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Women and Girls in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was incorporated on 8 February 1910, and has maintained that corporate name to the present day, even though it has gradually welcomed girls at all age levels. For a brief period (1972 to about 1990), BSA used the 'communications name' Scouting/USA, but still retained the official corporate name. I imagine that objections from the Girl Scouts of the USA encouraged BSA to quietly drop the Scouting/USA term. In February, 2019, the Scout section of the BSA was 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.
The girls' version of Boy Scouting was named Girl Guiding by its Founders (Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes) to distinguish the girls program from the boys program, and that is the most common name today for girl-only programs around the world. When Juliette Gordon 'Daisy' Low started the US girls program in 1912, she named it Girl Guides of America. But after a year of limited growth as Girl Guides, Low decided to rename her American organization Girl Scouts, causing confusion among donors and the general public about the two unrelated national "Scouting" programs ever since. While BSA and GSUSA (Girl Scouts of the USA) 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.
Timeline of Girls and Adult Women in the Boy Scouts of America
- 1910—Boy Scout troops are for boys only. Girls can join the new Camp Fire Girls (no connection to BSA, but with significant input from a number of leading BSA officials). All adult positions are open to men only, and camping is for boys & men only.
- 1911—The organization's new handbook is called the Handbook for Boys (and later the Boy Scout Handbook). A new magazine aimed at Boy Scouts (and all boys) is called Boys Life. BSA buys the magazine in 1912.
- 1912—Sea Scouting begins, for boys only. Girls can now also join the new Girl Guides of America (renamed Girl Scouts of the US in 1913; no connection to Boy Scouts of America).
- 1930—Cubbing (later Cub Scouting) begins, for boys only. Dens are led by a Boy Scout 'Den Chief' with no direct adult involvement. The pack is led by a male Cubmaster.
- 1935—Senior Scouting begins, consisting of Sea Scouting and Explorer Scouting (later adding Air Scouting). All are restricted to male youth and adults.
- 1936—BSA adds the optional (and unregistered) position of Den Mother (from 1936 to 1967, Den Mother is the first and only position closed to men). The handbooks state that the Den Mother should be ready to help when needed "but she leaves the actual running of the Den to the Den Chief."
- 1948—Den Mother becomes a registered position. But the 1949 handbook still reminds the Den Mother that she "helps the Den Chief plan Den fun." By the mid 1950's, the Den Mother becomes the actual den leader, assisted by the Boy Scout Den Chief.
- 1954—BSA moves the Webelos program (started in 1941) from a regular den to its own separate den for the final six months of a boy's time in the pack. The Webelos leader is a man who prepares the boys for entry into a Boy Scout troop.
- 1967—Leadership of regular dens is opened to men, and the Den Mother position is renamed Den Leader.
- 1969—Explorer posts (later development of Explorer Scouting) are allowed to admit young women as non-registered "associate" members. BSA allows women to serve on the national Cub Scout Committee.
- 1971—Explorer posts become fully coed *, the first section of the BSA open to female youth. The successor Venturing program, and Sea Scouting, are also fully coed. At the same time, adult leader positions in Exploring are opened to women.
- *—The asterisk (*) means that female Venturers and Sea Scouts were almost equal to male Venturers. Male Explorers/Venturers and Sea Scouts have always had a path to earn the Eagle Scout award, which was closed to female Explorers/Venturers and Sea Scouts until February 2019.
- 1972—BSA opens troop committee positions to women.
- 1975—Camp Fire Girls renames itself Camp Fire as it opens its membership to boys for the first time.
- 1976—BSA opens the Cubmaster position to women.
- 1988—BSA opens the Webelos Den Leader position to women, along with all other Scouting positions in all Scouting programs, including allowing adult women associated with a Boy Scout troop to be elected to the Order of the Arrow honor camping society.
- 2018—Cub Scouting opens to girls as well as boys. Packs may now choose to be male youth only, female youth only, or mixed. In mixed packs, each den must be single gender (though two dens may meet together). All Cub Scout handbooks have been revised to use non-gender-specific terminology and to include photos of male & female Cub Scouts.
- 2019—BSA begins allowing troops for Scout-age girls (11-17). Troops must be for girls only or boys only (no coed troops), though a chartered organization may sponsor both a boys' troop and a girls' troop, which can be operated by a single troop committee or by separate committees. A boys' troop and a girls' troop with the same chartered organization may also share the same troop number, and are officially referred to as 'linked' troops. The Scouting programs for boys and girls are identical, including rank advancement culminating with Eagle Scout. The first female Eagle Scouts earned the award in autumn 2020. For the first time, there are now TWO essentially identical Scout Handbooks, one for boys (entitled Scouts BSA Handbook for Boys) and one for girls (Scouts BSA Handbook for Girls). The only differences are gender-specific photos and drawings. Both boys and girls in Scouts BSA are referred to simply as 'Scouts'. Female Venturers and Sea Scouts can now also earn the Eagle Scout award, if they have earned the ranks through First Class in a Scout troop (same requirement as for male Venturers and Sea Scouts); and the Order of the Arrow honor society, formerly open only to Boy Scout youth and adults, is now open to male and female youth and adults from the Scout, Venturing, and Sea Scout programs.
- 2021—BSA renames its flagship magazine from Boys Life to Scout Life.
Remaining Gender Discrimination in the BSA
- While Venturing, Sea Scouting, Exploring, STEM Scouts, and Learning for Life are all fully coed at all levels, Cub Scout packs must still maintain 'separate but equal' male-only or female-only dens, and Scout troops must be either male-only or female-only.
- Boys in Cub Scout packs and Scout troops can be led by men, women, or both, and an all-male or all-female group of registered adults could provide supervision to any boy-only activity. On the other hand, any pack or troop activity involving girls must include a minimum of one registered female adult.
Some questions & answers about girls in the BSA (PDF)
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.
Last Revision to This Page: 24 June 2021
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