Summer camp is not a new concept, yet our children need camp now more than ever. Those who came before us understood the power of community, the healing qualities of nature, and the role of camp in youth development. At ACA, we continue to shine light on these benefits and more, seeking to ensure that every child knows the positive impact of summer camp. Join us as we take a look at the history of summer camp and the American Camp Association, celebrating the the path set before us as we prepare for the next 100 years.

History Timeline

1861 — The Gunnery Camp is founded.

The Gunnery Camp is considered the first organized American camp. Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail operated a home school for boys in Washington, Connecticut. In 1861, they took the whole school on a two-week trip. The class hiked to their destination and then set up camp. The students spent their time boating, fishing, and trapping. The trip was so successful, the Gunns continued the tradition for twelve years.

1874 — First YWCA camp is offered.
The Philadelphia chapter of the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) founded the organization's first camp (or "vacation project," as it was called). This summer boarding and vacation house was for "tired young women wearing out their lives in an almost endless drudgery for wages that admit no thought of rest or recreation." The first YWCA camp was at Asbury Park, New Jersey, and was called Sea Rest.

1876 — The first private camp is founded.

Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock and campers in 1876

Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock founded the North Mountain School of Physical Culture near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. For about $200, boys from Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre came for four months over the summer. 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 usual academic lines" (Dr. Rothrock).

1881 — Camp Chocorua is founded.
Camp Chocorua, located in Squam, New Hampshire, was founded by Ernest Balch in 1881. Balch was concerned about the life of wealthy adolescent boys in the summer. His aim was to develop hardy, responsible, independent, and resourceful youth by providing no servants, no class distinctions, and no snobbery in his camp's small, democratic, sharing community.

Camp Dudley in 1890 boys in tent

1885 — The first YMCA camp is founded.
As early as the 1850s, the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) developed resources and programs for teenage boys and young men who were alone in the big city where they experienced temptations, loneliness, unbelievably long working hours, and a lack of recreation (Eeels, 48).  Sumner F. Dudley, a young businessman, and seven boys from the YMCA in Newburgh, New York, go on a camping trip. By 1891, there were eighty-three campers. The camp became known as Camp Dudley, and is the longest continually operating camp in the United States.

1892 — Camp Arey admits girls.
In 1892, Camp Arey in Arey, New York, became the first camp to admit girls. By 1902 the camp was serving girls exclusively. Other camps serving girls made their appearance in 1902 as well, including Camp Kehonka in New Hampshire, Pinelands of Center Harbor, Maine, and Wyonegonic Camps in Denmark, Maine. Others quickly followed such as the Aloha Camps in 1905 and Alford Lake Camp in 1907 as well as the Gulick Wo-he-lo Camp in 1910. As the movement spread 125 girls camps were established by 1925. Wyonegonic is the oldest continuously running camp for girls in the United States.

1894 — Keewaydin Camp is founded.
Keewaydin Camp was organized on Lake Temagami in Ontario, Canada. Today it is the oldest camp to continuously operate on the same site in North America, and the oldest canoe-trip camp in the world.

Campers in 1905

1900 — First Boys' Club camp is founded
The Boys' Club in Salem, Massachusetts, organized a seven-week summer camp and seventy-six boys attended. By 1930, more than sixty Boys' Clubs conducted summer camp with approximately 26,088 campers attending. In 1990, the organization changed its charter to include girls and its name to Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

1902 — Laura Mattoon
Laura Mattoon, a trail blazer in organized camping, founded Camp Kehonka for girls in New Hampshire. Mattoon was a private school teacher who created opportunities for her students to interact with the natural environment during a time in our society that did not believe this experience was appropriate for girls. She created bifurcated garments for girls so that they could move freely in the outdoors. Her ideas were often misunderstood or met with social resistance. In her book, History of Organized Camping: The First 100 Years, Eleanor Eells stated that: "She understood the place that women were to occupy in the 20th century and that the camp experience would prepare them for it. Her ideas about camping, education and a woman's role were in advance of her time." (p. 14)

Historical photo of campers in 1910

1910 — The American Camping Association® (ACA) is founded under the original name, Camp Directors Association of America (CDAA). Boy Scouts of America and Camp Fire USA are founded.
CDAA was founded in 1910 by Alan S. Williams. Founder Alan S. Williams created a model and standardizing influence for the organized camp experience for the young. The CDAA merged with the National Association of Directors of Girls' Camps in 1924 and changed its name to the Camp Director Association (CDA). In 1935, the name was changed to the American Camping Association (ACA).

