March 12, 1912: Juliette Gordon Low organizes the first meeting of 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia and launches the Girl Scouts of America. Low had met Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, in London. Low dreamed of starting a “girls only” group in the US. Unlike other groups, such as the YWCA and Camp Fire Girls, the Scouts have always been controlled by women. Originally called Girl Guides, they officially changed to Scouts in 1913. They were incorporated in 1915 and in 1947 again changed their name to Girl Scouts of the United States of America. They received a congressional charter on March 16, 1950.
Today, their membership is 3.7 million (2.7 million girls and 928,000 adult members). The GSUSA is part of a larger, international group – the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) which has over 10 million members in 145 countries. Their mission is statement is: “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” Since its inception in the US, there have been over 50 million women who have benefited directly from the organization.
What the Girl Scouts may be most famous for is – cookies. The sale of cookies began in 1917 as a way to finance activities locally. The cookies were baked at home and sold at a local high school cafeteria. In July 1922, a recipe for sugar cookies was published in the Scouting magazine and troops across the country baked and sold their own cookies. In 1933, the Greater Philadelphia Council baked and sold cookies at the local gas and electric company (23¢ for a box of 44 cookies) and the next year they went to commercially baked cookies. In 1951 they added sandwich cookies and chocolate mint cookies to the sugar or shortbread cookies.
By the 1960s, baby boomer girls were hitting the pavement with order forms for even more varieties of cookies. There were 14 licensed bakers mixing up dough for the annual sale. By 1978, to streamline production and cut overhead, there were only 4 bakeries and all finally used the same packaging. Today, three bakeries provide up to eight varieties of cookies to the little sales people. Profits from cookie sales permit GSUSA to provide a number of programs designed to help girls grow into strong women and contributing members of society.
“This year, the theme of the cookie sale is Be Brilliant. Girls will be coming up with brilliant and creative ideas to sell Girl Scout cookies. And in the process, participants will learn finance skills, public speaking, marketing and customer service, goal planning and a variety of other life skills that will help them succeed in the future.” – Linda Wright
“I think the biggest misconception about Girl Scouts is that we just sell cookies. A great amount of what we do is community service. The Girl Scouts were founded on ‘every girl, everywhere’ and community service. People don’t realize that we are doing community projects all year long.” – Joyce Elliott
“Girl Scouts is a learning experience. We’re trying to show the girls that they should learn to do for others and not themselves.” – Janice Jensen
“With our Girl Scout cookie money, we decided to spend it on something other than the troop. We bought books for the library at Roosevelt School.” – Louise Bruyer