Americans know who the Girl Scouts are: they are the cute young girls wearing green vests that go door-to-door selling cookies. When these girls aren’t telling cookies, they are learning leadership skills and survival skills while making friends and volunteering in the community. When Juliette Gordon Low created the Girl Scouts, she wanted girls to go outside the house… to learn about the stars, to administer first aid, and to volunteer within the community. She wanted a group that would accept all girls, no matter their race, religion, disability, or family’s income. When she created the Girl Scouts, America was still segregated and girls were expected to grow up to be house wives. Now, more than 59 million American women have been a Girl Scout at one point in their lives – these women include actresses, reporters, senators, and even astronauts.
Juliette Gordon Low was born on October 31, 1860 in Savannah, Georgia. Her parents were Eleanor Kinzie Gordon and Confederate Captain William Washington Gordon II. Low spent her childhood writing poems, sketching, painting, sculpting, and taking care of stray animals. After finishing Virginia Female Institute in Virginia, she traveled throughout the United States and Europe. She also dealt with ear infections in her childhood, resulting in partial hearing loss in one ear. On December 21, 1886, she married wealthy Englishman William Mackay Low. After the wedding, during the rice tossing, a piece of rice became lodged in her ear. While trying to remove the rice, the doctor punctured the eardrum, resulting in the total loss of that ear.
She moved to England but returned to the United States to help her mother in the war effort during the Spanish-American War. She returned to England to find her husband’s mistress in their home; they divorced in 1901. In 1911, she met Sir Robert Baden, founder of the Boy Scouts. He was interested in a similar organization for girls. Low returned home and called her cousin, Nina Pape, saying “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all of the world, and we’re going to start it tonight.” On March 12, 1912, Low gathered 18 girls to register the first two patrols of the American Girl Guides (changed to Girl Scouts the next year.)
The girl scouts was created for girls to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness and to encourage girls to prepare for traditional domestic skills and future roles as professional women. Low’s goal was to bring girls out of the home and to go outside. The Girls Scouts also welcomed girls with disabilities at a time when they were excluded from many activities. Low also welcomed African-Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics girls at a time when minorities were excluded. This was because Low herself had a disability due to her partial hearing. Low died on January 17, 1927, from breast cancer. In her pocket she has a telegram from the national board of girls scouts of the United States, “You are not only the first Girl Scout, you are the best Girl Scout of them all.”
100 years ago, the Girl Scouts had 18 members. Now, it currently has 3.2 million members in the United States. It is the largest educational organization in the world and has influenced more than 50 million girls, women, and men who have belonged to it. Due to Low’s hearing loss, Low was determined to create a group that would teach girls to accept people of different backgrounds. The Girl Scouts was ahead of its time in 1912 when it accepted minorities, immigrants, and people with disabilities and it is still ahead of its time since it accepts homosexuals, unlike the Boy Scouts. Low wanted girls to learn skills that would help them to grow up and become strong leaders. The fact that two-thirds of Congress have been Girl Scouts is proof that her goal became a reality. Remember the next time a girl comes to the door selling cookies, she could be the first female president.