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was founded. The first official BSA camp was held at Silver Bay, Lake George, New York. Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick founded Camp Fire Girls—today known as Camp Fire USA.

1912 — First Girl Scout camp is held.
The first Girl Scout camp was held in Savannah, Georgia. Ever since the founding of Girl Scouts in 1912, camp has played an important role in the Girl Scout program. In 1922, the organization decided to charter camps throughout the country.

1914 — The Gulicks’ influence and the founding of Camp Fire Girls.

historical photo of campers jumping off a pier at Luther Gulick Camp for Girls in the 1920s

Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick and his wife, Charlotte (Lottie) Vetter Gulick, held strong interests in childhood education and concern for the problems of adolescence. In 1906, Dr. Gulick’s interest in children’s play and the universal need for recreation drew him into the period of the Parks and Recreation Association of America with Dr. Henry Curtis of Boston. Soon after, in 1907, the Gulicks moved to South Casco, Maine, where they became friends with Dr. George Meylan, medical director and head of the Physical Training Department at Columbia University. Like the Gulicks, Meylan understood the vital role a camping trip could play in youth development, leading him to establish White Mountain Camp for Boys. The Gulicks purchased adjoining property to the camp, eventually establishing Sebago-Wohelo Camp for girls, believing that girls should be afforded the same or similar opportunities as boys. At first a campsite for the Gulick family and a few friends, it became a permanent camp in 1910, with 17 campers and Mrs. Gulick as director. 

A year later, in 1911, the Gulicks opened Camp Fire for Girls, with approximately 500 campers. Now known as Camp Fire, the camps of Wohelo and Camp Fire still operate today under the direction of the Gulicks’ great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Charlotte Gulick in 1916

1916 — National Association of Directors of Girls' Camps is formed.
The interest in girls’ camps grew after higher education for women was no longer a rarity and the graduate degree became the goal of more college graduates. Women had wider choices of careers, and woman’s suffrage was on the way. Volunteer service became increasingly a “professional” occupation as a way to understand the social problems and their relation to the country’s future. The profession of directing a camp was taken as seriously as that of teaching, social work, or the arts. In 1916, the National Association of Directors of Girls' Camps was formed at a meeting in New York City. Mrs. Charlotte V. Gulick became their first president.

1921 — Mid-West Camp Directors Association is formed.

Photo: Clearwater Camp for Girls in 1948

campers in canoes in 1948

The Mid-West Camp Directors Association was formed in Chicago, Illinois. J.P. Sprague was named as its first president. Sprague was the founder and director of Wisconsin’s private Camp Minocqua (Paris, 84). He married Sarah Holiday in 1931, who had previously established a summer camp on Lake Okoboji in Iowa in 1914. Together, they opened a new girls’ camp in 1933, Clearwater Camp (Clearwater Camp for Girls).

1924 — The Camp Directors Association is formed.
On March 14, the Camp Directors Association, the National Association of Girls' Camps, and the Mid-West Camp Directors Association formed the Camp Directors Association. Dr. George Meylan became the first president.

1926 — Camp Directors Bulletin is founded.
The forerunner of Camping Magazine, The Camp Directors Bulletin was founded in February 1926. By the March/April 1926 issue, the name was changed to Camping.

Historical photo of campers in car

1930 — The Camping Magazine is published.
With the January 1930 issue, the name of the magazine was changed to The Camping MagazineThe Camping Magazine was the official publication of the Camp Directors Association, under the authorization of the National Board of Directors. Its purpose is to inform and educate camp professionals and others in related fields so they can successfully serve their clientele.

1930s — National Park Service develops Recreation Demonstration Areas.
National Park Service developed Recreation Demonstration Areas as part of the Federal Government's work relief programs—thirty-four of which were organized camp facilities made available for lease by camp groups that did not own camp grounds. These sites were later turned over to state agencies, particularly state parks.

1933 — Camp Directors Association changes name.
The name of the association was changed to Camp Directors Association of America. Col. Raymond F. Purcell was named President.

 Herbert H. Twining in 1935

1935 — American Camping Association, Inc.
During Herbert H. Twining's presidency, the name of the association was again changed to the American Camping Association, Incorporated. This name would not be changed again until 2004.

1946 — Camping Magazine
The title of ACA's official publication, The Camping Magazine, became simply Camping Magazine.

1948 — ACA adopts Standards.
ACA adopted the Standards, which are the basis for ACA camp accreditation. ACA Standards are recognized by courts of law and government regulators as the standards of the camp industry. There are currently up to 290 standards for health, safety, and program. In 1954, for the first time, camps were required to provide evidence of compliance with ACA Camp Standards to be eligible for camp accreditation.

