On May 15, 1891, George R. Goodman and Ella Dora Jacobs Goodman of Philadelphia had a son. They named him Edward Urner, for grandfathers Edward Jacobs and George Urner Goodman. Ella Dora died when Urner was three, and he and his father, together with little sister Marjorie, lived with his grandparents Goodman and his three single aunts for several years.
Aunt Helen served as the children’s foster mother. Urner entered first grade at age six, but soon developed diphtheria, so contagious that he had to be quarantined in a hospital for many months. During that time, Aunt Helen passed away, and Aunt Clara took over the children’s care.
In 1898 the family moved to a country suburb, where Urner learned to love the outdoors, playing outside and walking to a nearby farm for milk. In 1903 his father married Emma L. Gross, a schoolteacher who had traveled part of the way to her first job in the Dakota territory by covered wagon, and the family moved back into central Philadelphia.
Urner – “Goodie” to his friends – was a good student, and attended the prestigious Central High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he enjoyed drafting, writing, music, poetry, long walks and a few close friends, with whom he founded the Sextette Literary Club. His family was religious, and he spent a great deal of time at Tioga Presbyterian Church, not only for worship but also social activities, including a young men’s club, the Brotherhood of Andrew and Philip, of which he became a leader.
He attended the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy and became a teacher in 1913, taking graduate courses at Temple University. He also served as secretary of the Boys’ Work Committee of the Men and Religion Forward Movement in Philadelphia.
Tioga Presbyterian Church sponsored a troop of the new Boy Scouts of America, and in April 1911 Scouts Gilson M. Talmadge and Boyd Johnson, who learned of Urner from his work at church, visited Urner’s home and invited him to join as a leader. He soon became unofficial Scoutmaster, receiving an appointment from the council just after his 21st birthday in May 1912.
The troop was the most fun thing in town, featuring a first aid corps, a band and a “police squad” with weekly meetings and monthly campouts. By 1915, the troop had grown to almost 100 Scouts under his leadership. In May of 1915, he accepted the council’s invitation to become a professional Scouter.