One hundred years ago this week, Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low assembled a small group of girls in Savannah, Georgia. The occasion is now remembered as the foundational meeting of the Girl Scouts of America. Low wanted to establish an organization in which all girls would be given an opportunity to develop physically, mentally, and spiritually. Through activities such as hiking, camping, sports, first aid training and myriad crafts, girls were shown the value of community service and camaraderie. According to the organization’s website, the Girl Scouts have a long history of patriotism and helping those in need. 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. They established a system of national training schools for leaders and by 1920, had over 70,000 members.
From those distant beginnings Girl Scouts has blossomed into an internationally important youth organization. Today, Girl Scouts of the USA has a membership of over 3.2 million girls and adults. More than 50 million women in the U. S. today are Girl Scout alumnae.
One of the core strengths of the Girl Scouts is their inclusiveness. At a time when so many organizations have litmus tests for membership, Girl Scouts is open to all girls, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. The national organization ensures its continuing relevance and ethical standards through systematic reviews such as was done in 2004. According to their publication, “Highlights in Girl Scouting 2002–2008: Years of Transformation,” the organization conducted a forward-looking analysis of, “every facet of Girl Scouting.” The report goes on to state, “Just as Juliette Gordon Low transformed her vision of leadership development for girls into reality, the (new) Core Business Strategy will ensure that Girl Scouting continues to strongly influence the lives of girls and women during our second century.”
Among the many laudable programs sponsored by the Girl Scouts is “Uniquely ME!” a self-esteem program to address the nationwide problem of low self-esteem among girls ages 8 to 14. Then there’s the Girl Scout Research Institute which publishes on a variety of informative topics such as: “Weighing In: Helping Girls Be Healthy Today, Healthy Tomorrow,” a report that focuses on health, nutrition, and physical activity as they relate to child obesity and weight issues; “Voices of Volunteers 18-29,” a study of more than 1,100 female volunteers conducted with Partners in Brainstorms, Inc. This resource explains how and why young women volunteer and offers a “road map” for action.
During 2005, more than 25,000 girls benefited from grant-funded initiatives that include Girl Scouts in Detention Centers, Girls in Public Housing, Girls in Rural Outreach, and P.A.V.E. (Project Anti-Violence Education). This list also includes the above referenced “Uniquely Me!” program as well as GoGirlsGo, a collaboration with the Women’s Sports Foundation, that helps girls ages 10 to 14 years old with nutritional education, physical activity, and self-esteem workshops to combat obesity. With an eye toward future careers, the Girl Scouts published “Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.” The study finds that girls are interested in STEM and aspire to STEM careers, but need further exposure and educational opportunities to best capitalize on those interests.
While many of us may know little of the Girl Scouts beyond those tasty cookies, the organization is just the kind of thing of which we need more. As such, we commend the organization and wish it the best during its centenary celebration.