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Laura Mattoon and Camp Kehonka

Laura Mattoon, one of the first female camp founders and directors documented in summer camp history, was a graduate of Wellesley in 1894 and a devoted high school science teacher. In the summer of 1902, she brought eight students from New York City’s private Veltin School to spend a few days on a camping expedition in New Hampshire on Lake Wentworth.


Until this time, young girls had no proper place in youth camping, as “the men who led early boys’ camps generally aimed to provide a masculine counterpoint to feminine influence in the home." Furthermore, attitudes like that of C. Hanford Henderson of Camp Marienfield, i.e., “... a summer camp is, I think, better off without them [women/girls], for the life is so much simpler and freer,” were common amongst prominent camp pioneers. Despite this, new girls' camp leaders, most of whom were white, middle-class, and college-educated, began emerging, contesting the exclusionary beginnings of summer camping through proper “natural and down-to-earth” camping experiences designed for young girls and women. (Paris, 2008) 

At Mattoon’s Camp Kehonka, the girls participated in swimming, hiking, nature studies, stories, and poetry by campfire light, and most significantly, activities in the arts. At this time, organized camping advocates such as Ernest Thompson Seton (camp director and educator) promoted “camp craft” and “nature craft,” but the artistic side of the craft had not been as widely popular. Ceramics were prominent at Camp Kehonka, where clay “was excavated from an abandoned brickyard." The girls also had many opportunities for exploration of “traditional crafts including weaving, chair caning, bookbinding, jewelry making, and woodworking,” all “quintessentially ‘campy’” activities. (Eells, 1986)

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Camp Kehonka, NH, 1911

Through the abundance of natural resources and Mattoon’s “aesthetic sense,” the arts became a foundational element to Camp Kehonka and an accepted standard in girls’ camps moving forward. (Eells, 1986)

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