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William Dickson "W. D." Boyce Passes Away

Today in Masonic History William Dickson "W. D." Boyce passes away in 1929.

William Dickson "W. D." Boyce was an American publisher, adventurer and founder of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

Boyce was born on June 16th 1858 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He grew up on a farm and his rural upbringing influenced much of what he did in his later life. By the age of 16 he was teaching at a local school. In 1880 and 1881 he attended Wooster Academy. It is unclear whether he graduated from the academy or was expelled.

After attending Wooster Academy, Boyce had a variety of jobs including lumberjack and coal minter. He traveled extensively for these jobs, as he traveled he started or acquire various news papers. By the early 1900's Boyce had a large publishing empire which included a paper mill. Boyce in his business favored labor. He made sure his workers were taken care of even during the 1893 panic. When other businesses were cutting salaries and cutting jobs, Boyce kept his employees paid. When his paper mill burned, he paid all the employees and then rehired them as construction workers to rebuild the mill.

In 1896, Boyce began financing expeditions to Alaska and taking expeditions of his own. One of his first financed expeditions was for Frederick Schwatka who explored Alaska and found gold near Nome.

In 1909, Boyce traveled to Europe in part to see his daughters in Italy and also to organize a safari to Africa. It was on this trip, one of the biggest legends associated with Boyce occurred. It is generally referred to as the legend of the Unknown Scout. The most common and embellished version of the story has Boyce lost in a fog in London when a young man appears and takes him to the Scouting headquarters in London. When Boyce offered to tip the young man, he told him no, it was his duty as a scout. In the legend this became a chance meeting with Robert Baden-Powell who gave his blessing to start the Boy Scouts of America.

As with any good legend, there are elements of truth to the story. There was an unknown scout, he did help Boyce across a street, and when pressed gave Boyce the address to the Scouting headquarters building. Weather reports of the time stated there was no fog, Baden Powell was not at the headquarters at the time Boyce was there, although Boyce did visit it the headquarters. When Boyce visited the headquarters building he gathered all of the literature he could about scouting and even bought the scout handbook. All of the literature he studied while on safari in Africa.

In 1910, rather than complete his around the world travel by returning to the United States via San Francisco, Boyce returned to London and asked to start the Boy Scouts of America. He was also given permission to use the handbook of the London organization.

When Boyce returned to the United States he started the organization, although it floundered a bit in the beginning. Boyce was giving $1,000 a month of his own money to run the organization. Eventually, once proper leadership was in place the organization took off. Boyce never operated the Boy Scouts of America himself. He did clash with the Chief Scout Executive on a variety of things including a program which was designed for young men who lived to far away from a troop to be able to join and the publishing of a scouting magazine.

In 1915, Boyce started the Lone Scouts of America (LSA). The program was essentially the program he had pushed within the BSA for young men who did live near a troop. It was around this same time Boyce traveled to Europe to report on World War I. When he returned from Europe he continued work on the LSA and his annual donation to the organization grew to $100,000 a year. He also began publishing the Lone Scout.

It was in the 1920's the LSA and Boyce began having problems. The LSA was losing money and had to cut down the publishing of it's magazine. It was also during this time, Boyce was revealed to have a strong racial prejudice. This was in contrast to what was happening at the beginning of the BSA when he demanded the organization be open to all race and creed of young men. In 1920, the LSA announced it only accepted white young men. The magazine Lone Scout changed it's masthead from "A Real Boys' Magazine" to "The White Boys Magazine." In 1924, the LSA merged with the BSA keeping some of the programs in place.

In 1926, Boyce was the third recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award after Baden-Powell and the Unknown Scout.

Boyce passed away on June 11th, 1929 of bronchial pneumonia.

Boyce was a mason and a shriner.

This article provided by Brother Eric C. Steele.