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.
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.
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.
The biggest change came in 1963, when more paths were introduced, such as Community Action, Homemaker, and Arts.
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.
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.
Finally, take a close look at the design of these patches. See the gold starburst design in the background? That was taken from the earlier special Senior membership pin.
Many troops simply kept using their trusty 1963 handbook and related interest patches.
In 1980, Options was officially declared dead. Few noticed.
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.
Usually we have to come up with ideas for our vintage exhibits at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters. But sometimes we get lucky, and a display comes together on its own.
That’s what happened last fall when we received a donation of Girl Scout dolls. People often contact us saying that they or a friend has some items they’ve held onto to for years, would we like them.
Of course, the answer is yes!
And when we had such a query about dolls, we said yes and suggested the donor drop them at a council field office. They would make their way to the archives eventually. So we knew some dolls were coming and we assumed it was perhaps four or five.
This is what arrived:
They were all in pristine condition, most even labeled with manufacturer, date, and the relevant page from the doll handbook!
We have displayed dolls in chronological before, so this time we tried thematic grouping. We staged the dolls doing typical Girl Scout things.
Proudly Wearing Their Uniforms
Whenever Girl Scouts of the USA issued a new uniform, doll uniforms were updated as well.
Girl Scout dolls, like actual Girl Scouts, come in many shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.
The first African-American Girl Scout doll was available in the mid-1940s, although she did not appear in the official equipment catalogs.
Advertising and packaging of Girl Scout doll clothes began featuring dolls with mobility challenges, although there has not been a Girl Scout doll that comes with her own wheelchair—yet!
Making New Friends!
Girl Scout friendships have always been reflected in the range of Girl Scout dolls. Dolls celebrate troop friends as well as Girl Guide friends abroad.
Girl Scout dolls love being outdoors as much as real girls do! Many dolls come with their own camping gear.
From Barbie to Beanie Babies and Build-a-Bear, popular characters and toy lines have signed up with the Girl Scouts.
Learning Their History
Many dolls have been issued to honor Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts. Whether an expensive collector’s piece or a soft, snuggly cloth friend, girls can be close to Daisy day or night.
Learning Skills; Giving Service
Sewing and gifting dolls has long been a popular service project.
The full exhibit can be seen at the Girl Scout office at 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite M-2, Washington DC.
Girl Scout National President, poet, and suffragist Birdsall Otis Edey penned the following message to Girl Scouts for 1925:
Mrs. Edey (and was there EVER a better name than “Birdsall Otis Edey”) is referring to the Girl Scout headquarters at 670 Lexington Avenue in New York City. Funds for the building came in part from the “buy-a-brick” campaign associated with “Dorothy,” the yellow brick girl.
A future post will profile the marvelous Mrs. Edey.
Happy New Year from the Girl Scout History Project!!
Does anyone remember the golden pins offered for adult service? There were two programs available between 1987 and 2005.
The Leadership Development Pin was introduced in 1987. A similar Volunteer Development Pin was released in 2003. Both were designed to emphasize long-time service and to be worn for many years.
Leadership Development Pin
The Leadership Development Pin featured a brown owl on a gold metal circle. Five holes had been punched at the bottom of the pin in anticipation of future attachments. Green, silver, and gold leaves could be attached as leaders accumulated credentials.
There were four steps to earning the basic, golden circle pin.
Complete one year as a troop leader or co-leader.
Complete basic leadership training.
Attend at least two meetings or events beyond the troop, such as service unit meetings, council annual meetings, or Thinking Day celebrations.
Secure camp certified and first aid trained adults for the troop.
Once the basic pin was completed, leaves could be awarded for additional training. One green leaf signified ten hours. Five green leaves could be exchanged for one silver leaf; five silvers (250 hours) merited one gold leaf.
The big problem with the “Owl Pin” was the leaves. They were tiny; no larger than a grain of rice. The main pin itself was less than an inch in diameter. Thus, by the time members accumulated silver and gold leaves, they needed reading glasses.
At least one of my leaves was possessed by demons. That’s the only explanation for the chaos that ensued the last time I tried to attach a new leaf:
Step 1: Gather pins, leaves, and jewelry tools.
Step 2: Recoil in horror as one leaf flies out of your fingers.
Step 3: Shake keyboard vigorously to remove leaf now lodged between keys. Retrieve and repeat.
Step 4: Attach leaf. Scowl as pinback snaps off, leaving a useless disc.
Fly Away, Fly Away
Like too many Girl Scout programs, the Leadership Development pin was never officially discontinued. It was last seen in the 2005 Girl Scout catalog.
Volunteer Service Award
The 2003 catalog introduced a new recognition, the Volunteer Service Award. Dubbed the “key pin,” it was even more complicated (and expensive) than the owl pin series.
The Volunteer pin continued the pin + dangles concept but focused on non-troop service. The main pin could be earned by completing one year:
On a board committee
On an appointed task group
On a service unit management team
On an association team or
As a GSUSA National Operational Volunteer.
After earning the main pin, volunteers could earn keys for additional service:
White: GS Mentoring Award
Black: GS Executive Award
Gold: GS Diversity Award
Silver: GS Community Cultivation
Copper: GS Fund Development
I could provide more detailed explanations of these categories, but typing them out would require more time than the pin was in existence. It also disappeared after 2005.
