The Scouting movement began in England in 1907 when Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell held the first boys’ scouting encampment. He later published a handbook, called Scouting for Boys, based on books by Canadian-American Ernest Thompson Seton (The Birchbark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians) and British William Alexander Smith (Boys’ Brigade) and on rewriting his military book, Aids to Scouting, aiming it towards youths rather than soldiers. Baden-Powell wanted to marry the ideas of physical play and learning about nature with a military-esque structure. Defined as a program of informal education with an emphasis on self-education in the outdoors based on natural learning processes, the scout method proved very popular with boys of all ages and generated interest among girls, as well. In 1910, Baden-Powell and his sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, introduced the Girl Guides to the British Empire. Both the Boy Scouts and the Guide Girls gained international popularity in Australia, India, and Europe. The United States followed the scouting trend, but developed their own groups based on the British model.
In 1912, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts in Savannah, Georgia. Her friend Jessamine Flowers Link followed with a troop in Tampa, Florida. Both were modeled on the Girl Guides that Low worked with during long visits to Scotland. In 1915, the Girl Scouts of the USA were incorporated into a national organization in Washington, D.C. The girls contributed to the war effort during World War I by selling war bonds, worked in hospitals, and learned about food preparation and conservation. After the war, a magazine aimed at Girl Scouts was published called The Rally (later renamed The American Girl). By 1920, the Girl Scouts of America began to move away from the Girl Guides movement of England, and created their own constitution, bylaws, uniforms, and handbooks. The Girl Scouts’ handbook, Scouting for Girls, lists the laws of the Girl Scouts as the following:
- “A Girl Scout’s honor is to be trusted.
- A Girl Scout is loyal.
- A Girl Scout’s duty is to Be Useful and to Help Others.
- A Girl Scout is a Friend to All and a Sister to Every Other Girl Scout.
- A Girl Scout is Courteous.
- A Girl Scout is a Friend to Animals.
- A Girl Scout Obeys Orders.
- A Girl Scout is Cheerful.
- A Girl Scout is Thrifty.
- A Girl Scout is Clean in Thought, Word, and Deed.
The slogan of the Girl Scouts is “To Do a Good Turn Daily,” to promote the helping of others as an automatic activity for young girls and to instill in them the ideals of community service.
By the end of the 1920s, there were nearly 70,000 Girl Scouts in the nation, including the territory of Hawaii. The first Girl Scout Troops on Foreign Soil (TOFS) were established for American girls living in China, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Syria. In the 1930s, the Girl Scouts helped their communities during the Great Depression by collecting clothing and food for distribution among their neighbors. The Girl Scouts divided the program into Brownies, Intermediates, and Seniors to create more age-appropriate groups and enhance service. When World War II began the Girl Scouts were in a unique position to offer aid to their communities and to war-torn Europe. The group began a new publication, Senior Girl Scouting in Wartime, to educate older girls on projects like Hospital, Child Care and Emergency Outdoor Aide. The Girl Scouts also collected clothes to send to victims of war.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Girl Scouts’ National Board of Directors came out strongly in favor of Civil Rights. The Girl Scout organization had been welcoming members of all religious affiliations and races by the early 1920s, including a troop established with girls from the Onondaga Nation of New York. In 1969, “Action 70” was launched by the Girl Scouts as a nationwide project to end prejudice.
During the 1970s, ‘80s, and 90s, the Girl Scouts continued their social/political activities by sending aid to Vietnamese war refugees, participating in the Reagan’s “Say No To Drugs” campaign, and Laura Bush’s anti-illiteracy “Right to Read” project. Some famous American women who are Girl Scout alumni include Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice; Madeleine Albright, a former Secretary of State; Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander; also many military personnel, entertainers, newscasters, and sports figures.