Girl Scout history: Old badges, uniforms, activities & more from 100 years ago

Girl Scout March sheet music - 1900s

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Girl Scout history: How it all began (1913)

The Tacoma Times (Tacoma, Washington) August 14, 1913

National Girl Scout organization is formed: Young girls learn signs, passwords, salutes just as do boys

These are Girl Scouts:

They have signs and passwords and salutes just as Boy Scouts do!

They wigwag like soldiers in the field!

They signal each other with blankets and sticks!

They are taught integrity and honesty; kindness to animals and old people.

They are given instruction in cooking, sewing, washing and ironing.

Each girl is urged to take an active interest in all athletic games.

First aids to the injured are a part of the regular instruction to all!

Girl Scouts in a pyramid - 1945

Girl Scouts: Why not?

Why not have a national Girl Scout organization patterned very much after the Boy Scout organization which has proved so popular?

This was the question, long in the mind of Mrs William Low of Savannah, Georgia, which has just resulted in the actual creation of such an organization.

The national headquarters has been opened in the Munsey building in Washington and a secretary placed in charge.

The idea started, you know, with just a little handful of girls down in Savannah. It has steadily grown. Women have written from all parts of the United States, asking for information about the Savannah Girl Scout organization. And now Mrs Low has planned it so that all girls in the whole country may join.

The rules of the Girl Scouts are similar, in so far as it is possible, to the Boy Scouts.

Girl Scouts. Troop #1. Mrs. Juliette Low, Founder, Right; Elenore Putsske, Center; Evaline Glance, 2nd From Right
Girl Scouts in 1917: Troop #1. Mrs. Juliette Low, Founder, Right; Elenore Putsske, Center; Evaline Glance, 2nd From Right

The requirements for membership are exceedingly simple. Any girl is eligible who agrees to obey the rules of the organization. No unreasonable restraint is placed on them.

The patrols meet once a week, spending one hour indoors, learning useful crafts and domestic duties; the other hour outdoors learning to conserve health and care for their bodies.

The handbook of the Girl Scouts is now ready for distribution. So are the badges. The uniform of the girls is blue!

Any group of girls, anywhere, may join the national organization of the Girl Scouts. The secretary at the Munsey building, Washington, is ready to tell them how.

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Vintage Girl Scout uniforms (from the 1920s)

Girl Scout uniforms in the 1920s

Vintage Girl Scouts officers and class insignia

Vintage Girl Scouts from the 1920s (2)

Girl Scout week is here — are you prepared? (1919)

New-York Tribune (New York, NY) October 26, 1919

Do you believe one dollar’s worth in teaching our girls to be self-reliant women who use their strength in skillful service?

A “good scout” is a good homemaker and citizen, strong and poised of body! Clear and clean of mind — she “knows how”

Girl scouting in America is about seven years old. The first five years, it had a following of about 12,000. Last year [1918] the membership jumped to 35,000, and this year it had reached 63,000 by the beginning of the summer, and has been jumping ever since at the rate of 5,000 a month.

All of this shows that a really big idea will grow like a snowball when enough people get behind it to give it the proper impetus. The big idea in scouting is in girls learning how to govern themselves and how to organize and work for the common good.

The laws and vows of the scouts have a direct bearing on every department of life.

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Mrs. Coolidge, Girl Scout review 1921
Mrs. Coolidge (first lady) at a vintage Girl Scout review in 1921

Josephine Daskam Bacon on scouting

The nationwide campaign drive which the Girl Scouts began yesterday is a drive to awaken the public consciousness to just what the Girl Scout organization is — what it going to mean to have broadly trained girls and women for our future mothers, for a voice in civics and in every department of our national life.

The Manhattan quota is $100,000 and 100,000 associate members. And out of this new associate membership, it is hoped to draw enough material to provide leaders for the girls who are anxiously waiting to come into the organization.

Also, headquarters must be enlarged to provide for the new members; and camps must be provided for their training. In fact, the organization must expand in fair proportion to the increasing membership.

Vintage Girl Scouts from the 1920s (3)

The psychological age for a girl to become a scout is somewhere between twelve and fourteen. So thinks Mrs Josephine Daskam Bacon, who is a scout herself, has a scout daughter, and has been captain of a scout troop for three years.

“I am not exactly setting an age limit,” she explained, “but I do think a girl is so unslushy, so unsentimental at that stage of her growth, that she is exactly ripe for scouting experience.

And should she get it in time — just in the dangerous period between boy playmates and boy heroes — she will grab it and make it a safe and healthful vehicle for all of her animal spirits and activities.”

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Josephine Daskam Bacon - Girl Scouts
Josephine Daskam Bacon

Vintage Girl Scouts: More than just “camping out”

“So many folk have looked upon scouting as just a mere healthful diversion, a sort of clearinghouse for youthful spirits and restive legs, without realizing what the organization as a body stands for.

“To begin with, it is a profession — and one of the coming professions of the day. Big universities like Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Boston include scouting in the list of vocations and offer summer school preparation.” And the first national training school for Girl Scout leaders is in its fourth year.

The Girl Scouts had a chance to prove themselves during the war. They practiced self-government and cooperation and teamwork in a marvelous way.

During the influenza epidemic, the Girl Scouts went into the influenza hospitals, unheralded and unsung, and scrubbed floors, washed dishes, made beds, ran errands and operated telephones.

Girl scouts group holding semaphore flags

Mothers appreciate such teamwork

Mothers who have missed something out of their lives are finding that their girls are getting out of girl scouting what they had missed.

The women of small means and many cares sees that her Girl Scout daughter has learned many things about nursing and first aid, about cooking and sewing, child care, backyard gardens and such that she never had time to teach her, let alone to practice herself with any degree of comfort or joy.

But the scout daughter is getting joy out of it. Because there are thousands of other girls learning to do the same things — and it’s fun doing tiresome, everyday things in this new way of teamwork.

Even the wealthy mothers of ‘poor little rich girl’ Scouts are witnessing a growing spirit of independence, thoughtfulness and unselfishness in their offspring.

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Girl Scouts and National Emergency War Gardens from WWI

Salvaged scouts

This is the story of a “rough” troop of Girl Scouts — not a “tough” troop, mind you, but decidedly a “rough” troop. They were organized on the East Side, through a settlement house. Some of the girls were nice girls, but some of the others were not. They were none of them really bad; that is, they hadn’t become bad yet, but they were on the way…

For several months, they kept their organization together, but it became evident that something must be done to “pull them up” or they would have to be disbanded.

Marion Lee Bishop took charge of these almost outcasts. Her orders were to keep them for a month and then, if she couldn’t do anything with them, to let them go.

Girl Scout Farmerettes harvesting crops 1919

Miss Bishop found that the girls’ conception of scouting was that it simply meant hiking, and building camp fires, and having picnics. She set to work to teach the laws of the organization. Many a round she had with her charges over what they were supposed to be doing; many arguments she took part in as to the meaning of the laws she was teaching.

At the end of a month, the troop was far from being a good troop of scouts, but Miss Bishop did not let go. She kept right on, and at the end of six months, they began to show signs of improvement.

Their progress was gradual, but when they did finally take hold of their duties, they did them more thoroughly than some of the other troops. This troop, which came so near to being the stone which the Girl Scout builders rejected, has indeed become the “headstone of the corner.” It is the Headquarters Troop.

Girl Scouts in the 1920s

When “us girls” stand together

Will women stand by women? Of course they have been known to, several times, when the gentlemen didn’t hesitate to cast stones. But scouting teaches girls to stand by their sisters so loyally that the traditions of women’s backbiting may become fiction and fireside tales.

“My child,” says the grandmother several tomorrows removed, “there was a time when women said unkindly things about one another; when girls considered it perfectly fair to snub and step on the unfortunate of their sex, in order to preserve the absolute spotlessness of their own fair names.

“I can remember hearing my mother tell of her youth, when girls never had parties and social gatherings, except to show off some foolish dresses or to compete for the favor of some young man.”

And the perfectly cared-for granddaughter of the comradely, little, old scout grandmother will widen her eyes in amazement.

Girl Scouts learning to shoot guns - 1920s

Girl Scout learns to stand by Girl Scout. In a New York troop (again, one connected with a settlement house), there was one girl who could not be managed. She was unusually pretty.

Her home environment was colorless. She was not bad, but she craved a good time. She was one of the girls arrested in the park several times for talking to soldiers. In fact, she was on her way down the primrose path, but she kept her membership in her scout troop.

Finally, the head of the settlement house said she would have no more of this painted miss. The effect of her ways was beginning to be felt in the settlement house. The head of the settlement house told the troop it would have to let her go; in fact, put her out.

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Then did the Girl Scouts of that troop make a stand. They said that if they were forced to dismiss the girl they would disband. They believed that scouting was the only thing that would keep her from becoming a woman of the streets, and that they were going to work harder to show her how foolish many of the things she had done were.

They won out. The girl stayed with them and has dropped most of her affectations and her desire for promiscuous masculine attention.

Girl Scouts in a boat at camp around 1912

Three hours to put up a bungalow

The self-reliance ingrained in the scout teaching was demonstrated recently by four Girl Scouts, who went to the country with Doria Hough, field secretary of the scouts. They had ordered a portable bungalow to be put up on a friend’s country estate and a man was to meet them to put up the bungalow. He failed to appear.

Nothing daunted, the four Girl Scouts and Miss Hough put up the bungalow themselves. They had never studied house construction, but although the tallest of them was only five foot, they put up the bungalow. The roof was the worst job, but they finally had it in place. The work took them about three hours.

Where careers are born

Many careers of the future have their beginning in Scoutdom.

“Mary,” said one of the leaders of a troop recently to a girl who was about to graduate from high school, “What are you going to study next year?”

Mary had never appeared to have much ambition.

“I want to study to be a gymnasium teacher or a nurse,” said Mary, without a moment’s hesitation. “The nursing work in scouting made me think I’d like to take that up as a profession.” And she did.

Fundraisers, vintage style: See some of the stuff kids used to sell to earn money for scouts & schools

Girl Scout leaders in 1923

Girl Scout history: Old flower crests for troops

Vintage Girl Scouts from the 1920s (5)

Golden eaglet symbol

Vintage Girl Scouts from the 1920s (4)

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Girl Scouts flag raising at dawn

Vintage Girl Scouts from the 1920s (6)

Setting-up exercise/Calisthenics

Vintage Girl Scouts from the 1920s (1)

How to rescue a drowning person

Vintage Girl Scouts from the 1920s (7)

Girl Scouts in action: 1920

Demonstrating childcare skills

girl scouts 1920 childcare

Scouts taking care of a dog

girl scouts 1920 dog pet

Learning how to wash laundry

girl scouts 1920 laundry

Cooking on a campfire

girl scouts 1920 campfire cooking

NOW SEE: Fundraisers, vintage style: See some of the stuff kids used to sell to earn money for scouts & schools

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