Senior Interests, Then and Now

Senior Interests, Then and Now

With the re-launch of Girl Scout Mariner and Trailblazer troops planned for 2020, it is a good time to revisit the original programs.

Senior Girl Scouts did not have their own proficiency badges until Interest Projects were introduced in 1980.

Instead, Senior troops concentrated on specific topics, with a particular emphasis on practical training for service roles. Girls earned small service bar pins, with the color indicating the focus.

Starting in 1955, troops and patrols could choose from five concentrations: Trailblazer, Mountaineer, Explorer, Wing, and Mounted. A “General Interest” path was added in 1958. Seniors wore a 3″ green bordered patch to indicate their focus.

The Mariner program, which launched in 1934, remained separate. The Wing program, dating to 1942, was not as popular as the Mariners and flew into the new framework as one of the five.

Personally, I think if the Wing groups had distinct, spiffy uniforms like the Mariners, they would have been more visible and likely more popular.

Based on girl feedback, the Senior program was tweaked in 1960. New interests were added, unpopular ones dropped, and patches slimmed down to 2.25″. Now Mariners were grouped with everyone else although their patch remained blue.

Senior Explorer patches, 1958 (left) and 1960 (right).

The biggest change came in 1963, when more paths were introduced, such as Community Action, Homemaker, and Arts.

Each focus now had a specific color that was used on the border of the emblem, but also on the tie and hat cord of the uniform.

The 1963 Senior Handbook shows girls with many interests.

But unlike the badges earned at younger levels, there was no earned insignia specific to this program. Instead, the large patches were simply an oversized troop crest.

A new set of four interest patches was introduced in 1974 along with a new Senior Handbook, Options.

The book marked the peak of Girl Scout efforts to be mod, hip, and crunchy granola. It practically came with a choker made of love beads and puka shells. Girls regarded the suggested activities, such as “Mysterious Musical Mood” and “Reading for Pleasure and Profit” as childish and condescending.

Finally, take a close look at the design of these patches. See the gold starburst design in the background? That was taken from the earlier special Senior membership pin.

Many troops simply kept using their trusty 1963 handbook and related interest patches.

In 1980, Options was officially declared dead. Few noticed.

An entirely new set of earned recognitions for Cadettes and Seniors (Ambassadors date only to 2008) came with the Worlds to Explore program. The program retained the “interest project” name, although the name changed several times: Interest Project Award, Interest Project Patch, and Interest Project.

The new program also launched a new highest award for Girl Scouts, the Gold Award.

Now, dear readers, take a good look at the images above. Did you ever notice the sunburst design carried through to the current Gold Award design?

Thank you to members of the Facebook Girl Scout historian community for sharing their experiences with these programs.

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

A Brief History of Troop Crests

Troop Crests are some of the oldest official insignia. Originally, each patrol (sub-group) within a troop had a different crest. The first troop in Savannah, for example, had White Rose, Carnation, Red Rose, and Poppy patrols. Over time, crests began to encompass the entire troop.

Original Savannah Girl Scouts (Georgia Historical Society)

Early troops were identified by their crest, not troop number, as in this Washington Post article from 1914.

Clipping from the Washington Post (March 29, 1914).

Similarly, members of this troop were the “Surrey Poppies.”

Washington, DC’s “Surrey Poppies” troop, 1931

In May 1913, Juliette Gordon Low brought a selection of English Girl Guide crests for the earliest American troops to use. The English crests were circles of black felt, embroidered with bright colors and a red border.

The Girl Scouts adopted many of the English crests in 1920. They soon realized that the Blackbird crest was almost invisible when embroidered on black felt. The girls decided to use blue thread instead and renamed it “Bluebird” in 1922.

Chart based on John Player and Sons, Patrol Signs and Emblems trading cards

Traditionally, once girls chose a crest, it was used for the lifetime of the troop.

Excerpt from 1947 Handbook

But there are exceptions to every rule. Estelle Kelso, owner of this uniform, was either in a troop that picked a new crest each year or perhaps she changed troops.

Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and Poppy Crests

Contrary to popular belief, meanings have only been ascribed to crests in recent years. The early crests were all flowers, trees, waterfalls, stars and other non-floral designs came later. Between 1923 and 1930, troops were encouraged to

choose the names of famous women, either from real life or literature, and “build up troop traditions around them. … select women “who have done conspicuous service or pioneer work in professional and scientific fields, or who were associated with our early American life, either in the colonies or in the Westward moving border lands.”

–Blue Book of Rules
Contemporary Troop Crest Meanings, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland

From 1918 to 2011, troops could also design their own crests. They chose images that reflect their interests or perhaps a local landmark or significant culture. The meanings of many, however, are known only to the girls.

Whatever the design, fabric, or official status, crests can always be identified by shape. Crests are oval, all badges are (or were) round. That’s a difference that is easily overlooked by even the best historians. The rare fuchsia crest at right was mis-identified online by the Georgia Historical Society.

Designs have come and gone over the years. In 2011 the oval shape was replaced by a shield shape. Yet some designs have remained nearly unchained for over 100 years.

What new designs will be added in the future?

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

Girl Scout EXPO 2019

The 2019 GSCNC Expo is History!

Green bordered patch reading Expo 2019, Girl Scouts Nation's Capital

The Saturday, November 16, 2019 event was truly one for the record books.

9,000 girls explored the Dulles Expo Center in three-hour blocks. There was singing, archery, tent-pitching relays, robotics, book signings, and, of course, history.

The Archives and History Committee ran a booth with history-themed games. Linda Paulson taught girls how to play “Name that Cookie,” answer council history questions, and match new badges with their vintage counterparts. Girls received a “vintage” patch prize from our surplus. Most were excited to realize that the patch was older than the girl!

History-themed games

The booth also had a collection of Girl Scout dolls and displays about founder Juliette Gordon Low. Our own Susan “Daisy” Ducey posed for photos with girls all day.

Girl Scouts met their “founder,” Juliette Gordon Low (photo by Lisa Jackson)

But the Council History team didn’t settle for just one little old booth. No, not us! We also provided international uniforms on mannequins for another booth.

We proudly watched Archives Program Aide Vivian moderate a presentation.

Archives Program Aide Vivian (left) hosted one discussion session (GSCNC)

We welcomed our own special guest, Margaret Seiler, who told stories about her Great Aunt Daisy. Her presentation helped younger Girl Scouts understand that Juliette Gordon Low was a real person, not just a character in a book.

Last, but hardly least, we organized three vintage uniform fashion shows, one show per session. Ginger Holinka fitted girl (and a few adult) models on the spot, while Julie Lineberry emceed the show. Members of the audience gave special applause for “their” childhood uniforms and came away understanding how uniforms changed in response to fashion trends, war-time shortages, new fabrics, and the need for girls to move, move, move.  

The Committee owes a deep debt to Lisa Jackson and Dena McGuiggan Baez, leaders who found replacement uniform models when others dropped out at the last minute. They saved the show!!

The last Council Expo was held in 2006. Many people have asked why it took so long to organize another. After Saturday’s experience, I know I will need at least 13 years to recover. But maybe I’ll pencil another one in on my calendar, just to save the date.

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

Do You Know These Badges?

It doesn’t happen very, but there are a few Council’s Own badges that I can’t identify.

I list them in the “Mysteries” section of my online archive of these delightfully quirky badges. They are the elusive unicorns of the Girl Scout world.

Here’s your Friday challenge: Can you identify these badges?

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

Can anyone help me track down these badges?

Note: None of these are for sale.

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

To the Moon, Girl Scout!

Where were you when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon? You’ve probably been asked that question and heard many answers today, as we mark the 50th anniversary of that event.

Out of the blue, I received the following memory today from Lisa Wilson:

In the summer of 1969 my best friend, Jane Conable, and I were 12 year old campers at May Flather. It was our first time sleeping in a platform tent, eating (and cleaning up!!) in a mess hall, and searching for snakes along wooded trails. It was also our first and only time getting woken up in the middle of the night to sit around the campfire circle gazing into the cool blue light of a black & white TV set that had been connected to an outlet via a long, LONG extension cord so that us privileged “older” campers could watch the moon landing live. We had to watch in total silence so as not to wake the younger campers and that spectacular silence still rings in my ears today whenever I think about Apollo 11. The juxtaposition of nature and technology was breath taking.

