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.
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.
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.
Age Levels Redefined
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.
The realignment project was designed to consolidate 315 councils into 100.
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.
Will the Girl Scouts crumble under all of these changes? Will the movement survive? Stay tuned ….(Spoiler alert: YES).
Girl Scouts add a new color to their uniforms in October: pink for breast cancer awareness.
Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low died of breast cancer in 1927. She encouraged an active, healthy lifestyle for her girls, but the word “breast” was not used in those days. In fact, Low’s physicians likely never used the term “breast Cancer” even during treatment. Low herself carried on the business of Girl Scouts and hid her worsening health as much as possible.
Breast cancer remained a taboo topic of public conversation for another 50 years. In 1974, First Lady Betty Ford shared her diagnosis and subsequent mastectomy with newspapers and magazines across the United States.
Girl Scouts of the USA slowly began to include age-appropriate information about breast health in its programming.
The 1995 handbook for Senior Girl Scouts (then grades 9-12) discussed conditions that affect women. Anorexia, bulimia, PMS, osteoporosis, and breast cancer were included in a chapter on “Health and Well-Being–Inside and Out.”
The chapter included diagrams of how to conduct monthly self-exams. The companion Leader’s Guide explained that …
Teenage women are at a critical point in their lives, both physically and emotionally. As changes occur in their bodies they may have questions that are hard to answer and might be somewhat embarrassing to ask. … For example, some girls may be reluctant or shy about discussing breast self-examination. The information and illustrations in the handbook, however, may help them to overcome their inhibitions and to realize that this is a health concern all women have.
The Guide for Cadette and Senior Girl Scout Leaders, 1995, p. 42.
A new Women’s Health badge for Cadettes and Seniors followed in 1997. The requirements included breast cancer awareness and encouraged girls to explore the technology behind mammograms.
Some Girl Scouts wanted a badge entirely devoted to breast health. Councils heard the request. The Indian Hills (NY), San Jacinto (TX), and Arizona-Cactus Pine councils developed their own teen-level badges under the Council’s Own program. GSUSA responded with a new teen badge in 2006. “In the Pink” was based on these local programs.
(There is no officially approved versions of “In the Pink” for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors.)
The North Carolina Coastal Pines Council sponsors many activities throughout Breast Cancer Awareness month. In 2018, these included:
Girls will engage in educational activities like bingo or inviting a doctor or nurse to speak to them about breast health. These activities are an engaging way to promote discussion among girls, allowing them to speak their mind and ask questions in a safe and supportive space. To further connect with the topic, girls can share what they learned with the women in their life, make crafts to display in the community to promote breast health, and interview a breast cancer survivor. After developing an understanding of the topic, girls will complete a Take Action project to benefit those with breast cancer. Examples of projects include creating mastectomy pillows to donate to a local hospital or creating chemo care kits for chemotherapy patients.
October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. In 2012 my teen Girl Scout troop combined the two issues with an unusual service project–a bra drive.
They learned that bras are the most-requested clothing item at women’s shelters. Soma Intimates seeks to fill this need by encouraging donations of new and gently used bras. The girls decided this would be a perfect service project.
Reaching out to friends and female relatives, the troop collected 175 bras. When the troop delivered them to a local Soma store, the grateful staff explained the importance of appropriate undergarments for breast health and offered bra fittings. (Arranged in advance, interested girls wore tank tops.)
This contribution was just another way for Girl Scouts to support their community.
One discussion at the October 2017 National Council Session acknowledged the severe lack of programs for older girls in grades 6-12.
That is old news for anyone who has led a teen troop in the past decade.
When new badges were introduced for all levels in late 2011, many teen girls (or at least those in my troop) were very disappointed. The new badges were divided by age level. Cadettes (grades 6-8) are diamond-shaped. Seniors (grades 9-10) are rectangular, while Ambassadors (11-12) are weird squares with clipped corners. Previously, the teen levels had shared the same recognitions, which was great for multi-level troops.
