This week Girl Scouts of the USA announced the introduction of 42 new badges and one program journey. With topics ranging from cybersecurity and coding to astronomy and high adventure, there are new options for every age level.
But the press release overlooked another major development:
Do you see it? Down at the bottom?
YES!!!!! The day has finally come.
On October 8, 2014, on the eve of the Girl Scout National Convention, I published a blog post, “Let’s Make Downloading Badges Legal.”
I argued in favor of creating official downloadable PDF files for journey program books and individual badge requirements. Specifically:
Let’s be honest and fair and admit that distributing bootleg scans of journey books and badge requirements constitutes theft. It is taking a person’s hard work without paying for it. Go ahead, argue “sharing” and “sisterhood” all you want, but if thieves share stolen goods among themselves, it does not make the theft acceptable. Would you walk into a Girl Scout shop, pocket a handful of badges, and walk out without paying? This is no different.
Let’s resolve to respect authority, including copyright law. The bootleggers know they are breaking the law, which explains why they try to shout down anyone who calls them out with nasty comments and name calling. Do we really have to put labels on every page, photo, design, etc. saying “Not yours. Don’t steal”?
Demand for downloads was obviously high, and I reasoned that many volunteers would come out of hiding and purchase legal copies if given the opportunity.
I also explained why this issue is important to me:
As a writer and editor, words are literally my income. I know that every book has an author, and I know that writing is hard work. Authors deserve to be paid. That is why it really bothers me to see leaders sharing photocopies of badge inserts or websites advertising free downloads of scanned journey books. (While I don’t get paid to write this blog, it is an opportunity for potential clients to get to know me better.)
Finally, I argued that GSUSA might use PDF fees to recoup some of the lost potential income from leaders who use photocopies instead of purchasing official materials.
I even created a Facebook page called “Girl Scout Publication PDFs Please.” To date over 1,100 people have “liked” the page.
This is just a small step in the ongoing quest for GSUSA to listen to its adult volunteers, and this is merely one step in a long journey.
As this week commemorates the Apollo 11 moon landing, I can’t resist:
PDF Badges: That’s one small step for Ann, one giant leap for Girl Scouts.
Regular readers know that I am a HUGE fan of the quirky,
obsolete Girl Scout badges known as the Council’s Own. These limited edition
badges were designed to add additional topics to the traditional Girl Scouts of
the USA badge programs or to highlight resources unique to a particular
Their limited production and often very clever designs also
have made them highly collectible. But the words “Council’s Own” have become a
catch-all phrase randomly applied to a range of unofficial badges, often to
increase their selling price.
I’ve fed my addiction by creating a digital archive of these delightful, obscure badges. Since 2014, I have accumulated the name, design, council, and requirements for over 1,500 badges: http://gscobadge.info.
Before including a badge, I have to decide whether or not it meets the definition of a Council’s Own. It can be confusing, because this name is loosely applied to four different programs.
Our Own Troop’s Badge
The Troop’s Own option was introduced in the 1958 edition of
the Intermediate Handbook. The
program offered an answer to the many troop scribes who had written to
Headquarters with suggestions for new badge topics. There were 12 steps to
creating a Troop’s Own, including receiving permission from the program
department of the troop’s council. The council approved the topic, but not the
The name of the badge indicated how it was to be earned:
The final requirements and their wording, the badge name, the design, and the actual symbols worn, must be the girls’ own work. While doing all this your leader will help you understand the meaning of badges and what different types of activity should be included.
No other girls in your troop or any other troop can use your work. Even if they choose the same subject, the must create their own requirements and design. It will truly be, “Our Own Badge!”
The topic would be inserted into the badge’s name: Our
Troop’s Own Blogging Badge. Troops were asked to submit one badge to Headquarters,
but that was for reference only.
Leaders were cautioned to step back and let the girls take
charge. “If we do these things for girls, then they must, in all honesty, call
the badge ‘Our Own Troop Leader’s
The “Our Troop’s Own” program split with the 1963 program reform. Now the gold-bordered blank badge was for Cadettes, and a new green-bordered one was introduced for Juniors. The May 1966 issue of Leader features a lengthy article about a Girl Scout troop in the Sudan that decides to create their own badge to learn more about their host country. (Sadly there is no photo of this badge!)
