Happy birthday, Girl Scouts!!! This year marks the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Girl Scouts and today is the big day that Juliette Gordon Low first gathered 18 girls to form the first troop. This, of course, means celebration via Girl Scout cookie eating and a stroll through the history of Girl Scouts. Grab your beanies, sashes and try-its, ladies, and prepare to be amazed by the awesome accomplishments of Girl Scouts.
Now for a brief biography of the fabulous founder herself: Juliette Gordon Low
Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born in Savannah, Georgia on October 31st, 1860 (she’s a Scorpio). Growing up her nickname was “Daisy.” Miss Daisy came from a good family, the second of six children, lived in a big house in Savannah and had a happy childhood. She had an interest in the arts from a young age: writing poems, acting in plays and painting. An animal lover her whole life, starting when she was just a young girl, she was particularly fond of birds and dogs. Daisy was also very athletic – a good swimmer and rower and was known to stand on her head for birthdays.
As a teen, she attended a fancy boarding school: the Virginia Female Institute. Following boarding school, she went to a French finishing school, Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers, in New York City. As a teenager, Daisy also formed her first organization, Helping Hands, and made clothing for the poor.
After all her schooling, she traveled throughout the United States and Europe. Juliette was always prone to ear infections and at 25 she was mistreated for one with silver nitrate, leaving her almost deaf in one year. At 26 she married a wealthy Englishman, William Mackay Low. At their wedding, a piece of rice got lodged in Juliette’s good ear and resulted in total loss of hearing in that ear. Juliette was almost completely deaf from age 26 on.
After their wedding, Juliette and William moved to England. Juliette continued to travel and split much of her time between England, Scotland and the United States. During the Spanish-American War (1898), Juliette felt it her duty to return home to the United States. She returned to England after the war to a disintegrating marriage. It was said that William had quite the drinking and philandering problem and that Juliette began contemplating divorce in 1901. William officially ended the marriage with his death, from a stroke, in 1905. In his will he left almost all his money to his mistress and Juliette was given a small widow’s pension (jerk).
Following the loss of her husband, Juliette occupied herself with traveling and looking for something to devote her time to. In 1911, she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and became interested in the youth movement. On March 12th, 1912, Juliette made a historic phone call to a friend stating,
I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!
On March 12th, 1912, she assembled 18 girls and registered them as first troop of American Girl Guides. The first girl registered was her niece, Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon. In 1913, the organization’s name was changed to Girl Scouts. Juliette’s excitement and charisma carried the establishment of Girl Scouts, making it a prominent national organization for girls in just a few short years. In personality, Juliette was known for being eccentric and charming. At an early scout board meeting she stood on her head to display the new Girl Scout shoes that she happened to be wearing.
Juliette was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1923. She kept the cancer a secret and kept on building the Girl Scouts organization. At the age of 66, on January 17th, 1927, Juliette died in her home in Savannah. At the time of her death, membership in the Girl Scouts was approximately 168,000 girls. She was buried in uniform in her hometown of Savannah.
And now because this is about saying Happy Birthday, Girl Scouts, a brief timeline of Girl Scout Glory (created with the help of the Girl Scout timeline on GirlScouts.org):
Established March 12th, 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low. Originally established as the American Girl Guides. First registered member was Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon.
1913: Name was officially changed to Girl Scouts
– During World War I, girls learned about food production and conservation, sold war bonds, worked in hospitals, and collected peach pits for use in gas mask filters.
– Girls could earn more than 25 badges, including Child Nurse.
– A troop for physically challenged Girl Scouts was established.
– By 1920, there were nearly 70,000 Girl Scouts nationwide, including the territory of Hawaii.
– The first Girl Scout Troops on Foreign Soil (TOFS) were established in China, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Syria for American girls living in other countries. (Yes, that says 1920!)
– New Girl Scout badges included Economist and Interpreter, and revisions already were being made to the Journalist and Motorist badges.
– Girls in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania formed a Girl Scout Radio Troop, in collaboration with pioneering radio station KDKA.
– By the end of the decade, there were more than 200,000 Girl Scouts.
– Girl Scouts led community relief efforts during the Great Depression by collecting clothing, making quilts, carving wood toys, gathering food for the poor, assisting in hospitals, participating in food drives and canning programs, and providing meals to undernourished children.
