Celebrate 100 Years of Girl Scouts Today

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts.

An organization that started in 1912 with a small group of girls in Savannah, Georgia, has grown to an amazing membership of over 3.2 million today, with over 50 million alumnae.

As a former Girl Scout, I have first hand experience with the positive impact of this organization and its leaders - I learned about community involvement and civic responsibility; I mastered outdoor skill and learned to work with a team; I was provided with an environment of stability and positive learning - not always accessible at home; and I made lifelong friends. To this day, my old troop gets together, including our leaders.

To mark the anniversary, I asked Elizabeth Higgins, a lifelong scout, what the organization means to her family:

What has your involvement been with Girl Scouts?

As a lifetime scout, I have been involved with GSUSA for 27 years. My roles have varied from:
•    Girl member
•    Wider Opportunity participant (they offer competitive high adventure trips in the US and abroad)
•    Greenwood Day Camp Counselor
•    Silver and Gold Award recipient
•    Assistant Cadette Troop leader while in Graduate School
•    Nominating Committee to the Board of Directors for then local council "Prairie Winds"
•    Now an active parent in my girls' troops (one Brownie, one Junior) helping with ceremonies and Girl Scout traditions as a part of the Greater Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Council. I expect in the next year as my eldest bridges to Cadettes to take a role as a co-leader.

How has Girl Scouts impacted your life?

I credit Girl Scouts as a place that built courage and confidence. Whether we were scaling mountains, white water rafting, bike riding across the entirety of Wisconsin, traveling internationally, learning car maintenance, sleeping under the stars, starting fires in the pouring rain while at resident camp for two to three weeks at a time or meeting girls from around the globe… And that was in addition to countless hours spent on the arts, career exploration and singing.

Why is it important to you for your daughters to be involved with Girl Scouts?

I want my daughters to have the opportunity to learn broadly from a girl centered space that spans their entire growing years. Tailorable to their interests, certain themes are a given in Girl Scouts: Gaining confidence. Trying new things. Making friendships. Travel and an awareness of living in the out of doors. Meeting challenges. Being a sister to every scout.

Different than many of their sports, church, or clubs, Girl Scouts has values that all scouts are welcome.  I have been proud of the movement as it has courageously looked at issues of socioeconomics, gender identity, sexual preference, religious practice or non-practice and resoundingly come back saying no girls will be denied the opportunity to be scouts. It is a membership that is not based on talent, but nurtures talent. It is a place to belong without competition.  It is also a space in which strong women mentor the next generation - And that, I think, incubates later achievement for girls.

That was certainly the case in my own troop.  We had state winning athletes, the head of the cheer squad, members of the choir, yearbook, school journalism program and drama types. Girl Scouts was a place we came together and forged friendships that worked across all the clique stereotypes. Scouting was an activity we did to draw strength and regroup, amid the many opportunities for girls at the end of the century.

How do you see the significance of the 100th anniversary?

My girls mark the fourth generation to be involved in scouting in my family.  Their maternal great-grandmother and great aunt both were raised in Oak Park and highly impacted by Girl Scouts.

Aunt Ginny Frey cited Girl Scouts as the reason she was adventurous enough to move to California for a camp counselor position, an opportunity unprecedented in the 1930s for freedoms for her. Her lifelong love of the ocean was born that summer and kept her near its shores the rest of her life in southern California.

Great-grandma Alice Frey (Cop) desired deeply to be involved in scouting, but after the death of her own mother in childbirth, her adoptive family members denied her permission and funds for ever enrolling.  As a result, when she married and began her family at 18, she registered for Scouts and became a leader to her own sister (whom she adopted) and later her own daughter's troops.  Known as "Sparky," she ran local day camps and conscripted many impoverished children into Girl Scouts in the DeKalb area, determined no child should be denied the ability to be a scout. Her determination and grassroots social work doing things like collecting old uniforms to alter them for scouts unable to pay for one and fundraising camp scholarships, influenced my work in social services today.

My mother, raised within Girl Scouts, of course had to have something to rebel against. It was the late 1960s by the time she was finishing a full childhood of camps and meetings in Scouts.  Her raised hemlines may have raised some eyebrows, but what she learned in Girl Scouts, especially regarding the out of doors, stayed with her and were passed on to my sister and myself. We were lucky to have my mother lead us in troops into our adolescent years, when a committee of parents turned the bulk of the work over to eager college scouts who were the right mix of "cool" and "responsible".  I was doubly lucky when another woman offered to be my journalism mentor through the difficult three year process of earning my Gold Award which included producing a cable access video and petitioning the local BNSF Railroad for improvements to a local preserve.

In all, a member of my family has been in scouts for over 83 years.  That sounds impressive but I could name other families within my small Wheaton neighborhood with similar longevity in Scouts.  Simply stated, the Scouting movement worldwide is a multi-generational rich tradition that changes girls' lives.

Any final thoughts?

A lot has transformed in the past 10 years in Girl Scouting. A nationwide consolidation has made Councils geographically and logistically less local. A revisiting of the insignia and badges has made some familiar with the program worry that Girl Scouts is moving away from its roots.  I challenge anyone worried to stop by a cookie booth, or drop into a local Jamboree gathering. You'll find bright eyes, Brownie smiles, older girls mentoring the younger ones and energy abounding as girls explore what it means to be GIRL SCOUTS:  Generous, Interested, Real live Sportsmans, Loyal, Sincere, Courteous, OUTdoor life savvy - all applicable lessons as much now as they were 100 years ago.

And if you stop by the Jamboree gathering at just the right time, you'll see my Girl Scout troop beat local Boy Scouts, five years their senior in throwing up a tent properly while timed.

Want to join the celebration?
There will be a Promise Circle at noon today at Daley Plaza.

There will be events throughout the area today and tonight. Most will recite the Girl Scout Promise and Law at exactly 7:12 p.m. CST. You can see a full list of local events here.

Congratulations to Girls Scouts of America for reaching this milestone.

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