The Boy Scouts of America will admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and establish a new program for older girls geared toward achieving the Eagle Scout rank.
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have undergone major changes in the past five years, agreeing to accept openly gay youth members and adult volunteers, as well as transgender boys.
The expansion of girls’ participation, announced Wednesday after unanimous approval by the organization’s board of directors, is arguably the biggest change yet.
The Girl Scouts of the USA, which had tried to discourage the Boys Scouts from making this move, said they remained committed to their single-sex mission.
“Girl Scouts is, and will remain, the scouting program that truly benefits U.S. girls by providing a safe space for them to learn and lead,” the Girl Scouts said in a statement.
Many scouting organizations in other countries allow both boys and girls, and use gender-free names such as Scouts Canada. But for now, the Boy Scout label will remain.
“There are no plans to change our name at this time,” spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said in an email.
Under the new plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single sex. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to welcome girls and boys. The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the same Eagle Scout rank that has been attained by astronauts, admirals and government leaders.
Boy Scout leaders said the change was needed to provide more options for parents.
“The values of scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” said Michael Surbaugh, chief scout executive.
The announcement follows many months of outreach by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), which distributed videos and held meetings to discuss possibility expanding girls’ participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing, Exploring and Sea Scouts.
Surveys conducted by the Boy Scouts showed strong support for the change among parents not connected to the scouts, including Hispanic and Asian families that the BSA has been trying to attract. Among families in the scouting community, the biggest worry, according to Surbaugh, was that the positive aspects of single-sex comradeship might be threatened.
“We’ll make sure those environments are protected,” he said. “What we’re presenting is a fairly unique hybrid model.”
During the outreach, some parents expressed concern about possible problems related to overnight camping trips. Surbaugh said there would continue to be a ban on coed overnight outings for scouts ages 11 to 14. Cub Scout camping trips, he noted, were usually family affairs with less need for rigid polices.
The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the BSA are among several major youth organizations in the United States experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from sports leagues, busy family schedules and a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned.
As of March, the Girl Scouts reported more than 1.5 million youth members, down from just over 2 million youth members in 2014. The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years.
Unlike the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts have maintained girls-only status for all their programs. The empowerment of girls is at the core of its mission, said Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a psychologist who provides expertise on development for the Girl Scouts’ national programming.
“We know that girls learn best in an all-girl, girl-led environment,” Bastiani said.