How the Girl Scout Handbook Helped Me and 58 Million Other Girls

Girls Guide to Girl Scouting Worlds to Explore - Girl Scouts NC Coastal Pines

By Meridith Orr, Program Executive

My experience as a Girl Scout was short-lived, but made a deep impact on my life. Long after my Brownie troop disbanded, I poured over my handbook – then called Worlds to Explore Handbook for Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts – for several years to teach myself about first aid, the arts, the outdoors and travel.   How I let that handbook get away from me, I’ll never know!

Just paging through a copy in the office today, I noticed a familiar painting in “The World of the Arts” section of my old handbook – Claude Monet’s bridge in his gorgeous garden full of water lilies. I see now that it was perhaps that picture that prompted me to hang a poster of that painting on my bedroom wall all through high school. Last year, I lived out my dream of seeing and walking on that same bridge by visiting Monet’s home in Giverny.   You just never know the seeds that are being planted by your Girl Scout handbook!

I wonder if Agnes Baden Powell had any idea what might happen when she gifted Juliette Gordon Low with a copy of How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire in May of 1912? Could anyone have anticipated what the lady from Savannah, Georgia would do with it, let alone the millions of girls who would hold a version of it in their hands across the past 103 years?

How Girls Can Help their Country, the American version of the Girl Guiding handbook, was published by Daisy Low in the summer of 1913. Biographer Stacey Cordery wrote: “When she adapted the British handbook, she had a chance to remove badges such as Electrician, Farmer, Flyer, Horsemanship, Path-finder, Pioneer, Rifle-shot, Signaling and Telegraphist – but she did not.”   By the time the revised handbook was published in 1920 as Scouting for Girls, there were 82,000 girls registered in the Movement, a staggering number often attributed to the success and support of the comprehensive handbook.

A few years ago, I downloaded a copy of the sixth reprint of Scouting for Girls, dated 1925, for free to my Kindle. It continues to amuse and inspire me as I read over the history, principles and requirements of Girl Scouting set forth at the time. There are 47 proficiency tests (what we refer to now as National Proficiency Badges) in that edition. Certain tests were marked as specially recommended for First Class Scouts or girls at least sixteen years old, while others were marked “for Scouts eighteen years and over.” How many badges in this list do you currently find in the Girls’ Guide to Girl Scouting or in the Skill-Building badge sets?

Artist, Athlete, Bee-Keeper, Bird Hunter, Bugler, Business Woman, Canner, Child Nurse, Citizen, Cook, Craftsman, Cyclist, Dairy Maid, Dancer, Dressmaker, Drummer, Economist, Electrician, Farmer, First Aide, Flower Finder, Gardener, Handy Woman, Health Guardian, Health Winner, Home Maker, Home Nurse, Horsewoman, Hostess, Interpreter, Journalist, Laundress, Milliner, Motorist, Musician, Needlewoman, Pathfinder, Photographer, Pioneer, Rock Tapper, Sailor, Scribe, Signaler, Star Gazer, Swimmer, Telegrapher, Zoologist

While the earliest handbooks had sometimes as many as a dozen steps to earn a proficiency badge, today our proficiency badges are available to nearly all of our grade levels (with the exception Girl Scout Daisies, who earn petals and leaves) and include five steps and three choices per step for achieving the award.   This revision of the badges and their requirements no doubt reflects the busy schedules and lifestyles of today’s families.

One thing that has not changed with each revision of the handbook, are the guiding principles of Girl Scouting. Our motto, “Be Prepared” and our slogan, “Do a Good Turn Daily,” remain unchanged. Interestingly enough, our Girl Scout Promise has undergone a slight revision over the century.   Here is the evolution of the Promise from 1925 to today. Of course the Girl Scout Law has changed quite a bit from early days, but I’ll make that the topic of another blog post!

The Promise (Scouting for Girls, 1925)

On My Honor, I will Try:

To do my duty to God and my Country

To help other people at all times.

To obey the Scout Laws

The Promise (Worlds to Explore handbook for Brownies and Juniors, 1977)

On my honor, I will try;

To serve God,

My country and mankind,

And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

The Promise (The Girls’ Guide to Girl Scouting, 2011)

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.

Do you still have your Girl Scout Handbook? How did it plant seeds of change in your life? Please share a special memory in the comments!

3 thoughts on “How the Girl Scout Handbook Helped Me and 58 Million Other Girls

  1. Dee Dee says:

    I loved this book dearly because it taught me so much. First aid information, how to camp outdoors, and so much more. I read this book over and over again. It’s so sad that the books provided to Girl Scouts these days have little to no information in them. Learning how to take care of ourselves and others was a big part of why I loved Girl Scouting as a girl, and why it’s what I teach to my troop. Girl Scouts of the USA should really consider bringing back this level of information and providing it to girls.

  2. Jessica says:

    I don’t still have my books, but after 7 years of being a Girl Scout and 6 of not, I bonded with 2 women I’d never met before over Girl Scouts and we all recited the Girl Scout promise together.

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