Barbara Witemeyer

"Learning by Doing: The Seton Way"



A talk on the life and work of Ernest Thompson Seton, to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry

given on Saturday 29 October, 2016, at Braziers Park, Oxfordshire.


Follow along with the audio, above, by clicking on the sidebar of the Presentation, below



About: Ernest Thompson Seton


Imagine a man whose response to youths repeatedly vandalising his property is to invite them onto his land to learn about it.

The man was Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), and the year was 1902. He realised that young people needed activities that grounded them, taught them a relationship with the earth that sustained them, and allowed them to discover themselves.

His influence has been wide. In the field of therapeutic child care, for example, one hears echoes of his phrase - "‘Control from without is a poor thing when you can get control from within"  - in the title of Fritz Redl and David Wineman's influential 1952 book on the treatment of the aggressive child, "Controls from Within"; and the therapeutic use of camping and nature is expressed not only in Redl and Wineman's work, but in David Wills', and other 20th century pioneers of progressive and therapeutic care and education.


Seton's "Birchbark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians" published in 1906 became the blueprint for the first scouting handbook, and his ideas were the seedbed from which the better-known Baden Powell grew his movement.

In 1904/6 Seton visited England to promote his work around woodcraft, and to encourage the development of woodcraft lodges. His ideas filtered into the woodcraft activities of the coeducational Quaker school at Sidcot in Somerset, spurred the creation of the first lodges of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry at Sidcot and Bermondsey, and inspired the Westlakes, who went on to form the Forest School in Fordingbridge, which evolved in time into the educational charity Forest School Camps, which in turn informed the contemporary forest school movement. Seton toured Europe and initiated the founding of the woodcraft movements still extant there.


Barbara Witemeyer is a Seton scholar from the University of New Mexico.