1950 — Anti-discrimination resolutions.
Photo: Camp Cuff, Pennsylvania, 1950

Historical photo of Camp Cuff

In 1950, the Program Committee and the Inter-cultural Committee presented resolutions to the effect that ACA, in the future, use facilities in which all hospitality and privileges were extended to all members of the Association, regardless of race, creed, or color. In October of 1950, there was a motion to uphold this resolution and change hotel venues for the 1952 National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. The motion was passed.

1955 — ACA's first permanent home.
In 1955, ACA leased four acres of land from Indiana University at Bradford Woods, the University's Outdoor Education Center near Martinsville, Indiana. Members contributed $73,000 to the effort, and ACA was able to build the first permanent home in its history.

1956 — ACA adopts standards for Day Camps.
The development of Day Camp Standards and the Report of Practices form for Day camps followed the adoption of Resident Camp Standards in 1948. From 1950-54, the National and Section Standards Committees had been formulating Day Camp Standards for use and study. In 1954, these formulations were assembled, examined, and worked into the “Proposed Day Camp Standards.” These were presented to the ACA Council of Delegates at the 1954 National Convention. The Council of Delegates voted to adopt the Proposed Day Camp Standards, with the provision that during the next two years these standards should be studied and reviewed by all Sections, and presented to the Council of Delegates at the 1956 National Convention. The Day Camp Standards were officially adopted by the Council of Delegates at the 1956 National Convention in Detroit, Michigan.

1965 — Board of Directors proposes changes to bylaws to address race and religion.
In 1965 the Board of Directors proposed changes to the ACA bylaws regarding race and creed. The proposed change read, "Membership is open to individuals of all races and creeds who give evidence of agreement with and acceptance of the objectives of the Association . . . ." The proposed changes were published in Camping Magazine and a vote was taken in early 1966.

Hedley Dimock photo

1970 — First Hedley S. Dimock awards.
The first Hedley S. Dimock awards were given to Julian W. Smith, Sigurd F. Olson, and Stewart L. Udall. Dr. Smith served as Director of the Outdoor Education Project at Michigan State University. Olson was an American author, environmentalist, and advocate for the protection of wilderness. Udall was U.S. Representative from Arizona and Secretary of the Interior under Presidents John. F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The Hedley S. Dimock Award was created to honor persons who had made significant contributions to the camp profession through related fields such as outdoor education, conservation, recreation medicine, education, architecture, or the social sciences through administrative, legislative, or professional contributions or by participation in local, state, or national program development. The award also required awardees to be ACA members, with at least ten years of membership.

1972 — Standards revisions are adopted.
A national standards re-write committee was appointed in 1968 to study the Standards, using the research conducted by students at George Williams College. The committee was also to establish a system whereby the Association's membership had an opportunity to offer suggestions for revisions and react to proposed revisions. In 1971, a draft of the committee's proposed revised standards was published in Camping Magazine. The proposed revisions were also discussed at regional and section meetings in the spring of 1971. A revised document was then field tested in the summer of 1971 by 134 camps. The results were analyzed, with participants providing recommendations and comments. In the fall of 1971 the Individual Standards with Interpretations was revised and presented to the ACA Council of Delegates at the 1972 ACA National Convention in New York City. The revisions were adopted.

1979 — ACA Conference
In 1979, the ACA national conference was moved to an annual event after having rotated biennially with regional conferences for many years. The conference was called "Northland Calling, 1979 International Convention", and was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference was co-hosted by the Minnesota Section and the Canadian Camping Association.

1983 — Acorn Society
On March 4, 1983, the first meeting of members of The Acorn Society was held in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Society was created as a fellowship of individuals who believed in the purpose of organized camping and wanted to ensure that camping continues as a growing, educational opportunity.Each year, the Foundation board hosts an Acorn Society celebration dinner to honor those individuals who have made provisions for bequests to ACA in estate planning through wills, insurance policies, unitrusts, or other avenues.

1983 — International Camping Congress
The first International Camping Congress is held in Toronto, Canada, in 1983. Four years later, the second International Camping Congress was held in Washington, DC. There were more than 1,800 people from fifteen countries in attendance. First Lady, Nancy Reagan, addressed the Congress. In addition the International Camping Fellowship was formed, and its basic operating standards were announced. The ICF logo – a butterfly – was born out of the “Our Fragile World” congress theme.

