Photo illustration by Eva Morgenstein and Daniel Green
As you walked through the somewhat chilly streets of the Inner Sunset this past month, you probably noticed the same people dashing like Olympian runners to catch the 44 or the same bearded man playing The Proclaimers's 500 Miles on the guitar at the corner of 9th Ave. and Irving. You may have paused at the more uncommon (but by no means unfamiliar) sight of girls, ages five to seventeen, sitting behind tables stacked high with brightly colored boxes. These girls sport different vests, sashes or even tunics in a cornucopia of colors, but are all united by one organization — Girl Scouts.
It all started with a phone call
You may think there is a 70s feminism to the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, but the Girl Scouts have been around for a century. After meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides abroad, a not-so-spooky-woman born on All Hallows' Eve decided to bring back the experience to girls in the United States. After returning home to Savannah, Georgia, Juliette Gordon Low called a friend and said, "I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we're going to start it tonight!" according to the Girl Scouts website. On March 12, 1912, she founded the first troop of American Girl Guides, and in 1913, the name was officially changed to the one familiar today, Girl Scouts of the United States of America, according to the website.
Many other organizations at that time rejected differences, whether cultural, economic class , disabilities, etc. But Low did not discriminate; the organization accepted girls of all backgrounds and nationalities. The idea of acceptance seemed natural to Low, a determined woman who never let her various health problems hinder her participation in life.
GSUSA is just one of 145 organizations in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, according to the WAGGGS website. WAGGGS was founded by Baden-Powell and his wife under the name International Council in 1919. Today, the world-wide organization aims to provide programs and opportunities to girls to discover their values and learn other leadership skills.
100 candles on the cake
This year, you are invited to celebrate GSUSA's 100th birthday with hundreds of thousands of others across the country. GSUSA announced 2012 to be "Year of the Girl," intending to connect girls around the country and world.
A large celebration in Northern California is the "One Hundred, Fun Hundred!" event at the Alameda fairgrounds on the weekend of May 5. There will be over one hundred different activities such as camping overnight at the fairgrounds, fireworks, sing-a-longs, rock walls and even performances by singers such as Manika. Thousands of girls from over 20 states are expected to attend, according to the Girl Scouts of Northern California, which also has information on how to join. Friends and family of scouts are welcome to partake in the fun at One Hundred, Fun Hundred!
Daisies and Brownies and Juniors — oh my!
Girls identify with different levels of membership, depending on their grade level. From youngest to oldest there are Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors. Some troops will only have one level of girls, but others have scouts of all ages. "I started in kindergarten, in the very beginning," senior level Girl Scout sophomore Kelly Eshima said. "My mom just kind of put me in it, but a lot of my friends were doing it, too. I remember getting all the little flower petals [Daisy badges] and memorizing the Girl Scout Promise and Law."
Though life already seems like a circus act in high school, juggling academics, friends, extracurricular activities and more, Girl Scouts is worth keeping in the mix. "As an older Girl Scout, I love the freedom you have in what areas of Girl Scouting that you want to take part in," senior level Girl Scout sophomore Annastasia Wong said. "There are so many choices available; you name it, Girl Scouts have programs to help you develop your interest. Marine biology, business, entrepreneurship, foreign affairs, environmental conservation, math, engineering, politics...there are so many options as what you can do! However, many girls drop out by middle or high school; we're trying to bring them back. Girl Scouting is an experience for all girls, everywhere."
Other girls agree, and even use Girl Scouts as a way to relieve the burdens of school. "It's a fun organization that never judges you and will do what it can to help you make a difference," ambassador level Girl Scout junior Julie Oatfield said. "It's been awesome to have around during high school, like when my troop suggests a stress-busting weekend ski-trip or a return to our six-year-old selves with a few arts and crafts projects! You can get great connections and discounts traveling to other countries, and things like Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards look great on transcripts and resumés." The Gold Award is the Girl Scout equivalent of the Boy Scouts' Eagle Scout Award.
How the cookie crumbles
When you think of Girl Scouts, your first thought is probably a scrumdiddlyumptious, home-made snickerdoodles. The earliest report of Girl Scouts' cookie sales was in 1917 to raise money for troop activities, just five years after the group was founded, according to the GSUSA website. In the late 1930s, "the national organization began the process to license for the first commercial baker to produce cookies that would be sold by girls in Girl Scout councils," according to the website, beginning the era of cookies we've come to know and love.
Eight different types of cookies are available to tempt your taste buds, with one new box every year. In San Francisco, people enjoyed Do-Si-Dos (peanut butter sandwich-type cookies), Tagalongs (peanut butter patties with chocolate), Samoas (chocolate, coconut and caramel), Trefoils (shortbread), Dulce de Leches (caramel cookies with caramel chips), Thank U Berry Munches (oatmeal with cranberries), Thin Mints (mint-flavored chocolate) and this year's new concoction in honor of the 100th anniversary, Savannah Smiles (lemon-flavored cookies with powdered sugar). However, if you venture to other parts of the countries, these cookies might go by a different name, such as Caramel deLites (Samoas), Peanut Butter Patties (Tagalongs) or Peanut Butter Sandwiches (Do-Si-Dos). Futhermore, you may see a few different flavors in other regions (Thanks-A-Lots, Shout Outs and Lemonades). Differences in names and varieties occur because there are two different bakers that make Girl Scout cookies, ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers — in Northern California, you eat cookies made by the latter.
Though selling cookies is most troops' main money-maker, such is not true of all troops. "My troop does craft projects and whatever is convenient, like we made yarn leis and sold them around graduation," Eshima said. "We do it because it has a bigger profit margin than cookies. We have an account for the money, and we spend it on things like the patches we earn, for our fun end-of-year trip and badge workshops. We also save a certain amount for our gold projects."
Girls with a mission
GSUSA's mission is to build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place, according to their website. Wong fully agrees with GSUSA's mission. "Through Girl Scouts, I have learned to voice my opinions and stand firm on what I believe," Wong said. "It has strengthened my confidence, and continually inspires me to do everything to help make the world a better place."
Girl Scouts is a great way to learn by experience, according to Eshima. "It isn't the same as learning at school; it forces you to do service projects and you get to meet new people," she said. "I became closer with my troop and there's lots of team building activities.Girl Scouts has been good for me and it's kept me in my community, since my troop meets at a Buddhist church in Japantown."
Being a Girl Scout is about acceptance, strength and community, according to Ambassador level Girl Scout senior Karissa Tom. "It's about discovering who you are and learning about the world of opportunities for the woman that you can become," Tom said. "It teaches girls how to become strong, independent women that can hold their own in the 21st century. My troop is basically my family — the group of girls who I know will always have my back and who are some of my best friends, even if we don't see each other for long periods of time."
FUN FACT: Almost every female astronaut was a Girl Scout!
A version of this article first appeared in the March 23, 2012 print edition of The Lowell