Monday, March 12, 2012

Happy 100th, Girl Scouts!

Today is the 100th Birthday of the Girl Scouts. A century ago, on this day, GS founder Juliette Gordon Low rapidly called a meeting of some local girls in her hometown of Savannah, Ga., and the rest is history. With gazillions of cookies sold and badges earned, Girl Scouts are still thriving in the 21st century.

I was a Girl Scout in my youth, and now my oldest is a scout and I am her leader. I decided to co-lead her troop because it became very clear early on that the number of girls wanting to be a scout far outnumbered the number of adults who wished to be leaders. So here I am five years later, still muddling through the process.

I say muddling, because Girl Scouts has changed a lot over the years. For starters, there's a lot of paperwork and training and rules that either I didn't know about as a child or didn't exist. I'm sure lawsuits and safety issues necessitated some of the changes. And since I've been a leader, books have changed, badges have changed, the program has changed. A lot of changes and talk of more to come. And let's be honest, some changes are good. Some changes are bad. GS has basically become a business, but I try to stick with it because it does cater to girls who need inspiration and opportunity, whether it's learning a new skill, fitting into a group, making a friend, or setting goals. I try to do what I can do for my girls, but on many days it is difficult to please them all, or deal with the typical issues one faces when trying to lead a group of 9-year olds. And as a mom with a young family, it's hard to devote the time needed to plan, go through training -- a lot of training! -- and fill out paperwork and keep track of finances and think about what we are going to do. I believe the organization can be better, and hopefully it will improve in the next decades for my daughter's future daughters.

So why stick with the scouts? Number one, it's for my daughters. And number two, I believe scouts can help her and eventually her sister, as well as her peers. I don't care whether my girls like camping or not or can sell a million boxes of Thin Mints. That's not what it is all about.

The bottom line is in the numbers. Girls who are Girl Scouts often go on to bigger and better things. Just take these numbers: 80% of women business owners were scouts, 69% of female U.S. Senators were scouts, 67% of female House Respresentatives were scouts, and basically ever female astronaut who has been to space was a scout. Of course, you could utter the old adage "Is it the chicken or the egg -- is the type of girl who goes into scouting or the program?" I don't know, but I do know that the program is designed to encourage girls to pursue interests beyond the basic gender biases we see, and that was all Juliette Low's idea.

In a new book about Low, author Stacey Cordery surmises that the GS founder started the scouts with one goal in mind -- to give girls a chance at economic independence away from men. Low had gone deaf, had a failed marriage, was considering divorce when her womanizing husband died and left all his money to a mistress. (I know! Scandalous!) Her life suddenly was not what she thought it was going to be. Her husband was not the man she thought he was, she didn't have children, and at the time, that was a big societal failure to a Southern Belle like "Daisy" Low.

Low was inspired by the Boy Scout organization, and worked in its girl-centered European counterpart, the Girl Guides, before heading back from Europe to Georgia to start her own off-shoot. Now, 100 years and several generations later, here we are. Girls are still earning badges, making friends, holding hands and singing songs and selling cookies. Tonight, at 6:30 p.m., Girl Scouts all over the country -- including myself and my daughter -- will gather in Promise Circles to honor the legacy that Juliette Low left us.

So, if you daughter asks to be a Girl Scout, let her try it. And if you can, be a leader too. I'll help you muddle through :)

1 comment:

  1. Sammie is a brownie and really enjoys it. Since our leader needed some time off, all the moms now pitch in and take turns running the meetings. I just love the message of empowering girls. What little girl can't bennifit from that message especially these days :0)