Cookies, Camps, and Kotex: Daisy and Disney Go With the Flow

Cookie season is here….cue the annual deluge of misinformation about our program.

Right on schedule, GSUSA has restated that it “does not take a position or develop materials” related to human sexuality, birth control, and abortion.  Yet some groups still have their undies in a bunch when it comes to Girl Scouting.

All this talk of schedules, girl parts, and panties reminds me of a time when Girl Scouts did dabble in gynecology.  In the early 1950s, the Girl Scouts teamed with the International Cellucotton Products Company (makers of Kotex) to provide educational materials about menstruation that could be used at troop meetings. The materials emphasized the need for straightforward, accurate information to counter rumors and superstitions. Camp directors were encouraged to put periods on their program, too.

GSUSA letter to council presidents about Kotex leader packet.
GSUSA letter to council presidents about Kotex leader packet.

Kotex offered leaders free copies of two booklets, “You’re a Young Lady Now,” for Girl Scouts ages 9-12, and “Very Personally Yours,” for teens and adults.  Leaders could also borrow a short animated movie, The Story of Menstruation, which was produced by the Walt Disney Company in 1946. (Yes, Disney + periods, go figure.)

The GSUSA Program Department created a leaders’ guide that included sample letters and telephone scripts to use when contacting troop mothers prior to the discussion.  The guide advised leaders to have a nurse on hand to lead the post-movie discussion and provided sample questions and answers. Leaders were also encouraged to distribute slips of paper so that girls could ask discussion questions anonymously. This also allowed leaders to filter the questions.

The guide included feedback from leaders who had already tried out these materials with their troops:

  • The questions “were principally on duration of periods, bathing, activity during menstruation, etc.  A few, on reproduction, were not covered in the discussion.”  (Whew!  Sigh of relief!)
  • “The experience was pleasant and decidedly inspiring. The girls thoroughly enjoyed the film and asked a number of sound questions. They squealed with delight as the cute baby roused from sleep, sat up, smiled showing a single tooth.  The bride at the end of the film was greeted with ‘Oh’s’ and ‘Ah’s.”
  • “As for the children, they were wonderful. I expected their reactions to be wholesome but I wasn’t quite prepared for their calm, natural acceptance of the explanation which the motion picture gives. No one will ever fool them with the silly superstitions in which so many women believe.  What a wonderful way to grow up!”

The Disney movie is available on YouTube, but it hasn’t really survived the test of time.  I showed it to my teen troop, and they were practically rolling on the floor with laughter.

GSUSA’s Leader magazine carried ads for Kotex and the film through at least the late 1960s, when Kotex significantly rewrote all of its materials.

Ad from April 1963 Leader magazine.
Ad from April 1963 Leader magazine. Yes, it really was that color.
Ad from January 1966 Leader magazine.
Ad from January 1966 Leader magazine.
Add from October 1969 Leader magazine. Getting a little racy here.
Ad from October 1969 Leader magazine. Getting a little racy here.

But one aspect of the program hasn’t changed: Girl Scout troops are still a safe, comfortable place for girls to ask awkward questions. I imagine leaders liked being prepared with the handouts and sample answers.

I’ve thought of creating a “period patch” that would teach girls that it’s OK to talk out loud about periods. Instead of an anatomy lesson, activities would look at advertising, history (what did the Pilgrims use?), and period-friendly fashion design.  They could collect products for a women’s shelter as a service project.  Hmmm…

What do you think?  Did you have the period talk with your troop?