Ambassadors were especially disappointed. While Brownies, Juniors, and Seniors, each had 26 new badges, and Cadettes (the only three-year level) had 28, Ambassadors had a paltry 11. Officially, we were told that was because Ambassadors were more focused on their Gold Award than earning badges. Unofficially, I’m yet to find any Ambassador who agrees with that statement.
What were teen girls to do? The answer was visible all over the teen vests and sashes worn at the Columbus convention.
Many girls earn old badges. The rectangular badges, previously known as Interest Projects, were released in 1980. They were updated in a handbook issued in 1997, 20 years ago. Go back and re-read that sentence. Girl have resorted to earning badges issued before they were born. While some hold up well, others have hilariously outdated requirements:
Learn about the options for accessing the World Wide Web. Can you use a computer through your school, library, community center, or Girl Scout center? Is one available through a computer club business or nonprofit organization?
Exploring the Net
Many vests also are full of Council’s Own badges. These recognitions (my favorite) were developed by local councils to fill gaps in the national offerings. They were to have been discontinued in 2012.
Industrious leaders haunt eBay, Facebook, and other sites, where there literally is a black market (green market?) in discontinued badges.
I do NOT have any Council’s Owns for sale, but I do have a website that archives the images and requirements. Please assume that these badges are discontinued and do not call council shops asking about them. (I wish that instead of sending me snippy emails about people calling to purchase them, councils would take the hint and reissue them or create a similar patch program.)
Some troops make their own badges, once known as Troop’s Own, which used to be a first step in creating a Council’s Own. I created five programs for my troop and day camp units, but the patches are large and intended for the back of the vest.
Another option can be found on Facebook, where individuals and private groups such as “Artistry to Stitch About” have recreated some popular old Council’s Owns badges as well as writing some programs of their own. While the latter are made in the same shapes as official badges from GSUSA, technically they should be considered patches and go on the back of sashes and vests because they have not been approved by a council. However, that message doesn’t always reach the girl or parent doing the sewing.
Instead of launching into debates about official and unofficial, front or back, we should focus on the real issue: current badge offerings are insufficient. While the annual “girls’ choice” badges are a great idea, they have not satisfied leaders’ and girls’ appetites for badges.
Take a look at this vest I saw in Columbus. (I went through the Hall of Experiences asking girls if I could photograph their vests.) There are 32 badges total:
9 Interest Projects from the 1997-2011 series (retired)
14 Council’s Owns (retired)
5 Troop’s Owns
4 Artistry to Stitch About
That summarizes the situation about the number of badges available. Without sales figures, I cannot gauge popularity. But this informal survey certainly suggests that current offerings are inadequate. I’ve seen Brownies and Juniors with older badges, too, but nowhere near as many as teens.
It’s time to stop talking about the need for programs designed for older girls and start actually creating them.
Don’t even get me started on the merits of colorful, embroidered badges versus dull, soulless silk-screened badges. Gag, barf, spit.
Who were the first Girl Scout Ambassadors? If you said 11th and 12th graders, you’d be wrong.
While GSUSA did introduce the Ambassador program level in 2008, the name “Ambassador” was first used in 1975.
GSUSA introduced the first Ambassador program as part of a larger project to improve retention. Estimating that one out of every four families moves each year, this program encouraged girls who moved to a new town to join Girl Scouting in their new neighborhood. Instead of being the “new girl,” the traveling Girl Scout became a more prestigious-sounding “Ambassador for Scouting.”
To be an Ambassador, a girl must be helped to recognize that one of the most important things in the mission of Scouting is to be aware of the different customs and values of different groups in her community. That was one of the ideas Juliette Gordon Low had when she started the Girl Scout movement back in 1912. She hoped then, and we hope now, that Scouting will make girls more sensitive to differences in the way of life in our communities and our nation.
—Leader Magazine (October 1975): 18.
