Conventions, Co-Eds, and First Ladies

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.

GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan

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.

Charles Garcia, GSUSA Board Member

 

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.

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A co-ed event at Rockwood National Center in the 1950s (GSCNC Archives).

 

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.

 

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.

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First Lady Betty Ford helped open the 1975 convention in Washington, DC.

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.

 

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Chelsea Clinton fields questions from the National Young Women of Distinction, Columbus OH

 

 

Brenda Akers

The insightful Brenda Akers (AP Photo)

 

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.

©2017 Ann Robertson

Girl Scouts on Parade

parade-patch

Hooray to our confident young women who braved the insults and haters and stood tall and proud yesterday during the 2017 Inaugural Parade.

 

 

The issue of whether or not the Girl Scouts should have participated in the events surrounding the swearing-in of a new president generated considerable discussion.

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Girl Scouts marching in the 2017 Inaugural parade (photo by Julie Lineberry)

Some commentators dismissed the uproar as the work of “childish feminists.” (Their argument might have been more convincing if they used our real name, Girl Scouts of the USA, not Girl Scouts of America.)

My own blog post on the matter was shared around the digital world, and I was interviewed and quoted by the Boston Globe.

Today GSUSA, the national headquarters, released their own follow-up statement, which reads in part:

Being a leader means having a seat at the leadership table no matter what. It means being willing to work with whomever happens to hold political power. It means not running from the face of adversity but, rather, standing tall and proud and announcing to the world and the powers that be that SHE is a force to be reckoned with—and that girls’ viewpoints and needs must be taken seriously. This is what we model at Girl Scouts, as to do otherwise would be to tell girls to sit down and be quiet—and that they don’t count.

Now there is a movement afoot to not ask Melania Trump to serve as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, another 100-year old tradition dating back to Edith Wilson. (Edith was Woodrow Wilson’s second wife and second First Lady; his first wife, Ellen had declined the invitation and then promptly died.)

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First Lady Grace Coolidge in her beloved Girl Scout uniform (GSCNC archives)

Again, I disagree. We are non-partisan, we can’t pick and choose who we’ll take and who we want. That’s the first lesson in troop management. Would we reject the Trump granddaughters if they wanted to join?

In fact, I hope Mrs. Trump becomes deeply involved in Girl Scouting. It would be an excellent way for her to be a voice for women in the United States, a voice that quite literally has the president’s ear.

So, Mrs. Trump, after you drop your son at school Monday, why don’t you take a stroll down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. GSUSA headquarters is only a few blocks south of Trump Tower. You can pick up your membership pin and a beautiful official scarf in the GS Shop—and we’ll help you to begin learning what it means to be strong, confident, and independent.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Why the Girl Scouts Should March in Trump’s Parade

The official lineup for the 2017 Inaugural Parade has been announced, and the backlash has begun. I was not surprised that the Girl Scouts are being criticized for participating, but I am very alarmed at the calls to boycott Girl Scout cookie sales.

I, too, was disappointed with the presidential election results, but I still think the Girl Scouts should participate for six reasons:

Because We Serve Our Country

We are a non-partisan organization that promotes civic education.  According to the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital: “The event is a symbol of our democracy and the peaceful transition of power. This year, the Presidential Inaugural Committee offered the opportunity for 75 Girl Scouts to march in the parade.”  

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Girl Scout greeters at the 2013 Inauguration (GSCNC Archives)

Because We Respect Authority

The Girl Scout Law also instructs us to respect authority. That means to respect the office, if not the office holder.

Because We Teach Resilience

With elections, one side loses. Deal with it. We need to teach girls to lose with grace. If they don’t like the outcome, get up and do something about it.  Don’t go home and pout.

Because We Keep Our Commitments

We should march because we made a commitment to march—a commitment to the Inaugural Committee and a commitment to the girls who applied and were selected. There are much fewer opportunities for Girl Scouts this year. While for past Inaugurations Girl Scouts were posted at metro stations and other locations to provide information and directions, this year they were only invited to participate in the parade.

Because It Was a Struggle to Participate

Girl Scouts have marched in Inaugural Parades since 1917, but it was a major struggle to win that privilege. Parade organizers didn’t think delicate young girls could stand the physical demands of marching, and we actually had to audition in advance.

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Finally,

Because the best defense against a powerful misogynist is to raise a generation of strong, confident young women.

Watch out. We are coming.

And one more thing…

Has anybody else noticed that the Women’s March on Washington logo looks familiar?

 

©2017 Ann Robertson. All opinions are mine alone.

 

God Bless America and the Girl Scouts

Today musicians across the country will play both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” Over the years, many people have called for making “God Bless America” our national anthem. Among other arguments, it is a much easier song to sing.

I happen to agree, but I have an ulterior motive. I want the royalties.

 

Written in 1917, “God Bless America” debuted on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1938.  It was an instant hit.  Irving Berlin’s lyrics captured his love of the United States, the country that had welcomed his family when they fled Russia in 1893.  He decided to use the royalties from this song to invest in the country’s future, especially its youth.

