March 12 – Girl Scouting's Birthday

Posted on March 12, 2014

On this date in 1912, the organization that is now Girl Scouts of the USA was born as Juliette Gordon Low officially registered the its first 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia.
Scouting started in 1907 when a British man named Robert Baden-Powell set up Boy Scouts in the U.K., in order to help boys develop physically, mentally, and spiritually. His idea caught on in a big way, and within three at least 14 nations had Boy Scouts!

In 1910 Baden-Powell and his sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, introduced Girl Guides in the U.K., a “sister organization for the Boy Scouts. During the same year, a group of adults in Vermont (in the US.) realized that their daughters were missing out; while the boys had Boy Scout troops and meetings, the girls had no similar organization. So Camp Fire Girls was started as the sister organization of the Boy Scouts of America—with an official start date of March 17, 1912.

In the meantime, however, Juliette Low had met the Baden-Powells while she was living in the U.K., and she had caught Scout fever. When she returned to her home in Savannah, Low called up a cousin and announced, “I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we're going to start it tonight!” 

Isn't it interesting that Low started working on her idea later than the Camp Fire Girls people started on theirs, but she managed to officially start her organization five days earlier!

When Low first started her organization, she called it Girl Guides of America, after the girls' organization in the U.K. Later in 1912, she approached the leaders of Camp Fire Girls to see if they wanted to merge. At the time, Camp Fire Girls were larger, and they said no, thanks. Low approached another girls' organization, called Girl Scouts of America, which had been founded in Iowa. Low asked if they could merge, but the GSA founder was upset at Low, thinking she was a copycat trying to steal members away from her group; instead of merging with Low, she sued her!

(I wonder how the founder of GSA felt when, the next year, Low changed her name from “Guides” to “Scouts,” ending up with Girls Scouts of the United States of America, or GSUSA. Now their names were even more similar!)

It ended up that Juliette Low's organization was the one that steadily grew and grew. It now has more than 2 million girls and close to a million adults on its membership rolls. GSA eventually died out, and Camp Fire Girls, now a co-ed group called Camp Fire, has about 750,000 members. Do you suppose that the founders of those groups ever wished that they had merged with Low's organization?
I bet you already know that
Girl Scouts sell cookies!

Girl Scouts USA is a secular, inclusive group. I would like to think that its “we take all girls, from any background” attitude is one reason it has grown so large. Polls show that Girl Scouts USA is one of the most popular and respected charities in America, and some would claim that Girl Scouts and Girl Guides are the world's most important organizations solely for women and girls.

What's in a name?

Juliette Gordon Low's nickname was Daisy, and she was born in Savannah and started her first troop there. Now we call the youngest Girl Scouts “Daisies,” and two names for Girl Scout cookies are Savannahs and Juliettes (although the latter has been discontinued).

These photos show Juliette Gordon Low as a young woman (left) and as an middle-aged woman (right).

Did you know?

  • Japanese American girls who were wrongfully confined in internment camps during World War II often organized Girl Scout troops in the camps.
  • In 1956 Martin Luther King, Jr., called the Girl Scouts a “force for desegregation” because the Scouts in many locales were forming racially integrated troops.
  • More than 50 million Americans have been in Girl Scouts at one point or another in their lives!

Also on this date:

Birthday of Charles Boycott (the bad guy in the story of how the word boycott was coined) 

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