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Imagine this: you are walking through your local shopping mall, it's 7:12 PM, March 12, 2012, when all of a sudden hundreds of girls appear and begin to speak in unison saying "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." (The Pledge can be said in sign and other languages. Girl Scout policy states that the word "God" may be interpreted depending on individual spiritual beliefs. When reciting the Girl Scout Promise, "God" maybe substituted with the word dictated by those beliefs.6) And then they break out dancing to the "Commodore's Celebrate." This column is dedicated to Catherine Young and Francis Soules who brought girl scounting to Sturgis, Michigan in 1945.
When there was a pause in the celebration, I asked a young girl who was taking part exactly what the Girl Scout Law was. She told me, in a very strong voice, "it goes like this"
I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
(And then her friend chimed, "Here's the last part")
respect myself and others,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout
Striking up a conversation with one of the troop leaders, I learned that these flash mob celebrations occurred in tandem throughout the United States on this night, the same date and hour 100 years ago that Julia Gordon Low brought together 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia, to form the first Girl Scout Troop. On this night in 2012, their banners read, "Its Your World-Change It! It's Your Planet-Love It! It's Your Story-Tell It!" (Slogan for the new program, Leadership Journeys activities, which are grouped around themes of environment, advocacy, and self-esteem through self expression.) It was a most impressive moment. She told me that her particular troop would be joining thousands of Girl Scouts in Washington, DC, on June 9 for a sing-a-long on The Mall. She added that there were countless 100-year anniversary celebrations going on around the world.
Driving home that night recalling the pride in the young girls' voices while reciting the Girl Scout Pledge and then succinctly the Girl Scout Law, I knew that these were young, confident girls learning the critical importance of honesty, respect, and dignity for self and others, leadership skills community service, the complexities of caring and compassion, and the real meaning of friendship. I heard echoes of phrases from nursing's Code of Ethics in their words. It was apparent to me that the Girl Scouts of United Sates of America (GSUSA) organization throughout these past 100 years has been and is a humanistic and political organization. It is about the moral empowering of women.
Born into a prominent family in Savannah, Georgia, at the cusp of the Civil War, Juliette was given a privileged education in boarding schools and a French finishing school in New York. Known for her sense of humor and love of outdoor sports, she was also intensely interested in the arts. She wrote poems; sketched, wrote, and acted in plays; and became a skilled painter and sculptress, studying sculpting in the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Because of erroneous medical treatments of ear infections, she was almost completely deaf by the time she was 26. She married William Mackay Low, who was a Scotsman and heir to a family fortune, and the couple moved to England. In 1905, she returned to the States to aid in the Spanish American war effort by assisting her mother in establishing a convalescent hospital for the wounded soldiers.1 (A full account of this experience is reflected in her mother, Eleanor Kinzie Gordon's 1898 extensive journals at http://www.digitalcollectionsfiu.edu/tequesta/files/2003/03_1_02.) Her father, William Washington Gordon, a Confederate officer in the Civil War, was commissioned General in the US Army. Mrs Gordon, undeterred, followed him to his post in Miami, where she established the convalescent hospital.
Juliette Gordon Low, like Florence Nightingale and other notable women whose life work was dedicated to the betterment of humanity, was encouraged by her parents to study the humanities and sciences and to learn foreign languages and to travel abroad. Indeed, some of these women attended and graduated with college degrees. Juliette's lifelong devotion to charitable works and to the enhancement of women's lives paralleled those of Jane Adams, Lillian Wald, Mary Brewster, Dorothea Dix, Clara Barton, Susan B. Anthony, and others of the Progressive Era.
While living in England, she met Gen Robert Baden-Powell, who was the founder of the Boy Scouts in England. Through her conversations with him, Juliette became fascinated with the possibilities for girls. She dreamed of giving the United States and the world "something for all of the girls." She envisioned an organization that would bring girls out of their sheltered home environments to serve their communities and experience the outdoors that would give them the opportunity to develop "self-reliance and resourcefulness."2 "The aim of the Girl Scouts was and is that girls will develop to their full potential by pursuing 4 goals: developing their full potential, relating to others with increasing understanding, skill, and respect, developing a meaningful set of values to guide their actions and to provide for sound decision making, and contributing to the improvement of society."1(p6)
The Girl Scouts have always been an inclusive organization with an extensive history of accepting girls from any background and with any disability. Initially, Girl Scout units were segregated by race according to state and local laws and customs. However, by the late 1950s, GSUSA began significant national efforts to desegregate the camps[horizontal ellipsis] leading Martin Luther King, Jr, to describe Girl Scout as a force for desegregation.1(p6)
During World War II, Girl Scout troops were organized for Japanese-American girls who were confined with their parents in internment camps.1(p6)
"There are special programs for girls in unusual circumstances that make it difficult for them to participate in the standard program. The Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program helps daughters of incarcerated mothers to connect with their mothers and to have the mothers participate in the Girl Scout activities. Another program, Girl Scouting in Detention Centers, allows girls who are themselves in detention centers to participate in Scouting. Other initiatives try to help girls in rural areas or in public housing."1(p8)
The GSUSA Research Institute is a vital part of the organization. Reports of their research studies are available to the public and include Girls and the Media; Girls Leadership, Beliefs, Values; Girls and Youth Development; Healthy Living; Volunteerism; Girls Scouts Outcomes; STEM (Science, Technology, Environment, Math); Girt Scout Council; and others (http://www.girlscouts.org).
Today, the GSUSA claims 50 000 000 alumnae and 3 700 000 active members in 90 countries.
Biography in honor of the 100 year Anniversary: Stacey A. Cordery. Juliette Gordon Low: Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts. New York: Penguin Group; 2012.
1. Two Thousand Twelve is the Year of the Girl Scout Promise and Law. http://www.girlscouts.org. Accessed April 6, 2012. [Context Link]
2. Girl Scouts of the USA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_Scouts_of_the_USA. Accessed February 24, 2012. [Context Link]
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