Monday, March 12, 2012

100 Years of Scouting in the US

Today marks the centennial of the founding of the Girl Scouts! Inevitably, you’ve already munched on a Girl Scout cookie or two this year, but the organization is about so much more than selling treats. For 100 years the Girl Scouts have been a place for girls to learn about the importance of community, leadership, and independence, all while spending time amongst great friends.

One hundred years ago, Juliette Gordon Low brought girl scouting to the United States after meeting Scout Movement founder Sir Robert Baden Powell. Low met the “Chief Scout” while summering in Scotland in 1910, and the two became fast friends based on their mutual love of the outdoors. Low admired Baden Powell’s work with the Boy Scouts, and learned a girls’ scouting movement had begun in the form of Girl Guides. Enthusiastic about the cause, Low started a handful of small scouting companies in Scotland and London alongside Agnes Baden Powell, Sir Robert’s sister and the informal head of the Girl Guides.

Through scouting, young girls were given the opportunity to learn and refine useful skills like first aid, cooking, and sewing, and were also able to experience the joys of nature through camping, bird watching, hiking, and more. The program was a huge success, and was met with equal fervor when Low brought the idea back to the United States in 1912. By 1916, enrollment had grown to 3,000 girls and the organization was still expanding.

Girls in the US were no strangers to social groups, though; another scouting group called the Camp Fire Girls had informal roots reaching back to 1910, and a US division of the Girls’ Friendly Society was started in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1877.

Girl Scouting reached Boston in 1913, and with the eventual help of prominent social figure Helen Storrow, grew into a great success. Massachusetts had over 3,000 girls enrolled by the time they had opened a state headquarters in 1917, and the organization had such a presence within the state that the Girl Scouts held their national meeting in Boston in 1934.
Today, there are so many Girl Scouts in Massachusetts they are managed by two separate organizations, with over 45,000 scouts in Eastern Massachusetts alone. The Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts will be holding a Forever Green Gala Celebration as part of their centennial activities on Thursday, March 29th. To learn more about the Girl Scouts visit

To find out more about educational organizations, girls’ interest groups, Juliette Low, and the Girl Scouts, visit the Reference Department at the State Library to see select materials. Avid researchers will even find the original recipe for the first Girl Scout cookie!

The State Library of Massachusetts is open from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday.

Bianca Hezekiah
Program Coordinator, Reference Department