1985 — ACA offers Crisis Hotline to members.
When first introduced, the Hotline was provided during the camp season and not available during the winter months. During the summer of 1985, there was one call placed to the ACA Crisis Hotline. In 2001, the ACA Crisis Hotline became available year-round. In 2009, there were over 187 calls placed to the Hotline.

Eleanor Eells photo

1986 — History of Organized Camping: The First 100 Years.
Eleanor Eells published History of Organized Camping: The First 100 Years, the first book to chronicle the history.

1987 — The Essence of Camping Statue.
On November 13, 1987, Joseph Kruger donated and dedicated a statue titled "The Essence of Camping" in honor of his late wife, Frances. The statue was situated in front of the ACA National Office in Martinsville, Indiana. In 1992, Joseph Kruger was again honored posthumously as the ACA Foundation Endowment was renamed The Kruger Endowment, to recognize his dedication to ACA and his efforts to further the camp experience.

1995 — Agreement is signed with U.S. Forest Service.
The U.S. Forest Service and ACA signed an agreement allowing camps to use public lands.

1996 — ASCAP agreement is reached.
The American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP), and the American Camping Association make an agreement to let ACA-Accredited® camps pay a small fee for all ASCAP-licensed music. Additionally during 1996, United Way changed its focus from an emphasis on numbers served to benefits or outcomes achieved as a result of the participation experience.

1997 — Emphasis on youth development.
In 1997, there was a resurgence of emphasis on youth development outcomes of the camp experience. In the mid 1990s, the Search Institute began providing results of research in schools on child and adolescent development, risk prevention, and resiliency based on a framework of four developed assets, which are positive experiences, relationships, opportunities, and personal qualities that young people need to grow up to be healthy, caring, and responsible adults. ACA begins to integrate education on youth development outcomes in all aspects of camp operations.

1998 — Camp standards change.
Camp standards were changed to reflect the nature of year-round camps. Many camps offer outdoor education in partnership with schools as part of the year-round camp operation. Additionally, the New York Public School System initiated Breakaways, a new model for public education. The nation's largest public school system incorporated camp into its curriculum. The new focus on year-round learning added up to twenty-eight days of nontraditional learning during the summer and school-year breaks.

2001 — ACA is awarded a national research grant.
ACA was awarded a national research grant by the Lilly Endowment Inc. based in Indianapolis, Indiana, to conduct quantitative research to assess the youth development outcomes of the camp experience. The outcomes study was completed and results published in 2004.

American Camp Association Logo

2004 — The American Camping Association changes its name to the American Camp Association®.
"As an association, ACA is dedicated to providing the most current and relevant information and knowledge available to those who are committed to enriching the lives of people through the camp experience. This core value of ACA has taken our organization to a new threshold, to a new era, and to a time of change," stated, then national president, Marla Coleman. "Over the last 95 years, ACA and the camp experience have become symbols of trust. We look forward to entering our next hundred years with a brand that expresses our fundamentals and our vision for the future."

2005 — CAMP: A Resource for Families
ACA launched its first national parent magazine, CAMP: A Resource For Families.. It was published in 2005 and 2006 and more than 1 million copies were distributed through various venues including doctors' offices, grocery stores and pharmacies, waiting rooms, etc. Since then, CAMP has been distributed as an electronic newsletter for parents and families.

2006 — New and Revised Accreditation Standards
The Council of Delegates met in Chicago, Illinois, in February 2006, and adopted the Standards revisions. Influenced by ACA research and a renewed focus on the value of the camp experience, the National Standards Commission proposed the revised standards to expand requirements beyond physical safety to better address emotional safety in camps.

2008 — 20/20 Vision
ACA launched the 20/20 Vision, a definitive vision for the future of camp in which at least 20 million campers and 20,000 participants are engaged in camp and ACA by the year 2020.

2009 — Because of Camp . . . ™
ACA unveiled a groundbreaking PSA campaign, Because of Camp . . . ™. Emma Roberts, Hill Harper, Lisa Loeb, Kerri Strug, Michael DeLorenzo, Justin Chambers, Paul Adelstein, James Pickens, Blair Underwood, Sharon Lawrence, Frank Sesno, Glynn Turman, Ashlan Gorse, and Lisa Raye shared how their lives have changed Because of Camp…™. This long-term campaign included broadcast and print. As a result of these efforts, ACA was named a national public service partner of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) which allowed the association to place hundreds of billboards nationwide at a fraction of the normal cost.

2010 — ACA's 100th Anniversary
Preserving the rich history of the camp experience is essential for the future. The American Camp Association® celebrated our 100th Anniversary in 2010 and the 150th Anniversary of Organized Camping in 2011.