History Highlights #4: What about the Girls?

by | Mar 16, 2017

Why did the Young Mens Mutual Improvement Association affiliate with the Boy Scouts of America in 1913, yet the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association of the same time period continue developing their own activity and personal progress programs?

Did the Church ever consider partnership with the Camp Fire Girls, Girl Scouts or Girl Guides? And if so, why didn’t they affiliate? Here are a few insights on this question. First, some history highlights.

1869 – The Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association was organized by Brigham Young to encourage modesty, decorum, and retrenchment. (History of the YLMIA, 1911, p. 9.)

1907 – Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scouting Movement in England. The movement was wildly successful and quickly established in countries around the world.

1910 – The Boy Scouts of America was officially established in the United States.

Girls and Scouting?

Baden-Powell realized early on that young ladies also wanted to join Scouting. As recorded in the book, Two Lives of a Hero, Baden-Powell knew, however, that the “rough and tumble” activities of Scouting were not appropriate activities for the young girls of his era. Additionally, he felt that the Boy Scout program would become too “sissified” if girls were allowed to join and boys could resent their involvement.  Baden-Powell also felt that the word Scout belonged to the boys.

Instead, Baden-Powell enlisted the help of his younger sister, Agnes, to organize the Girl Guides, a program tailored more specifically for girls and focused on the needs and virtues of women. Eventually, Baden-Powell’s wife, Olave, became the head of this organization and it experienced great growth as a companion to the Boy Scouts.  Today, many Girl Guide groups are involved in the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), of which the BSA is also an active participant.

1910Camp Fire Girls of America, a version of Baden Powell’s Girl Guides, was founded by Luther Gulick, M.D., and his wife, Charlotte Gulick, “to guide young people on their journey to self-discovery.” James E. West, first Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts, was also instrumental in the founding of the Camp Fire Girls. (See their official website: www.campfire.org)

1911 – Juliette Gordon Low, future founder of the Girl Scouts of America, met Baden-Powell in England. He encouraged her to start Girl Guiding in America.

1912 – The Girls Guides of America (changed to Girl Scouts in 1913) was officially organized by Mrs. Low in the United States. Her focus was to provide the identical program for the girls that the boys were receiving.

Was affiliation ever discussed?

The May 1935 Improvement Era celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Bee-Hive Girls’ Organization. An article titled, “Origin of the Bee-Hive Girls’ Organization,” by Ann M. Cannon, chairman of the original Bee-Hive Committee, sheds some light on the history of the Bee-Hives.

In the article Sister Cannon writes, “About the time that the YMMIA began to talk of Scouting for boys, Mae Taylor Nystrom and Ann M. Cannon of the General Board…began a study of the Girl Guide work in England, which had been started to parallel the Boy Scout work. They followed it by a study of Camp Fire work which had sprung up in the USA as a follower of the Girl Guides.”

The article discusses that the Board studied how these purposes might fit into the MIA plan. The Salt Lake City Ensign Stake used the Camp Fire program for the summer and “the Box Elder Stake asked for the Girl Guide work. These privileges were granted and the programs were tried out that year by several stakes.”

Later a committee wrote to Dr. Luther Gulick, President of the Camp Fire Girls, and asked for the privilege of joining their organization “on a plan similar to that on which the YMMIA had joined the Boy Scouts.” It says that many letters passed back and forth but finally Dr. Gulick said in effect, “I see why you cannot join us under our plan. I hope you see why we cannot let you join under yours.” He suggested the Church form its own organization and gave permission for them to use any of their ideas and even offered assistance.

The Chartered Organization concept was key to the partnership of the YMMIA and the BSA, yet such an agreement could not be reached with the YLMIA and the Camp Fire Girls. It is important to note that as a chartered partner, the Church has the freedom to make significant decisions within their BSA programs, including choosing their own leaders and implementing BSA activities in a way to meet their needs.

While the Church has never officially partnered with the Girl Scouts, Girl Guides, Camp Fire Girls or other programs for young women, they still support the good these organizations do.

Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, participated in a panel discussion on faith at the 2014 Girl Scouts Convention held Thursday, October 16, 2014, in Salt Lake City. The session was titled “Faith in Action: Understand the Impact of Faith on Girls’ Lives and on Their Communities.”

“This is a challenging time to live,” said Sister Oscarson, who serves more than a half million young women ages 12–17 around the globe. She told the audience that to help young women meet these challenges; the Church’s Young Women organization emphasizes faith and leadership.

Sister Oscarson said it’s possible to have faith and not belong to a religion, but “[Christ] organized a church, and I think that’s our example.” She shared that gathering and learning together is “a way to strengthen one another.” (See the full article here.)

~Contributed and compiled by Scouting historians Roma Bishop, Kathi Robertson, and Nettie Francis