A Brief History of Girl Scouts

Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts in the United States, was a remarkable achiever. She set high ideals for the world and for her fellow women. During a time when women were restrained by society, Juliette Gordon Low set a precedent for young women to follow even today.

Juliette Gordon was born in Savannah, Georgia on Halloween (October 31) in 1860. She was a bright and talented girl known to her friends and family as Daisy. Her cheerful personality encouraged the respect of all of her peers, however Juliette had her own cross to bear. Throughout her life struggles with her hearing gradually worsened, but Juliette never let these obstacles stand in her way.

Juliette later married William Low, an Englishman. Her horizons were broadened when she went off to live in England and Scotland. Unfortunately, the marriage was not what had been hoped. William Low died while preparations for divorce were being undertaken. After this, Juliette decided it was time to see the world. She eventually settled in Paris where she planned to study sculpture. However, a new acquaintance, Sir Robert (later Lord) Baden-Powell, set her life in an entirely new direction.

Sir Robert was a former English General and war hero. He started the Boy Scout movement in 1908 and met Juliette Gordon Low three years later. He and his sister had a tremendous impact on Juliette in their involvement with the new generation.

Boy Scouts had become tremendously popular and had spread to several countries besides England at this time. However, the young women in England began to feel the need for similar organizations among themselves. Several of these type of groups were organized by young ladies into clubs similar to the Boy Scouts. When Sir Robert learned of the thriving interest in scouting among young women, he asked his sister, Agnes, to form an organization for them. Girl Guides were thus established in 1910. The next year there were Girl Guide or Scout organizations in Australia, South Africa, and Finland. By 1912 it had spread even further, into Sweden, Denmark, Poland, and Canada.

This new movement of Girl Guides/Scouts was exactly what Juliette Gordon Low had been searching for. She became very involved in it, even moving back to Scotland to lead a troop. However, Juliette realized that the young women in the United States were missing a wonderful opportunity. She promptly returned home to Savannah where she called a friend saying, "Come right over. I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America, and all the world, and we're going to start it tonight."

In 1912, women were facing many old struggles. Their education was limited and so were their futures. However, as the dawn of World War I approached women realized that their role was a vital one. Organizations such as Girl Scouts and Girl Guides were especially important at this time to the development of a new, stronger, and more gifted young woman. The first troop meeting of Girl Scouts in the United States was held in Savannah on March 12, 1912. Juliette Low's girls were able to contribute to the war effort in their community. These young women were able to actively participate as valued citizens who were concerned about their future.

The first American Girl Scout handbook was written by Walter John Hoxie, a naturalist. This book reflected many stereotypes of the time, making many references to the arts of "housewivery." However, there was a marked emphasis on ecology and physical fitness which attended to the promise of a new American girl in the years to come. In 1916, Juliette Low adapted a newer version of the Girl Scout Handbook. This book included an aviation badge, a new height for the all girl organization.

Juliette Low was a firm believer in letting the girls run their own troops. Adults involved in the troops were advisers, not leaders. When she died on January 18, 1927 she inspired the founding of the Juliette Low World Friendship Fund. This organization uses its money to send American girls to other countries and bring other girls to visit the United States.

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