Starting with Edith Wilson in 1917, every first lady of the United States has accepted the invitation to be honorary national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Other youth leadership groups do not have similar status at the White House, and Mrs. Wilson’s patronage lent tremendous respectability and legitimacy to the movement, which was only five years old when she accepted the honorary position.
But after a century, the prestigious tradition apparently has been tossed aside.
Honorary President is not a demanding job. Typical duties include issuing a statement marking Girl Scout anniversaries, greeting invited groups at the White House, and recording a video message for delegates to national conventions. There usually is a photo call to kick off cookie season or to congratulate super sellers. Girl Scouts have help advanced a First Lady’s platform, such as literacy, healthy eating or exercise.
In return, the Girl Scouts receive tremendous free publicity, citizenship education, and access to a range of role models.
But times have changed.
The Girl Scouts had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship with Melania Trump’s White House office. Staff reached out to the White House to see if Mrs. Trump would be interested, and apparently they were told she would not. To avoid embarrassment and awkwardness, no further inquiry was made.
What about Dr. Biden? No official statement has been made regarding the honorary position. To prepare for a March 1 presentation on Girl Scouts and the White House for the National First Lady’s Library, (register here) I turned to GSUSA. Repeated requests for clarification were ignored; ultimately, I was told that no one would speak with me on the matter.
Unofficial sources, however, report that no invitation was sent to Dr. Biden. Apparently, the consensus now is that an honorary national president needs qualifications beyond simply being the wife of the president. These new qualifications, however, have not been specified, to my knowledge.
It is reasonable to want an honorary leader who is well educated, public-service oriented, and an advocate for girls and women. Being a former Girl Scout would be a bonus.
First Lady Jill Biden more than fits these criteria. She can do the job–she was a regular advocate for the Girl Scouts as “Second Lady” during the Obama administration.
And if there is still question about Dr. Biden’s suitability, why not ask Vice President Kamala Harris?
We must carry forward with the legacy built by past honorary presidents.
As the self-proclaimed premier leadership organization for girls, it is time for GSUSA to stop sulking, step forward, and demonstrate the resilience that we try to instill in girls. One First Lady rejected us. Seventeen didn’t. Don’t let one person sever the ties built over a century between the Girl Scouts and the White House.
Please ask Dr. Biden to be honorary president of the Girl Scouts of the USA. I doubt she’d turn down an invitation.
She already has her own uniform.
Views expressed here are my own and may not necessarily be shared by anyone else.
© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian