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I Was a Girl Scout. Here’s Why My Daughters Won’t Be One.

I Was a Girl Scout. Here’s Why My Daughters Won’t Be One.

It was summertime at Camp Cedarledge, and I was in Totem Village, Ahwenasa unit. The cabins were spacious and airy, with four beds each and room for our suitcases under each bed. Most days were spent marching around the acreage to attend swimming practice, arts and crafts, tying knots, first aid training, group games, and community meals. Various groups singing marching chants could often be heard in the distance: “Left! Left! Left, right, left!” But this day was different.

We were awakened early, before sunrise, and told to get dressed in clothes that could be made muddy and to pack our lunch boxes with food that had been spread out on a picnic table. There was an air of seriousness and secrecy. Once everyone was ready, we were instructed to find our buddy and stick together. The camp counselor in the lead started off, and glancing at one another questioningly, we all followed in single file. There were no marching chants today. Everyone was quiet.

At first, we hiked through the forest on a relatively level path. The air was clean, and as the sun began to rise, birds could be heard singing their morning songs. Before long, we came to a rope bridge which crossed an almost dry creek. It could only be crossed one person at time, and when it came to my turn, I positioned my hands on the side ropes used for steadying and started across. It was narrow and swayed mildly. Once on the other side, I joined the other scouts until everyone had crossed, and then we continued. The mournful cries of the whip-poor-will could be heard in the distance.

After a while, we came to a small opening in the ground. We were instructed to sit down at the opening. I watched anxiously as each scout ahead of me disappeared into the dark hole. Then it was my turn. I sat down, put my legs together, leaned back a bit, and slipped into earthy darkness. A few feet down, the opening widened to reveal a spacious cave, lit by lanterns held by the leaders. Once all the scouts were in the cave, we were led down one of the stone corridors. Little drips of water splashed on my head, and the walls were damp.

Finally, we were instructed to stop and stand facing our buddy. Each scout was given a spearmint lifesaver and instructed to wait until everyone had theirs. We were told that the lights would be put out and we were to chew the lifesavers with our mouths open while facing our buddy. The lights were cut. In total darkness, I began to chew and … green sparks flew out of my mouth and the mouth of my buddy! It was the only light to be seen in the pitch darkness of the cave. Girls exclaimed with amazement! After the sparks died down, the lights were put on, and we hiked out of the cave and back to camp. What a day!

This experience and many others are an unforgettable part of my formative years. My sister and I both participated in Girl Scouts. At weekly scout meetings, we learned sewing, cooking, woodcrafts, the art of storytelling, first aid, and more. There was an emphasis on friendship and service.

These experiences embodied the original purpose of Girl Scouts; a girl scout was to be capable, prepared, and ready to serve the community. We were to face new experiences, not with fear, but with curiosity and resolve. According to the original 1913 Girl Scouts handbook:

[A Girl Scout] is to do her duty before anything else. … She must be prepared at any time to save a life or help the injured. Studying animals and plants teaches the value of little things. Girl Scouts should do everything in their power to make and keep their homes healthy as well as happy.

The Girl Scout law emphasized trustworthiness, loyalty, courteousness, and purity in thought and deed. A girl’s primary duty was to God and country. These are the values upon which the Girl Scouts were founded, which to many now seem old-fashioned and outdated.

Since the heyday of those virtues, Girl Scout membership has declined drastically. Some of this may be attributed to the pandemic, but declining numbers began long before that. In 2003 membership stood at 2.8 million. By 2019–2020 that number had dropped to 1.4 million. By 2021, membership had dropped another 30 percent to just over a million. According to a 2023 Girl Scouts Stewardship Report, the post-pandemic years have seen some rebound in membership—roughly by 7 percent per annum—but the total number of scouts remains well below that of 2003.

The question is why? For the last 40 years, the prevailing belief has become that in order to achieve true equality, spaces that are uniquely for girls or boys, separately, shouldn’t exist. Case in point, in 2019 Boy Scouts of America decided to begin allowing girls into the organization. And while Girl Scouts is still a girls-only organization, a glance at the organization’s website has the words “diversity,” “equality,” and “inclusion” stare back at you.

