Last week I asked why First Lady Jill Biden had not been asked to be honorary president of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

I’ve had many insightful comments that raised additional questions.


Has the whole “first lady” thing become outdated? Perhaps. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff might have something to say on gender-specific job descriptions. Would it be better to simply seek a “patron” in the White House?

Why Keep the Honorary Position?

It may be a quaint concept, but there are obvious advantages to having friends in high places. The status is unique–the first lady has no similar formal connection to Campfire, the American Heritage Girls, or other girl-centric youth organizations.

Access to the White House offers tremendous free publicity and provides unique opportunities for Girl Scouts. When the Obamas hosted the first-ever campout on the White House lawn in 2015, flattering images flew across social and traditional media. That night was a memory-of-a-lifetime event for the girls. Even the thunderstorm that sent the girls into the Old Executive Office Building was just another part of the adventure.

first ladies, Girl Scout History Project


I regularly point to the fragility of institutional knowledge at Girl Scout National Headquarters. The revolving door at HQ facilitates lapses and mistakes are repeated instead of resolved. At times, press releases have been factually wrong. Not vague, not misconstrued, but downright absolutely no hesitation about it WRONG.

In fact, the 2009 announcement that Michelle Obama had accepted the honorary presidency was factually incorrect.

first ladies, Girl Scout History Project Michelle Obama National Honorary President of Girl Scouts of the USA

NO!!!! This is sooo embarassing!

First Lady Edith Wilson became the first honorary national president in 1917. There were THREE honorary presidents–and twelve years–before Lou Henry Hoover.

Did anyone think to fact check?

CEO Roulette

First ladies serve four-year terms–possibly eight. In Girl Scout terms, that is a phenomenally long tenure.

SIX GSUSA CEOs have flown in and out of the national headquarters since 2009. It’s a wonder national staff even remember the first lady tradition.

first ladies, Girl Scout History Project

Until there is stability at the top, traditions are not the only things that will be lost.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Banner photo: First Lady Pat Nixon greets Cadette Girl Scouts at national headquarters in 1969.

4 responses to “Further on First Ladies”

  1. Mary Gibbs Manwaring Avatar
    Mary Gibbs Manwaring

    The Girl Scouts need to have an officially paid historian too & I nominate you!

  2. I don’t have any insight into why there is such rapid turnover at the top of Girl Scouts. Is it a terrible job? Bad pay? Weird Board of Directors? Lack of unified vision? What do you think the problem is?

  3. Girl Scouting is still in the midst of an identity crisis which began with the poorly planned and executed 2007-2009 merger plan. Since then, while trying to normalize we have lost touch with our traditions and the core of our existence. It is the strength of that core, the knitting together of those traditions that allow an organization to stretch and innovate without breaking apart.

    The CEO job is big, complicated job – part manager, part herder of cats, part luminary, part enforcer, part keeper-of-the-traditions, part vision planner. At other times, we’ve had numerous short-lived CEOs that gave rise to the strong, organizational altering stewardship of folks like Jane Deeter Rippin, 1919-1930 and Frances Hesselbein, 1976-1990. In 110 years we have seen 23 women in the executive leadership role, only five served for 10 or more years. Nearly half served for less than 4 years with the largest cohort of six serving for just 1 year.

    We have the ability to right the ship and keep the wheels on the rails but history tells us we need a woman of particular skill and commitment to do so. Is Bonnie Barczykowski up to it? Time will tell.

  4. Someone writing the piece probably read their background material too fast then stopped researching. Hoover became First Lady AND thus Honorary President for GSUSA in 1929.

    Lou Hoover‘s story is such a great part of the Girl Scout history.

    The White House Historical Office wrote a piece on her in December. It has a line in it that EVERY First Lady has been asked. : /

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