I’ve included some Troop’s Own in my digital archive, as
they are extremely difficult to identify. Sadly, their requirements were often
discarded when troops disbanded.
Our Own Council’s Badge (1980-2011)
The Worlds to Explore program of the 1980s added an Our Own
Council’s Badge. GSUSA described this program as:
Innovative and educationally sound projects developed by the council, to make use of special topics of interest or unusual opportunities and resources within the council or to utilize the rich opportunities provided by council camps.
These badges were developed by adults; typically council
staff. They represented the council as part of the national recognition system
and therefore should “be developed by people representing a broad spectrum of
the council,” according to 1990 GSUSA guidelines.
Most Council’s Owns focused on a specific topic, but a few were tied to a specific event, such as the 1982 World’s Fair (left) and the eruption of the Mount Saint Helen’s volcano in 1980.
The border colors indicate the year the blank badge was issued, it is not related to the colors of the five worlds. Gold borders were used for COs, green for TOs. When the Worlds program phased out, each age level had one border color for all of their badges, including Troop’s and Council’s Owns.
Make Your Own Badge
Under the Girl Scout Leadership Experience model, the Our
Own options were replaced by a Make Your Own option. The program was
discontinued after three years. Members considered the one-off, screen-printed
badges to be expensive and unattractive. Plus, they were intended to be for one
girl only, but leaders were creating them for entire troops. Guidelines for the
An important part of the Make Your
Own badge is what girls find out about their own learning styles as they
created a personalized plan to build a skill. If a girl does a badge designed
by another girl, she doesn’t have this chance to learn about herself.
Make Your Owns did not need design or requirement approval
from GSUSA, Councils, or even troop leaders. I do not track these in my digital
When a CO Isn’t a CO
Girls and leaders today are demanding badges beyond those
offered through GSUSA. Headquarters has responded with Girl’s Choice’ badges,
robotics, cybersecurity and more.
But there are still patches available that claim to be a Council’s
Own. My archive is intended to document official badges and to help Girl Scouts
identify unusual badges. I include a list of known “Not-COs” because future
Girl Scouts may be curious about a badge seen on many sashes but does not
appear in an official handbook or catalog.
I approach this not as the “badge police,” but as an
historian seeking accuracy.
Many pseudo-COs are described as remakes of discontinued Council’s
Owns. While providers may redesign the badge, they often recycle requirements
developed by other people, presumably without permission or payment. That is
little different than putting a new dust jacket on an old book and claiming to
be the author.
Similarly, badges developed by individuals are not official,
no matter what shape they are. The name “Council’s Own” indicates that its
content is council approved. It guarantees that these badges reflect the movement’s
high standards and offer substantive, age-appropriate activities.
There Should Be a
Patch for That
There are many quality, but unofficial, programs out there,
but let’s use correct terminology. These should be patch programs, because they
are not Council’s Own badges. Many councils now offer “Council’s Own Patch
Programs,” a phrase that just offers more confusion.
Instead of sending me terse, desist messages about the
“flood” of telephone calls from leaders seeking to purchase discontinued Council’s
Own badges, perhaps councils should take the hint that there is a demand for quality
recognitions on these topics. Yes, they could MAKE MONEY by turning these old
badges into patch programs.
Some councils have made this change. Many more should
The Squirrel Census, an award-winning project dedicated to documenting Eastern gray squirrels, will count the furry four-legged creatures in Manhattan’s largest park from Oct. 6 through Oct. 20. The results of the data gathering will be released as a multimedia, interactive map of Central Park.
Organizers prefer counters to be at least 14 years old, but younger children can participate with an adult partner.
While this is the first census of Central Park, the Squirrel Censusorganization (yes, it really exists) has done two counts in Atlanta’s Inman Park and other smaller inventories.
I think I’ll pass.
I’ve had bad experiences with park squirrels before.
Yes, dear readers, it is time to share my squirrel story.
I lived in London in 1990 and took regular morning walks through Holland Park. I usually stopped at the neighborhood news agent for a newspaper for myself and a small bag of peanut M&Ms for the squirrels.
But one morning I arrived at the park and realized I’d forgotten the M&Ms. “No problem,” I thought. I certainly wasn’t going to make a detour for the squirrels.
After walking down a path for a few minutes, I noticed this one squirrel who seemed to be scampering along with me.
