Children's Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp

Children's Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp

Children's Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp

Children's Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp


'An insightful book about the evolution and significance of children's camps in American social and cultural life. For all of us who loved being at camp in the summer, Children's Nature is evocative and it provokes many memories.' - Joan Jacobs Brumberg, author of Fasting Girls and The Body Project For over a century, summer camps have provided many American children's first experience of community beyond their immediate family and neighborhoods. Each summer, children experience the pain of homesickness, learn to swim, and sit around campfires at night. Children's Nature chronicles the history of the American summer camp, from its invention in the late nineteenth century through its rise in the first four decades of the twentieth century. Leslie Paris investigates how camps came to matter so greatly to so many Americans, while providing a window onto the experiences of the children who attended them and the aspirations of the adults who created them. Summer camps helped cement the notion of childhood as a time apart, at once protected and playful. Camp leaders promised that campers would be physically and morally invigorated by fresh mountain air, simple food, daily swimming, and group living, and thus better fit for the year to come. But camps were important as well because children delighted in them, helped to shape them, and felt transformed by them. Focusing primarily on the northeast, where camps were first founded and the industry grew most extensively, and drawing on a range of sources including camp films, amateur performances, brochures, oral histories, letters home, industry journals, camp newspapers, and scrapbooks, Children's Nature brings this special and emotionally resonant world to life.


Just a short letter to thank you for getting me into CAMP
and for being so kind. I had a wonderful time. I went
swimming twice a day during the first week an part of the second.
It did not rain and the lake didn't flow. The lake became pollouted
so we coudn't go swiming. I got quite tan. Once again I THANK

—former Camp Lehman camper to the executive director of the
92nd Street Young Men's Hebrew Association, 1939
(all spelling original)

In 1927, Jerome Hyman, a twenty-two-year-old Harvard Law School student, spent the summer as director of Camp Lehman. The camp, run by the 92nd Street Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) near Port Chester, New York, served working-class Jewish boys from New York City. At the end of the summer, when Hyman reflected on the summer that had just come to a close, he felt that he faced a nearly impossible task: recapturing in language the ephemeral joys and dissatisfactions of the camp season. “And now the dusty files must be fed, and a Report written,” he mused.

To what avail? Who has the pictorial genius to revivify and immortalize
camp life? Who can perpetuate the happy babel of boys swimming or
the brightness of a day's fun or the inevitable sigh of homesickness? …
The following Report sets down in cold type the warm history of two
hundred boys, rescued from the rough thoroughfares of city life and
tucked away in the haven of rest which is known as Camp Lehman. It
is the fervent hope of the writer that those who read this history will
find the sympathetic imagination to supply those human feelings and . . .

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