A Brief History of Girl Scout Troop Crests

Girl Scout 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.

Eighteen original Girl Scouts in uniform
Original Savannah Girl Scouts (Georgia Historical Society)

Pansies and Sunflowers

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

Newspaper clipping about Washington DC Girl Scouts in 1914
Clipping from the Washington Post (March 29, 1914).

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

Group of young women, many in Girl Scout uniforms from 1931
Washington, DC’s “Surrey Poppies” troop, 1931

Girl Guide Influence

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 patrol 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.

Girl Guide patrol crests embroidered birds and flowers
Chart based on John Player and Sons, Patrol Signs and Emblems trading cards

Once a Rose, Always a Rose?

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

Five early Girl Scout troop crests described in handbook
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, white rose and red rose Girl Scout troop crests on early Girl Scout khaki uniform
Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and Poppy Crests

Contrary to popular belief, meanings have only been ascribed to troop 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
Chart depicting contemporary Girl Scout troop crests and their meanings
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, troop 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.

Fuchsia flower embroidered on black oval, early Girl Scout troop crest

A Long Tradition

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 unchanged for over 100 years.

What new designs will be added in the future?

White rose Girl Scout troop crest from 1980s
White Rose 1940s
White rose Girl Scout troop crest used from 1963 to 2011.
White Rose 1963-2011
contemporary white rose Girl Scout troop crest
Contemporary White Rose

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Lion Brothers: Behind the Badge

Quick question: Which of these GSUSA ID strips was made in the USA?



Answer: the one on the right. The left strip, with the red, white, and blue shield, was made in China.

Girl Scout badges and fabric insignia have been manufactured by Lion Brothers of Baltimore, Maryland, since the 1920s. Lion Brothers also makes badges and embroidered logos for the Boys Scouts, various branches of the military, university and professional sports teams, and NASA.

Lion helped GSUSA transition from sewn-on insignia to iron-on products in 2003 and produces the Make Your Own badges.

patches, badges
Lion distributed these patches at the 2014 Girl Scout Convention in Salt Lake City.

Lion was founded in 1899 but nearly shut down two years ago. In 2013 the US Customs and Border Patrol Agency, one of Lion’s largest clients, changed its procurement rules from “Made in America” to “Made in America and by trading partners.” According to the Washington Post, that altered wording allowed the government to change manufacturers. Lion lost a huge chunk of its business. While Lion has its own factory in China, it is used for professional sports jerseys and university logo-wear, not the intricate designs of uniform badges.

Lion CEO Suzy Ganz laid off workers and stopped production lines. But rather than surrendering to the changed market, Ganz adapted. She received help from the Mid-Atlantic Trade Adjustment Assistance Center to revamp her US factories, turning them into high-tech “micro-facilities.” Then the Girl Scouts stepped in.

Lion Brothers CEO Suzy Ganz
Lion Brothers CEO Suzy Ganz

The Washington Post reports that the real turning point for Lion came when “the Girl Scouts agreed to bring all production in China back to the United States.” That vote of confidence helped Ganz secure additional funding and begin hiring again.

Senior Textile Arts badge
My teen troop has been working on their Textile Arts badge and we may tour Lion to learn about commercial embroidery.

I’ve heard many leaders complain about the redesigned ID strips, calling them a scheme to suck more funds out of our pockets. I don’t think that is a fair accusation.

Just because a newer version of our insignia has been issued does not mean that you have to immediately rip the old one off a vest and rush out to buy its replacement.

But if you are buying the new strip, perhaps for a newly bridged Brownie or Junior, keep in mind that you’re buying American again, helping a small, woman-run company survive and provide jobs here at home.

Preserving Our Story in Our Own Ways

The Second Annual “Girl Scout Antiques Road Show” took place on Saturday, April 5, alongside the Nation’s Capital Annual Meeting.

Following the theme of “Preserving Our Story,” members of the GSCNC Archives and History Committee brought scrapbooks, quilts, and other unofficial items created to preserve their unique Girl Scout experiences.  Delegates and guests were encouraged to bring their own Girl Scout memorabilia to share.

Committee member Julie Lineberry (second from right) identifies an old Girl Scout publication.
Committee member Julie Lineberry (second from right) identifies an old Girl Scout publication.

 

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https://www.dropbox.com/sc/isifmam9eadwwll/apKiuOz10G
The authentic Girl Scout bugle was a big hit.

Denise Tomlin explains her bugle technique.
Denise Tomlin explains her bugle technique.

We also enlarged selected photos from the many scrapbooks in our collection that are too fragile too display.

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If you didn’t make it to the Archives exhibit at the Annual Meeting, you can still see many of these items on display at the Council office at 4301 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC.

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We hope to see you in 2015!