Chavez, who discovered Scouting while growing up in the small town of Eloy, Ariz., says her favorite new badges deal with financial literacy. Depending on the level — Daisy, Brownie, Junior, Cadette, Senior or Ambassador — girls learn to comparison shop, budget, establish good credit, pay for college and finance their futures.
“For a lot of girls, it’s all about credit cards, and they don’t see physical money,” Chavez says. “Think about it: Everything is wireless now. When we were little, we’d get a dollar from the tooth fairy or for doing chores and we’d stick it in our piggy bank. These days, girls get ATM cards.”
Chavez recounts one high school troop’s eye-opening experience when a mortgage banker came to its meeting and broke down the cost of buying a dream home. One girl presented him with a photo of a $1.5 million property. After crunching the numbers, he delivered sobering news: To qualify for a 30-year mortgage of that amount, she’d need a down payment of $300,000, a monthly income of about $40,000 and would pay at least $25,000 a year in property taxes depending on location. “At the end, the girl goes, ‘Oh, I had no idea,’ ” Chavez says. “[The point] is to connect reality to financial issues.”
It’s a lesson Low had to learn after her husband, William Mackay Low, a wealthy Englishman, moved his mistress into their Savannah home and petitioned for divorce. At the time, it was unacceptable for a woman of Daisy’s social class to get a job, and she had no income of her own. But in 1905, before the divorce could be finalized, William died after making his mistress the primary beneficiary of his large estate. To Daisy, he left a small widow’s allowance. Deeply hurt and angered, she fought back, and eventually the will was altered. “She had to navigate attorneys, bankers, stocks — many topics that were closed to women,” Cordery says. “She was an extremely brave and tenacious woman.”
But she felt like a failure. Then in 1911, she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in England, and became enthralled with the youth movement. Less than a year later, she returned to the U.S. and called her cousin, saying, “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.”
Eighteen girls gathered on a March night in 1912, and Daisy indoctrinated them into Scouting’s founding principle: the cultivation of “character and intelligence, skill and technical knowledge, physical health and development and service to others.” The first Girl Scouts handbook included this advice from Low in capital letters: Choose a Career. “Try to master one trade so that you will be independent,” it said. She also believed that every girl should know how to shoot a rifle, light a fire, tie a knot and calculate how much food to bring to a campfire, Cordery says. Girls also practiced cooking, played basketball and learned to sew and administer first aid.
“It scandalized people,” says Fran Harold, director of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, which averages about 70,000 visitors a year. “At the time, it wasn’t proper for girls to be playing sports and wearing bloomers outside. So she hung a curtain around an empty lot so people wouldn’t see the girls. The organization grew like wildfire from there.”