History of the Girl Scouts of America

Cookies. That’s probably one of the first things to come to mind when you think about the Girl Scouts. But, there’s much more to this important organization than Thin Mints and Somoas.

Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low organized the first meeting of what would become the first Girl Scout get-together on March 12, 1912 in Savannah, Georgia. Eighteen girls attended that first meeting. Today, Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) boasts a membership approaching four million, with over fifty million alumnae.

While individual troops began selling homemade cookies in 1917 to raise money for their activities, it was those activities that have always been the central focus of the organization. The idea behind the GSUSA was to get young girls out of the home, get them involved in the community, and give them active outdoor opportunities (including hiking and camping).

In the early years, the GSUSA adopted the model established by the British Girl Guide, but quickly differentiated it as the American organization grew in popularity and resources. By 1920, the organization had developed it’s own uniform, guidebook, and a menu of twenty-five badges that members could earn.

In the 1920s, GSUSA grew rapidly, with offshoots organizing in far away places such as Mexico and China. An amazing feat considering the first transatlantic flight had just taken place. By the end of the decade, Girl Scout membership would reach 200,000.

That growth continued in the 1930s, with the organization creating three divisions: Brownies, Intermediate, and Senior scouts. In 1933, the first “official” Girl Scout Cookie sale took place involving commercially produced cookies. A dynasty had just been born.

Between 1940 and 1970, the Girl Scouts were active in social justice and civil rights efforts. The organization’s leading-edge diversity, for that period, served as a gentle reminder of the potential of inclusiveness. The GSUSA broke down social and racial barriers and established itself as a strongly pro civil rights organization.

Continuing its legacy of being in the forefront of social issues, GSUSA established an “eco-action” program in the early 1970s to focus on emerging environmental concerns. In the 1980s, a new division was created Daisy Girl Scouts for kindergarten-aged children. In the 1990s and continuing today, the GSUSA has reemphasized outdoor and physical education with GirlSports and an Adventure Sports badge.

The Girl Scouts have achieved remarkable success in the nearly 100 years of their existence. In fact, one might argue that they have achieved greater success and become a much wider household name than their male counterparts. The Girls Scouts USA is a remarkable organization and will continue to be an important American organization, yesterday, today, and in the future.