In 2012 The Girl Scouts of the USA celebrate their 100 anniversary. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides (in the UK) have already reached 100, but now it is the Girl Scouts turn. Girl Scouts were founded by Juliette Low in 1912 and are slightly different to Girl Guides. I grew up in the US and so was a Girl Scout. One of my favourite parts of scouting was the summer residential camps, something that doesn’t happen in the UK. I am not sure of the reason. That and Girl Scout cookies (again not sold in the UK — my sister does send me some every year though!)
Anyway, there is an exhibition about Girl Scouting on in Washington DC at the moment and my eldest son went with my sister. My sister and nieces are very involved in the Girl Scout movement. One of the presents my son brought home from his trip was a facsimile of the first Girl Scout Handbook — How Girls Can Help Their Country. He knows of my interest in history as well as scouting!
The Handbook is an interesting read with several eyebrow raising moments, not the least of which was the suggestion of growing opium poppies as they are good for inducing sleep. Some parts very much reflect Edwardian sensibilities but it is from this handbook that women were inspired to do more and live up to their potential. Interestingly it promotes daily exercise as well as suggesting that women will work. It says nothing about giving up that career for a family. Miss Low also points out that One individual often does more that a whole government or an army. One of you girls may some day alter the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
There was also a poignant moment when Miss Low wrote about “In time of peace prepare for war” and how Scouts should learn to nurse and care for the wounded for that will be their main share in any war that may come. These words were written in 1912 (the handbook was published in 1913) and obviously no one knew that World War I was looming in 1914. I suspect some of the nursing training these early Girl Scouts did came to be useful rather sooner than anyone anticipated.
It is a very aspirational handbook as it suggests that girls are capable of doing anything that they set their mind to and that any girl can grow strong. It attempts to teach self-reliance and self-discipline. reading through it, I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the early ideals remain relevant to today and can help empower women to succeed.
The first handbook laid down the foundations from which the modern Girl Scouting movement grew. It gives girls the opportunity grow and to learn new skills, oftentimes opening up opportunities that they may never have thought of. And because Scouting is a worldwide movement, it allows Scouts to dream of travelling to far off lands, (and sometimes as in my case, eventually reaching those places and living there!) I know Girl Scouts, and in particular thier summer camps had a profound influence on my life and I am very grateful that Scouting exists.
So here is to the Girl Scouts — young and old. May the Scouting movement flourish and inspire for many years to come!
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical. You can read more about her books on www.michellestyles.co.uk Her latest book His Unsuitable Viscountess was published this month in NorthAmerica and the UK.
Her next book Hattie Wilkinson Meets her Match will be published in November 2012.