He would walk behind me, then scurry in front of me, stop and stand up on his hind legs, and stare at me. He did this four or five times.
That’s when I realized, this squirrel RECOGNIZED me. He was WAITING for me.
No, he was waiting for my M&MS.
Then Mr. Squirrel decided to take matters into his own hands.
He lunged at me, landing on the leg of my jeans.
Mr. Squirrel clawed his way up my pants leg and STUCK HIS LITTLE SQUIRREL HAND IN MY POCKET.
Yes, the pocket where I usually had M&Ms. He thoroughly rummaged his little squirrel hand around in my pocket looking for candy.
That’s when I started yelling and kicking trying, to dislodge Mr. Squirrel. But he held on tight. I was yelling, turning in circles, kicking my leg, with a squirrel flapping on my leg.
Finally, he turned loose. I swear he gave me a dirty look before scampering away. He also muttered something rude under his breath.
I headed home, my jeans shredded and leg bleeding.
But I vowed not to let Mr. Squirrel win, and the next day went out for another walk. In Kensington Gardens.
In announcing the Central Park count, the New York City mayor’s office has cautioned: “Count with your eyes, not your hands.”
I hope they tell the squirrels to keep their hands to themselves.
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.
I don’t have many hard facts about this uniform, but there are plenty of clues.
The dress has no labels or manufacturing marks, so it likely was homemade. It is pale brown linen.
A card in the pocket says it was donated by Mildred “Connie” Conrad in March 1987, but it is obviously much older. This was part of a large donation that included flags for every country represented; the US flag included only has 48 stars, suggesting the 1950s or earlier.
The Philippines is an exception to the “Girl Guides” naming pattern used by most countries in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The first troops in the Philippines were established by families of US servicemen stationed there. They were registered in New York as Girl Scouts, much like Troops on Foreign Soil. The original charter for the Philippines was issued in May 1940, but the organization had to be significantly reorganized and revived after World War II.
The dress has several patches, badges, and insignia:
These look like the Golden Hand and Golden Bar emblems used by American Brownies between 1926 and 1937. The Girl Scout Collector’s Guide explains,
The Golden Bar rank represented a bit of the Golden Ground that the Brownie stands on ready to lend a hand. The Golden Hand rank showed that the Brownie could really lend a hand.
The other shoulder has a Brownie Six emblem, council strip, and troop number.
This looks like the “Little People” emblem, which was introduced in 1929.
The dress includes eight badges, sewn around the waistband. These resemble badges earned by Girl Guides, especially as US Brownies did not earn badges before 1986.
Now, for the hard part, can anyone identify the badges?
Based on current and vintage Girl Guide badges, my best guess is:
Hurricane Matthew is on track to slam into Savannah, Georgia, early tomorrow morning (October 8). Who knows what damage the “holiest” city in Girl Scouting will suffer.
I am extra anxious about the impending storm because my daughter is a sophomore at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In fact, her dorm is on the same street as the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, about two blocks west.
She evacuated Tuesday night and is home safe in Maryland, but we have no idea when she will return.
But never fear, the Girl Scouts are ready for anything, including hurricanes.
Several years ago, the Girl Scout Council of the Florida Panhandle issued Hurricane Preparedness Council’s Own badges for Brownies and Juniors. While these badges are no longer available, they contained lessons that are still valid today and that can be applied to many disaster scenarios.
There is also a similar patch program developed by Nation’s Capital and FEMA.
They all teach the same basic lesson: have a plan and review it often. Don’t waste time wondering what you should do, BE PREPARED!
To all of my friends at the Birthplace and First Headquarters, stay safe! We will be thinking of you.
Hurricane Preparedness, Florida Panhandle
Do 5 activities including one starred:
1. Look at a map or globe of the earth. Look for the horizontal lines called latitudes and the vertical lines called longitudes. Any spot on the globe can be pinpointed by the intersection of latitudinal line and the longitudinal line that the town falls on or near. The intersection of these two lines is called coordinates is measured in degrees. Find your city on a hurricane tracking map. Know the coordinates of your city. Learn how to use a tracing map to follow the path of a storm by using the coordinates.
2. Learn the terminology of the storms. Know the difference between a tropical wave, a tropical depression, a tropical storm and a hurricane. Be able to explain “hurricane watch” and “hurricane warning”.
