Revisit your memories of elementary and middle school, and you may think of those extra-special days you got to wear a Girl Scout uniform. Remember delivering boxes of cookies in the snow, battling with a sewing machine or climbing a rocky trail for a badge? How about an unenthused Wednesday Addams snarking at the Scout trying to swap cookies for lemonade in the 1991 hit "The Addams Family"?
It’s not all desserts, though — the Girl Scouts continue to do plenty of other community-centered activities. We’ve searched through current and past Girl Scout programs and services, along with news reports from the last 106 years to find out more about this enduring (and endearing) organization. Whether your experience with the Girl Scouts was first-hand, through pop culture or purely cookie-centric, here are 25 facts about the organization you probably never knew.
Those famous cookies come from two different bakeries, and depending on where you live, your cookies can look and taste very different. They may even have other names. If you’re in Denver or Seattle, your Thin Mints come with a heavier chocolate coating and caramel lovers have access to Samoas, courtesy of Little Brownie Bakers. But in Boston and Kansas City, ABC Bakers give you a crunchier, more minty Thin Mint and Caramel deLites instead of Samoas, which are heavier on cookie than their sticky-sweet namesake.
A donation of $100,000 may sound tempting, but the Girl Scouts of Western Washington refused it in 2015 after the donor stipulated that they not use any of the money to welcome transgender girls. A subsequent fundraising campaign more than tripled the donation they turned down. In 2012, the Girl Scouts of Colorado intervened when a local troop turned away a transgender girl, attesting that "if a child identifies as a girl and the child's family presents her as a girl,” she was welcome as a Girl Scout.
A kindergartener entering Girl Scouts is called a Daisy, after the woman who first established the Girls in the United States: Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low. The Savannah, Georgia native met Boy Scouts founder Sir Robert Baden-Powell in 1912, two years after he’d established the Girl Guides in England. Hearing about his groups inspired Low to found Girls Scouts in America.
Originally called Lone Troops on Foreign Soil, USA Girl Scouts Overseas got its first troop outside the United States in 1925 with a troop of 18 girls in Shanghai, China. Today, the group focuses on making the scout experience available to American families who live abroad, including for military or foreign service. Troops are available through USAGSO in 90 countries, from Uzbekistan and El Salvador to Romania and Rwanda.
When connecting with girls from other troops, often from different parts of the country, Scouts exchange SWAPS: Special Whatchamacallits Affectionately Pinned Somewhere. The organization encourages girls to make items with recycled materials that others can wear or display. As a show of friendship, they’re also supposed to have an item ready for each Scout they’re expecting to meet, and not to refuse to do a SWAP with any fellow Scout.
Martin Luther King, Jr. praised the Girl Scouts as “a force for desegregation” in 1956. African-American girls took part in Girl Scouts beginning in 1913 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The organization also offered its support to a Latina troop in Houston in 1922, and to Japanese-American girls interned during World War II.
STEM hasn’t replaced camping as an activity in Girl Scouts, but it’s certainly right up there. Girls learn about cybersecurity, white hat hacking and data privacy for the organization’s new tech-focused badges. Also on the table are badges in robotics and mechanical engineering. Could that be because the organization’s CEO, Silvia Acevedo, was a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory? We hope so!
Back in the earlier decades of scouting, there were no commercially-baked Girl Scout cookies— individual troops made them, starting in 1917. The original recipe for Girl Scout cookies was basically a sugar cookie. By 1922, there was at least one standardized recipe provided by a group leader in Chicago. That stalwart favorite the Thin Mint, originally called a Chocolate Mint, became common by the 1950s. Rationing during World War II temporarily halted cookie sales in favor of calendar sales.
You might picture a girl wearing a sash full of badges when you think of Girl Scouts, but the first Girl Scouts didn’t wear sashes. They did wear wide-brimmed hats, like their British counterparts. The iconic berets and Brownie beanies came into vogue in the 1930s and 1940s. Uniforms nowadays are far less stringent. Scouts only have to wear a sash, a tunic or a vest over their clothing (their choice) to display their badges.
Girl Scouts of the USA estimates that 59 million American women living today have been Girl Scouts, and among their numbers are some famous names. Abigail Breslin, Venus and Serena Williams, Katie Couric, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, as well as 76 percent of female U.S. senators and 52 percent of female U.S. representatives were Girl Scouts.
Just as this past holiday season began in 2017, Girl Scouts posted a piece of advice on its website: Don’t force your child to hug anyone she doesn’t want to, even if that person is a relative. More than 7,000 people shared the post about safe physical boundaries on Facebook, and The New York Times even joined in to analyze when and how to teach consent.
The highest award you can earn as a Girl Scout is the Gold Award, which challenges girls to choose an issue, research it, make a plan to help, then implement that plan. Earning it can lead to college scholarships and entering the military at a higher rank. Recent projects have investigated infant mortality in Africa and helped foster kids connect better with their biological parents.
Girls Scouts welcomes all girls to its camps, not just ones who are members of troops at home. You can also go to Girl Scout camp outside the United States. Official programs are available in South Korea, Switzerland, Mexico, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and India.
The Girl Scout Promise reads “On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law," but in practice, the organization allows girls to substitute any word they want for “God” or simply leave it out. Religious accommodations have helped Girl Scouts recruit a diverse population.
Both Madame Tussaud’s wax museum and the United States Post Office have honored Juliette Gordon Low as the founder of Girl Scouts with art in her likeness. The themed postage stamp was released in 1948, 21 years after Low’s death, while the waxwork celebrated the centennial anniversary of Girl Scouts.
There have been different ranking systems within Girl Scouts over the years. Initially, there were just three levels. The current system has six based on the school grade level of the Scout: Daisy, Brownie, Junior, Cadette, Senior and Ambassador.
In World War I and World War II, Girl Scouts worked to advance national campaigns that helped with the war efforts. During World War I (starting before the United States entered the war), Scouts collected clothes for war refugees, then later rolled bandages and knitted socks. In 1941, Indiana troops collected money to buy mattresses for children in England. They also sold war bonds, collected shortage materials and grew food in Victory Gardens.
As an organization, Girl Scouts don’t advocate for either major political party. Girls are encouraged, however, to lobby their representatives on issues important to individual Scouts and troops. In February 2018, five Scouts in Aurora, Colo., successfully argued for a city ordinance to make smoking or vaping in a vehicle with a minor present punishable by a fine or community service.
Girls Scouts of the USA has 113 regional councils covering all the states, plus Puerto Rico and overseas troops. Some states have more than one council, and some share councils across state borders. Though the national organization oversees them and sets policies, regional councils do exercise some autonomy in which programs they run and how they organize their region.
While we may think of Girl Scouts as aged 5 to 12, there are plenty of opportunities for girls to continue all the way through high school graduation. Middle schoolers focus on STEM skills, training as camp counselors, and finding other leadership opportunities. High school Scouts focus their energy on earning college scholarships, acting as mentors for younger Scouts and learning about international issues.