Answers to Change

At the end of the nineteenth century, American society was no longer based on an agricultural economy. Increasing industrialization drew mothers, fathers, girls, and boys from small farms to factories, offices, and commercial ventures in cities.

Rapid growth of these cities caused problems of overcrowding, poor health, unemployment, crime, and juvenile delinquency. Local governments were not able to solve these problems. Many people became concerned about the loss of values and ideals of the American pioneers and forefathers.

Many American reformers, part of a national movement called "progressivism," tried to solve the problems of change with such efforts as a renewed interest in religion, governmental reform, "back-to-nature" movement, and educational reform.

New ideas about education grew out of the first scientific studies about child development. The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) had been developing programs for boys since 1867. Educators organized other groups for outdoor education for boys. In the U.S., Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Charles Beard were leaders in these efforts.

In Great Britain in 1908, Robert Baden-Powell began a program called Boy Scouts. Baden-Powell's program was adopted by the YMCA in the U.S., and by October 1910, U.S. Boy Scouts had 2,500 scoutmasters in forty-four states, Puerto Rico, and the Phillipines (Murray, 15).

Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts led to the founding in Great Britain in 1910 of the Girl Guides by his sister Agnes. In the U.S., YMCA and Boy Scouts leaders responded to American girls' requests by establishing Campfire Girls in 1911. Luther Gulick, who along with others believed girls' physical and mental abilities were very different from boys', developed the program.

Juliette Gordon Low had other ideas. Her Girl Scouts, established in 1912, moved beyond contemporary views of girls and women and responded to training girls for the roles of women. The roles and status of women have changed--although many roles have remained the same--over the years. Girl Scout programming has evolved to continue the ideals of its founder to make girls into well-prepared citizens whatever roles they assume.

In 1927:

". . . The interests of parents and children were never more divergent. The nineteenth century, with the development of the factory system, took the work of the family out of the home. The twentieth century is rapidly doing the same thing to its play, and breaking down the ties which have held the home together. . . . The heaviest strain of our unsettled modern life falls on the shoulders of the young, especially on girls because of the changing status of women today" (139-40). Girl Scouts and other youth organizations were cited as stabilizing factors for "the modern girl" (143).

From: Henriette R. Walter, Girl Life in America: A Study of Backgrounds (New York: The National Committee for the Study of Juvenile Reading, 1927).

In 1957:

"What resources, ideally, should a girl have in order to grow successfully into the subtle and demanding role of adult womanhood? The essentials would seem to be: a reasonable sense of self based on an accurate knowledge of her own talents and interests, a positive view of and identification with the feminine role, and enough sustaining values to permit her to adapt flexibly to adult womanhood--whether . . . marriage and a family, or a career, or both" (2).

From: Adolescent Girls: a nation-wide study of girls between eleven and eighteen years of age ([Ann Arbor]: Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, [1957]). The study was commissioned by the GSUSA.

You be the historian

Explore the history of youth organizations and agencies.

  • Have there been Girl Scout troops or other youth organizations in your community? What have they contributed to the individuals involved and to the community? Talk with people of various ages about these topics.
  • Investigate American society in the early twentieth century, especially the "progressive" movement.
  • Explore changes in perceptions of the roles of girls and women up to the present day. Have there also been changes in perceptions about the roles of boys and men?