How do we keep Senior Girl Scouts from dropping out? That question has topped meeting agendas since the Senior age level was created in 1938. (Ambassador Girl Scouts didn’t exist until 2008!)
Senior Girl Scouts take center stage in the current display at the Nation’s Capital council headquarters, with a look at older-girl programming over the years.
The Senior Story
Early Girl Scout troops had just one program level, which included girls 10–17 years old. Soon their younger sisters wanted to join, and high-school aged girls wanted new, age-appropriate activities.
In 1938 three separate age levels were created: Brownie, Intermediate, and Senior. Each level had a unique uniform, handbook, and program. Seniors did not earn badges; instead, they focused on other recognitions, including ones for specific types of service.
Senior Girl Scouts also had their own membership pin, designed to look like the popular sorority pins of the 1930s and 1940s.
Senior Service Scouts
During World War II, many girls aged 15-18 became “Senior Service Scouts,” a new civil defense-oriented program that emphasized skills for the home front, providing child care, transportation, communication, shelter, clothing, and food in emergency situations.
The Senior Service Scouts wore a special red patch on their regular uniform and a dark green hat with the bright red S-trefoil emblem.
In the post-war era, Senior Girl Scout troops concentrated on a particular field that often exposed them to career possibilities. Over a dozen program areas were introduced before 1970.
Mariner Girl Scouts
The Mariner program was by far the most popular of these older-girl groups, particularly given the number of waterways in the Washington DC region. Mariners were easily recognizable in their striking blue nautical-style uniforms. Members expanded their swimming and camping skills with lessons in sailing and “seamanship” during the school year to prepare for a two-week sailing trip in the summer. Before the national program launched in 1934, individual troops across the country had created their own variations, including “Sea Scouts” and, in Birmingham, Alabama, “Mermaids.”
Wing Girl Scouts
Wing Scouting grew rapidly, although it never eclipsed Mariners, perhaps because they did not have a distinctive uniform of their own. Wing Scouts spent their meetings learning about aeronautics. Most of their time was ground-based instructions, but many troops managed to spend a few hours in the air, even if it was aboard a commercial flight. Washington-based Troop 492, a Wing troop comprised of African-American girls, was featured in the news several times.
Mounted Troops rode horses. During the 1950s, the largest Mounted Troop on the east coast was Fairfax Troop 40. Troop members rode the Appalachian Trail during summer 1954.
Senior troops could focus on specific interests, including sailing, horseback riding, hiking, international friendship, the arts, and more. Girl uniforms indicated their troop’s concentration.
The Girl Scout Hospital Aide program had been developed in 1942 in response to the drop in civilian health care workers. Girls wore green pinafores and their duties were similar to the better known Candy Striper programs that began two years later. Without the additional equipment needed for Mariner and Wing programs, many troops opted to work in hospitals, providing hundreds of hours of service. The program proved so popular, that the national organization had to issue strict guidelines for volunteer training, orientation, and assignments. Specifically, Girl Scouts could not be assigned to work in adult wards. Instead, they were to work with children; assemble, decorate, and deliver food trays; sew gowns and dressings; and clerical work.
Other Aide Programs
Similar Aide programs followed in the coming years, including Farm, Child Care, Library, Museum, Occupational Therapy, Office, Program, and Ranger. (Personally, I was an office aide at my council office during high school. That’s not me in the photo!)
By 1980, the From Dreams to Reality program replaced the service bars.
GSUSA began to update uniforms for all age levels in 1970, starting with Seniors. These high schoolers were still wearing the two-piece skirt suit introduced in 1960. Girls had quickly nicknamed the suit the “Stewardess uniform,” but the flight attendants had already moved on to trendier styles. Seniors themselves had their own ideas about a uniform; they wanted pants—and mini-skirts, too.
After considering suggestions, designs, and even samples sent by girls, GSUSA opted for a loose A-line dress that buttoned up the front. The options included pants and a distinctive belt.
The most notable feature of the uniform dress was the hemline—or, rather, the lack of one. After endless debates among focus groups and survey responses, GSUSA gave up trying to settle on the appropriate length. The dress was sold unhemmed, with a hang-tag reading: “The Official GS Uniform with the Unofficial Hemline.” If girls wanted mini-skirted uniforms, Headquarters seemed to say, let parents deal with the matter. Since many Senior Girl Scouts were accustomed to sewing their own clothes, they easily turned the new dress into a short tunic (or mini-skirt) to be worn over the new pants. Just how many ditched the pants once out their front door is unknown.
For more about these programs, see the marvelous Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum.
© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian