Spotlight on Senior Girl Scouts

How do we keep Senior Girl Scouts from dropping out? That question has topped meeting agendas since the Senior age level was created in 1938. (Ambassador Girl Scouts didn’t exist until 2008!)

Senior Girl Scouts take center stage in the current display at the Nation’s Capital council headquarters, with a look at older-girl programming over the years.

Exhibit of Senior Girl Scout memorabilia
Full view of display

The Senior Story

Early Girl Scout troops  had just one program level, which included girls 10–17  years old.  Soon their younger sisters wanted to join, and high-school aged girls wanted new, age-appropriate activities.

Senior Girl Scout membership pin 1938
Senior pin, 1938

In 1938 three separate age levels were created: Brownie, Intermediate, and Senior. Each level had a unique uniform, handbook, and program.  Seniors did not earn badges; instead, they focused on other recognitions, including ones for specific types of service.

Senior Girl Scouts also had their own membership pin, designed to look like the popular sorority pins of the 1930s and 1940s.

Senior Service Scouts

Senior Girl Scout Service Scout emblems
Senior Service Scout emblems

During World War II, many girls aged 15-18 became “Senior Service Scouts,” a new civil defense-oriented program that emphasized skills for the home front, providing child care, transportation, communication, shelter, clothing, and food in emergency situations.

The Senior Service Scouts wore a special red patch on their regular uniform and a dark green hat with the bright red S-trefoil emblem.

In the post-war era, Senior Girl Scout troops concentrated on a particular field that often exposed them to career possibilities. Over a dozen program areas were introduced before 1970.

Mariner Girl Scouts

  • Two Senior Girl Scouts in sailboat
  • Senior Girl Scout sailors
  • Senior Girl Scout mariner uniform options
  • Senior Girl Scout mermaids

The Mariner program was by far the most popular of these older-girl groups, particularly given the number of waterways in the Washington DC region. Mariners were easily recognizable in their striking blue nautical-style uniforms. Members expanded their swimming and camping skills with lessons in sailing and “seamanship” during the school year to prepare for a two-week sailing trip in the summer. Before the national program launched in 1934, individual troops across the country had created their own variations, including “Sea Scouts” and, in Birmingham, Alabama, “Mermaids.”

Wing Girl Scouts

Wing Scouting grew rapidly, although it never eclipsed Mariners, perhaps because they did not have a distinctive uniform of their own. Wing Scouts spent their meetings learning about aeronautics. Most of their time was ground-based instructions, but many troops managed to spend a few hours in the air, even if it was aboard a commercial flight. Washington-based Troop 492, a Wing troop comprised of African-American girls, was featured in the news several times. 

  • Three Senior Girl Scouts examine airplane wing
  • 1946 Senior Girl Scout Wing Pin
  • Senior Girl Scout Wing Scouts
  • Senior Girl Scouts reading map
  • Senior Girl Scout in air traffic control center

Mounted Troops

Senior Girl Scout uniforms
Brownie, Mariner, and Equestrian, 1958

Mounted Troops rode horses. During the 1950s, the largest Mounted Troop on the east coast was Fairfax Troop 40. Troop members rode the Appalachian Trail during summer 1954.

Senior troops could focus on specific interests, including sailing, horseback riding, hiking, international friendship, the arts, and more. Girl uniforms indicated their troop’s concentration.

Hospital Aides

The Girl Scout Hospital Aide program had been developed in 1942 in response to the drop in civilian health care workers. Girls wore green pinafores and their duties were similar to the better known Candy Striper programs that began two years later. Without the additional equipment needed for Mariner and Wing programs, many troops opted to work in hospitals, providing hundreds of hours of service. The program proved so popular, that the national organization had to issue strict guidelines for volunteer training, orientation, and assignments. Specifically, Girl Scouts could not be assigned to work in adult wards. Instead, they were to work with children; assemble, decorate, and deliver food trays; sew gowns and dressings; and clerical work.

Senior Girl Scout hospital aide
Typical uniform worn by Hospital Aides (Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum)
Senior Girl Scout hospital aide patch
Hospital Aide patch from 1945 (Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum)

Other Aide Programs

Similar Aide programs followed in the coming years, including Farm, Child Care, Library, Museum, Occupational Therapy, Office, Program, and Ranger. (Personally, I was an office aide at my council office during high school. That’s not me in the photo!)

  • Senior Girl Scout Library Aide
  • Senior Girl Scout farm aide
  • 1963 Senior Girl Scout Aide Bars
  • Senior Girl Scout Office Aide
  • Senior Girl Scout childcare aide
  • 1975 November 1

By 1980, the From Dreams to Reality program replaced the service bars.

