For All Girls: Native American Girl Scouts


Native American culture has long been part of youth organizations in the United States. The Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, and YMCA Indian Guides and Princesses placed a generic form of “Indian lore” at the center of their program. Uniforms and insignia were said to be derived from Indian traditions.

The Girl Scouts also embraced Native American culture, but the movement never incorporated Native motifs in its uniforms, structure, or vocabulary. Instead, emphasis was placed on developing the Native American girl. A Girl Scout troop was established at the Onondaga reservation, near Syracuse New York, as early as 1921—before the Girl Scout movement’s 10th anniversary.


Girl Scouts for Native Americans

photo of middle-aged white woman in 1930s Girl Scout uniform and hat
Henrietta Bates Brooke

Readers may recognize the name Henrietta Bates Brooke (Girl Scout national president, 1937–1939) for her key role in acquiring Rockwood national camp.

But she was also deeply interested in the welfare of Native Americans. She chaired the Washington DC chapter of the Association on American Indian Affairs. She persuaded leaders of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to establish Girl Scout troops at the various residential Indian schools across the United States. In her autobiography, Mrs. Brooke argued that “the friendships and skills of scouting might prove a valuable help in their final adjustment.”

The first residential troop was established at the Indian Boarding School in Pawnee, Oklahoma, in 1930. Six years later, 1,200 Native American girls across 17 states were registered as Girl Scouts.

Thomas Indian School NY 1934
Girl Scouts at Thomas Indian School in New York 1934

The controversial Indian Residential School Program used coercive, even violent, techniques to rid their students of their “savage ways” so they could become productive members of mainstream [that is, White] society.

What, exactly, was the “adjustment” sought by Mrs. Brooke? Many early accounts mention using Girl Scouts to help assimilation.

“The modern Indian girl is faced with the necessity of making the difficult transition from the old Indian way of living to a modified form of our own civilization.”

Leader (May 1932)

But my preliminary research suggests that the Girl Scouts may have subtly pushed back against some aspects of the residential school concept.

While remote residential schools kept their students away from local children their own age, residential Girl Scout troops often interacted with local community troops.  

“Their joint meetings with other troops of the city and invitations to participate in picnics brought a real feeling of sisterhood between them and the other Girl Scouts. They were proud of being Girl Scouts, of doing their part, and of being able to bring to other troops contributions from their own tribes.”

Leader (June 1939)

Four residential girls and their troop leader attended a White summer camp near Roswell NM in 1930. While the visitors were shy at first, they soon were teaching beading techniques to other campers.

In 1938, a Cherokee Girl Scout, Mayme Thompson, was part of a five-girl delegation selected to visit Our Chalet, the international Girl Scout/Girl Guide center in Switzerland.

The Girl Scouts organized residential summer camps for troops based at the residential schools, beginning in Oklahoma in 1933. This was a new option. The residential schools did not allow students to return home during summers; instead, they were sent away to be farm hands and housekeepers, with their “wages” generating income for the schools.

Reports about these camps suggest that their methods differed from the regimented life at school. Instead of large dormitories, groups of five girls lived in screened cabins, and each day they could select from a range of camp programs. Swimming was particularly popular as few residential schools had swimming pools.

The campers were also allowed to speak their native language, with staff prepared to award Interpreter badges to the girls who helped them communicate with the camp’s Cherokee neighbors.

“Until only recently the speaking of Indian languages has been discouraged in the schools. As a result many of the girls cannot speak the dialect of their tribe. Those of the campers who could, undertook to teach salutations and other short expressions to their fellow tribesmen, to girls from other tribes, and to white staff members.”  

Leader (August/September 1934)

Teaching Girl Scouts about Native Americans

The Girl Scouts offered resources for all girls to learn about Native Americans. Two issues of Leader magazine (May 1932 and August/September 1934) devoted to “American Indian Girl Scouts” sold out completely.  The magazine also offered lists of helpful books written and published by other organizations. While Leader suggested troops learn about Indian designs and plant “Indian gardens,” Indian-themed activities were largely confined to camps. 

One suggested manual, Indian and Camp Handicraft, was noted for its

Yellow and red book cover with Indian symbols

“simplified instructions for constructing 30 projects of special interest to boys and girls at camp. It includes such articles as an Indian wigwam, peace pipes, ceremonial bow and arrows, moccasins, snowshoes, treasure chests, hollow-log birdhouses, each historically authentic and reduced to the abilities and equipment limitations of the average camp.”

three Girl Scout badges with colorful Native American designs
Wood (1938-1963); renamed Indian Lore (1963-1980); Native Peoples of the USA (1980-1994); and American Indian Lore (1987-1997)

Girl Scouts of the USA has offered badges on Native American culture in the past. During the Council’s Own badge era, many councils offered badges focused on native populations in their area.

