The first Girl Scout national convention convened in Washington DC in 1915. Since then, delegates from councils across the United States have met every year (1915-1939), every two years (1941-1957), and now every three years.
“Convention” is a broad name for what happens at these gatherings. There are guest speakers, an exhibition hall, spontaneous singing, organized singing, and forums on a range of enriching topics.
But the most important component is the formal meeting of the National Council, the Girl Scout legislature. Council delegates vote on proposals that will have a significant impact on the Girl Scout Movement.
Significant past proposals include:
1927 Uniform Fabric Changes
Girls complained that khaki uniforms looked too much like military uniforms so a new silver-gray fabric was adopted.
1929 Hoover Plan
Delegates approved an ambitious plan drafted by former national president Lou Henry Hoover. To strengthen the financial base of the national Girl Scout Movement, leaders sought to increase membership to 500,000 girls and adults and raise $3 million in five years
1943 New membership target: “A Million More by ‘44”
Ambitious recruitment drive to sign up girls and adults.
1947 Raise dues from 50 cents to $1
Starting with the 1915 decision to set annual dues at 25 cents, subsequent increases went through the National Council. That pattern continued until 2012, when the National Board of Directors raised dues without taking the matter to the National Council.
1960 New Program Model
An extensive program study by the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center reported that the three-level program no longer reflected the developmental stages of modern girls. GSUSA responded by dividing the Intermediate level (ages 10-13) into Juniors )ages 9-11) and Cadettes (ages 12-14), beginning in October 1963.
1969 Keep Uniforms?
Yes. Girl Scouts would remain a uniformed organization—but the uniforms would be updated to more contemporary styles.
1975 Admit Boys?
Traditional gender roles in the United States were changing in the 1960s and 1970s. Historically all-male universities admitted women, Equal Rights Amendment seeking ratification, Boy Scouts allowed older girls to join Explorer troops.
For the first time, Senior Girl Scouts could serve as national delegates. The national media was particularly interested in their take on the issue and sent numerous representatives to Washington DC, the convention host.
Leader magazine interviewed several girls about their experiences.
Judy Batty (Nassau Council of Girl Scouts, Garden City, NY):
I met Senior Scouts from all fifty states. After evening meetings we’d all gather in the hotel lobby and sing our hearts out. During our free time we’d discuss issues and meetings.
The meeting where boys were the big issue was particularly exciting–lots of media people were there. Magazine and newspaper reporters and television cameramen–covering the Meeting and interviewing delegates. I was interviewed for the ABC News in New York City and Richmond, Virginia!Leader (January/February 1976): 26.
Forty-five years later, the same “Judy” Batty became the interim Chief Executive Officer of GSUSA.
As all Girl Scouts know, the proposal failed. Girl Scouts remains a single-sex organization.
1987 Create Plan to Preserve the History of Girl Scout Movement
Adoption of this proposal led to the creation of the National Historic Preservation Center at National headquarters, a museum, and publication of a reference handbook, the Girl Scout Collector’s Guide in 1987 (revised in 2005).
1990 Gold Award Forever
The Boy Scouts have kept Eagle Scout as their highest rank since 1912. Girl Scouts, however, have had multiple highest awards, including the Golden Eaglet, Curved Bar, and First Class. The various iterations have limited name recognition about the award. The Gold Award was introduced in 1980; 10 years later, the National Council fixed the name in perpetuity.
1993 To God or Not to God
In early 1992 Totem Girl Scout Council, based in in Seattle, announced that its local members could continue to include “To serve God” in the Girl Scout Promise or substitute another spiritual figure such as Allah or the Creator. Council officials made the change after learning that some Southeast Asian and Native American families hesitated to join Girl Scouts and recite this promise because their spiritual beliefs embraced multiple deities.
This did not go over well. GSUSA headquarters ordered Totem Council to drop this idea or risk losing their charter and affiliation with the national organization. But GSUSA’s stated objection was not the content of Totem’s idea, rather its unilateral nature was problematic.
One council of 333 [in 1992] can’t just make this unilateral decision to junk the Girl Scout promise.Bonnie McEwan, GSUSA spokesperson
McEwan explained to reporters that altering the Promise required changing the Girl Scout Constitution. Only the National Council has the authority to amend the constitution. Thus Totem Council requested a vote at the next National Council Session, in October 1993. Meanwhile, God would be included.
After three hours of debate, the National Council, voted 1560-375 in favor of recognizing spiritual diversity. The Girl Scout Promise then read:
The Girl Scouts were not dropping God, but expanding the definition.
Some troops substitute “to serve good” as a neutral alternative.
Changes to the Girl Scout Promise are on the agenda of the 2023 National Council Session, but “God*” remains.
© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian