A HISTORY OF VACATIONS
Are We There Yet?
Volume I Issue 7
The Evolution of the Reason for Vacations
We will continue our discussion of the evolution of the reasons for vacations over the past 250 years.
Continuing Child Driven Vacations:
As children’s access to vacation time increased, so did efforts of reformers to shape that time with productive recreation. As early as the 1870s, through the Fresh Air Fund, members of small-town churches opened their homes to slum-dwelling children from New York City. By the end of the nineteenth century, philanthropic groups from large American cities sponsored excursions and weeks at seashore resorts for the children of the poor both to provide healthful fresh air and exercise and to inculcate loyalty to authority. The summer youth camp became a peculiarly American institution where, by 1929, a million children yearly encountered nature in the sheltered moral environment of about 7,000 camps.
From the 1880s, British reformers organized summer camps for poor children and their families while French businesses created youth summer camps and recreational programs for young workers and the children of employees in the hopes of easing class tensions.
Groups like the Playground Association (1907) in the United States promoted the construction and staffing of neighborhood playgrounds suitable for supervised children’s play and crafts during the summer vacation. Young adult hiking and camping activities were extended to youth and children in the 1930s through groups like the British Youth Hostel Association. At the same time, the Holiday Fellowship, and other labor or local holiday camps in Britain promoted low cost family vacations (and thus was born the Family Vacation Package – today a mainstay in the vacation industry’s lexicon of deals).
A wide range of organizations in France did the same through founding sea or mountain resorts or subsidizing family tourism in the 1930s. Similarly, fascist states and even the Soviet Union organized summer vacation tours and youth summer camps to foster political loyalties.
Health Reasons for Vacations:
Vacationing began as a privilege of the colonial elite in the eighteenth century, when southern planters and wealthy northerners started to make periodic retreats to mineral springs and seashores. Early destinations included Saratoga Springs in New York, Stafford Springs in Connecticut, Berkeley Springs in Virginia, and Newport in Rhode Island. The Antebellum period saw the number of vacationers and vacation retreats increase.
Added to the list of destinations during this time were the resorts around the mineral springs in the Virginias like Red Sulfur Springs and White Sulfur Springs; seaside resorts like Cape May in New Jersey and Cape Cod in Massachusetts; and the Catskill, Adirondack, White, and Green Mountains. Meanwhile, Niagara Falls became the preeminent tourist destination of the nineteenth century.
But the vacation remained largely confined to the upper classes and was intended primarily for health reasons. In fact, the word “vacation” to describe these types of journeys did not enter into the American lexicon until the middle of the nineteenth century, and it was at about this time that a considerable debate emerged.
As we discussed earlier, taking time away from work for leisure ran counter to the Puritan ethic, which had pervaded for two centuries; idle time away could be justified for health reasons, but not simply for amusement. The eventual change in public opinion, the emergence of the middle class, and changes in transportation technology following the Civil War gave rise to a vast array of resorts and types of vacations for leisure, recreation, education, and, indeed, health.
For all of the articles on The History Of Vacations visit