Girl Scouts of America Centennial, 1912-2012

Juliette Gordon Low Pinning a Girl Scout with the “Golden Eaglet” circa WWI.

“Come right over, I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah and all America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!” –Juliette Gordon Low, March 12, 1912

This year marks the centennial anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America (GSA). In celebration, visit the exhibit on the 2nd floor of Regenstein Library, which showcases materials about the Girl Scouts from the Library’s collections together with Girl Scout memorabilia on loan from Kathryn Grossman and Dana Wennerberg.

On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low assembled a group of eighteen girls in Savannah, Georgia to establish the first troop. Known as “Daisy” to her family, Juliette was inspired to found a youth organization for girls after she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. Her goal was to teach girls self-reliance and resourcefulness through outdoor activities at a time when women’s roles were severely limited. 

Girl Scouts today participate in many of the same activities as the earliest troops, such as camping, hiking and earning badges. Cookie sales have funded troops since 1917. At the same time, the GSA has always responded to the needs and issues of the times. 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. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, girls performed community services, hosted remembrance ceremonies, and wrote thank-you letters to rescuers. In its first decade, a Girl Scout could earn over 25 different badges, including Child Nurse. The most recent badges include Global Awareness, Adventure Sports, Stress Less, and Environmental Health.

From its inception, the Girl Scouts of America was committed to inclusivity. The original troop included Christian and Jewish girls, girls from influential Savannah families and girls from a local orphanage. The Girl Scouts was one of the few organizations of its time that welcomed the membership of the physically disabled. Juliette Gordon Low, herself, battled ear infections and was functionally deaf by the time she founded the Girl Scouts. The first African-American troops were established in 1917. One of the earliest Latina troops was formed in Houston in 1922. Girl Scout troops supported Japanese-American girls in internment camps in the 1940s, and by the 1950s, GSA was working to integrate fully all of its troops. In 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Girl Scouts “a force for desegregation.”

Today, the Girl Scouts of America has 3.2 million members and 50 million alumnae. Girls at home and abroad participate in troops and groups in more than 92 countries through USA Girl Scouts Overseas. Through its membership in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Girl Scouts of the USA has a following of 10 million girls and adults in 145 countries.

Selections adapted from the website for Girl Scouts of America (www.girlscouts.org)

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