood years had been spent in Turkey (Mother Gulick) and Hawaii (Father Gulick), a strong international understanding led them to respect the inherent value of different cultures. One way they could encourage world peace was to bring campers from all over the world to Fairlee. In the 1938 camp booklet, Mother Gulick pointed out that "exposure to this broad and deep interest in world affairs, education, peace, and all forms of social progress may be the most valuable experience of [a camper's] summer."

Accommodating Change

Peacetime in the 1920s and 1930s brought its own challenges, both economic and social, and the Gulicks made program adjustments as needed. When automobile touring became a popular venture in the 1920s, fewer women flocked to Aloha Club, and since that campus had been built on rented property, it became economically impractical to continue operating on Lake Katherine. Instead, the Gulicks made Club the eldest unit at Aloha Camp, where young women could learn to be counselors.

The Great Depression and how to respond constructively to its impact concerned Father Gulick. Among his preserved sources for talks to the camps is a reprinted essay entitled, "I Am Still Rich," in which its author Roy L. Smith wrote, "We have passed through a panic, suffered from a crash on the stock market, but I am still rich . . . .The depression has not lowered the value of a single friendship. No nation becomes great by becoming rich. Neither does a man find satisfaction in life by owning something — only by becoming something . . . .This depression has cost us some of the things we created but it has robbed us of none of our power to create."

The Next Generation

After Father Gulick's death in 1931, Mother Gulick continued for twenty years as the central, caring presence for all the camps. She passed away in February 1951 at the age of eighty-six. As the Aloha family mourned her loss, the camps carried on with the strength of the Gulick traditions and values she had taken care to secure.

In the mid 1960s, the camps faced a major challenge as members of the Gulick family's next generation followed pursuits other than the management of Aloha, Hive, and Lanakila. Realizing that the camp mission was too valuable to abandon, Mrs. Carol began exploring alternative ideas with a dedicated group of parents. With imagination, this group and the Gulick family eventually agreed to create The Aloha Foundation, a non-profit organization that would continue operating the camps and endeavor to sustain the Gulick traditions.

Through the fortunes and challenges of the times, the Gulicks and The Aloha Foundation challenged themselves to affirm the camps' mission and scrutinize policies in the light of changing world realities. Now, as then, the process has confirmed that a summer at The Aloha Camps or participation in a Hulbert Outdoor Center (named after Mrs. Carol) is even more essential today to the children we serve. The Aloha Foundation's values — similar to those of the country's finest American Camping Association camps — of self-knowledge, friendship building, cooperation, service to others, and respect for our natural environment are all the more important for young people to carry with them into a depersonalized, technological, often violent, and ever-changing world.

Available from the ACA Bookstore
· History of Organized Camping by Eleanor Eells
· Spirit of Ole Brant Lake by Robert Gersten
· The Touch of Incluence by Camp Westminster

 

As director of publications for The Aloha Foundation, with experience as a history teacher and textbook editor, and over twenty years with the Aloha camps, Kathy Christie is the author of Aloha's Centennial history. She was an Aloha Camp counselor in canoeing, swimming, and lifeguard training and worked with Camp Directors Helen Gulick King, Judith Chick Downing, and Nancy Linkroum Pennell. Christie has worked with The Aloha Foundation's year-round staff since 1993.

William A. Mercer is a location photographer who publishes specially commissioned books using photography to document the environment for creative human endeavors. The Aloha Family Celebrates 100 Years! is the sixteenth book in his series on American education. More information can be found at www.alohafoundation.org.

The Aloha Family Celebrates 100 Years! can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, and a check made out to The Aloha Foundation for $75.00 per copy, to The Aloha Foundation, Inc., 2968 Lake Morey Road, Fairlee, VT 05045.

 

Originally published in the 2004 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.

 

Tags: