National Girl Scout conventions are held every three years. These include keynote speakers and an extensive exhibition hall, but the primary event is the National Council session. The National Council is the governance body for Girl Scouts of the USA. Councils send delegates to the meeting where they will elect the national board of directors and vote on proposals to modify or expand Girl Scout programs.
The 1960s began with a bang, as the Girl Scouts celebrated its 50th birthday in 1962.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s talk about the administrative structure of Girl Scouting!!
Whenever I give talks about Girl Scouting, I quickly realize that the audience does not understand how councils relate to our national organization, Girl Scouts of the USA.
Let me put on my political scientist hat and explain. I’ll explain the structure first, then look at examples of recalcitrant councils of the past.
Girl Scouts is not a monolithic corporation. The councils are not subsidiaries of GSUSA, but independent 501(c)(3) companies governed by separate boards of directors.
Federated National Movement
The more accurate description is a federated national movement. These are:
characterized by autonomous local member organizations that share a common purpose, mission, and history and that have joined together under the auspices of a national organization that articulates this mission at the national level and provides leadership for the movement.
Dennis R. Young, “Local Autonomy in a Franchise Age: Structural Change in National Voluntary Associations,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 18, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 104.
Federated organizations, especially multi-site nonprofits, tend to suffer from tensions between national offices and affiliates, which vary in degree and intensity but rarely vanish entirely.
If poorly managed, they suffer from uneven performance among local organizations, costly administrative duplication, and cumbersome national offices that deliver insufficient value.
However, the more accurate description of the relationship between GSUSA and councils is an asymmetricalfederation: power is distributed between headquarters and councils, but not equally. GSUSA holds the ultimate trump card—the council charter. Without a charter, no group can legitimately claim to be part of Girl Scouting.
The national organization, Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) grants charters to local councils, typically for three years at a time. In return, local councils become the designated, sole providers of Girl Scouting in a specific geographic area. Councils use the official name, logo and other branding elements, to participate in national product sales, and to sell the uniforms, handbooks, badges, and other insignia developed by the national office. They also may send delegates to the National Council, the main governing structure, which meets every three years.
Councils, in turn, must adhere to administrative, program, and camping standards set by GSUSA. If a council ignored the national guidelines, such as admitting boys, its charter could be revoked or renewed on a probationary, year-by-year basis.
The GSUSA “Blue Book” contains the organization’s Constitution, Bylaws, Policies, Credentials, the Criteria and Standards for an Effective GS Council, and the Congressional Charter granted in 1950.
A Girl Scout council charter is issued by the National Board of Directors of Girl Scouts of the USA to an organization exclusively devoted to the Girl Scout Movement in the United States, granting it the right to develop, manage, and maintain Girl Scouting in a specified area of jurisdiction, which is established by the National Board of Directors, and to call itself a Girl Scout council. A Girl Scout council charter is issued for no more than four years.
Council without Charters
By definition, charter revocations redraw council boundaries. The dissolved council–including its members, assets, and debts–will be absorbed by one or more neighboring councils. Action may be taken on a case-by-case basis, such as councils in financial peril, or toward dozens of councils, such as during a campaign to redraw (or realign) all council borders.
Given the profound impact of a charter revocation, they are a rare, out-of-other-options, action. It would be highly unusual for GSUSA to revoke the charter of a financially stable council, for example. Instead, they would likely be invoked for violations of national policies that could have a ripple effect across the movement.
I won’t go into further detail here about revocation versus non-renewal, as the outcome is the same. (For a deep dive, explore the Girl Scout Governance site.)
As this site explores history, let’s look at how councils resisting the Council Coverage program were disciplined.
In 1945 the GSUSA board of directors authorized the “Council Coverage” program to create a seamless network of councils spanning the entire country. Existing councils could be expanded geographically or consolidated into a larger, new unit to combine human, financial, and property resources to provide better, more consistent services for girls. The consolidation program, popularly known as the “Green Umbrella” movement, lasted nearly 20 years, ending officially in 1963 with 696 councils.
While the “Green Umbrella” name suggests welcoming fellow Girl Scouts into the efficient, protective arms of professional staff, many volunteers did not see it that way. They believed they had been running their local councils just fine, thank you, and did not want a distant national organization butting in on local affairs.
To prevent GSUSA from seizing local camps and properties, some councils took extreme actions. Such as divesting
themselves of properties and transfer[ing] them into citizens’ trusteeships so that if they are forced to join in a district council, they can withdraw from National Girl Scouting and remain an organization on their own.
Council-owned property was a particular sticking point; local citizens had built and funded local camps, and they did not want to turn them over to outsiders. At least 20 councils chose to affiliate with the Camp Fire Girls instead.
Thank you, but we’ll pass.
Even more problematic, the Council Coverage program was not optional. Dissenters could end their affiliation with the Girl Scouts, but they could not take assets with them.
The unilateral mandate was not well received, and the program was reviewed at the 1957 National Council Session. Delegates passed a motion that gave councils the right to present their concerns to the National Board of Directors before a final decision on combining councils.
We are not against council coverage as plan, but we object to the compulsion here.
Virginia Schoof, “Delegates Vote Council Plan for Scout Units,” Philadelphia Inquirer (November 15, 1957).
Among the unhappy campers, the Mount Vernon (Illinois) and Donora (Pennsylvania) Councils sought to preserve their independence through the judicial system.
Donora Council, located near Pittsburgh, served just the city of Donora. Plans were to combine it with the surrounding Allegheny County council and nearby community. Donora’s president appeared before the National Board’s Executive Committee on September 20, 1962. The Committee rejected Donora’s case and pulled its charter. The council filed suit, demanding that GSUSA explain its decision. The court ruled for GSUSA, but Donora appealed, arguing that National Board should not have delegated National Board Executive Committee to hear their objections, thus the revocation of their charter was not valid. The Supreme Court of New York rejected Donora’s complaint in December 1962. To continue in Girl Scouts, Donora’s 500 members must join the new council.
Mount Vernon, Illinois
Mount Vernon also went to New York to argue its position before the National Board. But GSUSA canceled Mount Vernon’s charter, too. The council filed suit in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Illinois, which issued an injunction that kept Mount Vernon’s charter in place until the lawsuit was settled.
The status of these two councils became an issue at the 1963 National Council session in Miami. With the injunction—and therefore its charter—in place, Mount Vernon’s delegate was admitted to the session. But Donora, whose charter had expired, was denied delegate status. A motion to seat the Donora delegate failed, 1406-1248.
Aware of the mounting tensions around Council Coverage, the president of the Scarsdale, NY, council suggested a proposal for consideration at the 1963 National Council session in Miami:
Remove the disturbing distrust of the national volunteers and staff and the general indignation that is sweeping the country over the threatening nature of the national [leadership] directives.
Mount Vernon ultimately was granted a new charter in 1966. But their victory was short-lived. GSUSA refused to renew that charter, and Mount Vernon ultimately joined Shagbark Council in 1968, as the Council Coverage plan had originally intended.
Donora joined the Allegheny Council, which soon became the Southwestern Pennsylvania Council.
Sometimes the smallest councils make the biggest waves.
Please, never, ever, say “Girl Scouts of America” in front of me. Just don’t.
Why? BECAUSE IT IS WRONG. It falls on my editor-ears like nails on a blackboard.
I am a proud, lifetime member of theGirl Scouts of the USA, not some rogue “Girl Scouts of America” group. If you want to be ultra correct, it is Girl Scouts of the United States of America. That is the name printed on our Congressional Charter.
Prior to that document, the formal name was “Girl Scouts, Inc.” That name was used when the movement incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1915. That’s how it appeared on early versions of the Girl Scout Constitution and By-Laws. That’s how it appeared on letterhead.
Actually some letterhead from the 1940s uses “GSUSA.” Perhaps that was purchased in advance of the charter announcement?
Please, be accurate. You’d get testy too if someone constantly got your name wrong.
But there’s another, even more important reason. There really was an actual “Girl Scouts of America.”
Journalist Clara Lisetor-Lane insisted that she had created the “Girl Scouts of America” in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1910; two years before Juliette Gordon Low’s first troop in Savannah.
Lisetor-Lane seemed to prefer working on publicity rather than recruitment. Newspapers of the era report her arrival in towns to organize troops, but no membership numbers were given.
Her program would encourage housekeeping and the outdoors. But some behavior was decidedly not for her Girl Scouts:
In June 1911, her Girl Scouts of America, a few self-described “Girl Guides” and the Camp Fire Girls merged to become “Girl Pioneers of America.” The thoroughness of that merger is unclear; reports of the component organizations continued into 1912.
Lisetor-Lane eventually took up other causes. She founded “Crusaders for Decency,” group that promoted “clean literature and films.”
But she never renounced her claim to starting the Girl Scouts.
Lisetor-Lane even crashed the 1924 Girl Scout national convention and challenged Low to met with her. (She didn’t.)
Lisetor-Lane went to her grave in 1960 insisting that Juliette Gordon Low had stolen her idea.
When the Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated its 50th birthday in 1962, the story of Clara Lisetor-Lane was revived in her home town. A few former members came forward and a Des Moines Register article was picked up by other newspapers.
Although Clara certainly would have been pleased by the renewed interest in her organization, I can only imagine her horror if she had seen how it appeared in the Moline, IL, Dispatch.
Much has been written about the legacy of former First Lady Barbara Bush, who passed away on Tuesday, April 17, at age 92. Commentators have noted her unusual position as a wife of one president and the mother of another; many tributes have also mentioned her extensive commitment to literacy promotion.
While in the White House, first ladies are also invited to be honorary president of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Mrs. Bush accepted eagerly and was active in many Girl Scout events. She even attended the 1990 National Council Session in Miami to draw attention to the Girl Scout Right to Read program.
As her neighbor, not just in the White House but also at the Vice Presidential Residence, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital had many opportunities to see and interact with her.
She spoke at the GSUSA 80th birthday celebration on March 12, 1992, held at the US Department of Agriculture atrium. Mrs. Bush helped launch a new national service project that day, “Girl Scouts Care for the Earth.”
An official photograph of the event appeared in the Summer 1992 Leader magazine:
But our council archives have several behind-the-scenes photos from that day. It is delightful to see Mrs. Bush and her friendly, unhurried interaction with a group of very nervous Girl Scouts.
barbara bush 2
barbara bush 1
barbara bush 3
The photograph below is my favorite. I went back to the original to see if there was any additional information, such as the girl’s name and what she is giving to Mrs. Bush. Could that be a sparkly yellow pom-pom SWAP? She seems fascinated by it!
We are fortunate that this busy first lady always made time for the Girl Scouts.
I was so excited by a new item that popped up on eBay earlier this month.
Designated as volume 1, number 1, The Girl Scouts’ Rally Bulletin is the public record of the first national convention, which was held in Washington in 1915. It was compiled by Edna Colman, the local commissioner.
This 32-page booklet includes highlights from troops across the country, including Washington. It also has a uniform price list (hats, $1.25; middy blouses, $1.75, etc.), and the names and addresses of troop leaders from every state.
The Nation’s Capital council archival holdings are surprisingly thin on the early history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC. While council consolidation has brought the records of many legacy councils into a central location, our historical records are scattered across multiple sites. It takes some ingenuity, detailed searching, and sometimes pure luck, to track down information about our earliest days.
The main problem is that our early history is so closely entwined with that of the national movement. The first troops in and around the District of Columbia were managed out of the Munsey Building, where Juliette Gordon Low established the first national headquarters in 1913. Records from those years are more likely to be found at the JGL Birthplace or the First Headquarters in Savannah.
After national headquarters moved to New York, the national Little House opened in Washington, and the local council rented one room of the house to use as its headquarters. When the Little House closed in 1945, some of its files went to New York, but others went to Rockwood, a national Girl Scout camp just across the District of Columbia—Maryland border. When Rockwood closed, its files and fixtures went everywhere … but that is another story.
Surprisingly, some of the best information I’ve found about our early years comes from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa. Lou Henry Hoover’s role in the first years of Girl Scouting cannot be understated, and archivists there have been very generous about scanning documents for me.
Another source, the first Girl Scout magazine, The Rally (1917-20), published a regular column about the Girl Scouts of Washington.
pages from washington scouting news
pages from whos who in washington
But back to eBay. The asking price for this booklet? Nearly $600!! Pardon while I grab the smelling salts. This was a 30-day auction, now ended, and the price was slashed several times. The final price was $299.99. It did not sell.
At first, I was furious. This was highway robbery! Holding our history hostage for a huge ransom! Unfair!
Then I looked closer. The listing included numerous photos of various pages and ended with the statement:
Early enough, very rare and important enough to be a museum piece according to my research. I could not find another one like it. I could only find a PDF version at Girl Scouts University, Girl Scout History & Preservation. RESEARCH IT!
So I did.
The website is still up for Girl Scout University, another promising idea that GSUSA quietly abandoned and allowed to die of neglect.
I downloaded a good-quality PDF that added several new pages to our history.
The thing is, even if I had an extra $300 or $600 sitting around, there is no way I could justify the cost. I see my task as documenting history, not necessarily collecting examples of everything Girl Scout. While it is important to have artifacts that can be held and experienced, we wouldn’t pass around a century-old, original report anyway. We would scan it, lock it away carefully, and work with a copy. Which is exactly what we now have. And it didn’t cost us $300.
A few days after I first saw this auction, I received a priceless donation of original documents from essentially the same time period.
Mrs. Brooke, known as “Texas” to her friends, is a major figure in the history of all Girl Scouting. She was the national president in the 1930s and instrumental in acquiring Rockwood National Center. This mini resume appeared in the April 1983 Rockwood Rally newsletter.
But back to the comment. An “Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks” wrote, “Henrietta Brooke was my great aunt!”
Whew, almost fainted again.
So who is this mysterious Ms. Brooke-Willbanks?
One of my oldest Girl Scout friends!! We were in the same Cadette/Senior troop in Paducah, Kentucky, in the early 1980s.
Elizabeth became a professional Girl Scout, working in councils in Kentucky and Massachusetts, and is still in the non-profit world now.
We both attended the 2011 National Council session in Houston, where we had brunch with our own leaders. They just happened to be in Houston, saw all the Girl Scout signs, and tracked us down.
(If you remember Robin Roberts opening her speech by mentioning that she had just met an adult Girl Scout on her way to brunch with her childhood leaders, that was Elizabeth.)
Yesterday, the International Day of the Girl, the Boy Scouts announced that girls will be able to join Cub Scouts, beginning in fall 2018. BSA will introduce a pathway for girls to earn the Eagle Scout award in 2019.
The new policy, first floated in August, is a response to falling numbers of registered Boy Scouts nationwide. Girl Scouts of the USA (note: we are NOT Girl Scouts of America or GSA) President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan weighed in on the proposed co-ed membership in a letter to Boy Scout President Randall Stephenson:
Rather than seeking to fundamentally transform BSA into a co-ed program, we believe strongly that Boy Scouts should instead take steps to ensure that they are expanding the scope of their programming to all boys, including those who BSA has historically underserved and underrepresented, such as African American and Latino boys.
On Monday, October 9, newly elected GSUSA board member Charles Garcia made his objections clear:
The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” Garcia wrote. “Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA’s senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls.
I’ve just returned from the 54th National Council Session in Columbus, OH, October 4-8, 2017. Every three years the Girl Scouts’ National Council convenes to vote on proposals that affect the entire movement, such as dues and composition of the national board of directors (Garcia was elected to the board in Columbus). While not on the official agenda, the possible Boy Scout change prompted considerable discussion between panels.
Boys have frequently participated in Girl Scout events, especially high-school-age members. Local Senior troops staying at Rockwood National Center might invite boys for an evening of (closely supervised) dancing.
In the earliest years of Scouting in Washington, DC, troops frequently held joint meetings and events. Perhaps the first assembly of all of the Girl Scout troops in Washington was on May 23, 1914, when troops from both movements held an all-day picnic at Wildwood Boy Scout Camp in Takoma Park, MD.
wp 1914 may 24 bsa
wp 1914 may 24
Forty-two years ago, co-ed membership was the main issue at the Girl Scouts’ 1975 National Council Session, held in Washington, DC. The proposal came at a time of dropping membership levels across all youth organizations. Camp Fire Girls had responded by admitting boys aged 14-18 and the Boy Scouts opened Explorers (Venturing) to girls aged 14 to 21 in 1974.
Backers of co-ed membership argued that the presence of boys would help girls develop social skills that would prepare them for the workplace. Critics cited the confidence girls develop in a single-sex environment and pointed out that boys mature more slowly than girls and could not be grouped with same-age girls.
Ultimately, after two hours’ of debate, a voice vote overwhelmingly defeated the motion to admit boys. The issue has not come up for a vote since.
The 1975 convention is also notable for having First Lady Betty Ford participate in the opening ceremony. Since Edith Wilson in 1917, every first lady has been honorary president of the Girl Scouts. While few can appear in person at a convention, they typically send video greetings for the opening session. Melania Trump was conspicuously absent from Columbus. Instead, former first daughters Barbara Pierce Bush and Chelsea Clinton chaired panel discussions.
Researching the debate on boy membership, I was struck by how many press reports quoted Brenda Akers, a 17-year-old Senior Girl Scout from Indiana: “If we need boys to sell the Girl Scouts, we need to re-evaluate our program.”