Sheryl Kaskowitz's book from Oxford University Press, is available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon, among others.

Sheryl Kaskowitz’s book from Oxford University Press.

In July 1940 Berlin set up the God Bless America Fund and instructed its trustees to equally distribute all royalties to two all-American organizations: the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America (Note: We are NOT the Girl Scouts of America).

Berlin sat on the board of directors of the Boy Scouts and his wife on the board of the Girl Scouts.  The Fund’s trustees explained the selection of beneficiaries: “It was felt that the completely nonsectarian work of the Boy and Girl Scouts was calculated to best promote unity of mind and patriotism, two sentiments that are inherent in the song itself.”

Originally the funds were distributed to councils across the country, but since the 1990s the fund has focused on the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York and the Greater New York Councils: Boy Scouts of America. Both organizations used the funds to provide programs in low-income neighborhoods.

At the time, right-wing fringe groups attacked the Girl Scouts for accepting Berlin’s gift. Noting that the composer was Jewish, they denounced the song as being part of a Jewish conspiracy to replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Historian  Sheryl Kaskowitz reprints excerpts from some of these startling letters, including one that claimed the Girl Scouts had accepted $15,000 from Berlin as part of the conspiracy: “Millions of Christian Americans resent certain forces using a great Patriotic organization such as yours to further their own selfish interests, and further the lid is about to be blown right off this slimy trick.”

The Girl Scouts persevered, and ten years later, in 1950, Fund president Herbert Bayard Swope cited the movement as “a leading factor in the fight to end race, color, and religious discrimination in the United States.”

Annual income to the two organizations has ranged around  $100,000-$200,000 in recent years. According to a 1996 article in Billboard, other patriotic Berlin songs have been added to the Fund’s catalog, including “This Is the Army” and “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.”  The bulk of the royalties still comes from “God Bless.”

Royalties swelled to $800,000 for 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  By 2011 some $10 million had been distributed to both organizations.

However, Fund trustees became increasingly uncomfortable with the Boy Scouts’ official policy of discrimination against homosexual members, upheld in a 2000 Supreme Court ruling. Fund publications began to stress that royalties went to the Greater New York Council, not the national organization.  Each year the Greater New York Council had to assure the Fund of its non-discrimination policy.

The Fund was not satisfied by the council’s statement in 2012, and it refused to cut a check to the Boy Scouts for several years. However, eventually the Fund was satisfied and donations resumed. For 2015, the New York Boy Scouts received a donation of between $50,000 and $100,000.

 

Girl Scouts representing Justice, Liberty, and Peace strike a pose during a June 19, 1915, rally at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

Girl Scouts representing Justice, Liberty, and Peace strike a pose during a June 19, 1915, rally at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The Fund has never had a problem with the Girl Scouts. For 2015, Girl Scouts of Greater New York reported a donation from the God Bless American Fund of between $25,000 and $49,999. (See Greater New York Annual Report 2015.)

The Girl Scouts of the USA has long advocated inclusion and maintained a strict policy of “For All Girls.” Period.  We know there is always room for one more around the campfire.

God Bless the Girl Scouts, indeed.

©2016 Ann Robertson

The Girl Scout Red Scare, part four

Technical issues delayed this final installment of the Girl Scout Red Scare, but I have a treat that is worth the wait!

On August 6, 1954, the Illinois chapter of the American Legion passed a resolution withdrawing American Legion support for the Girl Scouts for supposedly subversive, anti-American content in its 1953 Intermediate handbook.

GSUSA President Olivia Layton  contacted Irving Breakstone, the newly elected commander of the Illinois chapter, to discuss the matter. Breakstone distanced himself from the Clammage resolution and assured Layton that it would never reach the floor of the National American Legion convention, set for August 30-September 2 in Washington, DC.

Breakstone was wrong.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

Legionnaires from across the United States gathered at the Washington Armory over Labor Day weekend, 1954, and voted on a series of proposals calling for vigilance against communism, including  universal military training. They passed a resolution praising McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Regarding the Girl Scouts, convention delegates commended GSUSA for taking “remedial action” (revisions underway long before the Legionnaires got worked up over the handbook) and called on GSUSA to disclose the author(s) who had inserted the “un-American influences” into the text and whether or not they still worked for the Girl Scouts.

Furthermore, Legion National Commander Arthur J. Connell reneged on a promise to let the Girl Scouts defend themselves if the handbook issue made it to the floor.

GSUSA President Olivia Layton at the 1957 Roundup (GSCNC Archives).

GSUSA President Olivia Layton at the 1957 Roundup (GSCNC Archives).

Layton was furious, especially as she lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and could have been at the convention with less than an hour’s notice. Layton blasted the vote, saying,

They promised to get in touch with me if anything at all was to be done. Then they went ahead and did this, without even letting me know a thing about it, until I read in the paper Wednesday that the resolution had been passed.

Connell’s reply seemed to suggest that Layton should find a scapegoat to preserve the movement’s wholesome image:

All organizations, including the American Legion, could be infiltrated, and it seems to be that it might be well for the Girl Scout leaders to see who in their organization was responsible for the changes in their handbook, that ought to be blamed rather than any individual in the Legion.

