Who were the first Girl Scout Ambassadors? If you said 11th and 12th graders, you’d be wrong.
While GSUSA did introduce the Ambassador program level in 2008, the name “Ambassador” was first used in 1975.
GSUSA introduced the first Ambassador program as part of a larger project to improve retention. Estimating that one out of every four families moves each year, this program encouraged girls who moved to a new town to join Girl Scouting in their new neighborhood. Instead of being the “new girl,” the traveling Girl Scout became a more prestigious-sounding “Ambassador for Scouting.”
To be an Ambassador, a girl must be helped to recognize that one of the most important things in the mission of Scouting is to be aware of the different customs and values of different groups in her community. That was one of the ideas Juliette Gordon Low had when she started the Girl Scout movement back in 1912. She hoped then, and we hope now, that Scouting will make girls more sensitive to differences in the way of life in our communities and our nation.
—Leader Magazine (October 1975): 18.
The patch requirements had two parts. First, the arriving girl would share something about her former community, such as a popular tradition or celebration, with her new troop.
Second, the girls welcoming her would then share a similar tradition or event celebrated in her new community. Together, they would prepare a report on these differences and send it to the former troop. Members of the new troop would then be eligible for the Ambassador Aide patch.
Leaders could request an Ambassador Program application form from their council. Girls entered their current and new address on the form and send it to GSUSA. New York would forward it to the appropriate council, which would invite the Ambassador girl to a new troop.
When introducing the new program, Leader magazine encouraged troop leaders to focus on the many holiday traditions celebrated in December and January. Sample questions showed a deliberate effort at multiculturalism and inclusion:
- On what day is Christmas celebrated? On what or days is Chanukah celebrated? Does the celebration begin some time in December, as it might in families with a Dutch or Belgian or Scandinavian background? Does it continue until January 6th, as it does in many families whose ancestors came from Italy or Mexico? And on what day to the children exchange gifts? When is the Chinese New Year?
- Where do all the different customs connected with the holidays (lighted trees, mistletoe, reindeer, lighted candles, fireworks, dragons, and tribal dance) come from? Do all families everywhere observe the same customs? Why do some of them observe them differently?
- What about different kinds of special foods prepared during the holidays?
The yellow ribbon patches were intended for the back of the badge sash and cost one dime each.
This first version of the Ambassador program lasted until 1979. A similar program, with a booklet and button pinback, was offered in the mid-1980s.
The foundations of these programs are still valid in the second century of Girl Scouting. We need to improve retention, and we need to encourage tolerance and diversity to truly “make the world a better place.”
As Juliette said over 100 years ago, “To put yourselves in another’s place requires real imagination but by doing so, each Girl Scout will be able to live among others happily.”
©2017 Ann Robertson