Girl Scouts Answer Call to End to Social Unrest

Fifty years ago today, the Girl Scouts of the USA released this telegram:

GSUSA Kerner Telegram copy

From Leader magazine, October 1968

Copies were also sent to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Judge Otto Kerner, every member of the Kerner Commission, every member of Congress, and every Girl Scout council president.

Two months earlier, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder released a landmark study on race relations in the United States. President Lyndon B. Johnson had convened the 11-man panel of experts following riots in Newark, NJ, Detroit, MI, and 23 other cities the previous year. The violent uprisings, concentrated in African-American neighborhoods, were responsible for the deaths of 69 people in Newark and Detroit.

Known as the Kerner Report, as Judge Kerner of the US Court of Appeals chaired the panel, the report’s conclusion was concise and alarming:  The United States faced such deep social and economic division that

Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.
—Conclusion of the Kerner Commission

 

The Report called for massive investment in housing and jobs to improve living conditions for African Americans and an end to segregation in urban neighborhoods, among other recommendations.

GSUSA received many responses to the telegram, including one from Judge Kerner:

Your message of the action of the Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of the United States should be hailed by all throughout the United States. I am a great believer in using existing organizations to work on the greatest social problem the country has ever faced. I am sure that through the Girl Scouts you can reach into the economically deprived areas and give new experience and opportunity there as well as to those people outside the depressed areas by becoming acquainted with the conditions. Please extend my congratulations to the officers and the Board of Directors.

—Judge Otto Kerner

 

President Lyndon B. Johnson ignored the Kerner Report’s advice, mainly due to the cost, but the Girl Scouts paid attention.

Pages from GSL 1970-01 January (1)

Leader (Jan 1969)

At the 1969 National Council Session, GSUSA launched “Action 70,” a program to improve race relations within Girl Scouting. Within Nation’s Capital, the leaders of the Southwest Montgomery County and Mid-Eastern Washington Associations took up the challenge of fostering good relationships within the council. Mary Ann Claxton, of Southwest Montgomery County, invited Field Vice President Ethel Harvey to a discussion on “The Kerner Report and Its Implications for Girl Scouting.”

 

This discussion evolved into the Inter-Association Friendship Committee, a series of joint events between the Girl Scouts from the urban Mid-Eastern Washington and upper-middle class Southwest Montgomery County Associations spanning more than three decades. The Friendship Committee brought together troops for camping, swapping program ideas, service projects, and fun. One of the Committee’s most popular annual traditions was polishing the brass on the carousel at Glen Echo Park, once a whites-only establishment.

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Nation’s Capital troops polishing the brass on the Glen Echo carousel (GSCNC Archives)

A half century later, the United States remains a sharply polarized society.  The Girl Scout’s persistent determination to be inclusive is still a model worthy of consideration.

For more about the 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Report, follow the link to an interview with the last surviving panel member.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Revisiting Boypower 76

The Boy Scouts plan to admit girls into their ranks. Again.

The national office of the Boy Scouts of America recently announced that girls will be able to join Cub Scout packs this fall. Under a new program category called “Scouts BSA,” girls will be able to rise through the ranks in the coming years, all the way to Eagle (in other words, the Gold Award for boys). The expansion campaign will be known as “Scout Me In.”

 

 

But while proclaiming the move as a victory for inclusion, equality, and parental convenience, Cub Scout packs will be single-sex only.  This paradox either confirms the value of single-gender group or indicates that Cub Scouts are afraid of girl cooties.

Including Some Girls

This is not the first time that the Boy Scouts have provided a participation option to girls.

 

On October 17, 1968, the Boy Scout organization launched a new membership initiative called “Boypower 76.” The ambitious program set national goals to be achieved by the US Bicentennial Celebration of 1976. Specifically, (1) Expand membership so that one of every three American boys is enrolled. That would require adding 2 million new Boy Scouts by 1976. (2) Double council budgets to a combined level of $150 million.

New members would be recruited through two efforts: establishing troops in inner cities and retaining older boys by allowing girls to participate in the special-interest, career-focused segment of the Explorers program. In other words, girls and ghettos.