  • Senior Girl Scout program options
  • Senior Girl Scout uniform options
  • Senior Girl Scout uniforms
  • Senior Girl Scout program options


GSUSA began to update uniforms for all age levels in 1970, starting with Seniors.  These high schoolers were still wearing the two-piece skirt suit introduced in 1960. Girls had quickly nicknamed the suit the “Stewardess uniform,” but the flight attendants had already moved on to trendier styles. Seniors themselves had their own ideas about a uniform; they wanted pants—and mini-skirts, too.

After considering suggestions, designs, and even samples sent by girls, GSUSA opted for a loose A-line dress that buttoned up the front. The options included pants and a distinctive belt.

Senior Girl Scout uniforms
Senior Uniform for the 1970s

The most notable feature of the uniform dress was the hemline—or, rather, the lack of one. After endless debates among focus groups and survey responses, GSUSA gave up trying to settle on the appropriate length. The dress was sold unhemmed, with a hang-tag reading: “The Official GS Uniform with the Unofficial Hemline.” If girls wanted mini-skirted uniforms, Headquarters seemed to say, let parents deal with the matter.  Since many Senior Girl Scouts were accustomed to sewing their own clothes, they easily turned the new dress into a short tunic (or mini-skirt) to be worn over the new pants. Just how many ditched the pants once out their front door is unknown. 

For more about these programs, see the marvelous Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

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.

Let’s Focus on This

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.

Three young women, two wearing green and white dresses, one wearing blue sailor dress All are Girl Scouts

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.

White fabric circles with rock climbing tools, yellow sun and treen border Girl Scout Explorer
Senior Explorer patches, 1958 (left) and 1960 (right).

More Paths to Pursue

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

Nine colorful Girl Scout Senior interest badges with matching hat cords and ties

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.

Sketch of six young women wearing green dresses as Girl Scouts
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.

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

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

Interest Projects

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.

Two girls hang a wooden sign outside a building
Girls hang a sign at Weston Lodge

Who’s That Girl Scout? Jane Nicolet Toal

Jane Toal in her Mariner uniform.

Our Archives and History Committee lost one of its original members last month, Jane Toal.  I never met Jane, she had gone into assisted living around the time I joined the Committee, but I heard her name often from other members.

Now that I’ve had a chance to read her obituary and read some of the tributes to her, I especially regret never making her acquaintance. Her life story is a testament to Girl Scouts and STEM programs.

Jane Nicolet was born in 1921 and grew up in Riverdale, Maryland, outside Washington. She joined a Girl Scout troop in 1931, at age 9½. She seems to have seized every opportunity that came her way: she was in the first local Senior troop, led by Lucy Knox. The troop helped prepare Rockwood National Center to receive its first campers in 1937. Lucy and other girls spent many weekends reupholstering furniture at Rockwood and sleeping on the floor of Carolyn Cottage.

Jane also was involved in the activities of the Little House, including once serving a meal to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Little House Lunch
Eleanor Roosevelt (second from right) enjoys a “15 cent lunch” in the Little House dining room, 1933 (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)


She quickly became a regular figure at Camp May Flather, living in each of the various units and co-editing the camp newspaper, the Mountain Log.

Jane Nicolet Toal Golden Eaglet Original copy
Washington Post, June 11, 1939.

Jane was awarded the prestigious Golden Eaglet on June 10, 1939.


She left the Washington area for college, first to Oberlin College and then to Cornell University, where she earned a master’s degree in biochemistry. Upon graduation, she took a job at Rutgers University. After a brief marriage, she led an Intermediate troop in New Jersey.

Jane returned to Washington in 1947 to accept a research position at the National Institutes of Health.  She spent the next 30 years conducting structural studies of DNA and RNA.

She bought a boat in 1950 and taught herself to sail. When she heard about a Mariner Girl Scout troop forming in the area she signed on. She stayed with the Mariner program for 27 years, taking full advantage of the nearby Chesapeake Bay.  She proudly wore her Mariner uniform for official events and led a Bethesda-based troop from 1964 to 1977.

Over the years, Jane kept sailing, but she did add to her outside interests. She rode with the Iron Bridge Hunt and the Howard County Hunt until her 90th birthday and was an active member of the Trail Riders of Today.  She was also part of the devoted crew that maintains the historic carousel at Glen Echo park. For decades, she rallied troops that turned out to polish the brass on the carousel before it opens for the season.

Glen Echo
Jane organizes Girl Scouts polishing the Glen Echo Carousel, 2008 (photo courtesy of Jennifer Manguera)



Jane Toal’s homemade Mariner doll.

It is a shame that a woman once so involved in our Council’s History programs never was able to visit our now two-year old Program Center in Frederick, Maryland.  But we do have a homemade doll that she donated years ago. With bright red hair, it even looks a bit like her.

The doll is prominently displayed at the Center, a small way to keep Jane involved in Girl Scout history.


Special thank you to Julie Lineberry, whose previous profile of Jane was essential for this post.

©2017 Ann Robertson