MONDAY, MARCH 12: “Come right over! I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!” With that breathless exclamation in a telephone call to her cousin, Juliette Gordon Low kicked off what we know today as the Girl Scouts. Low’s cousin was a noted educator and the two women rushed around various Savannah, Georgia, institutions until they found 18 girls to register the first American group of Girl Guides on March 12, 1912.
Girl Guides!?! Yes, Low got her idea while in Britain, where she met Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell and got so excited about the possibilities in the new Girl Guides that she decided to bring the concept home to the U.S. That’s why Commonwealth nations celebrated a centennial a couple of years ago. The American organization didn’t change its name to Girl Scouts until 1913, but Low’s enthusiasm never dimmed. She continued to work on scouting programs, even after contracting breast cancer, and eventually was buried in her scouting uniform in a Savannah cemetery in 1927.
What about … Camp Fire Girls?
The short answer: They celebrated two years ago. Today, the original Camp Fire Girls of America organization is called Camp Fire USA, following the decision in 1975 to open the membership to boys. Today, Camp Fire’s mission is to serve young people, especially in areas of the country where kids don’t get much exposure to camping experiences. Half of participants now are boys. However, Camp Fire officials proudly point out that their origins pre-dated Girl Scouts. According to Camp Fire’s official history: “Founded in 1910 by Dr. Luther and Charlotte Gulick, Camp Fire Girls was the first non-sectarian organization for girls in the United States. Dr. Gulick chose the name Camp Fire because campfires were the origin and center of early community life.”
GIRL SCOUTS: 3.7 MILLION MEMBERS STRONG
The 100th anniversary for the current 3.7 million Girl Scouts will be no small event: Girl Scout achievements will be highlighted in museums and businesses from coast to coast. (Get more info at GirlScouts.org.) Girl Scouts of the USA has created centennial memorabilia; a new cookie is called the Savannah Smiles, in honor of the location of the first Girl Scouts meeting; and Barack Obama signed the “Girl Scouts of the USA Commemorative Coin Act” this year. Even the U.S. Postal Service will be releasing a “Celebrate Scouting Forever” stamp in June. (Check out a picture of the stamp here.)
Religious and racial freedoms have long been integrated into the Girl Scout fabric, and by the 1950s, the organization was working hard to desegregate troops. Even civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Girl Scouts “a force for desegregation.” (Read more Girl Scout history in a Washington Post article.) Although part of the Girl Scout Promise is still the phrase “to serve God,” individuals can substitute another phrase when reciting the Promise, such as “to serve Allah” or “to serve the Creator.” Girl Scout policy remains neutral and flexible in other ways, too, as it does not prohibit nor require prayer at meetings.
“Going green” takes on a meaning beyond the Girl Scout official color this year, as members take on the 100th Anniversary Take Action Project: Girl Scouts Forever Green. Through April, Girl Scouts will be pledging and carrying out efforts to protect the environment and protect natural resources.
FAMOUS FORMER GIRL SCOUTS?
Too many to list in one article! Among them are Lucille Ball, Katie Couric, Elizabeth Dole and Dakota Fanning, plus top figures in fields of law, politics and science—including NASA astronauts. In fact, the first American woman to walk in space was former Girl Scout Kathryn Sullivan.
On my honor … Do you know the words? Here’s one of the centennial videos produced by Girl Scouts that features scouts today (and pictures of scouts of the past) as we recall the words as they are voiced by millions of young women today: On my honor …
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.