As it turns out, the author of the Intermediate Handbook was Margarite Hall, an old friend of Nation’s Capital who worked at Camp May Flather when the camp opened in 1930 and later on the council staff.  In 1953 she was the Intermediate Program Advisor at GSUSA and hardly a rabble-rouser.

Hall previewed new badges in the May 1953 Leader magazine.

Hall previewed new badges in the May 1953 Leader magazine.

Hall introduced the 1953 Handbook in the October 1953 Leader magazine.

Hall introduced the 1953 Handbook in the October 1953 Leader magazine.

Although the controversy over the Handbook had to be frightening at the time, by 1990 Hall could laugh about the incident, as she did in a 1990 presentation at Rockwood Manor, outside Washington DC.

Now that the recording of the presentation has been digitized, I’ll let Margie have the last word on the Girl Scout Red Scare:

 

 

©2014 Ann Robertson

Why Barbie Needs the Girl Scouts

Barbie’s not interested in the cookies.

Consumer groups have recently criticized the national Girl Scout organization for its partnership with Mattel.  Launched in August 2013, the “Be Anything, Do Everything” program uses the Barbie theme to explore various career options.

The controversial Barbie patch.

The controversial Barbie patch.

Aimed at Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors, the program consists of a booklet, computer game,  pink patch for the back of the vest or sash, and three Barbie dolls wearing Girl Scout “uniforms.” Barbie wears a pinkified Junior (4th and 5th grader) uniform, hardly age appropriate for an astronaut, architect, or even a teen age Girl Scout.

My first reaction was “Ewwwww.” My second was “why”?

What do Mattel and GSUSA get out of the deal?

Why did GSUSA partner with Barbie?

The official answer links to career exploration and Barbie’s impressive resume.  According to GSUSA CEO Anna-Maria Chávez:

This partnership will allow Girl Scouts to offer an engaging and interactive new leadership experience, one that leverages the appeal of Barbie in order to encourage girls to explore exciting new career possibilities. We are tying the fun girls have playing with Barbie to an opportunity to gain insight into the careers of today and tomorrow, with patches and discovery along the way. Like Girl Scouts, Barbie is an American icon; together, we are teaching girls that their futures are wide open with possibilities, and that they can accomplish anything they set their sights on in their careers.

What does GSUSA get from Mattel?

It is a three-year, $2 million deal.

This is hardly the first time GSUSA has licensed a line of dolls. There have been official dolls for decades.  The Groovy Girls became Girl Scouts in 2007 and Adora dolls are in every council shop today. American Girl dolls could buy Junior Girl Scout uniforms in the late 1990s. A new set of dolls, the Girl Scout Friendship Collection, debuted yesterday at the GS National Convention in Salt Lake City.

 

What is different about the Barbie deal is the curriculum and patch. Critics, led by Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, say the patch transforms girls “into walking advertisements.”  Yet various councils already offer patches created with corporate grants.

 

What Does Mattel Get?

Mattel gains a strategic partnership with an iconic brand linked to wholesome goodness and little girls.  More important, Mattel creates new ties to an age group that often has moved beyond Barbie.

Yesterday, October 16, Mattel announced that Barbie sales had plunged 21% in the 3rd quarter of the year, following drops of 14% or more in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2014.  The Wall Street Journal reported that “Barbie is in a slump so bad that she’s getting pushed around by no-name newcomers,” such as Walmart’s Funville Sparkle Girlz.

Recent studies show that between the ages of 7 and 11 (Brownies and Juniors), many girls reject Barbies as “babyish” and move on to trendier toys, such as Monster High and tablets.

What Do the Girls Think?

While other adults debate the merits and value of Barbies, I think a girl-led approach would be to encourage younger Girl Scouts to apply their critical thinking skills to Barbie.

Girls can earn the Be A Doll patch.

Girls can earn the Be A Doll patch.

I’ve created a “Be a Doll” patch program that explores how dolls reflect culture,  asks girls  to evaluate Barbie as a role model, and looks at the range of careers related to the fashion industry beyond just model or designer. Activities span a wide age range and include:

  • Sharing favorite dolls
  • Comparing dolls now with our mothers’ and grandmothers’ toys
  • Comparing uniforms on other Girl Scout dolls
  • Putting on a fashion show of old uniforms or “What Not to Wear to Middle School”
  • Body image and eating disorders
  • Interviewing real women to see if they could perform their jobs dressed as a career Barbie.

Barbie needs the Girls Scouts.

When it’s time to renew the deal with Mattel, GSUSA should ask for more than $2 million and insist that Mattel give Barbie a tent—and a Gold Award.

 

©2014 Ann Robertson

Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel, which is not connected to this patch program in any way.

An Unfortunately Named Service Project

Oh my.

I found this clipping in an old council press scrapbook. I don’t think it would work as a primary document for classroom use!

A World War II Service Project that would need major updating to try today.

A World War II Service Project that would need major updating to try today.