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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, many 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. The Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) still insists on female youth only and female adult leadership. While the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and GSUSA have discussed areas of mutual interest, and even mumbled about merging, the two organizations have different philosophies and 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 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. Scouting/USA was part of BSA's attempt to eliminate the term 'boy' lest young men (including young men of color) somehow feel demeaned. Boy Scouts became Scouts, the Boy Scout Handbook became simply the Scout Handbook, etc. BSA quietly dropped the Scouting/USA term and went back to using 'Boy Scout' by about 1980. I suspect the Girl Scouts of the USA also objected to BSA calling itself Scouting/USA.

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

Female Youth in the Boy Scouts of America

The Future?

First, all of us in Scouting, and the girls and their families who might want to join, are all most anxious to find out the details of the new girls program planned for 2019. We'll put the information here as soon as we know it. Then we'll all be curious to see how the coed pack and troop programs actually work. Will there be growing acceptance of mixed activities, both in our society and in Scouting? We also wonder what sort of impact this will have on the program sections of 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? And will male participation decline because of the coed programs? [This happened to several European Scouting organizations when they went coed.] Time will tell.


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

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

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