Forces for change: Girl Scouts of America celebrates 100 years of service | Kitsap Week

Emma Otis of Poulsbo tells Girl Scouts about the history of Camp St. Albans, during a visit in 2006. She was involved in the camp when it was established in 1935. Today, at age 110, she is America’s oldest Girl Scout.  - Otis family collection
Emma Otis of Poulsbo tells Girl Scouts about the history of Camp St. Albans, during a visit in 2006. She was involved in the camp when it was established in 1935. Today, at age 110, she is America’s oldest Girl Scout.
— image credit: Otis family collection

During World War I and World War II, they helped the Allied forces by selling defense bonds, growing victory gardens, and collecting waste fat and scrap iron.

They welcomed people of color into their ranks and were described by Martin Luther King Jr. as “a force for desegregation.”

They welcomed girls with physical challenges at a time when people with disabilities were excluded from many activities.

They helped girls of all backgrounds develop skills that made them self-reliant and resourceful, and encouraged them to prepare for roles as professional women and for active citizenship outside the home.

Girl Scouts have always been tough cookies, pushing for social change in America since Juliette Gordon Low founded the organization in 1912.

“The main thing I got out of it were the friendships and experiences,” said Lynanne White, who is in her 30th year of Scouting — seven as a girl and 23 years as a leader. “The experience of camping

is not something I would have done with my family because they were not outdoorsy. Girl Scouts have opportunities to travel around the world.”

Girl Scouts throughout Kitsap County are celebrating the organization’s 100th birthday this month.

Girl Scouts of America’s centennial was March 12, but in recognition 2012 is being heralded as the Year of the Girl. Mayor Becky Erickson wrote a proclamation declaring 2012 as the Year of the Girl in Poulsbo.

One hundred and fifty Scouts, including Troop 42621 in Central Kitsap, kicked off the centennial celebration at Silverdale SongFest, Feb. 26 in Kitsap Mall.

On March 24, North Kitsap Girl Scouts (Service Unit 310) will host an invitation-only celebration at Farm Kitchen, 24309 Port Gamble Road NE, Poulsbo.

“After the opening ceremony, we will have games from different decades, and there will also be displays of Girl Scouting through the decades where the girls will have a scavenger hunt looking for clues in the displays,” said White, a leader of Service Unit 310. “And, of course, we will end with birthday cake.”

If you’re a former Girl Scout and would like an invitation, call Debra at (425) 420-5967.

By the way, the oldest Girl Scout is Emma Otis, 110, of Poulsbo. In 1935, she helped establish Camp St. Albans in Belfair — more than 400 acres of woods surrounding peaceful Lake Devereaux. For up to 11 days, Girl Scouts enjoy backpacking, campfires, cookouts, horseback riding, and water sports.

‘Something for the girls of the world’

The first Girl Scout Troop was organized on March 12, 1912 in Savannah, Ga. According to Girl Scouts of America, Low was a married socialite who spent several years searching for something useful to do with her life.

“Her search ended in 1911, when she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and became interested in the new youth movement. Afterwards, she channeled all her considerable energies into the fledgling movement.

“Less than a year later, she returned to the United States and made her historic telephone call to a friend (a distant cousin), saying, ‘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!”

“On March 12, 1912, Juliette Low gathered 18 girls to register the first troop of American Girl Guides. Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon, her niece and namesake, was the first registered member. The name of the organization was changed to Girl Scouts the following year.”

The group quickly began breaking racial and social bounds. The first troop for African American girls was founded in 1917; the first American Indian troop was formed in New York state in 1921; and the first troop for Mexican Americans was formed in Houston, Texas, in 1922. Most Girl Scout units were originally segregated by race according to state and local laws, but by the 1950s, the Girl Scouts had begun significant national efforts to desegregate its camps, the first being Camp Shantituck in Kentucky in 1956. In 1969, a national Girl Scout initiative called Action 70 was created that aimed to eliminate racial prejudice.

There are programs for girls in unusual situations that make it difficult for them to participate in the standard program. The Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program helps daughters of incarcerated mothers to connect with their mothers and to have the mothers participate in Girl Scout activities. Another program allows girls who are in detention centers to participate in Scouting. Other initiatives involve girls who live in rural areas, in public housing, and overseas.

Today, Girl Scouts are known as much for public service and community projects as they are for those cookies.

Monica Boyd, co-manager of Service Unit 312 in Central Kitsap, said her Scouts donate cookies to food banks, put together and distribute Thanksgiving food baskets, buy toys for children at Christmas, help clean trails and assist at animal shelters and fish hatcheries.

“They are very passionate about what they are doing,” she said. “They are all focused on things that are bigger than themselves.”

Boyd has led the same group of girls since they were in second grade. They are now high school juniors. “It’s been an honor and pleasure to watch them grow over the years. They are strong and confident. They know themselves. It’s been really amazing to play a small part in that.”

Many Girl Scouts have become successful leaders in numerous professional fields such as law, medicine, politics, journalism, and science. Famous American Girl Scouts include former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space.

From the original 18 girls, Girl Scouts has grown to 3.7 million members and is the largest educational organization for girls in the world.


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