Although many elements - from her grandma's letters, to her mother's hopes, to her friends' expectations - help shape Rory's understanding of what it means to be a girl in her small community, one institution does more than any other to shape Rory's perception of American girlhood: the Girl Scouts of the USA.
The Girl Scouts of the USA were founded by Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low (pictured, middle) in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912. Part of a worldwide Scouting movement founded by Robert Baden-Powell in 1909, the Girl Scouts (known as Girl Guides in the UK and Canada) believed that girls should be given opportunities to develop physically, mentally, and spiritually. A combination of domestic preparedness, civic engagement, and outdoor aptitude has been stressed since the early years of the program. In the United States today, approximately 3.2 million girls and adults are actively involved in Girl Scouts, and there are more than 50 million alumnae.
Originally, Girl Scouts troops were separated on the basis of race - an African American unit was established in 1917, a Native American troop in 1921, a Mexican American group in 1922 - however, by the 1950s, "the GSUSA had begun significant national efforts to desegregate the camps and maintain racial balance." In 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr. marked the GSUSA as "a force for desegregation." And by 1975, an African American woman, Gloria Scott, was elected President of the Girl Scouts. More recently, however, controversy was raised when a transgender 7-year-old child was rejected from a Colorado Girl Scout Troop. In October 2011, the Colorado GS Council responded to the incident by saying, "If a child identifies as a girl and the child's family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout."
Though most of us probably only think about the Girl Scouts once a year - when they set out to sell Thin Mints, Trefoils, and other cookies in early spring - the Girl Scouts didn't actually start selling cookies on a broad scale until the 1930s. Before that time, cookies were baked at home by the girls and their mothers; in 1936 the national Girl Scout organization began licensing a commercial baker to produce Girl Scout cookies that could be sold by troops nationwide. Today, two official bakeries produce all the Girl Scout cookies sold in the United States, and the names of the cookies vary depending on which bakery produces them. The best-selling cookies are Thin Mints, Samoas (Caramel deLites), and Peanut Butter Patties (Tagalongs).
Through acts of public service, community involvement, and educational activities, Girl Scouts can earn badges in a variety of areas, from hiking and camping to public speaking, women's health, and "netiquette". Although the institution has certainly evolved from the earliest days, it seems likely that Juliette Gordon Low would still recognize and value the skills that today's Girl Scouts are encouraged to develop.
Click on the clip below to watch a 1940s Girl Scout promotional video calling for troop leader volunteers, starring a very young Natalie Wood.
This article was originally published in March 2012, and has been updated for the
February 2013 paperback release.
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