The patch requirements had two parts. First, the arriving girl would share something about her former community, such as a popular tradition or celebration, with her new troop.
Second, the girls welcoming her would then share a similar tradition or event celebrated in her new community. Together, they would prepare a report on these differences and send it to the former troop. Members of the new troop would then be eligible for the Ambassador Aide patch.
Leaders could request an Ambassador Program application form from their council. Girls entered their current and new address on the form and send it to GSUSA. New York would forward it to the appropriate council, which would invite the Ambassador girl to a new troop.
When introducing the new program, Leader magazine encouraged troop leaders to focus on the many holiday traditions celebrated in December and January. Sample questions showed a deliberate effort at multiculturalism and inclusion:
On what day is Christmas celebrated? On what or days is Chanukah celebrated? Does the celebration begin some time in December, as it might in families with a Dutch or Belgian or Scandinavian background? Does it continue until January 6th, as it does in many families whose ancestors came from Italy or Mexico? And on what day to the children exchange gifts? When is the Chinese New Year?
Where do all the different customs connected with the holidays (lighted trees, mistletoe, reindeer, lighted candles, fireworks, dragons, and tribal dance) come from? Do all families everywhere observe the same customs? Why do some of them observe them differently?
What about different kinds of special foods prepared during the holidays?
The yellow ribbon patches were intended for the back of the badge sash and cost one dime each.
This first version of the Ambassador program lasted until 1979. A similar program, with a booklet and button pinback, was offered in 1985-1986.
The foundations of these programs are still valid in the second century of Girl Scouting. We need to improve retention, and we need to encourage tolerance and diversity to truly “make the world a better place.”
As Juliette said over 100 years ago, “To put yourselves in another’s place requires real imagination but by doing so, each Girl Scout will be able to live among others happily.”
The 2016 Nation’s Capital Annual Meeting celebrated 100 years of Girl Scouting’s Highest Awards.
The Archives exhibit used the same theme. (We were not involved in the award histories read during the meeting.)
The exhibit area was crowded, but here’s a wide view of our corner:
Our display had two main parts:
First, we enlarged the wonderful award posters created by Girl Scout historians Mary Winslow (Heart of Pennsylvania) and Mel Squires (Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont).
Second, we tried construct a timeline with ALL the women from Nation’s Capital and its legacy councils who received these awards over the years. This is definitely a work in progress, as our records are spotty, especially for the Curved Bar and First Class years. (Please email me to add names to the list: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Still, we had nearly 3,000 names! Here’s a sample:
Many women took photos of their name or their daughter’s. Former troop leaders searched for all of their girls, too.
We also had small award stickers for name tags. I earned my Gold in Kentuckiana (1983), so I wasn’t on the wall, but this way I could still display my Gold. Susan Ducey, another Committee member, received her First Class in Illinois. (At the end of the meeting, staff passed out the centennial pins to past recipients.)
I enjoyed meeting so many of our Golden Girls at the annual meeting. Decades later, they are still as proud as ever of their accomplishment, and many vividly recalled their award ceremonies.
The award posters and more are on display at the GSCNC Main Office, 4301 Connecticut Ave. NW in Washington, DC. Be sure to take a look when you pick up those end of the year purchases.
Ever wonder why the Gold Award looks like it does?
According to the Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, “The rays emanating from the trefoil represent the Girl Scout influence in the wider community and the interdependence between Girl Scouting and the community.”
Previous highest awards featured eagles (Golden Eagle of Merit, Golden Eaglet) or a red ribbon and clover motif (Curved Bar, First Class).
For the current highest award, introduced in 1980, GSUSA considered reviving the prestigious Golden Eaglet, but some members were concerned that it would be seen as a “little sister” of the Boy Scout Eagle Award.
Instead, the program committee resurrected a membership pin once reserved for Senior Girl Scouts. In 1938 GSUSA released a tiny electroplated golden pin featuring a 12-point sunburst and a small trefoil in the center. Just 1/4 inch in size, the pin answered girls’ requests for inconspicuous insignia resembling a sorority pin. The pin was worn on the uniform breast pocket.
