History of the Silver Beaver Award
The Silver Beaver award was created by the National Council and first presented in 1931 as an award program to be utilized by a local council with National Council approval of the recipients. The first year they were presented nationally (1931), they were on a pocket ribbon like an Eagle Scout medal. After that first year they were placed on neck ribbons and remain so to this day. In 1931, there was a special one time provision that allowed the presentation of twice the number of Silver Beavers that would normally be awarded in any given local Council. This was permitted because since it was the first year of the program and there were likely many deserving individuals, the National Council wanted to cause as little hard feelings as possible among the Scouters.
The person who is credited with the creation of the award is Mortimer Schiff, a national vice president of the BSA since 1910 who was elected National BSA President in 1931. He died after only one month in office. During his brief tenure as the National President of the BSA he personally wrote many of the regulations and rules that were, and still are, used for awarding the Silver Beaver and literally finished it on the day of his untimely death. It was the one thing that he was able to finish while in office and it held great importance to him in seeing that a local Council award for deserving Scouters was put in place. As far as distinguished service awards for Scouters, the Silver Buffalo came first, then the Silver Beaver and then the Silver Antelope was the third one created.
The original intent of the award was very specific and different in 1931 than it is today. The award program was optional as far as any local council using it. A number of councils in the early years chose not to use the program immediately. The Toledo Council did not start until 1932 and the old Wolverine Council in southeast Michigan did not make their first presentation until 1943. This situation brings up an interesting point. Councils are allowed a certain number of Silver Beavers to award based on the number of scouting units that exist within them. The respective Council is not required to award all or even any of the Silver Beavers they are allocated in any given year. If they do not use them they do not lose them. They are held in reserve and can be awarded at a later time if they choose to do so.
A discussion of the Silver Beaver award at the 1936 national gathering of Scout Executives included problems of jealousy among Scouters and how you could fairly present them to a limited number each year when you might have many deserving. There was concern that Councils would start traditions of giving the award to a "position" rather than the person. An example was given of one Council presenting a Silver Beaver to their current Council President only because he was the Council President as they had presented one to all the Council Presidents who preceded him. Virtually every Council represented had difficulties with selection and presentations. Different Councils used different methods for selection.
James E. West, the first National Scout Executive, and one of the founders of Scouting in the U.S. gave his opinion during the 1936 gathering when the award had been in use just five years at that point as follows: "This" (Silver Beaver)"is an award recommended by the local group. We try to steer it and guide it as far as possible, not toward the administrative officer" (local council level positions) "but towards the man who is working with boys and in the actual operation of Scouting, the Scoutmaster preferably. You would be amazed at the number of times when we don't just reject but reason with the local recommending committee, and we are getting very good cooperation. We detest the recommendation that sometimes comes to us on the basis that a man has given the council a camp or something else. God forbid that we offer rewards for gifts to us! This award is for men giving outstanding service to Scouting whether the man is outstanding or prominent, or otherwise, in the community". This information is documented in the 1936 “Official Report of the Sixth National Training Conference of Scout Executives.
Today, the Silver Beaver award requirements include:
a. Record of service in the Boy Scouts of America. (Name chartered organizations in cases where service is unit-connected.)
b. Statement covering the nominee’s standing in the community, citing activities in which the individual is most active in business, professional, civic, religious, educational, fraternal, veteran, rural, and other fields exclusive of Scouting.
c. Record of noteworthy service of exceptional character to youth within the territory under the jurisdiction of this council
In 1931 the award, according to James E. West, was meant “for those men who were working directly with boys without any regard to their position or stature in the community or community service”. Today, community service is considered in the selection process as well.
The award was originally a male only award. In 1971 the Silver Fawn award was created and presented as a separate but equal award for women Scouters. Starting in 1974 the Silver Beaver was awarded to both men and women and the Silver Fawn was discontinued. Those women who had received a Silver Fawn award were given the option or in some cases requested to turn in their Silver Fawn for a Silver Beaver. Some did turn theirs in yet many did not.
There have been over 50,000 Silver Beavers presented in the nation since 1931 among the many millions of adult Scouters who have come and gone since then. A wall at the national BSA office in Irvine, Texas has all 50,000 names listed, or so I am told. There have been approximately 12-16 individuals who have received the award twice from among the 50,000+ recipients. They each received it from two different councils they served in.
Information was gathered from numerous BSA periodicals including Annual Reports, National Scout Executive meeting minutes and other BSA publications from the 1930’s. Informational assistance was also graciously provided by the National BSA office.
David L. Eby
Erie Shores Council, BSA