History of Boys’ Brigade

Did you know: The Boys’ Brigade was the first voluntary uniformed youth movement in the world and many of today’s organisations for young people can trace their roots back through history to The Boys’ Brigade.

Founding of BB (the first voluntary youth movement) The Boys’ Brigade was founded on 4th October, 1883, by William Alexander Smith at the Free College Church Mission, North Woodside Road, Glasgow.

William Smith, a voluntary Sunday School teacher and “Volunteers” member (similar to our Army Reserves), devised a unique youth movement and program framework based on Christian ideals (religion) and achieving personal goals (discipline) for his Sunday School members of 12 years of age.

Choosing activities that engaged boys of that generation the initial program included a simple form of parade drill, gymnastics, and team games. Other activities were soon added and in 1886 William Smith held the first camp. In fact it was the start of recreation camping for young people!

BB was quickly taken up by many Scottish churches and then by churches throughout Britain and Ireland. This growth in Britain was soon followed by the starting of Companies overseas, in places such as Canada, USA, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Following the impact of BB other uniformed organisations were started inside and outside the church: such as the Jewish Lads’ Brigade and the Catholic Boys’ Brigade both started in 1900. William Smith asked his friend Lord Baden-Powell to rewrite his articles about scouting for the army and tailor it to run within a boys program, which eventually resulted in Baden-Powell founding the Boy Scouts as a separate movement in 1908.

For girls, the Girls’ Brigade of Ireland commenced in 1893. The Girls’ Guildry in Scotland owed its formation in 1900 to a BB Officer and the Girls’ Life Brigade (a sister organisation to the Boys’ Life Brigade) started in 1902.
These three organisations united in 1965 under the name of The Girls’ Brigade.

William Smith was knighted in 1909 in recognition of his work for BB, and the nation’s youth. He died in 1914 in his sixtieth year, and all the movements for Boys acknowledged the gratitude which they had to BB as the parent movement and the inspiration and help which they had received from the Founder.