Girl Scouts Celebrate 100 years of Building Character
Over 50 million women can’t be wrong. That is how many women have participated in Girl Scouting since its inception in 1812. Today there are 3.2 million active Girl Scouts. That number breaks down to 2.3 million young women and 890,000 adults, most of whom serve as volunteers.
On March 12 the organization will officially turn 100 but celebrations are occurring throughout the year. The Girl Scouts began the year in a big way with a float in the New Year’s Day Rose Parade. A special celebration was even held on Capitol Hill where Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Cali.) talked about her struggles growing up Mexican without a lot of friends and how, when her mother put her in Brownies, she instantly made friends. “I had a lot of fun showing them how to make things like enchiladas and tacos,” she said. “And now, my sister and I are the only two sisters to serve in Congress ever.”
I am proud to be a Girl Scout alum
I am proud to count myself among those 50 million women. I began scouting as a Brownie Scout in the second grade. Much to my mother’s dismay I insisted upon going to camp that first year. So, at the tender age of seven my parents deposited me at the large Army surplus tent housing about 15 girls with my bedroll, situpon, and orange crate that doubled as a night stand and left wondering what was in my head to want to stay in such a god-forsaken place. But to me it was heaven.
Every summer for the next 9 years I returned to summer camp. I even counted the days beginning at Christmas until the next camp. I never got homesick but I quite often got “campsick” and cried for days after camp ended each summer. This is where I made great friends, learned the names of the trees, the constellations and the stories behind them, how to make a lanyard, how to swim, how to keep my cool in front of a snake (and other stressful situations), and how to live with nature. This was the beginning of my love affair with the out-of-doors, my respect for mother earth and all her creatures, and my love for folk music. I remember gathering around the camp fire and singing at the top of my lungs camp songs that had their roots in old folk tunes. By the end of my 10 years of scouting I probably knew a hundred camp songs.
Scouting shaped my character
Scouting is where I learned leadership skills, honed my sales skills selling the traditional Girl Scout cookies, first learned how to sew, learned valuable first aid, learned how to properly display and fold the American flag, and had my first experiences as a teacher. I learned to accept others for what they are, no matter their cultural or economic background. Nicole Pasulka wrote in Mother Jones that the Girl Scouts have often been ahead of the curve, if just by a hair, on hot-button cultural issues. Pasulka is not alone in that sentiment, in 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. called Girl Scouts a “force for desegregation”.
We also worshipped together. Although the Girl Scouts is not a religious organization we also didn’t shy away from it. We had meetings at different churches and sometimes attended worship services at those churches. We also experienced a certain spirituality living with nature.
Scouting taught me the thrill of accomplishing a goal. All of those badges on my sash weren’t just silly patches of cloth but represented an accomplishment of finishing a project and learning a new skill.
I once attended a women’s professional conference and over dinner at a table with women from around the country we all discovered we had something in common—we were all former Girl Scouts. If I were a mother of young girls I would enroll my daughters into the Girl Scouts to give them an extra edge in the competitive business world. In Girl Scouts every girl is an equal and important member of the troop and learns to be a contributing member of society. She learns that what she does is valuable and there is no competition with the male ego. Within the confines of Girl Scouts every girl learns she has something important to contribute to society and by the time she reaches adulthood she is ready to confidently take her place in the professional world.
My adult life is a reflection the many things I learned in the Girl Scouts. I went on to become a teacher and then have worked for myself for many years, I have been active and held offices in many professional and community organizations, I swim a couple of times a week at the local Y, I find I constantly set goals for myself, I still love folk music, and I’m not afraid to be my own person. All are skill sets I first learned in scouting.
The Girl Scouts is the fertile ground for developing leaders. Its mission states that its purpose is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. The mission statement adds: Girls develop their leadership potential through activities that enable them to discover their values and skills, and the world around; connect with others in a multicultural environment; and take action to make a difference in the world. Through scouting girls discover the fun, friendship, and power of girls together. Girl scouting helps girls develop their full individual potential; relate to others with increasing understanding, skill, and respect; develop values to guide their actions and provide the foundation for sound decision-making; and contribute to the improvement of society through their abilities, leadership skills, and cooperation with others.
Many of the women leaders today are former Girl Scouts. Eleven of the 17 women (59%) in the U.S. Senate and forty-five of the seventy-five women (60%) in the House of Representatives are former Girl Scouts. Fifty- three percent of all women business owners have a scouting background.
The scouting influence has even reached beyond these earthly bonds. Over twenty of NASA’s career astronauts were former Girl Scouts and the first American woman to walk in space, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, was a former Girl Scout. Other famous American Girl Scouts are Dakota Fanning, Lucille Ball, Katie Couric, and Elizabeth Dole. In addition, many other Girl Scouts have become successful leaders in numerous professional fields such as law, medicine, politics, journalism, and science.
Today’s Girl Scouts are tomorrow’s leaders
I am glad to see that the Girl Scouts are still strong a hundred years later and they are looking forward to the next century. They have launched a program called ToGetHerThere which is the boldest advocacy and fundraising cause dedicated to girls’ leadership in the nation’s history. The aim of ToGetHerThere is equal representation of women in leadership positions in all sectors and levels of society within one generation.
Look out world because the sisterhood of Girl Scouts is alive and strong. Think how much better the world can be when women finally take their rightful place at the helm of society. The Girl Scouts is the best training ground possible to lay the foundation of courage, confidence, and character for tomorrow’s leaders. Get on board sisters, the fun is just beginning.
Below are pictures of me as a Senior Aide to Girl Scout Troop 71 in Huntington, WV. I have also included pictures of my uniform I wore as a Senior Scout. The uniform may be a little wrinkled, as is its owner, but not bad for 50+ years later.