Juliette Gordon Low couldn’t have known in 1912, as she gathered 18 girls for the first Girl Scout meeting, that 100 years later her concept for a girl-centered organization would grow to more than 3 million members and 50 million alumnae worldwide. Among them would be congresswomen, best-selling authors, astronauts, mothers, doctors and musicians — courageous, confident women who found their first leadership experiences in Girl Scouts. As the national organization celebrates a century of helping girls reach their full potential, one wonders — what will the next 100 years hold?
In its earliest years, Girl Scouting aimed to help girls develop self-reliance and resourcefulness, preparing them not only for traditional homemaking, but also for professional lives and active citizenship. Girls earned badges for skills such as first aid, housekeeping, telegraphy and nursing. Girl Scouts conducted service projects to support war efforts during World War I and World War II, as well as relief efforts during the Great Depression. As times changed, so too did the organization. In the 1970s and ’80s, environmental education programs, career exploration and the introduction of badge programs in computers and aerospace opened a world of even greater opportunities to girls.
Today’s Girl Scouts continue the tradition of being leaders in their own lives. Girls learn business and financial literacy skills through participating in the Girl Scout Cookie Program. Girl Scout Gold Award Projects give girls an opportunity to develop project management skills while creating lasting solutions to community needs. As they have since the early 1900s, girls still earn badges; however, topics have grown to reflect the needs and interests of girls today. Digital photography, car care, good credit and traveler are just a few of the badges that now join traditional topics such as first aid and naturalist.
Girl Scouting’s roots in Oregon began around 1915 with a troop in Grants Pass. Today, Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington (GSOSW) serves nearly 19,500 girls with the help of more than
11,500 adult volunteers. Notable Girl Scout alumnae in Oregon include Debi Coleman — the keynote speaker at GSOSW’s 2011 Leadership Luncheon ― and former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts.
“I was fortunate to experience what it means to be a Girl Scout,” Governor Roberts says of her time as a girl in the organization, “To share with other girls, to earn badges, to camp out, to live the ethics and standards of the Girl Scout Promise. When I was inaugurated as Oregon’s first woman governor in 1991, Girl Scouts from across Oregon presented the colors for that historic ceremony. I often tell girl audiences, ‘I am the only Girl Scout to have been the Governor of Oregon. Is there a badge for that?’
“As a young girl growing up in small town in Oregon, I had no important women role models to follow — no women majors or county commissioners, no women school principals, no women ministers or business owners. But I remember earning a Girl Scout badge for women’s history and learning about Helen Keller, Madame Curie, Clara Barton, Joan of Arc, Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Earhart. Those women gave girls of the 1940s and ’50s new ideas to dream about — new possibilities.”
Girl Scouts of the USA hopes to continue expanding these possibilities for all girls as it looks beyond 2012. Only one in five girls believes she has what it takes to lead, and a new campaign entitled “To Get Her There” aims to change that. By engaging siblings, parents, community and government in the cause of girls’ leadership, To Get Her There seeks to create a community invested in helping girls reach their full potential. Whether encouraging girls toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or helping to promote healthy media images of women, everyone plays a part in making the world a better place for girls to lead. Adults interested in supporting the cause can learn more at togetherthere.org.
While the Girl Scouts’ official 100th anniversary is March 12, 2012, local celebrations will kick off at a free event in Pioneer Courthouse Square on March 10. Enjoy booths from every decade of Girl Scouting, be a part of the Northwest’s Largest Friendship Circle, enjoy entertainment from Radio Disney and Portland native Savannah Outen and get a box or two of your favorites at the Last Chance Cookie Sale.
This free event is open to the public while 100th anniversary celebratory events will continue throughout the year. For information about anniversary celebrations, about becoming a Girl Scout, or registering as an alumna, contact Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington at (503) 977-6800 or visit www.girlscoutsosw.org.