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social sciences

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Baden-Powell, Lord Robert (1857-1941)  
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Baden-Powell's Sexuality

In recent years, Baden-Powell's sexuality has come under increasing scrutiny. Even though he married Olave Soames in 1912, at the age of 55, many biographers have speculated that his lifelong friendship with Kenneth McLaren may have been sexual. At the very least, it is clear that Baden-Powell's relationship with McLaren was one of the most important emotional connections of his life.

Interestingly, Baden-Powell's relationship with his wife, who was considerably younger than he, may not have been sexual. Indeed, it tended to duplicate his relationships with male comrades and boys. She altered her appearance to suit him, flattening her breasts and shearing her hair. As Jeal remarks, "With every hint of sex removed from a relationship he could get on reasonably well with women."

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It is difficult to know for certain the intricacies of Baden-Powell's sexual orientation. But after considering all available evidence on the matter, Jeal concludes that even if he never acted on any homosexual impulses, "Baden-Powell was a repressed homosexual."

Jeal's conclusion may or may not withstand scrutiny, but his discussion emphasizes an important undercurrent to Baden-Powell's life. He intensely identified with and enjoyed all-male culture and the activities that accompanied it. Whether this interest was simply an extension of a Victorian sensibility toward male friendship or a latent indication of homosexuality, we may never know.

Yet considering Baden-Powell's central role in creating the Boy Scouts and the current debate on gays in the Boy Scouts of America, our inability to confirm his orientation certainly challenges the American organization's belief that gay men have no place in the scouting movement. (Tellingly, the British, Canadian, Australian, and European chapters of the Boy Scouts do not ban homosexual participation.)

For his services to the nation and to international scouting, Baden-Powell was knighted in 1909 and created a baron in 1929. In 1938, he returned to Africa, where he died on January 8, 1941.

Geoffrey W. Bateman

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Brendon, Piers. Eminent Edwardians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.

Hillcourt, William, with Olave Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell: The Two Lives of a Hero. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1964.

Jeal, Tim. The Boy-Man: The Life of Lord Baden-Powell. New York: Morrow, 1990.

Rosenthal, Michael. The Character Factory: Baden Powell's Boy Scouts and the Imperatives of Empire. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bateman, Geoffrey W.  
    Entry Title: Baden-Powell, Lord Robert  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated February 25, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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