If you were ever a Girl Scout, your memories of troop activities are probably inextricably linked to the clink of tent poles, the smell of campfires and the sticky-sweet goodness of s’mores. That’s because camping has been an imperative of this American institution since its inception. But Girl Scouts teaches more than tent-pitching and kindling gathering — the organization has forged a rich history of entrepreneurship, community building, and craftiness by empowering one Daisy, Brownie, and Junior at a time.
Juliette Gordon Low launched the very first Girl Scout troop in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia, with 18 girls. Low’s desire to instill girls with a sense of self-reliance quickly grew into a formidable organization — by 1920, there were nearly 70,000 Girl Scouts, and last year membership topped 3.2 million. The very first Girl Scout handbook was entitled, How Girls Can Help Their Country, which seems quaint and antiquated now, but perhaps a more appropriate title would’ve been How Girls Can Help Themselves. Because though service was (and still is) a huge part of the Girl Scout ethos, learning how to track animals and identify plants actually taught girls to value themselves in an era when few other people did.
This value has been a through line of the organization, and cookies have been one way they’ve achieved it. The first-ever record of a Girl Scout cookie sale took place as a service project by the Mistletoe Troop of Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1917. In 1922, a sugar cookie recipe was printed in the Girl Scouts’ The American Girl magazine — troop members baked at home, then sold their goods door to door for 25 to 35 cents a dozen. During the 2011–2012 selling season, Girl Scouts moved $786 million in cookies. But the cookie sales don’t just satisfy the sweet tooths of Tagalong-lovers everywhere — they also teach girls entrepreneurial skills they wouldn’t get elsewhere. The Girl Scout Research Institute (it might be a little biased, but still) found that 85 percent of the year’s cookie sellers learned money management skills and 80 percent learned goal setting by estimating sales numbers and creating action plans for achieving them.
Of course, learning about business through selling cookies is cool, but for a lot of girls, scouting is where a love of craft begins. The Girl Scouts’ history of craft is even more deeply rooted than its sweets-selling fundraisers; it’s been part of the organization from day one. “Every human being has the desire to make things. Man’s joy in creative work has continued through the centuries,” reads the 1953 Girl Scout Handbook.
This was a sentiment endorsed by Low herself (a painter, sculptor, ceramicist, and metalworker). How Girls Can Help Their Country included information about woodcraft and needlework right alongside tidbits about telling time via the stars. These days, crafting is a big part of how scouts earn badges, and my own Girl Scout experience is filled with memories of rubber cement, snipping scissors, and the buzz of creativity.
The sense of community building and confidence Girl Scouts gave me affects my adult life probably more than I even realize. And research seems to prove it. The Girl Scouts Alumnae Impact Study shows that women who were girl scouts “display positive life outcomes to a greater degree than women who were not in Girl Scouts. These outcomes are regarding sense of self, community service, civic engagement, education, and income.” That’s worth a lifetime of Thin Mints.
Were you a Girl Scout?