Collection of Native American themed Girl Scout badges
Collection of Native American themed Council’s Own badges

Cultural Appropriation?

The Girl Scouts have not faced the backlash over cultural appropriation that the Boy Scouts, Campfire, and YMCA have. These organizations have taken steps to tone down their Native American references, with varying degrees of success.

The YMCA voted to retool their Indian Guide and Indian Princess programs into “Adventure Guides” in 2003. The Camp Fire Girls, now simply Campfire, also toned down its claimed cultural references.

Indian headdress on Boy Scout badge
BSA Indian Lore Badge

Boy Scouts have modified portions of their especially offensive Order of the Arrow honors program, but Native American groups say they have not gone far enough. Boy Scouts still offer an Indian Lore badge.

1500x650 gsah header nahm
Native American Heritage Patch

Girl Scouts of the USA has a Native American heritage patch program for November, as do several councils.

Future Research

This post is merely an introduction to a fascinating and under-studied topic: Girl Scouts and the Indian Residential Schools. I look forward to probing deeper and broader—what about Boy Scout troops at the schools? What about troops on reservations? Were summer camps always segregated? How did programming change after the residential school system was abolished? Did Girl Guides have a similar program in Canada?

So many questions!!

The Madeleine Albright Girl Scout Badge

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright inspired a new Girl Scout badge issued in 2000.

Many tributes to Dr. Albright, who passed away on March 23, 2022, have mentioned that she had been a Girl Scout in Czechoslovakia before coming to the United States after World War II. She stayed involved with the organization as an adult, especially while her daughters were school-aged.

Wait … Girl Scout or Girl Guide?

Girl Scout is correct, according to the official history of the movement in Czechoslovakia:

History of Girl Scouts in  Czechoslovakia
WAGGGS.org

A Sister to Every Girl Scout

Madeleine Albright consults atlas as Girl Scouts watch

In August 1999, Dr. Albright welcomed a group from the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and the GSUSA headquarters to her office at the State Department to talk about ways that the Girl Scout program promotes international understanding.

In August 1999, Dr. Albright welcomed a group from the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and the GSUSA headquarters to her office at the State Department to talk about ways that the Girl Scout program promotes international understanding.

The Winter 2000 issue of Leader magazine included an interview with Dr. Albright and an extensive article about the importance of context and cross-cultural understanding to build world citizens.

Fun Fact: All three female US Secretaries of State (Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hilary Clinton) are former Girl Scouts.

The article also announced a new badge for Junior Girl Scouts: Global Awareness. Developed by USA Girl Scouts Overseas, the requirements ask girls to learn about other countries and how they get along with each other.

Global Awareness Badge 2
Global Awareness Badge 2

Multicultural Awareness

The Global Awareness badge is also remarkable for its design. Take a look at the poster image of the badge above. See the skin tone of the arms? Not very multicultural.

Round badge with green border and background arms holding globe
Global Awareness Badges

The badge was recalled and reissued without using any skin tone in the design. The “white arms” version never appeared in the Girl Scout catalog. Now that’s being diplomatic.

Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 2000s

Counting down to the 110th birth of the Girl Scouts of the USA on March 12, 2022.

Pssst: That’s TOMORROW

The Girl Scout movement underwent dramatic changes in the 2000s. While there had been incremental changes to badges, age levels, and council boundaries before, this time sweeping changes were simultaneous.

All initiatives were part of the all-encompassing Core Business Strategy.

Girl Scout Leadership Experience

GSUSA introduced a completely new program curriculum for all age levels. The centerpiece of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience was the Journey–a vaguely defined theme that structured a troop year.

Journey Ladder
Early Visual Aid for Explaining Journeys

Badges seemed to be an afterthought as they rolled out roughly three years after the journeys. The badges looked completely unfamiliar. Designs that traced as far back as 1912, such as Cooking, were discontinued. A key element of historical continuity was lost.

Variations on Girl Scout cooking badge designs
Evolution of the Cooking Badge by Vintage GS Online Museum
Whats  Happening With Girl Scout Badges
What’s Happening With Badges, from GSUSA

Age Levels Redefined

Girl Scout levels by paragraph
Girl Scout levels explained

Program levels were shuffled. First graders became Daisies, not Brownies. Now each level Brownies, Juniors, Seniors, and Ambassadors (a new level for 11th and 12th graders) were shortened from three-years to two, except for Cadettes, which remained three years, to match middle school grouping.

