Women and Girls in Scouting America: A Historical Overview

Jun 27, 2024

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA), as it has formerly been known, has a long and storied history. Contrary to the perceptions of many, the national organization — which has historically played a major role in the very development of American culture and values as we know them today — has always existed in a state of evolution and growth. Throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, it has undergone significant changes to become more inclusive of the adult staff and volunteers that drive its programming as well as of Scouts and their families. 

Among the most notable developments over this period have been the decision to welcome young females into specialty programs like Venturing and Exploring as well as the move to let girls join Boy Scouts (the program for children aged 11–17) and Cub Scouts (for children aged 5–10). The latter policy led to the Boy Scouts name change of its program for tweens and teens to Scouts BSA. Now, starting in February of 2025, the entire organization will become Scouting America to reflect its commitment to serving all genders in all programs.

Yet what many Americans don’t realize is that both girls and women have played important roles in Scouting for nearly a century, and that recent organizational changes are simply a natural progression of those long in the making.

Here’s what everyone should know about the history and roles of women and girls in Boy Scouts organizations and programming.

The History of Women in Scouting: Early Involvement

From its inception, countless women have given their time and talent in support of Boy Scouts of America.

Auxiliary and Leadership Roles

Since the early days of the then-named BSA, women have played essential supporting roles as leaders and volunteers. During the early 20th century, women often participated through auxiliary social groups that facilitated Scouting activities, fundraising, and event planning.

For example, in 1930, the Cub Scouts program was formed, and women served as Den Mothers in partnership with Den Chiefs. In 1967, these titles were changed, and both men and women could be Den Leaders. For 30 years, this was the only leadership role open to women.

In 1988, women also became eligible for official membership in the Order of the Arrow (OA) and could receive the Distinguished Service Award. The first woman to receive this award, Kay Trick, was also the first woman appointed to the National OA Committee.

Pioneering Women in Scouting

Throughout the history of Scouting, women have played major roles in its leadership and development. Just a few of those who have made major contributions to Scouting America include:

  • Catherine Pollard. In the 1970s, Catherine Pollard became the first female Scoutmaster, breaking gender barriers within the organization. Despite facing resistance, her determination and commitment paved the way for future female leaders.
  • Ann W. Nally. In 1984, Nally became the first woman to join the National Court of Honor, which ultimately decides which Scouts and Scouters should receive awards like the Honor Medal, Medal of Merit, and Silver Buffalo Award. She had been working to shape Cub Scout programming since 1969 as one of only three women (including LaVern W. Parmley and Solveig Wald Horn) invited to the National Cub Scout Committee.
  • Mary Portis. In 1990, Portis, who submitted her application as “M. Portis” to overcome implicit hiring bias, became the first female Scout executive in BSA history.
  • Ellie Morrison. Morrison was named the 11th National Commissioner of the BSA in 2018. She became the first female member of its National Key 3.

Major Contributions to Scouting Programs

Women have been particularly strong assets in these areas of Scouting as well as many others:

  • Program development. Women have long been involved in developing and expanding Scouting programs that cater to the interests and needs of all youth. This includes offering more STEM-related activities, outdoor adventures, and leadership training that appeal to a diverse membership.
  • Community engagement. Female leaders have been at the forefront of engaging communities and promoting the values of Scouting. Their efforts have helped build strong relationships between the BSA/Scouts BSA and local communities, enhancing the organization’s impact and reach.

BSA Girls: The History of Girls in Scouting

Over time, the BSA welcomed girls in more and more of its programming:

  • Venturing and Sea Scouts. In the 1970s, the BSA introduced the Venturing and Sea Scouts programs. These were coeducational from the outset, making the girls who participated the first official “girl Boy Scouts.” These programs offered older boys and girls opportunities for high adventure, leadership development, and community service.
  • Cub Scouts. In 2018, the BSA began allowing girls to join Cub Scouts, the program for younger children. This change was part of a broader initiative to provide families with more options for scouting activities.
  • Scouts BSA. In 2019, the BSA further expanded its reach by rebranding its flagship program, Boy Scouts, to Scouts BSA. This marked the official inclusion of girls in the program, allowing them to pursue the same path as boys to Eagle Scout, the highest rank in scouting.

Growth and Impact

  • Total membership and participation. Since the inclusion of girls, Scouting America has seen a steady increase in female membership. As of May 2024, 176,234 of its over one million members are currently girls and young women. They participate in all the same activities boys do, from camping and hiking to community service and leadership training.
  • Eagle Scouts. The path to becoming an Eagle Scout is rigorous, requiring the completion of numerous merit badges and a significant service project to qualify. Since girls have been allowed to qualify for the rank of Eagle Scout, over 6,000 have earned this prestigious status, demonstrating exceptional leadership and commitment to their communities.

The Future of Inclusion in Scouting

Today, Scouting America welcomes and serves youth of all gender identities. It has identified various goals and milestones as it continues to work toward a culture of inclusivity.

Continued Growth and Opportunities

Challenges and Opportunities

  • Adapting to change. Scouting America faces challenges as it adapts to these changes, including addressing concerns from traditionalists and managing the logistics of coeducational programs. However, the organization remains dedicated to its mission of preparing young people for life through character development and community service.
  • Empowering the next generation. By embracing inclusivity and diversity, Scouting America is poised to empower the next generation of leaders. Girls who participate in Scouting gain countless valuable skills, confidence, and a sense of community that will serve them throughout their lives.

The inclusion and recognition of women as well as the full integration of girls in the newly-branded Scouting America marks a significant milestone in the organization’s history. As it evolves, it continues to honor its legacy while embracing a more inclusive future, ensuring that all youth have the opportunity to experience the transformative power of Scouting.

Enroll Your Daughter in Scouting America, Laurel Highlands Council

If you live in the western parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, or West Virginia, enrolling your daughter in Scouting America, Laurel Highlands Council, is an excellent way for them to get all the benefits of becoming a Scout.

Join Laurel Highlands Council’s Women’s Committee on September 12, 2024, for the first-ever HER Taste of Scouting! This event is led by women in Scouting for all women. Plan to join us for a lovely afternoon at Camp Guyasuta. Guests are in for a delightful reception featuring delicious Scout-inspired cuisine, Scouting-themed activities, a complimentary guided camp tour, the chance to establish new lasting connections with other women in our region, and so much more. Register now!

Throughout its history, women have played key roles in our Council, and we thank them for their service. Since the inaugural class of Female Eagle in 2021, our Council has honored 26 females with the award. In 2023 alone, we served over 1,000 girls in our programs. Of the 259 Eagle Scouts who earned the rank in 2023, 11 were female. We are looking forward to serving many more girls and producing many more female Eagle Scouts this year and in the years to come!

Contact us to learn which of our programs is right for your daughter, and join now!


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