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Women and Girls in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)

When it started in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was all boys and men. There were no positions that a woman could hold, and girls who wanted a Scout-like program had to join the Camp Fire Girls (started in 1910), or later the separate Girl Scouts organization started in 1912 (the American version of the international Girl Guide program started by Baden-Powell). In the decades since, most Scouting programs around the world have become partially or fully coed, and often the separate Boy Scout and Girl Guide organizations in those countries have merged. But the US has not rushed to join the trend toward coeducation.

The Camp Fire Girls are now called just Camp Fire, and have been coed since 1975, though still with far more female than male youth at their older levels. The Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) still insist on female youth only. While the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and GSUSA have discussed areas of mutual interest, and even mumbled about merging, the two organizations share a century-long history of non-cooperation. So they have separate national headquarters, separate local councils, separate professional staffs, separate camping properties, and separate programs & units; and they solicit donations and support for "Scouting" separately.

The Boy Scout Organization's Name 1972 Scouting/USA logo

The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated on 8 February 1910, and has maintained that corporate name to the present day. The national office has stated that even as the BSA begins to offer programs for girls from Kindergarten through adulthood, they will not be changing the organization's name. Starting in 1972, BSA briefly used the communications name Scouting/USA, but still retained the official corporate name. BSA quietly dropped the Scouting/USA term by about 1980. I'm sure the Girl Scouts of the USA would have objected to BSA calling itself Scouting/USA. Starting in February, 2019, the Scout section of the BSA will be renamed from 'Boy Scouting' to 'Scouts BSA' (which fits with Cub Scouts BSA, Sea Scouts BSA, and Venturing BSA), but the overall organization remains the Boy Scouts of America.

There has been confusion in the US for over a century among donors and the general public about the two completely separate national "Scouting" programs, and it's all the fault of Juliette Gordon 'Daisy' Low, the founder of the US girls' organization. When Baden-Powell founded a worldwide program for girls comparable to Boy Scouting, he called it Girl Guiding to prevent any confusion between the two programs. But after a year of limited growth as Girl Guides, Low decided to rename her American organization Girl Scouts, and there has been confusion ever since.

Adult Women in the Boy Scouts of America

The latest BSA Nondiscrimination Policy (as of May, 2018, as contained on the BSA Adult Application) states: "The BSA is open to all who meet the requirements. Scouting units are open to all and leaders are selected without regard to race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or sexual identity, and is based on individual merit." Until now, it has been BSA practice to allow chartered organizations that are religious institutions to discriminate on most of these bases, and this may still be the case.

Note that a woman can be Scoutmaster of a boys' troop, and that it would be acceptable for a boys' troop to have all adult positions filled by women. Similarly, a man can be Scoutmaster (or hold any other position) in a girls' troop; however, a girls' troop must have at least one registered female adult leader over age 21, and there must be a minimum of one registered female adult leader over 21 in attendance at any activity involving female youth.

Female Youth in the Boy Scouts of America

The Future?

We'll keep posting information about the impending changes in the various Scouting programs as soon as we know it. We'll also monitor how the coed pack and troop programs actually work. Will there be growing acceptance of mixed activities, both in our society and in Scouting? Will many boy-only and girl-only troops have joint activities and campouts (becoming coed in everything but name)? How will the BSA changes affect the Girl Scouts of the USA? [Back in 1971, the Girl Scout Senior program section suffered significant losses when the BSA Exploring program went coed.]

That takes us to the obvious next question: Will the BSA ultimately make its packs and troops fully coed, and if so, when? I find it instructive that boy and girl troops sharing the same chartered organization can also share the same troop number.

Want to be a Scout?

If you want to be a Cub Scout, Scout, Venturer, or Sea Scout, and don't know where your local units are, your local BSA Council can give you contact information and details. A search on "bsa council near xxxx" (where xxx is your town) should bring up a link to your local council's website.


For more information about Scouting in the US, see Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

For information about Guiding [Girl Scouts] in the US, see Girl Scouts of the USA.

For information on Camp Fire and other alternatives to Scouting, see our Scout-like Organizations page.