Yes, they sell you the cookies, but the Girl Scouts is so much more than that. One hundred years after its creation, the program is as relevant and as important as ever.
Partially deaf, childless and widowed by a man who left most of his fortune to his mistress, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts at the age of 51 as a way to give her life purpose. The privileged daughter of a Confederate soldier, Low, who was affectionately known as Daisy, wanted to teach girls the importance of self-sufficiency, knowing full well that even the best-laid plans can go awry.
“She had done everything right according to her society and class,” says Stacy Cordery, author of Juliette ?Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts
. “She had proper schooling and had married a wealthy man with Savannah, Ga., roots. And her life just fell apart. There was no Plan B for her.”
“It’s almost impossible to encapsulate the effect Girl Scouts has had on this country because it has affected every aspect of American life.”
So she created her own and, in doing so, eventually started what has become the world’s largest leadership-development organization for girls. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, there are 3.2 million active members in 92 countries and 59 million alumnae, including many famous and noteworthy women. Katie Couric, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Crow, Taylor Swift, Venus Williams and Gloria Steinem all performed the three-finger salute, promising to serve God and country and to help people at all times.
Low’s original mission of “confidence, courage and character” has remained steadfast through the years, but the organization is constantly? evolving to stay relevant, says Anna Maria Chavez, who last year was named the first Latina CEO of the Girl Scouts.
“We have to keep up with the girls,” says Chavez, an attorney who served as deputy chief of staff to former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. “They’re our customers.”
So while singing around campfires, making friendship bracelets and selling Thin Mints remain a big part of Scouting, last year, for the first time since 1987, the Girl Scouts updated its badges at all six age levels and introduced 136 new ones to reflect the skills needed for success in the 21st century. There are badges for website designer, car care, digital photographer, entrepreneur and science of style, where girls explore the use of nano?technology in clothes. Girls can also create their own badges to explore personal interests.