Out of the many scouting groups American kids could join in the early 1900s, two emerged to rule the century. In 1910, several boys’ scouting groups—like the Woodcraft Indians and the Sons of Daniel Boone—came together to form group number one, the Boy Scouts. The Camp Fire Girls was founded later that same year; but was eventually overshadowed by group number two, the Girls Scouts. This group was founded in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low, who drew inspiration from the British Girl Guides.
In the beginning, both the Camp Fire Girls and the Girl Scouts taught outdoor skills while still focusing on domestic skills more than the Boy Scouts did. Yet male Boy Scout leaders were far more accepting of the Camp Fire Girls, writes Leslie Paris in Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp.
“The Girl Scouts’ khaki uniforms and their adoption of military drill threatened the Boy Scouts’ leader, James West, who considered the Camp Fire Girls a more appropriately gendered counterpart,” she writes. “West rallied particularly against the Girl Scouts’ use of the term ‘scout,’ fearing that if the term became feminized it would become unsuitable for boys’ adventure.”
Over time, these gender politics shifted. In 1975, the Camp Fire Girls became Camp Fire, a gender-neutral organization for all kids. The Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of the USA, which grew to be the most popular scouting groups in the country, also expanded their badges to include more types of skills.
Yet in the last couple of years, a feud has developed between the Boy and the Girl Scouts. And in October 2017, it finally came to a head.
That month, the Boy Scouts announced that it would accept girls in some of its initiatives. The move was met with the expected yays and nays about gender inclusion on social media, but the paper trail behind the decision suggests it has more to do with the Boy Scouts’ bottom line than gender equality.
In August 2017, Buzzfeed published a letter from the Girl Scouts to the Boy Scouts accusing them of running a “covert campaign to recruit girls into programs run by the Boy Scouts.” Both groups have seens declining membership in recent decades, and the letter charged that the Boy Scouts were trying to increase membership by targeting girls “rather than working to appeal to the 90 percent of boys who are not involved in BSA programs” (ouch).
The letter also accused the Boy Scouts of making “disparaging and untrue remarks about Girl Scout programming.” The day that the Boy Scouts announced they would open up some of their programs to girls, Slate wrote that the Girl Scouts “had been hearing from several local councils that their Boy Scouts counterparts were recruiting parents into coed programming by saying the Girl Scouts wouldn’t be around much longer” (ouch).
In May 2018, the Boy Scouts announced that it would rename itself “Scouts BSA,” to reflect the fact that girls are welcome in the program. “We wanted to land on something that evokes the past but also conveys the inclusive nature of the program going forward,” said Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh.
It remains to be seen how many girls will end up joining the Boy Scouts. But rest assured, this feud is far from over.