History of the Encampment for Citizenship

A Lived Experience

The Encampment for Citizenship (EFC) was founded in 1946 by Algernon D. Black, a leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture (NYSEC), and Alice K. Pollitzer, a prominent civic leader, as an opportunity for “young adults of many religious, racial, social and national backgrounds” to learn “the principles and techniques of citizenship … through lived experience.” The Encampment was founded on the core idea that young people can be a positive force in their communities if they develop critical thinking skills, youth activism, leadership qualities and the courage to work for social justice.

The sponsorship of the American Ethical Union and its affiliated societies (in particular, the New York Society for Ethical Culture) was secured, and the Encampment for Citizenship was launched. The young people who took part in the first Encampment for Citizenship were from every part of the United States and several other countries. White, Black, American Indian; Japanese-American and Mexican-American; North and South; Protestant, Catholic, Jew; farmer, office worker, factory worker, miner, veteran, student — all were represented. In these early years, the “Encampers” were young adults in their late teens and early twenties.

Kentucky 1969 EFC, photo of encampers on staircase
Encampment for Citizenship, Kentucky 1969.

Photo provided by Vincent Wright, staff member.

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Encampers visit the United Nations
Encampers visit the United Nations.

The Early Years

“Much of the Encampment’s success is due to its being geared to the real world — real problems and real strengths. We are not afraid of the controversial. It’s tremendously gratifying to see the effect on young adults ...

… it genuinely helps them lead better lives. We know that the Encampment experience really gets under their skins. Most important, it helps a young adult, feel identified with America and with its heritage, and understand- he has a personal stake in it.”
—William Shannon, former EFC Director

Encampers established their own government and were guided toward socio-political activism, a sense of civic responsibility and participation — all in an environment that supported tolerance and diversity.

I’ve gained a better understanding of rural poverty, race relations, and just how to get along with people. I have lost many of my stereotypes and have learned to accept people as individuals. I have learned that to get something done, one has to get out and work for it and not just talk about it.”
—a small town Ohioan

“It was a joyful wonderful summer for me. For …weeks we acted like brothers and sisters. We learned new languages, faced new problems. I hope in years to come, I will be in close contact with you all. Thanks to everyone who helped make it possible.”
—a teen from Brooklyn

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., greeting Encampers.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., greeting Encampers.

Illustrious Supporters

Eleanor Roosevelt, a long-time chair of the EFC board of sponsors, was an early supporter of the program and often hosted the entire Encampment for discussions and workshops at her Hyde Park estate.

When the program was attacked by McCarthyite forces in the early 1950s, she defended it vigorously.

“The reason I think these Encampments are so important is that they are attended by citizens of different races and groups. They prepare people for thinking in terms of all people and not in terms of a selected few. Not only we in the U.S., but people all over the world, need young people trained to be good citizens with an ability to think with an open mind.”
—Eleanor Roosevelt

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was a supporter and speaker at the Encampment. John F. Kennedy linked the Encampment with the development of vital citizenship skills and with the Peace Corps. William Haddad, EFC alum (1950) was director under Sargent Shriver at the Peace Corps and O.E.O. and had this to say: “Many of us conceive of the Peace Corps as an expansion of some of the ideas outlined at the Encampment.”

Eleanor Holmes Norton, civil rights activist and long standing Congresswoman (DC), is an alum of the 1957 Encampment.  She says the Encampment is “one of the most significant models for getting young people seriously and thoughtfully involved in public policy and matters of local and national importance. I will never forget my own experience as a young person eager for discovery of the issues at that time.”

Encampers lived democratic principles and made history during Jim Crow segregation:

“I was a member of the Encampment in 1966, at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky. It was a powerful moment in our country’s history, and it all swirled around us, even in a small college setting. My experience opened my eyes, filled my heart and confirmed my commitment to make working for social change the center of my life. And I know—without a moment’s hesitation—that the experience I had at the Encampment for Citizenship in 1966 was one of the most important formative events of the commitments I have to this day”.
— Miles S. Rapoport, former president, Demos and Common Cause

The End of the Century

By 1996, more than 7,000 young people had attended Encampment programs at sites across the United States and in Puerto Rico.

Locations included the New York City Metropolitan area; Puerto Rico; Berkeley, CA; Arizona; Louisville, KY; Mexico; Great Falls, MT; Denver, CO; Washington, DC; Navajo Nation, Tohatchi, NM; and the Adirondacks. The program site often influenced the focus of a given Encampment. For example, the Adirondacks program emphasized conservation and environmental issues, while the Denver, CO and White Plains, NY Encampments focused more on urban social issues.

Various studies have shown that the program succeeded in inspiring its participants in many ways.