– Girl Scout resources were transcribed into Braille, and the Helen Keller Scholarship was established for training leaders who work with blind girls.
– The Girl Scout program was divided into three groups–Brownie, Intermediate, and Senior–in order to enhance service and provide age-appropriate activities for girls.
– The first sale of commercially baked Girl Scout Cookies took place!!! (yes, yes, yes! see An Early Girl Scout Cookie® Recipe)
– 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.
– Girls collected 1.5 million articles of clothing that were then shipped overseas to children and adult victims of war.
– The Girl Scout Movement was well-established as the decade started, with 1.5 million girls and adult volunteers. A special effort was made to include the daughters of migrant agricultural workers, military personnel, Native Americans, Alaskan Eskimos, and the physically challenged.
– The March 1952 issue of Ebony magazine reported: “Girl Scouts in the South are making steady progress toward breaking down racial taboos.”
– The social unrest of the 1960s was reflected in organization actions and Girl Scout program change, including introduction in 1963 of four program age-levels for girls: Brownie, Junior, Cadette, and Senior Girl Scouts.
– The National Board went on record as strongly supporting civil rights. Senior Girl Scout Speakout conferences were held around the country and the “ACTION 70” project was launched in 1969, both as nationwide Girl Scout initiatives to overcome prejudice.
– Girl Scout members elected the first African American National Girl Scout President, Gloria D. Scott, in 1975.
– Girl Scouts helped Vietnamese refugee children adapt to their new homes.
– “Eco-Action,” a national environmental program, was launched.
– The Contemporary Issues series was developed in the 1980s to help girls and their families deal with serious social issues. The first, Tune In to Well Being, Say No to Drugs, was introduced in collaboration with a project initiated by First Lady Nancy Reagan. Subsequent publications dealt with issues such as child abuse, youth suicide, literacy, and pluralism.
– Project Safe Time was introduced for girls whose parents were not home to care for them after school.
– New badges included Computer Fun, Aerospace, and Business-Wise.
– The Girl Scout Survey on the Beliefs and Moral Values of America’s Children (January 1990) showed that girls in Girl Scouting were less likely to cheat on tests.
– Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, the first and only mother-daughter prison visitation program, was formed.
– The first Asian American National Girl Scout President, Connie Matsui, was elected.
– Girl Scouts took to the World Wide Web via the organization’s Web site (www.girlscouts.org), local Girl Scout council Web sites, and online troop meetings.
– Girl Scouts responded to the September 11 attack on America by performing community services, hosting remembrance ceremonies, and writing thank-you letters to rescuers.
– New badges include Global Awareness, Adventure Sports, Stress Less, and Environmental Health.
– Grants from Fortune 500 companies such as Lucent Technologies, Intel, and Lockheed Martin supported science and technology exploration programs for girls.
– Colorado Troop accepts 7-year-old transgender girl into troop stating: “If a child identifies as a girl and the child’s family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.”
Girl Scouts has an amazing history of being a progressive and inclusive organization and most importantly, a great influence on girls. They have helped so many women step out of stereotypes and see the reality that women can do anything. Overtime, they have demonstrated that progress and change is possible. I believe that with the recent acceptance of a trans girl into the Colorado troop, Girl Scouts, as an organization, is still growing and changing with the times. I mean, they were kind of destined for being a cool organization with a founder who was known for doing headstands into her 60s!
I have always been proud to have been a Girl Scout but reading through more of the history- or should I say herstory?- decade by decade made me realize how proud I truly am to have been part of this organization. Yeah, I was a Girl Scout until what most would consider an inappropriate age (16), yeah, I totally loved it. Girl Scouts taught me how to respect others, how to ask questions and, most importantly, that I could do anything I wanted with my future. One of my Girl Scout leaders was an engineer, I ended up going to her alma mater for my undergrad, the other had a passion for Geology and Natural Science, I ended up in Environmental Science. Without these women in my life and without the experience of being in Girl Scouts, I don’t know where I would be today, but I am sure I wouldn’t be in the same place. My Girl Scout leaders were always women I looked up to. Always dependable and there for me. Always making me think. Always challenging me to try something new (making bottle rockets, looking at rocks, going on hikes). For me, today feels like the right day to say:
Thank You, Girl Scouts, and Happy 100th Birthday!