Realignment

The realignment project was designed to consolidate 315 councils into 100.

The Un-uniform

While Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors still had recognizable uniform options, the new dress code for all ages was white polo, khaki bottom (pants, skirts, shorts, etc.) plus a sash or vest.

Girl Scout uniform policy
2008 statement copy
  • 2003 00 cover
  • Girl Scout Uniform Essentials for Every Grade Level 1
  • 2020U 00 cover 2
  • 2009 11

Will the Girl Scouts crumble under all of these changes? Will the movement survive? Stay tuned ….(Spoiler alert: YES).

History by Decade 2000s
History by Decade 2000s

Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 1980s

Next up, Girl Scout history from the 1980s. Five Great Moments from Girl Scout history in the 1980s. How many do you remember?

Daisy Program Introduced

Young girl in blue smock
GSD 1 sketch

Starting in 1984, kindergarten-age girls could become Daisy Girl Scouts. Daisies wore simple blue smocks. They did not sell cookies and did not have earned recognitions. Daisy petals were introduced in 2002, petals in 2011.

Brownie Try-Its Introduced

Before 1986, the only recognitions for Brownies were patches for well-rounded troop years. Fifteen Try-Its were offered the first year, with more to follow. The triangle-shaped Try-Its were designed to be non-competitive and encouraged trying new things. Girls had to complete four of six requirements to earn the recognition.

Chart of Original Brownie Try Its
Original Try Its

Cookie Sales Turn 50

In 1984 Little Brownie Bakers marked the 50th anniversary of commercial cookie sales with a new cookie: Medallions.

Special Girl Scout cookie 50 years
50th Anniversary Cookie, 1984

Thirty-three years later, in 2017, Girl Scouts celebrated 100 years of cookie sales.

White circle patch says Cookie Troop 100
100th Anniversary, 2017

50 + 33 = 83?

Maybe the Math Whiz badge needs to return.

Teen Uniforms Take Preppy Turn

Girl Scout Cadette and Senior uniforms from the 1980s
Cadette/Senior Uniform, 1980s

New uniforms for Cadettes and Seniors (no Ambassadors until 2008) were introduced in 1980. For the first time, both levels shared the same skirt, pants, vest, and sash. They were distinguished by plaid blouses. The Cadette plaid was predominantly green, the Seniors blue. Catalogs described the green pieces as “apple green,” but it was more like Girl Scout guacamole.

I Earned the Gold Award

Robertson Gold Award certificate
Robertson Gold

The Gold Award was introduced in 1980 as the highest award available to Girl Scouts. I volunteered at my local council office, and they handed me the guidelines. Staff said, “We know you’re going to earn it. We’re also going to send every question about the process to you.”

I earned my Gold Award in 1983. Today, I am still mentoring future golden girls as a member of my council’s Gold Award Panel.

History by Decade 1980s
History by Decade 1980s

Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 1970s

Action 70 Patch
Action 70 Patch

Girl Scouts adapted to the rapid changes that transformed US society in the 1970s.

At the 1969 National Council Session, Girl Scouts of the USA committed to creating a membership body rich with religious, racial, ethnic and economic diversity. The first step toward achieving that goal was reaching out to groups that were underrepresented in Girl Scouts.

New Outreach

Staff created specialized recruitment brochures, tailored to Black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian communities. One initiative created a tracking and referral system to keep migrant workers in troops as they follow seasonal work throughout the year.

The Girl Scouts also focused on specific issues, such as pollution, civil rights, and hunger. Teens focused on the US government system when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971.

History by Decade 1970s
History by Decade 1970s

New Program

From Dreams to Reality Patch
From Dreams to Reality Patch

World to Explore replaced the 1963 program model, with five broad categories. The Dreams to Reality program expanded career exploration activities for all age levels.

But in my opinion, two words summarize Girl Scouts in the 1970s: Rockwood and Pants.

(I’m forgoing an opportunity to riff on Rockwood because I want to talk about PANTS.)

New Uniform

The hottest topic at that 1969 meeting in Seattle was uniforms. Responding to waves of requests from girls, GSUSA announced that it would remain a uniformed movement and update girl uniforms.

The most requested item? Pants. Active girls—not to mention their mothers—did not want to sacrifice movement for modesty. The 1973 Girl Scout catalog announced the arrival of PANTS, one option in a new, mix-and-match wardrobe.

Pants are now a permanent staple of the Girl Scout wardrobe. Now, I like pants as much as anybody, but I remain confused about the “uniform separates” idea. Personal choice and expression are fabulous, but “uniform” means identical, right?

definition of uniform
Uniform Definition
JumboShrimp
JumboShrimp

Isn’t the phrase “uniform separates” an oxymoron?

