Blank Spots and Black Holes

Let’s do a quick experiment: what history information appears on your council’s website?

Go to your council’s website and click on “Our Council” then “About Our Council. The wording may vary slightly.

If those are not an option, try “About GS” then “Our History.”

Not affiliated with a particular council? Don’t know which council is currently yours? Not a problem. Go to the GSUSA Council Finder page and click on any state.

You should arrive on a page that looks like this:

It has a nice history of the Girl Scout movement. It is concise, and more info is available through a link. I like the photo of Juliette Gordon Low with an early troop and her personal flag.

But at the moment you’re looking at a council website, not GSUSA. Do you see any council history? It does not have to be lengthy, Southwest Indiana, for example, adds a paragraph specific to them following the national history:

I’ve found very little local history on council sites.

If your selected council has a museum, its hours and specifics are probably listed. There may be a sentence or two with information for prospective researchers. There might be a sentence that specifies the year in which that council was created. But wait … something is missing.

About 90 years of history.

Do you see anything about Girl Scouting between 1912 and 2008? Anything about the Realignment program or at least a list of the legacy councils that combined to create the current council?

Cue the crickets and try not to fall into that gaping chasm.

Illustration 95575932 © Orlando Florin RosuDreamstime.com

Only One Shade of Green

Beginning in 2015, GSUSA’s Customer Engagement Initiative standardized council websites. As someone who frequently visits websites of multiple councils, I find it very easy to navigate. I imagine it is cost effective for councils as well.

But I’ve noticed a troubling change in content in the past few months. Most council sites have a history page with the exact same three paragraphs on the history of the movement. I can see where that would be useful to introduce Girl Scouts to non-members.

But what happened to council histories? If there is a page or even a paragraph on council history, I cannot find much beyond the date the council was created. Where have all the legacy councils gone? It is difficult to even find the name of a legacy council--those 300+ councils consolidated into 112 a decade ago.

Instead, council descriptions enumerate counties covered today. Again, useful information, but only part of the story.   There is a gaping chasm in history between 1912 and 2008. 

I contacted GSUSA with this question and was told that councils have complete control over the content of their site. Really?

What about this statement, which was included in the 2017 Stewardship Report?

GSUSA, 2017 Stewardship Report, p. 34.

Take a closer look at the third line from the bottom:

…we introduced a standard set of national content covering our history and program as well as consistent branding…

GSUSA, 2017 Stewardship Report, p. 34.

Is the intent here to provide national history in lieu of council history?

I’m not suggesting a great conspiracy here, perhaps it is just confusion. Perhaps councils did not get the memo saying that they could add their own history content?

If not, GSUSA should send it again. Councils should ask.

Listening to the Past
Brownie Try-It, 1989-2011

Girl Scouts has a rich history across the movement. History that is rich in breadth and depth.

It is time we stop erasing the board every time new leadership arrives.

Sorry folks, but history does not begin with you--but you surely can end it.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

12 thoughts on “Blank Spots and Black Holes

  1. Thanks Ann. This needed to be said. Farthest North Council is not a part of this national blending of identity and we maintain our own website. Local control and council uniqueness are being lost and it only starts with the council website. Tip of the iceberg.

  2. Have you spoken to the folks who manage GSCNC’s website? I do believe they have an *excellent* Archives & History Committee. 😉

  3. Very well said! Arizona Cactus Pine Council has been pursueing it’s local history for over 20 years. Maybe this comment well encourage others to investigate their uniqueness.

  4. I need to go check OUR GS of Kentuckiana History page too. It’s so important to share our history, for the girls now and of the future. I’m so glad you have let us know about this.

  5. Before GSHPA was combined I was part of a large Archives committee with Penn Laurel GSC. When GSHPA was established, we where made to disband and throw out a huge collection, and I mean huge! Luckily one of the members who had collected her whole life and donated her collection to the committee, took all her collection back and has it in multiple storage units. Unfortunately they threw out most of all the paper and legacy council items. When this happened we all stepped back and had very little contact with the new council.

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