It’s January, which is my favorite time of year for one reason: soon, Girl Scout cookies will arrive. So as someone who has been affiliated with both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts over the course of my life, when I saw this image circulating on various social media sites, I felt the need to respond.
I was a proud Girl Scout from 1st-12th grade, and last summer I worked at a Boy Scout camp for 10 weeks, if you include staff training. To say that Scouting is a big part of my life is an understatement. So when I say that, as an organization, Girl Scouts is the most amazing thing I’ve ever been a member of, I couldn’t be more serious.
I loved my job with Boy Scouts, and overall, my experience was extremely positive. But there were major things that I didn’t agree with about the organization; primarily the way Boy Scouts handles religion and sexual identity. There were times where I felt uncomfortable about my very personal beliefs. But that’s a subject for a completely different article.
I’m not saying that Girl Scouts as an organization is perfect. But overall, I feel that Girl Scouts as a whole is a more welcoming organization to people of different beliefs, backgrounds, and creeds (again, there are variations from troop to troop and area to area, but I’m talking about Girl Scouts as a national and global organization).
If you look back to the founding of the organization, Girl Scouts were BAMFs. Lord Baden Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouting movement, initially intended the Boy Scouts to essentially be an early military training program. Boy Scouts were meant to learn basic skills that would help them later be better soldiers—how to start a fire, how to build a shelter, how to find water and food, how to shoot a rifle. However, when he held the first rally for scouts in 1909, girls showed up, having formed troops of their own. Baden-Powell couldn’t have girls mixing with boys in a scouting organization, so he then enlisted the help of sister, Lady Agnes Baden-Powell, and their mutual American friend, Juliette Gordon Low (better known as Daisy) in forming the Girl Guides in 1910.
In 1912, with the blessing of Lord Baden Powell, Daisy brought scouting to girls stateside, starting the first troop in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia. These original Girl Scouts aimed to help girls become well-rounded young women by pursuing four goals: developing their full potential; relating to others with increasing understanding, skill, and respect; developing a meaningful set of values to guide their actions and to provide for sound decision-making; and contributing to the improvement of society. They did this by doing same things their male counterparts did: wilderness survival, community service, fundraising, cooking, career studies, and sports (there’s some awesome early photos of girls playing basketball with sheets hanging on the fence around them because they tied up their skirts to make it easier to play, thus showing their knees. Very scandalous.).
Since then, Girl Scouts of America (GSUSA) has created opportunities for young women to match their male counterparts. For example, in 1941, there was a special branch of the Girl Scouts founded called the Wing Scouts, for older girls who wanted to serve their country by being pilots. The program continued to exist through the 1970s, and through a partnership with United Airlines many young women were able to make their first flights as passengers and later learn to fly themselves.
Girl Scouts is founded on the principle that all girls should have the same opportunities, and has led the way in equality for all children. Starting in the 1920s and 30s by actively forming troops for WoC, GSUSA was mostly desegregated by the mid-1950s. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an avid supporter of the Girl Scouts, and commended the organization as “a force for desegregation.” In more recent years, GSUSA has allowed transgender children to join, much to the backlash of some more conservative critics, some from within the organization itself. I feel that if you are offended by any child being a member of an organization that accepts them for who they are and empowers them to become more resilient adults, you shouldn’t have any say in the lives of the children who are a part of that organization.
GSUSA recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and has continued a tradition of excellence ever since. Globally, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) has raised countless dollars that troops have either donated directly or have assisted in service efforts to support to cancer research, endangered species research, Habitat for Humanity, the Make A Wish Foundation, the Ronald McDonald House, and countless other worthy causes. And that money comes from cookie sales. And while it does kind of suck that individual troops only get about $0.35 per box that they sell, local area councils receive about $2.50 per box. That money that goes to creating programming, maintaining camping and training facilities, and paying registration fees and providing “camperships” to girls in financial need through a program called Opportunity Fund. So for every $4 you spend on a box of cookies, about $2.85 is spent in your area, and allows not only individual troops, but regional councils, to think on a more global scale.
One example of such a project started eleven years ago in the San Diego Imperial Council (my home council). Called Operation Thin Mint, the project has the mission statement “A taste of home and a note to show we care.” For the normal cost of a box of cookies, any buyer, in both pre-orders and at booth sales, can send a box of cookies to troops overseas. Many troops collect donations of spare change or single dollars during booth sales, and these small donations quickly add up: in the first year of Operation Thin Mint, over 104,000 boxes of cookies were donated to service men and women stationed overseas, and the program has only expanded since.
Two things have remained constant in the history of badassery that is the Girl Scouts of America: criticism, and cookies. Ever since the days of Juliette Gordon Low, people have criticized the Girls Scouts for being too radical and poisoning the minds of young girls. And the very first Girl Scouts in Savannah raised money for their service projects and trips by selling shortbread cookies that they baked themselves.
So I’m proud to call myself a Girl Scout. If it weren’t for my scouting experience, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I likely wouldn’t have done as well in school without the support structure that came from weekly troop meetings. I doubt I would have ever gained the confidence and work ethic that helped me get in to Northwestern. And I am proud to spend so much of my limited college student budget buying a minimum of ten boxes of cookies every year. Every thin mint you bite in to this cookie season is part of a rich tradition of helping girls develop into strong, civic-minded young women.