The Boy Scouts should take Miss Akers’ suggestion to heart.
With the 54th Girl Scout National Conference session convening this week in Columbus, OH, I decided to refresh the look and content of the Girl Scout History Project.
I’ve added links to my other website projects, an archive of Council’s Own badges and a new site with Cookie Patches and Prizes from the past. In early 2018, the site will begin hosting an archive of Leader magazines, the product of a collaborative project among Girl Scout historians. (I’m hosting it temporarily; hopefully, GSUSA will take it over in the future.)
I’m excited to announce a new logo for the website, definitely the most fun part of the transformation:
“Digital Daisy” was designed by an Illustration major from the Savannah College of Art and Design, which gives the image an extra dose of Girl Scout history.
I’d hoped to have patches made to use as SWAPs at the convention, but time ran out. I do have some stickers and business cards.
I’m still not convinced “Digital Daisy” is the best nickname, so suggestions are welcome!
(And yes, I secured permission from GSUSA to use “GS” in the image.)
Saturday, April 8, was the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. The Archives & History Committee always creates a display for the event.
This year we featured vintage adult uniforms and uniform kits. As usual, I visited with so many people that I forgot to take many pictures, but here are a few:
The uniform display was so popular that we had people lining up to take photos with them!
Troops can check out vintage uniform kits for meetings or events. Each kit is a suitcase containing about seven uniforms and handbooks. We have all-age samplers, as well as Brownie, Junior, and Teen kits. We will be adding an adult kit soon.
We were delighted to receive an enormous new donation just a few days before the Annual Meeting. Not only did the donation include many adult uniforms in near-pristine condition, there also were nearly 50 international uniforms from the 1950s.
They came from the family of Janet McIntyre of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Janet had been an active Girl Scout leader beginning in the 1950s. Like many leaders, she accumulated many, many, GS materials over the years, and troops could borrow items, such as these vintage uniforms, for meetings and ceremonies. Janet passed away in June 2015 (age 94). Her children discovered the uniforms as they prepared to sell the house and contacted the council to inquire about donating.
We brought a few of the international uniforms to display at the Annual Meeting as well. This Brownie dress from the Philippines may be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. The hand-embroidered badges are sewn on the waistband. (See next post.)
ar in stella sloat
Committee members also wore vintage uniforms. I picked the Stella Sloat dress from 1968. I think we should bring back gloves.
Council members can check out vintage uniforms to wear for the National Conference Session this October. Contact me if you are interested.
That they understood. The Disney Channel movies are beloved by young women of a certain age. Cheers ensued.
Girl Scouts of a slightly older vintage remember Debbie Reynolds as the face of the Piper Project. Launched at the national convention on October 25, 1966, this three-year program sought to improve retention levels among current Girl Scouts, in part by recruiting more adult volunteers. Reynolds was to shoot a color television spot and film a short movie as part of the adult recruitment effort.
Reynolds explained the role Girl Scouting played in her life in the January 1967 issue of Leader magazine:
All my life I’ve been a Girl Scout, from that day long ago when I first said, “On my honor. … Like so many of us here, I have my mother to thank for one of the finest things that ever happened to me. She was my Girl Scout leader. Today I couldn’t begin to count the many ways Girl Scouting has influenced my life. … But we all know that the true values, the real values of Scouting, have to grow on you. You have to be a Scout long enough for them to take hold and endure. First it’s the fun — the songs and games, the being together with other girls, the belonging! And most of all, the chance to try out for yourself all the adventures in self-discovery Girl Scouting has to offer.
But you and I know that the fun, the games, the adventures are only a means in Girl Scouting — a means to a most important end. These are the tools we use to help girls grow into happy and resourceful citizens …
This doesn’t happen in a day, or in a year, or maybe not even in two of three. For that reason Girl Scouting should be a special ingredient in the lives of girls — seven through seventeen. And it can … That’s why I’m a Girl Scout leader.
Reynolds carried on her family tradition by leading a troop for her daughter, Carrie Fisher. While numerous Girl Guide organizations around the world can claim a princess or two as members, only GSUSA can claim Princess Leia as one of their own.
I don’t think I can add much to Reynolds’ comment. Girl Scouting is cumulative. The longer you’re a member, the more you get out of it. Perhaps the most fitting tribute would be for today’s leaders to take a deep breath, remember the year’s best moments, and commit to another year working with girls.
You never know which of today’s Brownies will grow up to save the galaxy from evil.