Alas, I am leafless and keyless
After the Great Leaf Debacle, I didn’t bother with the key pin. I don’t think many other volunteers did either.
Some programs never die, they just get stuck in the nooks and crannies of keyboards, junk drawers, backpacks, and couch cushions.
Troop Crests are some of the oldest official insignia. Originally, each patrol (sub-group) within a troop had a different crest. The first troop in Savannah, for example, had White Rose, Carnation, Red Rose, and Poppy patrols. Over time, crests began to encompass the entire troop.
Early troops were identified by their crest, not troop number, as in this Washington Post article from 1914.
Similarly, members of this troop were the “Surrey Poppies.”
In May 1913, Juliette Gordon Low brought a selection of English Girl Guide crests for the earliest American troops to use. The English crests were circles of black felt, embroidered with bright colors and a red border.
The Girl Scouts adopted many of the English crests in 1920. They soon realized that the Blackbird crest was almost invisible when embroidered on black felt. The girls decided to use blue thread instead and renamed it “Bluebird” in 1922.
Traditionally, once girls chose a crest, it was used for the lifetime of the troop.
But there are exceptions to every rule. Estelle Kelso, owner of this uniform, was either in a troop that picked a new crest each year or perhaps she changed troops.
Contrary to popular belief, meanings have only been ascribed to crests in recent years. The early crests were all flowers, trees, waterfalls, stars and other non-floral designs came later. Between 1923 and 1930, troops were encouraged to
choose the names of famous women, either from real life or literature, and “build up troop traditions around them. … select women “who have done conspicuous service or pioneer work in professional and scientific fields, or who were associated with our early American life, either in the colonies or in the Westward moving border lands.”
–Blue Book of Rules
From 1918 to 2011, troops could also design their own crests. They chose images that reflect their interests or perhaps a local landmark or significant culture. The meanings of many, however, are known only to the girls.
Whatever the design, fabric, or official status, crests can always be identified by shape. Crests are oval, all badges are (or were) round. That’s a difference that is easily overlooked by even the best historians. The rare fuchsia crest at right was mis-identified online by the Georgia Historical Society.
Designs have come and gone over the years. In 2011 the oval shape was replaced by a shield shape. Yet some designs have remained nearly unchained for over 100 years.
Lately I have been reading monthly reports from the directors of Rockwood, the former Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC.
The monthly reports run about five pages each and provide statistics describing the groups using the camp in a particular month.
Many of the included items are routine and rather boring–I’ve learned more than I probably need to about septic systems.
But mixed in with the monotony are some real gems. Including these:
RFK: Come see my house!
A group of Senior Girl Scouts in perfect uniform is a beautiful sight to behold and Mr. Robert Kennedy evidently thought so too. The girls were standing on the roadside in front of Mr. Kennedy’s home waiting for their stalled bus to be repaired when Mr. Kennedy drove to the main road. He stopped his car—greeted the girls and shook hands with many of them—asked where they were from and then invited them into his home for a tour. He apologized because his wife was not there and he had to go on to his work, but left them with a maid to act as a tour guide. Those girls are convinced that their uniforms helped them to have this experience. (July 1964)
An impromptu recording session
Recently a staff member began to play a tape recording made at Shadowbrook All States encampment. This recording was of the favorite songs of the campers. Gradually the Manor House Lobby and stair steps filled with girls and the girls began to sing with the record. Then they, too, made recordings. Two fathers and a bus driver joined in with the fun. One father acted as sound engineer and the other held the microphone. Forty of the sixty girls in camp attended the impromptu sing. (September 1963)
Not without our leader
A leader, as she got off the bus, said to the staff member standing nearby—“Watch those girls. They are trying to hide my wheel chair as they take it off the bus. They think that I do not know that they have it here. I did not realize that I had muscular dystrophy when we started planning this trip three years ago. When I refused to go on this long planned adventure they would have none of it and then, when I said I would stay on the bus and rest as they went sightseeing they did not want that either. I dislike holding them back and tiring them with pushing my chair, but-no one could resist them. They even have a secret kaper chart scheduling aides to help me. They don’t know that I know about that too.” What a wonderful troop of Seniors that group was! Mature, capable, dependable, and determined to keep their leader from becoming tired and frustrated. (July 1964)
Ready for the Rascal
For two days in succession a tent was raided and the contents of suitcases thrown about. We feared that neighborhood boys were up to mischief. On the third day members of the staff took turns sitting quietly in the unit doing office work. The vandal was found and identified. It was one of those attractive and annoying rascals-a raccoon. Our campers enjoy hearing about their escapades. The owners of the raided suitcases now know that we mean it when we say that food should be kept in covered containers.
This happened the third week of August. Another troop from the same city arrived the fourth week of the month and were to live in the same unit. One girl immediately asked to be placed in the tent visited by the raccoons because she had a camera with a flash attachment. (August 1963)
The Caretaker’s granddaughter came for a Brownie Holiday with her troop. They stayed at Carolyn Cottage and she immediately claimed a top bunk. This troop had few questions to ask since the granddaughter had already furnished all the necessary information. (May 1961)
Brownies on Bunk Beds, 1954
Do you have a Rockwood story? Please let me know.
I have already heard from that confident Brownie, who wanted to share her version of that weekend!
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