It’s in stark contrast to the organization’s original emphasis on faith. The Girl Scout promise was three-fold:

On my honor, I will try:

To serve God and my country,

To help people at all times,

And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

The current Girl Scout promise is the same, but with small print that a substitute for the word “God” may be used in accordance with a person’s own spiritual beliefs. It’s a change that did not sit right with many Christian families, and in 1995, a new organization was started called American Heritage Girls, whose emphasis is unquestionably Christian. Since its humble beginning in a kitchen, American Heritage Girls has recently celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2020 and boasts more than 50,000 members in 15 countries and in all 50 states.

As I think back to my own time as a Girl Scout, and stop to consider its decline, a few things stand out. Where Girl Scouts once emphasized traditional American values, they now invite diversity. Where Girl Scouts once focused on teaching skills that prepared a woman to nurture and build a home, they now focus more narrowly on STEM activities, at the expense of a well-rounded experience.

The cultural emphasis on instant gratification, as well as the focus on a college degree and career as the main means of success, have encouraged young girls, and women, to abandon the development of the traditional feminine virtues that were once part of being a woman. With more women out of the home, there are fewer available to lead troops and spend the time necessary to develop girls into women with a foundation in more traditional values. This kind of commitment requires time and space for relationships and is best fostered by hours in nature, sitting around a campfire singing songs with best friends, while also serving one another and the community.

I’m not sure Girl Scouts, as an organization, will be able to fully recover its numbers, but the decline in participation may prove to be the stimulus they need to recognize that what Girl Scouts is now offering isn’t what the majority of girls in this country actually want.

In the meantime, mothers and daughters will turn elsewhere for that special connection and experience the Girl Scouts once brought, and as more join groups like American Heritage Girls, women and girls across the nation will reclaim what was once theirs.

Image credit: Pexels

Heather Carson
Heather Carson

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  • Avatar
    April 8, 2024, 2:22 pm

    Those same "old-timey" girl scout activities are what home school groups do on a regular basis. Plus they get the "school work" done in a couple hours instead of an all day drudgery, which allows time to explore.

  • Avatar
    Linda Middlekauff
    April 8, 2024, 4:22 pm

    Thank you for your article recalling what was once an amazing organization of which I also was a member. The mission of the scouts has been changing for decades. In addition to all of the things you mentioned, I believe that they have a very political mission today. I know that you cited DEI, but there's so much more. I have not purchased GS cookies for years and usually explain to the leader why, and each time, they've been completely unaware.

  • Avatar
    April 8, 2024, 7:56 pm

    And their cookie money goes to planned parenthood. Do you want your daughters helping to fund murder?

  • Avatar
    Bruce E. Brown
    April 9, 2024, 6:02 am

    News flash-
    Girls & Boys are different! The disillusionment of Boys Scouts & Girl Scouts was a woke agenda.

    • Avatar
      JB@Bruce E. Brown
      April 10, 2024, 7:42 am

      Bruce, you got that right!… I saw a sad site at a recent Memorial Day Parade–a ragtag group of Scouts ambling by, in the parade girls with long hair in Boy Scouts uniforms, Boy Scouts (actual boys) with hair down their shoulders too and not even 13 yet! They were all mixed together, pretty much uniformly sloppily dressed, and it was hard to tell who was who. They weren't marching with pride, but they were participating. What a vibrant cultural doormat we weave.

  • Avatar
    Jake Brodsky
    April 10, 2024, 8:49 pm

    I think organizations, companies, and the like have a half-life. Eventually they lose their way and forget what made them great.

    Lots of toxic people want to hang their hats on a well regarded organization as some kind of achievement. It's like politicians seeking a parade that they can get ahead of to make it look like they're leading. Eventually, the "leadership" gets so far ahead that they leave the rest of the parade behind. And the marching band is forgotten while the "leaders" wander off in to a ditch while trying to figure out where they're going.

    This is how it is with the Red Cross, with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and many other long-time organizations. They were started for the best of reasons and then they lose their way. Primary among them are educational institutions. They have become a caricature of what they once were.

    Sometimes the best thing that can happen is for the original organization to crash hard so that others can pick up the pieces and resurrect the cause under a new organization.


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