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Headquartered in New York City, Girl Scouts is a nonprofit organization that seeks to make the world a better place by encouraging confidence, courage, and character in its members. Since its founding in 1912, Girl Scouts has empowered millions of girls and women to become leaders in all fifty U.S. states, including Arkansas, where it has been active since 1927. It is the largest educational organization for girls in the world, and more than 59 million women in the United States are Girl Scout alumnae.
Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low founded what is now Girl Scouts of the USA in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia. Low—a world traveler, athlete, and artist—spent several years searching for something useful to do with her life after aiding in the Spanish-American War effort. She became interested in a new youth movement after meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, in England in 1911. After the meeting, Low put her time and energy into the fledgling movement and returned to the United States less than a year later to begin Girl Scouts. On March 12, 1912, Low gathered eighteen girls to register the first troop of American Girl Guides, with Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon (Low’s niece) as the first registered member. The name of the organization was changed to Girl Scouts the following year.
As the Girl Scout movement continued to develop, Low brought girls from various backgrounds out into their communities to serve and to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness. In May 1927, a temporary commission was granted to a troop of seventeen girls from the Zion Hill and Plainview communities of Pulaski County. On July 21, 1927, the White Oak Troop of Arkansas became the first registered Girl Scout troop in the state, and the troop remains active in the twenty-first century. The Girl Scout movement spread quickly throughout the state, and there were more than 200 members in six registered troops in Little Rock (Pulaski County) alone in 1929.
Early in the 1930s during the Great Depression, a report issued by the organization stated that, during those troubled times, the purpose of Girl Scouting was “to offer girls a firm grasp on life, health that will ever serve them, joy in living that will never grow dim, moral courage that will never waiver, and power to mold their lives.” Service to country has been a cornerstone of Girl Scouting since its beginnings, and Arkansas Girl Scouts contributed to war efforts through the Victory Fund Campaign in 1942. The Victory Fund Campaign, largely marketed by the M. M. Cohn Company in Little Rock, encouraged each Girl Scout to buy at least one War Savings Stamp, in addition to her usual quota, to be placed in the Victory Fund to help children who were victims of war. The M. M. Cohn Company served as the Arkansas headquarters for regulation Girl Scout equipment and uniforms for many years.
In the early years of Girl Scouting, troops visited assisted living and nursing facilities, hospitals, and youth homes to share Girl Scout songs, deliver Girl Scout cookies, play games, and spread good cheer. Over the decades, badges and activities evolved to fit the interests of girls at the time, although many activities have stayed the same. In particular, outdoor programming such as archery, swimming, horseback riding, hiking, canoeing, and camping remain popular.
Low, who was deaf, believed that diversity and inclusiveness were cornerstones of the Girl Scouts, which welcomed members with disabilities. A troop for physically handicapped Girl Scouts was established in the early years of the movement at a time when they were excluded from many other programs and activities. The first troop for African-American girls was formed in 1917, forty-seven years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The first Native American Girl Scout troop was formed in the 1920s with girls of the Onondaga Nation in New York State, and a troop of Mexican-American girls was formed shortly afterward in Houston, Texas. By the 1950s, the Girl Scout movement was well-established and a national effort to desegregate all Girl Scout troops was underway; in Arkansas, the earliest indication of desegregation was at Girl Scout day camps in 1964. The National Board went on record as strongly supporting civil rights. The Girl Scouts also have LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) members. According to the Girl Scout blog, the organization’s “history of hard-nosed inclusiveness has continued into the 21st century as Girl Scout troops have admitted not only members who are gay but, in at least one recent case, a transgender child as well.”
On October 1, 2008, the Girl Scouts—Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas Council was formed by the merger of six regional Girl Scouts councils: Arkansas Post Girl Scout Council, Girl Scouts of Conifer Council, Girl Scouts of Crowley’s Ridge Council, Girl Scout Council of Mount Magazine Area, Noark Girl Scout Council, and Girl Scouts of Ouachita Council. The Diamonds Council serves all of Arkansas except Crittenden County, as well as Adair, LeFlore, and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma, and Cass and Bowie counties in Texas.
The sale of cookies as a way to finance troop activities and community service endeavors began as early as 1917, when a troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, baked cookies to sell as a service project. The first commercially baked cookies were sold in 1936. Today, the Girl Scout Cookie Program is a $790 million girl-led business, making it the largest girl-led industry in the world.
In the twenty-first century, there are more than 9,400 members in more than 900 Girl Scout troops in Arkansas.
For additional information:“Associated Press Highlights Girl Scouts Rich History.” Girl Scout Blog, March 1, 2012. http://blog.girlscouts.org/2012/03/associated-press-highlights-girl-scouts.html (accessed August 15, 2014).
Christiansen, Betty, and Girl Scouts of the USA. Girl Scouts: A Celebration of 100 Trailblazing Years. New York: Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, 2011.
Cordery, Stacy A. Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 2013.
Girl Scouts—Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. http://girlscoutsdiamonds.org/ (accessed August 15, 2014).
Girl Scouts of Ouachita Council. 2007 Annual Report. North Little Rock, AR: Girl Scouts of Ouachita Council, 2008.
Girl Scouts of the USA. http://www.girlscouts.org (accessed August 15, 2014).
Jennifer Morehead Girl Scouts–Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas
Last Updated 8/30/2014
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