3. Hurricanes are grouped together according to the strength of the storm. A hurricane will fall into one of five groups called categories. Learn the difference between the categories of a hurricane. Find out what categories of hurricanes have affected your area and how each category affected your area in relation to the damage and long term effects felt.
4. Make a hurricane checklist for your family. Include how to decide whether to stay or evacuate. If you evacuate, show on a map what route you would take and where your destination would be. Also indicate what items you would take with you.
*5. Help you family prepare a hurricane preparation kit. Make a list of supplies that you have prepared. Where are these items stored? How do you prepare the house (windows, water supply, outside items) for the storm?
6. Once a storm reaches the strength where it is classified as a tropical storm, it is given a name. What is the history behind naming hurricanes? How are names decided on? Are any names not used anymore and why? Make a chart of hurricane names for 2 different years.
7. Discuss with your troop your personal experience with hurricanes or hurricane warnings. Discuss how you feel before, during and after the storm. Do you and your family feel that you made the best decision whether to stay or evacuate? How do you feel now when hurricane season begins?
8. Invite an emergency management official to visit or take a field trip to the office of a local government, military, or college campus hurricane preparedness department. Learn how information is received into the office and how it is dispersed to the public.
9. With your troop, plan games and activities to do during a hurricane. Discuss what kinds of activities are better that others and why. Share what activities you may have done during a hurricane. Have supplies ready in your hurricane preparedness kit for these activities.
10. Find out about the shelters in your area. Where are they located? How do you decide whether to stay in your house or go to a shelter? Are shelters designed for specific needs such as the handicapped, medical needs, or the elderly? If anyone in your group has ever gone to a shelter during a hurricane, ask them to share their experiences.
11. Find out how hospitals, nursing care facilities, and prisons prepare for hurricanes. What special preparations do zoos, animal shelters and aviaries have to take?
The fall 1986 Girl Scout catalog contained a major surprise: new badges … for Brownies! That means the Try-It has been around for 30 years.
The “Try-It” name reflected the non-competitive emphasis on fun. Brownies did not have to become proficient in a skill, they just had to Try It. Girls had to complete four of six requirements to earn the recognition.
Try-Its satisfied a growing demand for more Brownie program content, especially after the program expanded from two years (2nd and 3rd grades) to three (1st grade) in 1973.
Many councils issued special badge programs to celebrate the American Bicentennial in 1976. Brownies could earn these, leading many to ask why they didn’t have badges of their own. Some councils responded with their own patch programs. Today these are known as “Pre-Try-Its.”
img 1475 1
Official Patches and Wedges
Before Try-Its, GSUSA introduced the Brownie Bs program in 1977. The program encouraged troops to create well-rounded programs that reflected the Brownie Bs:
Be a Discoverer
Be a Ready Helper
Be a Friend-maker
Upon completing a year in the program, Brownies received a triangular patch to wear on the front of their sashes. Each wedge represented one year: Yellow (1st year), Red (2nd), and Blue (3rd). (The bridge and Junior Aide bar were Junior recognitions, but you almost always see them grouped together.)
GSUSA also issued Brownie Bs fun patches that were worn on the back of the sash.They came in several shapes and colors.
Try-Its Influenced the Uniform
Now that Brownies could earn recognitions, they needed a place to display them. The sash was introduced in 1977 and the vest in 1991. Mothers everywhere rejoiced when iron-on Try-Its were introduced in 2004.
The original Try-Its had borders that matched the Worlds to Explore program: Arts, Out-of-Doors, People, Today and Tomorrow, and Well-Being. The program was wildly popular and members immediately asked for more options. A blank “Our Own Council’s” version was introduced in 1988, followed by 20 new Try-Its in 1989, six in 1993, and five in 1997.
As we mark the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, take a moment to look at your right shoulder. Specifically, look at the flag waving atop your uniform sash or vest.
The US flag was not part of the official Girl Scout uniform until after 9/11. Even today, the flag technically is optional, although most girls wear it.
The straight flag was introduced in the 2002 catalog, although no girl pictured in the catalog was wearing one. The wavy flag was introduced in 2008.
