History of Commissioner Service
Written by longtime Scouter Mike Walton, Settummanque
|Daniel Carter Beard, from cover
illustration by Joseph Chase for Boy's Life Magazine, February 1925 |
In the first days of the new Boy Scouts of America, units were organized by
someone who simply raised his hands or got materials from England and this
person would serve as the Scoutmaster of that Troop. After a few months, several
Troops would be formed in a community, each with various levels of consistency.
The small National office, working from New York City, was trying to manage all
of these new Troops and also working through a lot of inconsistencies in
uniforming (some were using military uniforms, others were making their uniforms
using illustrations from the English Boy Scout handbook and other materials, and
still others were just "creating stuff which looked like something a Boy
Scout could/would wear". The position of National Commissioner, first held
by Daniel Carter Beard, was created to provide some consistency in uniforming,
programming and field operation.
In 1914, the BSA appointed their first Field Commissioners. These men would
serve as "field representatives" of the BSA, a term still used to
describe various professionals working directly with local Councils and units.
These Commissioners were given the authority to form new units and to remove the
commissions from volunteers if need be. These Commissioners were also the BSA's
representative for the issuance of special awards, like lifesaving and the new
Life, Star and Eagle Scout awards. Advancement was different in the early days
|Early ADC Patch |
In 1916, the BSA looked at those Commissioners with proven "track
records" and asked them if they would be willing to serve as Scout
Executives. Several did accept the offer, and with this, Scouting employed its
first field executives.
In 1921, the BSA separated the role of the executive from that of the
Commissioner and established both jobs as the "administrators" of the
Boy Scout program in America. This created the partnership between volunteer and
professional which continues to this day, with two volunteers and a professional
making key decisions at the Council level. (the other volunteer being the
In the middle 1940s, the BSA established the "Neighborhood"
Commissioner, as the BSA grew. The first Commissioners had been Council
Commissioners and as councils divided their large territories into Districts,
they also appointed Commissioners to serve those Districts. Remember, a District
would take in several counties and typically would only have eight to 12
Troops). The Neighborhood Commissioner would serve no more than four Troops.
|Early Nieghborhood Commissioner Patch |
In the late 1960s, the term "Neighborhood" was changed to
"Unit" and the Commissioner title structure also changed. "Deputy
District" and "Deputy Council" Commissioners became
"Assistant District" and "Assistant Council" Commissioners.
In the 1970s, the BSA experimented with several District organizations. One
experiment created something called a "Zone Commissioner" which did
not go over well. However, some Districts had a great deal of success with
"stovepiping" the Commissioner work so that Cub Scouting Pack
Commissioners reported to an Assistant District Cub Scout Commissioner and then
to a District Cub Scout Commissioner; and the same would go for Boy Scouting.
The BSA abandoned the "stovepipe" program nationally in the early
1980s, but there were Councils who still used it and the BSA provided the
emblems and materials until the first part of the 1990s.
In the first part of the 1990s, the BSA re-established the National
Commissioner position and placed Earl Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise
Magazine, in that role. Earl was the second National Commissioner of the Boy
Scouts of America and the first Black man to hold that position, which was
previously held by Daniel Beard Carter. Unfortunately, the BSA provided little
guidance about the role of the National Commissioner other than to serve as a
national cheerleader for the BSA's field Commissioners. Mr. Graves resigned and
the BSA went without a National Commissioner for four years until Rick Cronk
volunteered and served two terms until 2004. Don Belcher is our current National
Commissioner, whose role is to develop national unit service programs and
Commissioner training programs.