The Girl Scouts outlined this new initiative in the October 1969 Leader magazine. According  to the article, potential female Explorer participants must be:

  • registered Girl Scouts or Camp Fire Girls
  • invited to join by a post sponsor
  • in high school, unmarried [!!], and at least 14 years old

In addition,

Participants will not become members of the Boy Scouts of America and will not pay a membership fee to the Boy Scouts of America. (They may pay post dues and “pay their own way” for activities and events.)

Leader (October 1969): 55.

The national slogan for Boypower 76 was “America’s Manpower Begins with Boypower.”  What girl wouldn’t feel welcomed by that greeting?

A key difference between the 1968 announcement and those of 2017 and 2018 is that the earlier expansion news was delivered in a joint statement from the national presidents of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls.  Furthermore, the cooperation proposal originated with the Girl Scouts.

 

The_Cincinnati_Enquirer_Sun__Nov_3__1968_

Cincinnati Enquirer Sun (November 3, 1968)

 

Not everyone was pleased with including girls in 1968, prompting a Boy Scout spokesman to reassure the faithful, “We are not going to try to build girls. Our business still is boys.”  Then why add girls? According to BSA chief executive Alden Barber, it was to improve older boy retention.

Young men are interested in young women.

–Alden Barber

This statement makes girls sound like recruitment incentives, not a group worthy of program initiatives.

Membership Quotas

Councils were given strict monthly and annual membership goals to keep them on track to achieve the expansion envisioned in Boypower 76. As the girls were only Explorer “participants,” not members, presumably the main source for new members would be high-poverty pockets in both urban and rural areas.

 

The strategies mentioned in the press reeks of racism and do-goodism. A widely syndicated New York Times article from February 1970 discourages block-by-block recruiting for new Boy Scouts because it might trigger gang conflicts; a new handbook in comic book format appropriate for “youngsters with a minimum of education”; and badges that include treating rat bites.

By April 1971, girls could be full members of Explorer posts, thereby contributing to the overall membership goals.

The Controversial Collapse of Boypower

BSA canceled the Boypower program two years early, amid widespread reports of inflated membership numbers.  Articles in the New York Daily News, the Central New Jersey Home News, and many other newspapers enumerated the problems. The Chicago council was accused of selling one-month memberships for ten cents; other councils for inventing names to register. At least 13 major cities were discovered to have falsified records, involving some 30,000-40,000 “phantom” scouts.

Furthermore, only about half of the $65 million fundraising goal was met, and much of that was from long-time donors who directed their gifts to the national organization instead of the local council.

Looking Ahead

I will be watching the rollout of “Scout Me In” closely. This initiative also comes at a time of falling membership among the Boy Scouts, and I certainly prefer enrolling real children who will actually participate instead of inventing new members.

It is also important to note that the Boy Scouts are enrolling girls, not necessarily Girl Scouts. I have not seen any statement preventing girls from being members of both organizations. There have always been “bi-Scoutal” girls enrolled in both Girl Scouts and Venturing, the current incarnation of the Explorer program.

Personally, I’ll stick with Girl Scouting. I have a hard time seeing myself as a welcome, valued member of any organization whose very name fails to include me. Girls are more than just membership statistics. Girls, and especially Girl Scouts, are great!

Girls Great

© 2018, Ann Robertson

 

 

Who’s that Girl Scout? Dolly Parton

COMC-Dolly-Patch-e1496687078189-202x300Yesterday, the Library of Congress honored country singer Dolly Parton and her Imagination Library project.

Since 1996, Dolly has arranged for new books to be sent to young children every month. She launched the program to honor her father, who never learned to read or write. The event yesterday marked Imagination Library’s 100 millionth book.

To mark the milestone, Dolly read (and sang) from her own book, based on her beloved song, “Coat of Many Colors.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Dolly partnered with the Tanasi Girl Scout Council (now the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians) to create a Coat of Many Colors patch program. The patch, which can be earned by non-Girl Scouts, teaches resilience and self-respect in the face of bullying.

As Dolly said in 2008,

Be proud of who you are, and be kind to everyone you meet. That’s what Girl Scouting is all about.

Today, the need for building such resilience is even greater than when she wrote her song in 1971.

Dolly Parton is a lifetime Girl Scout, and I am proud to be her Girl Scout Sister!

© 2018 Ann Robertson

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.

17-Boys

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.

IMG_6367

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.

 

IMG_4766

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.

julie_parade

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.)

coolidge-uniform

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.”  

presidential_inauguration_2013

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.

WP Feb 24 1917

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