GSUSA also introduced three new badges that emphasized flag etiquette, history, and patriotism: Wave the Flag for Brownies, United We Stand for Juniors, and American Patriotism for Cadettes and Seniors.
wave the flag
united we stand
As troops form and begin meeting this fall, take the opportunity to explain the importance of that small flag on her shoulder.
It’s laundry day at the Robertson household. No, I’m not going to tackle that teeming basket of ironing, I’m going to look at Girl Scout laundry badges!
The first handbook, How Girls Can Help Their Country included the Laundress badge. Girls had to:
Know how to wash and iron a garment, clear starch, and how to do up a blouse.
Press a skirt and coat.
Know how to use soap and starch, how to soften hard water, and how to use a wringer.
After 1938, laundry-related skills were incorporated into other badges, such as Housekeeper. Intermediate Girl Scouts of the 1940s had to learn how to remove a variety of stains (milk, coffee, ink, rust, etc.) and :
Assist in a weekly laundering by gathering and assorting the clothes and linens, by washing and ironing some articles with your mother’s permission, and by assorting and putting away the clean laundry.
Since the 1980s, badges involving clothing have focused more on design and cost than care and cleaning.
One thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find in my Rockwood research is how nice campers managed to look, especially while touring Washington, DC. Whether in a tent or lodge, girls managed to keep their white uniform blouses clean and crisp.
Personally, I really like this laundry spoof badge I found on Etsy. Who knows what all those laundry symbols mean?
If anyone would like to do my ironing, I’ll gladly buy one for you!
In addition to corporate offices, archives, and an expanded museum, let’s include a conference center and hostel facilities for traveling troops. Girl Scouting promotes active citizenship, which is enhanced when girls tour the Nation’s Capital and see how our government works. The Rockwood National Program Center served a similar purpose for decades but today still suffers from a lack of public transit options. A better model might be that of the National 4-H Conference Center. Nice, affordable space near public transit.
2. Return to a Skills-based Program
Girls learn by doing activities, not by reading about them. They like challenges and stretching themselves. Let’s dump the Journeys and emphasize learning by doing with a rich range of badges. Put them all in ONE handbook, available in print and online. As Miss Frizzle always says in the Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” (Wouldn’t Miss Frizz make a great troop leader?) She had great field trips and knew the importance of getting outside.
3. Invest in Staff Stability
Girl Scout councils have become pass-through workplaces. Few staff stay as long as two years, regarding the jobs as temporary stages in their careers. But younger doesn’t necessarily mean better in terms of employees; it simply means cheaper. How do we get them to put down roots? We could ask new hires to make a two-year commitment. We could also recruit from another demographic—current volunteers. Would empty-nesters, long-time volunteers whose troops have graduated, be interested? They are already familiar with the program, so they would have less of a learning curve. We can’t build strong relationships and continuity with fleeting partners.
4. Promote a Culture of Collaboration
The various components of our movement must commit to improving communication, treating others with respect, and not going off to pout in our tents. This is OUR movement. It is up to us to find ways to perpetuate it.
The old recipe for Brownie Stew applies in the conference room as well as the campsite: everyone brings something to the table—new ideas, hard-earned experience, and enthusiasm, to name a few. Just because an adult wasn’t a member as girl doesn’t mean they can’t contribute today.
Staff must learn to value the contribution of volunteers—that means recognizing the hours they serve as well as the dollars they give. Both forms of contribution are equally vital to the future of our movement.
National, council, staff, volunteer, girl—we’re all part of the same big troop.
5. Promote Girl Scout Pride
The Girl Scout uniform is a symbol of an internationally respected organization devoted to the development of girls. Wearing your uniform identifies you as a member of Girl Scouts of the USA and of a worldwide movement rich in tradition. It shows Girl Scout pride and provides for recognition and visibility. (“The Girl Scout Uniform,” Leader Magazine Fall 2003).
The best way to improve our visibility is to, duh, BE VISIBLE. Part of that means wearing a uniform. The public won’t know what we’re doing if they don’t realize who we are. This includes staff, perhaps just one or two days a week, but we’re all in this together. Plus, uniforms are one segment of merchandise whose profits go to GSUSA. Is it a coincidence that the budget deficits swelled when uniforms were all but eliminated?
Getting off my soapbox now. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the members or staff of my council, my family, or even my cats.
GSUSA Executive Search Team: Interested? You know where to find me.