Sigh. On to the 1980s.

Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 1960s

The 1960s began with a bang, as the Girl Scouts celebrated its 50th birthday in 1962.

New handbooks and uniform hats on the cover of the October 1963 Leader magazine.
Leader Magazine, October 1963

One year later, the organization dramatically reimagined age levels, badges, and more. The Intermediate age level split into Juniors and Cadettes in 1963. Intermediate level badges were divided between the two groups, with green borders for Juniors and gold borders for Cadettes.

For the first time in history, new handbooks for all levels were released at the same time. The new books featured a consistent design and were small enough to comfortably fit in a girl’s hand. (A second new-handbooks-for-everyone release came in 2011 with the current Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting, which are the size of the average Daisy.)

Also in 1963, the small councils and Lone Troops in the greater Washington region combined to form the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. The council grew again in 2006 and 2009, adding Frederick County, Maryland, and parts of West Virginia and western Maryland.

Councils before 1963
Councils before 1963
Piper Debbie Reynolds leads a parade of uniformed Girl Scouts
Piper Debbie Reynolds

Actress Debbie Reynolds, an accomplished Girl Scout herself, led the multi-year Piper Project to recruit new members.

Travel opportunities flourished, as well. In 1968, GSUSA purchased 15,000 acres of rugged land in Wyoming to create the first Girl Scout National Center west of the Mississippi River. National Center West hosted thousands of girls for primitive camping, archaeology studies, and horseback opportunities until it closed in 1989.

Collection of yellow oval embroidered patches for the Girl Scout National Center West
National Center West patches from the Vintage GS Online Museum

The World Association for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts opened a fourth world center, Sangam, in Pune, India, in 1966. Traveling troops now had an Asian destination in addition to Our Chalet (Switzerland), Olave House (London), and Our Cabana (Mexico).

The 1969 National Council Session in Seattle, Washington, established the priorities for the 1970s. These included remaining a uniformed movement, creating a membership that reflected society, updating the Promise and Laws, and eliminating prejudice. The Council also approved an increase in annual membership dues, from $1 to $2.

History by Decade 1960s
History by Decade 1960s

Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 1950s

Pages from GSL 1950 10 October
National Volunteer Mary H.S. Hayes with Congressional Charter (Leader October 1950)

The Girl Scouts received a Congressional charter in 1950 and a new name. “Girl Scouts of the United States of America” replaced the “Girl Scouts, Inc.” that had been used since 1915.

Girl Scouting thrived in the 1950s as the post-war Baby Boom meant millions of girls wanting to join. Membership grew from 630,000 in 1940 to 1 million in 1950.

Increasing demand for opportunities led to new programs. GSUSA launched the Green Umbrella campaign to consolidate councils, bring lone troops into the council structure, and streamline program delivery. Officials emphasized the new opportunities that would result, such as additional camp properties and better collaboration among Senior Girl Scout troops.

Three girls in Girl Scout uniforms huddle under a green umbrella
Green Umbrella program patch

GSUSA developed new, narrowly focused programs that would make teen girls want to stay in Girl Scouts, especially the Senior Roundups. (Problems with retaining older girls? Some things never change.)

GSUSA responded to the enormous social changes that accompanied the emerging Cold War and defense buildup. One initiative focused on my hometown, Paducah, Kentucky, and the massive influx of families (and daughters) to work at a new plutonium processing facility.

There were some councils, mainly in the south, that still practiced segregation. But by the 1950s, many began to reconsider their policies and could no longer reconcile segregation with “For All Girls.”

History by Decade 1950s
History by Decade 1950s

in 1955, the Girl Scouts of Washington DC and Montgomery County, Maryland*, desegregated their flagship outdoor property, Camp May Flather, located in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia.

Camp May Flather’s desegregation came one year after the US Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision. It would take another four years before Virginia began to desegregate its public school system.

*The current Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital did not exist before 1963. Instead, the Washington area was dotted with smaller councils, with (almost) each county having its own.

Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 1930s

The Girl Scouts of the USA turns 110 years old on March 12, 2022.

In the 1930s, individual Girl Scout troops began to group together as councils or associations.

Adults worried over how to keep older girls engaged, and GSUSA responded with innovative programming.

High school girls now had their very own membership pin, whose design inspired the Gold Award pin. The successful Mariner program would lead to other challenging programs for Senior Girl Scouts, including wing, horseback, and hospital aide.

The entire organization also began to incorporate civil-defense activities, which would come in handy in the 1940s.

Highlights of Girl Scout history in the 1930s
History by Decade 1930s