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It might be an overstatement to say that the Girl Scouts shaped American girlhood. Social movements collide and entwine — Title IX, Barbie, Susan B. Anthony, Miley Cyrus — and it’s nearly impossible to measure the cause and effect of each one. But it would be fair to say that the Girl Scouts have reflected American girlhood, that they have charted the history of what it has meant to be young and female, especially young and female and industrious and outdoorsy.
They are turning 100 this month. There will be a singalong on the Mall this summer, which 200,000 Girl Scouts are expected to attend. Across the world, girls glued to YouTube instructional videos are already practicing the jazz hands that accompany the official theme song of the event, “Ignite.” Guinness record keepers will be on hand for a head count; the Scouts are trying for the largest flash mob in history.
In recent weeks, conservative groups have accused the nonpartisan organization of being a “radicalizing” force, promoting abortion and homosexuality. A teenage California Girl Scout identifying herself as Taylor spoke out angrily after learning that a Colorado troop had decided to admit a transgender child who self-identified as female.
She called for a ban on the cookies.
Girl Scouts are often reduced to their cookies in ways that Boy Scouts are never reduced to their popcorn. The Girl Scouts must walk the tightrope of being too old-fashioned for some and too progressive for others. Debates and discussions have less to do with what a troop is doing in Colorado and more with the bigger things we are always discussing, the issues we are always worrying about: What do we want our girls to be? How will they affect the nation they will inherit?
Underlying discussions of just what the Girl Scouts are up to is surely this realization: 10 million girls from 145 countries — the total number of Girl Scouts worldwide — have a really loud voice.
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HOW TO SECURE A BURGLAR WITH EIGHT INCHES OF CORD: Make a slipknot at each end of your cord. Tie the burglar’s hands behind him by passing each loop over his little fingers. Place him face downwards, and bend his knees. Pass both feet under the string and he will not be able to get away.
— “How Girls Can Help Their Country,” 1913.
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“In 1912, women didn’t even have the right to vote,” says Lidia Soto-Harmon, the chief executive of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. “And here the Girl Scouts were saying that girls needed to learn how to camp.”
She shares a few historical tidbits.
The Girl Scouts were the first women to march in an inaugural parade, for Woodrow Wilson.