“The richness and vividness of the camper’s personal experiences are inescapable. Overall satisfaction is indicated by the willingness of five campers out of six to recommend the Encampment to someone like themselves. . . Changes which trainees most frequently saw in themselves were increases in tolerance and understanding, in maturity, in independence, and in activism… Friendships to an extraordinary extent crosscut class lines. . . – Almost three-fourths of the campers said they want to be in touch with other campers ‘frequently’.”
—Herbert Hyman, Columbia University School of Applied Research Evaluation (See also Further Reading)

2013 Encampment, Richmond VA.
2013 Encampment, Richmond VA.

After a Hiatus, a Rebirth

After a 16-year hiatus, alumni and former staff formed an association, led by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (White Plains '70) and Anne Klaeysen of the Ethical Society. The Encampment re-launched with a two-week pilot program in Richmond, VA, in 2013.

It was followed by seven successful 3-week programs in Chicago, IL; Amherst, MA; Tougaloo and Raymond, MS; Camarillo, CA and virtual in 2020.

“Growing up, I got one perspective, but in the Encampment, I got to see what peers from different backgrounds are doing and feeling. It’s one thing to hear about Black Lives Matter in social media, but it’s so powerful when you hear what people are really going through — it changes you as a person.” — Moncerrat, 2020 Encamper, 2020-21 PFSP intern

The Encampment’s Impact

“… the Encampment for Citizenship is a rare and successful experiment in democratic education.”

Herbert Hyman, Columbia University School of Applied Research Evaluation

“To be in a community that believed in the ethic of change and progression, that was what the Encampment was all about, how to save the world.”

Charles Patterson, 47NY

“My experience this summer was one I will never forget,” said Jason Warwin after attending the Encampment in 1989. “The knowledge I have gained will, I hope, allow me to enlighten others, but there is no way my preaching would ever parallel the experience itself. I wish all youth could be exposed to the Encampment ...”

Jason Warwin (1989) credits the Encampment as his inspiration for co-founding The Brotherhood/Sister Sol in 1995, a thriving organization for youth in his home community of East Harlem.

“I came to the Encampment with an already-developed commitment to social change, but the particular focus – combating racism and promoting tolerance – was strongly influenced by the Encampment. I have had a career dedicated to ending poverty and inequity through initiatives in public health, workforce development, community development, immigrant and refugee resettlement, and child welfare.”

Rachel Miller (1978)

“The Encampment program is organized to provide an opportunity for young people to make a contribution, to have an effect, to connect with others, to organize their lives in meaningful and important ways; and to connect personal issues with larger political issues. During the program Encampers examine and analyze their personal history as a product of interactions with social institutions and individuals. … Thus, the problems of the South Bronx take on a unique reality when an Encamper from the South Bronx studies, works and lives with Encampers from other parts of the country during the program ... The Encampment provides an experience where feelings can be trusted and made to enhance intellectual understanding.”

Bob Lubetsky, Executive Director 1976-82, National Advisor Board member

“EFC encouraged and cemented me into a lifetime of activism. All of the activities that followed – community organizing, serving in public office, being president of Demos and later Common Cause – have been tied together by a commitment to the citizen activism that I learned at the Encampment.”

Miles Rapoport (1966)

“One topic that was new to me and changed my life was the introduction to the women’s movement and feminism. I became a lawyer and spent many years working on issues of discrimination facing low-income women and women of color. I later became a clinical law professor; again, I think the Encampment inspired me to teach and help create the next generation of social justice activists.”

Shauna Marshall (1970)

“The Encampment [in Puerto Rico] completely changed my life… In later years, I became responsible for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s entire global program, managing $24 million a year in conservation programs in all corners of the world. These programs helped conserve elephants, tigers, rhinos, gorillas – the most-impressive living creatures on the entire planet.”

Herb Raffaele (1963)


Eleanor Roosevelt with 1946 Encampers

Eleanor Roosevelt with 1946 Encampers.

Eleanor Roosevelt with 1946 Encampers

Encampment founders Alice Pollitzer and Algernon Black (left and right) with Hank Herman and Eleanor Roosevelt at an early Encampment. Click here to listen to an excerpt about the Encampment approach to bias and bigotry in Al Black’s stirring speech at the Cooper Union in 1951.

For Further Reading

  • Algernon D. Black, The Young Citizens: The Story of the Encampment for Citizenship (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1962)
  • The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers. “Encampment for Citizenship.” Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, et al. (Hyde Park, New York: Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, 2003).
  • Herbert H. Hyman, Charles R. Wright, Terence K. Hopkins, “Applications of Methods of Evaluation: Four Studies of the Encampment for Citizenship,” University of California Press, 1962.

The Encampment changed the course of my life.

I became conscious of social justice issues through the curriculum and through my fellow Encampers who became like family to me. I realized the importance of my voice, and the power of my generation to make change. It was also a great addition to my college application.


2014 Encamper, Woodside, CT

We are strengthening democracy by creating community.