The first Star Gazer badge was introduced in 1920. Since then, astronomy and space science badges have been created for nearly every age level.

The years of encouragement have paid off.

GSUSA CEO Sylvia Acevedo credits her Brownie leader with fueling her interest in space. That interest led to a degree in engineering and job with NASA. (Read about her career in her book, Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist.)

Nearly every female astronaut has been a Girl Scout, a fact that led NASA to create this splendid poster:

NASA: The Path to High Adventure Begins with Scouting
NASA: The Path to High Adventure Begins with Scouting

This week NASA set a new lunar goal: to return to the moon by 2024, with at least one female astronaut on board.

Chances are, she’ll be a Girl Scout.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Victory! Badge PDFs Are Here!!

This week Girl Scouts of the USA announced the introduction of 42 new badges and one program journey. With topics ranging from cybersecurity and coding to astronomy and high adventure, there are new options for every age level.

But the press release overlooked another major development:

Do you see it? Down at the bottom?

YES!!!!! The day has finally come.

On October 8, 2014, on the eve of the Girl Scout National Convention, I published a blog post, “Let’s Make Downloading Badges Legal.”

I argued in favor of creating official downloadable PDF files for journey program books and individual badge requirements. Specifically:

Let’s be honest and fair and admit that distributing bootleg scans of journey books and badge requirements constitutes theft. It is taking a person’s hard work without paying for it. Go ahead, argue “sharing” and “sisterhood” all you want, but if thieves share stolen goods among themselves, it does not make the theft acceptable. Would you walk into a Girl Scout shop, pocket a handful of badges, and walk out without paying? This is no different.

Let’s resolve to respect authority, including copyright law. The bootleggers know they are breaking the law, which explains why they try to shout down anyone who calls them out with nasty comments and name calling. Do we really have to put labels on every page, photo, design, etc. saying “Not yours. Don’t steal”?

Demand for downloads was obviously high, and I reasoned that many volunteers would come out of hiding and purchase legal copies if given the opportunity.

I also explained why this issue is important to me:

As a writer and editor, words are literally my income. I know that every book has an author, and I know that writing is hard work. Authors deserve to be paid. That is why it really bothers me to see leaders sharing photocopies of badge inserts or websites advertising free downloads of scanned journey books.  (While I don’t get paid to write this blog, it is an opportunity for potential clients to get to know me better.)

Finally, I argued that GSUSA might use PDF fees to recoup some of the lost potential income from leaders who use photocopies instead of purchasing official materials.

I even created a Facebook page called “Girl Scout Publication PDFs Please.” To date over 1,100 people have “liked” the page.

This is just a small step in the ongoing quest for GSUSA to listen to its adult volunteers, and this is merely one step in a long journey.

As this week commemorates the Apollo 11 moon landing, I can’t resist:

PDF Badges: That’s one small step for Ann, one giant leap for Girl Scouts.

©2019 Ann Robertson

The History of Our Own Badges

Regular readers know that I am a HUGE fan of the quirky, obsolete Girl Scout badges known as the Council’s Own. These limited edition badges were designed to add additional topics to the traditional Girl Scouts of the USA badge programs or to highlight resources unique to a particular council.

Their limited production and often very clever designs also have made them highly collectible. But the words “Council’s Own” have become a catch-all phrase randomly applied to a range of unofficial badges, often to increase their selling price.

I’ve fed my addiction by creating a digital archive of these delightful, obscure badges. Since 2014, I have accumulated the name, design, council, and requirements for over 1,500 badges: http://gscobadge.info.

Before including a badge, I have to decide whether or not it meets the definition of a Council’s Own. It can be confusing, because this name is loosely applied to four different programs.

Our Own Troop’s Badge (1958-2010)

The Troop’s Own option was introduced in the 1958 edition of the Intermediate Handbook. The program offered an answer to the many troop scribes who had written to Headquarters with suggestions for new badge topics. There were 12 steps to creating a Troop’s Own, including receiving permission from the program department of the troop’s council. The council approved the topic, but not the actual requirements.

The name of the badge indicated how it was to be earned:

The final requirements and their wording, the badge name, the design, and the actual symbols worn, must be the girls’ own work. While doing all this your leader will help you understand the meaning of badges and what different types of activity should be included.