The sorority-style pin formed the center of the Five-Point pin introduced in 1955. This program was intended to provide a well-rounded introduction to Senior Girl Scouting through five activities:
Carry out a service project
Develop emergency preparedness skills
Learn about your council or Lone Troop Committee
Expand your interests (do a project in the arts, crafts, music, homemaking dancing, literature, dramatics or nature).
When the Five-Point program was completed, girls swapped the plain Senior pin for the Five-Point pin.
The Nations Capital Archives & History Program Center has been open for six months now. We offer workshops to help girls earn their Girl Scout Way badges on the third Saturday and Sunday of each month. Registration is through the Council event calendar.
Girls watch “The Golden Eaglet,” learn the history of our council, and examine vintage uniforms and badges. They also do a scavenger hunt through the 1963 handbooks and try some activities from older badges.
One troop just sent me a delightful thank you note, and their leader included a few photos. Enjoy!
A new book claims that today’s college freshman lack basic life skills. This is a gap that Girl Scouts should address.
In How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshman at Stanford University, claims that incoming students had impressive resumes, but were increasingly incapable of taking care of themselves. To remedy this problem, she says that, especially with teenagers, we should “seek out opportunities to put independence in their way,” such as making them responsible for their own food or learning to take public transportation.
She’s not alone in this belief. Many colleges have “College 101” courses to teach some of the basics. US News & World Report suggests that college freshmen need Seven Essential Life Skills.
With college looming, my troop of Seniors and Ambassadors has been focusing on basic life skills. We haven’t found much help from the current badge offerings, especially given the slim pickings for Ambassadors. Let’s see how well current badges satisfy the US News Seven Skills:
(1) Cooking: While learning to host a Dinner Party is a great idea, we’ve taken a more basic approach to cooking. We did one meeting on things you can microwave in a mug, like scrambled eggs (and a Nutella cake that will get you through almost any crisis). Another session is how to boost a packet of ramen noodles into actual food.
(2) Managing money and (3) Apartment hunting: We did On My Own, which was pretty good, although I wish the actual badge wasn’t screen printed. To teach budgeting and how to manage a checkbook, I turned to Teachers Pay Teachers. This is a great website where teachers upload materials they have developed for various age levels. For about $5 I downloaded a PDF packet with blank checks to cut out, registers to fill out, and more.
(4) Getting around town: This includes both auto care (which the Senior Car Care badge somewhat covers), but also public transportation, especially since many colleges do not allow freshmen to bring cars. Perhaps we should bring back the old Transportation badge from the 1940s?
(5) Staying safe and healthy: We did the old Studio 2BTake Charge badge, since there is no self-defense badge today. That was a controversial badge in its day, but girls need some blunt talk about domestic violence and rape with a trusted adult. It was surprising how many knew girls who had already been victims.
(7) Planning: Any girl who has completed a Silver or Gold Award knows the importance of planning, but the current program is not adequately preparing them. I’ve been on my council’s Gold Award Panel for some eight years and have seen hundreds of girls who think adequate planning is a four-slide PowerPoint. With rare exception, project management is a skill that we have to teach girls as we mentor them, not one they’ve acquired in their troop.
I’ll add a few other skills:
Laundry: We don’t need to resurrect the old Laundress badge, but how about teaching girls (and their leaders) what all those mystery symbols on care tags mean?
Sewing: Perhaps GSUSA thinks we don’t need to know how to sew any more, since insignia are now all iron-in, but every now and then you have to sew on a button or fix a hem.
Swimming: Yes, swimming. There’s no Girl Scout badge for swimming any more. But to graduate, every Columbia University student has to be able to swim the length of the pool.
So there are my suggestions. Some of these skills are covered at earlier Girl Scout levels, but Ambassadors at least need a good review.
But of course, that would mean revamping the flimsy Ambassador program.