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A patent for girls' empowerment

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The United States Patent and Trademark Office Journeys of Innovation series tells  stories of inventors or entrepreneurs who have made a positive difference in the world. This month’s story focuses on the journey of the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of the USA and patented the organization’s iconic trefoil badge in 1914. A three-leafed clover design adapted from the Boy Scouts’ similar badge, Low’s trefoil suggested a fundamental equality between girls and boys on the eve of women’s suffrage and continues to signal girls’ invaluable contributions to American life and culture.


Low used her close friendship with Baden-Powell and her talent for networking to gain an advantage over the competing organizations. So trusting was Baden-Powell of her judgment that he even allowed Low to re-designate her “Guides” as “Scouts” in 1913. To reinforce the connection with Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts, Low had the Girl Scouts’ uniforms switched from blue to khaki. Meanwhile, the new Girl Scouts organization established a national network and an official headquarters in Washington, D.C.


Low’s trefoil badge (U.S. Design Patent No. 45,234, issued February 10, 1914), based on the Boy Scouts' similar badge, was the linchpin of this process, a sign of the deep association between Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts and Low’s Girl Scouts. An explanation of the meaning of the trefoil, printed in the 1916 edition of the Girl Scouts handbook, describes the design as a “clover leaf, the three leaves representing the Girl Scout Promises: (1) to do her duty to God and her country, (2) to help other people at all times, (3) to obey the Scout law.” A prescription for how Girl Scout inductees should conduct themselves, the explanation of the trefoil’s meaning also works like a summary of Low’s life’s work and values, the culmination of a decades-long effort to find a public, productive role for herself and other women in the early stages of women’s enfranchisement and attainment of social, economic, political, and legal equality.


. By virtue of her having patented it, she owned the rights to the trefoil badge and controlled its reproduction and distribution.  

Here, Low and the Girl Scouts’ new leadership struck a deal. So long as Low, in perpetuity, was recognized in print and public statements as the organization’s founder, then the Girl Scouts could own the rights to and use the trefoil. Low’s brother drew up the necessary legal document, and ownership transferred in 1921. With this agreement, Low ensured the immortality of her design and her memory. 

interesting read


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