No other girls in your troop or any other troop can use your work. Even if they choose the same subject, the must create their own requirements and design. It will truly be, “Our Own Badge!”

The topic would be inserted into the badge’s name: Our Troop’s Own Blogging Badge. Troops were asked to submit one badge to Headquarters, but that was for reference only.

Selection of Our Own Troop’s Badges

Leaders were cautioned to step back and let the girls take charge. “If we do these things for girls, then they must, in all honesty, call the badge ‘Our Own Troop Leader’s badge’!”

The “Our Troop’s Own” program split with the 1963 program reform. Now the gold-bordered blank badge was for Cadettes, and a new green-bordered one was introduced for Juniors. The May 1966 issue of Leader features a lengthy article about a Girl Scout troop in the Sudan that decides to create their own badge to learn more about their host country. (Sadly there is no photo of this badge!)

I’ve included some Troop’s Own in my digital archive, as they are extremely difficult to identify. Sadly, their requirements were often discarded when troops disbanded.

Our Own Council’s Badge (1980-2011)

The Worlds to Explore program of the 1980s added an Our Own Council’s Badge. GSUSA described this program as:

Innovative and educationally sound projects developed by the council, to make use of special topics of interest or unusual opportunities and resources within the council or to utilize the rich opportunities provided by council camps.

These badges were developed by adults; typically council staff. They represented the council as part of the national recognition system and therefore should “be developed by people representing a broad spectrum of the council,” according to 1990 GSUSA guidelines.

Most Council’s Owns focused on a specific topic, but a few were tied to a specific event, such as the 1982 World’s Fair (left) and the eruption of the Mount Saint Helen’s volcano in 1980.

Blank Badges Used for “Our Own” Badges

The border colors indicate the year the blank badge was issued, it is not related to the colors of the five worlds. Gold borders were used for COs, green for TOs. When the Worlds program phased out, each age level had one border color for all of their badges, including Troop’s and Council’s Owns.

Make Your Own Badge (2012-2014)

Under the Girl Scout Leadership Experience model, the Our Own options were replaced by a Make Your Own option. The program was discontinued after three years. Members considered the one-off, screen-printed badges to be expensive and unattractive. Plus, they were intended to be for one girl only, but leaders were creating them for entire troops. Guidelines for the program noted:

An important part of the Make Your Own badge is what girls find out about their own learning styles as they created a personalized plan to build a skill. If a girl does a badge designed by another girl, she doesn’t have this chance to learn about herself.

Make Your Owns did not need design or requirement approval from GSUSA, Councils, or even troop leaders. I do not track these in my digital archive.

When a CO Isn’t a CO

Girls and leaders today are demanding badges beyond those offered through GSUSA. Headquarters has responded with Girl’s Choice’ badges, robotics, cybersecurity and more.

But there are still patches available that claim to be a Council’s Own. My archive is intended to document official badges and to help Girl Scouts identify unusual badges. I include a list of known “Not-COs” because future Girl Scouts may be curious about a badge seen on many sashes but does not appear in an official handbook or catalog.

I approach this not as the “badge police,” but as an historian seeking accuracy.

Many pseudo-COs are described as remakes of discontinued Council’s Owns. While providers may redesign the badge, they often recycle requirements developed by other people, presumably without permission or payment. That is little different than putting a new dust jacket on an old book and claiming to be the author.

Similarly, badges developed by individuals are not official, no matter what shape they are. The name “Council’s Own” indicates that its content is council approved. It guarantees that these badges reflect the movement’s high standards and offer substantive, age-appropriate activities.

There Should Be a Patch for That

There are many quality, but unofficial, programs out there, but let’s use correct terminology. These should be patch programs, because they are not Council’s Own badges. Many councils now offer “Council’s Own Patch Programs,” a phrase that just offers more confusion.

Instead of sending me terse, desist messages about the “flood” of telephone calls from leaders seeking to purchase discontinued Council’s Own badges, perhaps councils should take the hint that there is a demand for quality recognitions on these topics. Yes, they could MAKE MONEY by turning these old badges into patch programs.

Some councils have made this change. Many more should consider it.

©2019 Ann Robertson