Founded on values of leadership, respect and responsibility, Walden is a 7-week, all girls, residential, summer camp in Denmark, Maine. Our small size of 150 campers promotes a close-knit community of girls, ages 8 – 15, who return summer after summer for friendship, challenge and fun. Girls participate in a full range of traditional overnight camp activities including wilderness trips, horseback riding, tennis, sailing and water skiing. For nearly a century, the Walden experience has been part of young girls lives as they acquire the skills and confidence to navigate their world.
A Brief History
Camp Walden began in 1916, when two determined and forward-thinking educators from New York City, Blanche Hirsch and Clara Altschul, purchased a swath of beautiful wooded property for a girls’ camp in Denmark, Maine. Their goal was to create an environment—in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”—where girls from the city could experience the outdoors away from the pressures of their everyday lives. The pair stressed the importance of respect, trust, and consideration for others. In team sports, they emphasized sportsmanship; in activities, trying your hardest while pursuing excellence. Although times have changed, these ideals remain at the heart of Camp Walden.
Walden quickly grew from 30 to 100-plus campers. Several longstanding traditions such as “Splash” (the camp yearbook, campsisters, Saturday night bunk shows and Sunday night campfires began during the early years. In 1938, after many summers as a counselor and then head counselor, Helen Herz Cohen, a niece of Blanche Hirsch, was named director of Camp Walden. She eventually became the owner of the camp and remained its director until her retirement in 1995 – almost 60 years later. Miss Herz, as she was known, believed that every camper had immense potential, and she evaluated her staff on their ability to instill self-confidence and self-worth. The legendary Miss Herz, who died in 2006, was a role model who inspired scores of Waldenites with her passion and wisdom.
Wendy Cohen, Miss Herz’s daughter, grew up at Camp Walden, and when she took over as director in 1995, she led with confidence and warmth. She knew and understood the camp’s values and ideals and enthusiastically continued the legacy begun by her great aunt and carried out by her mother.
Wendy unexpectedly died in 2008. At her memorial service a former camper addressed Wendy’s devotion to Walden: “Wendy was enormously generous and kindhearted. She loved sharing daily life with the campers whether it was cutting their birthday cakes, tying their orange ties or singing in the dining room.”
Wendy’s death marked a turning point for Camp Walden, but she had wisely planned for the future by selecting a board of trustees who now oversee the operation of the camp. They are working hard to carry on the rich traditions that make Walden a special and distinctive place.
Over the years, the essence of Camp Walden has remained unchanged. Every summer, one can find many girls who are daughters and granddaughters of former campers, and hear songs written decades ago – or just days ago. The long stockings and bloomers of the early years have evolved into T-shirts and shorts. But the basic feelings for Walden remain the same, and each year, girls return to their summer home in Denmark to enjoy the quiet lake, beautiful pines, and immeasurable fun and friendship.