“Right is right, even if no one else does it.” — Juliette Gordon Low
This week marks the 100-year anniversary of the foundation of the Girl Scouts – an organization I’m sure most of my female readers remember participating in with some degree of interest in their youth (and all my readers certainly recognize for its famously delicious Thin Mints). And, ladies, we’re in good company. The Girl Scouts can claim such famous members as Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Katie Couric, Condoleezza Rice, Sandra Day O’Connor, Lucille Ball, Nancy Reagan, and even our own feminist hero, Gloria Steinem.
Its 1912 birth and our own personal reminiscences of Girl Scouts as a place to gossip with friends and learn to make picture-framed collages belie its truly, as Jezebel.com put it in its celebration of the Girl Scouts this week, “badass history.” The recent controversy over Colorado Girl Scout inclusion of a 7-year-old transgender girl is only the tip of iceberg when it comes to the organization’s history of refusing to kowtow to morally objectionable ‘tradition.’
The larger United States may continue to debate the prescription for reciting “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (not only has this issue reached the Supreme Court in 2004, but it is frequently challenged in the lower courts), but Scout leaders determined as early as 1992 that girls who didn’t believe in a monotheistic concept of God wouldn’t be forced to recite the “serve God” line of the Girl Scout Pledge – instead replacing it with whatever word they choose (humanity, etc.).
Likewise established in the early 1990s, the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars (GSBB) Initiative and Girl Scouting in Detention Centers (GSDC) programs service girls whose mothers are incarcerated and girls who are wards of the court or are court-referred delinquents respectively. These programs pay special attention to drug and violence prevention discussions as well as activities designed to encourage a better family life and development of conflict resolution skills. Since 75% of incarcerated women are mothers and two-thirds of those women have children under 18, this is no small feat.
The Girl Scouts were also ahead of their time when it came to inclusion for the disabled – as early as 1935 (within the first decade of the organization’s existence), the first national meeting for disabled Girl Guides and Girl Scouts was held in London. Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, was herself partially deaf, and once said that, “Girl Scouts should be for all girls, regardless of their ability.” Today, formal programs such as the Including ALL Girls Initiative work to educate girls about how they can best implement inclusion policies in their own troops.
And remember those cool badges? Well, the skills the Girl Scouts have been encouraged to learn have always remained timely and even ahead of the curve. Programs like The Mariners and Wing Scouts flew in the face of the prohibition against “boyish” behavior in girls and prepared girls with marine survival skills and airplane flying abilities. Likewise, during WWII, girls were taught air raid survival tactics. Some of the newest badges include Computer Expert, Good Credit, Website Designer, Product Designer, and Digital Movie Maker – all of which are not only signs of the ability of Girl Scouts to adapt to a technological age but its commitment to preparing girls for any and all futures (even in fields that are traditionally male dominated).
So for this centennial anniversary of a very “badass” organization, celebrate by picking up the Girl Scouts’ self-published Girl Scouts: A Celebration of 100 Trailblazing Years (which features photographs and letters culled from the archives and never before seen by the public), buy yourself some commemorative merchandise and/or the commemorative silver coin (which will be minted in 2013 and help to fund renovations at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia), or just raise a glass of milk and a Girl Scout cookie to a group that seems to have girls’ best interests at heart even in a time when that is becoming increasingly unpopular.