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A history of Girl Scouting in America

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A history of Girl Scouting in America





Article published Jul 30, 2006

By William Johnson



Inspired by the Boy Scouts, who had been founded in America in 1910, and British Girl Guides program created the same year, Juliette Daisy Gordon Low organized the first Girl Scout Troop in the nation on March 12, 1912, in Savannah, Ga.


She believed that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally and spiritually. With the goal of bringing girls out of isolated home environments and into community service and the open air, her Girl Scouts hiked, played basketball, went on camping trips, learned how to tell time by the stars and studied first aid.


Within a few years, her dream for a girl-centered organization was realized when on June 10, 1915 the organization was incorporated as Girl Scouts Inc. under the laws of the District of Columbia.


A national director position was funded and the executive board inaugurated a fund-raising plan to relieve the burden on Low, who had been financing operations on her own. She had even sold her extremely valuable necklace of rare and matched pearls to support the fledgling organization.


By 1920, American Girl Scouting was growing in its independence from the British Girl Guide example, developing its own uniform, handbook and its own constitution and bylaws.


The group now consisted of nearly 70,000 Girl Scouts nationwide, including the territory of Hawaii who could earn more than 25 badges, including Child Nurse. To that total, Girl Scouts soon added badges for Economist and Interpreter and revised the existing Journalist and Motorist badges.


The 1920s also saw the birth of specialty troops when girls in Pittsburgh, Penn., formed a Girl Scout Radio Troop in collaboration with pioneering radio station KDKA.


By the end of the decade, the organization had grown to serve more than 200,000 Girl Scouts.


With the 1930s came the Great Depression and Girl Scouts responded by leading community relief efforts by collecting clothing, making quilts, carving wooden toys, gathering food for the poor, assisting in hospitals, participating in food drives and canning programs and providing meals to undernourished children.


The 1930s also saw the program divided into three age groups Brownies, Intermediates and Seniors to enhance services and provide age-appropriate activities.


While Girl Scout troops had done bake sales and cookie sales for years to fund their programs, the decade saw the first sale of commercially baked Girl Scout Cookies.


With the 1940s, war came to America when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Girl Scouts responded.


During the war, Girl Scouts operated bicycle courier services, invested more than 48,000 hours in Farm Aide projects, collected fat and scrap metal and grew Victory Gardens. The scouts also collected 1.5 million articles of clothing for shipment overseas to children and adult victims of war.


With the 1950s came a new openness for America, with the arrival of television, rock and roll and the first serious stirring of a national movement for equality. The Girl Scout movement, now well-established with 1.5 million girls and adult volunteers, began special efforts to reach out to the daughters of migrant agricultural workers, military personnel, Native Americans, Alaskan Eskimos and the physically challenged.


The Girl Scouts efforts toward racial equality were celebrated in the March 1952 issue of Ebony magazine that reported: Girl Scouts in the South are making steady progress toward breaking down racial taboos. In the 1960s the National Board of Girl Scouting went on record as strongly supporting civil rights. Senior Girl Scout Speakout conferences were held around the country and the ACTION 70 project were launched in 1969 as part of a nationwide Girl Scout initiative to overcome prejudice.


The Girl Scouts dedication to diversity was realized in 1975 when the group elected Gloria Scott, its first African American National Girl Scout President. The 70s also saw the birth of Eco-Action, a national environmental awareness program.


By the 1980s, with American Girl Scouting now more than 50 years old, many scouting alumnae were moving into many positions of authority, such as Sandra Day O'Connor who became the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice.


The decade would see the creation of a new age-level for Scouting, with the creation of Daisy Girl Scouts for girls as young as four. In keeping with the times, the organization would added new badges including Computer Fun, Aerospace and Business-Wise.


In the 1990s nearly four million Girl Scouts and adult leaders tackled illiteracy alongside then First Lady Barbara Bush in the Right to Read service project. The organization now reaches more 3.6 million American girls. With its national headquarters in New York City, the organization supports more than 300 local Girl Scout councils or offices.


Through membership in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the national program is part of a worldwide family of more than 10 million girls and adults in 145 countries.

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