Fran Montagne hoped her four daughters would be Girl Scouts because she had enjoyed the experience in her youth.
“I really wanted my daughters to experience the diversity, camaraderie and civil service that this organization offers,” Montagne said. “Each of my girls participated from the Daisy level up to Juniors in sixth grade.”
Montagne has fond memories of all of her girls’ experiences in Girl Scouts that rival her own.
“I have wonderful memories of trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia , Niagara Falls and Cooperstown, to name a few,” she said. “Camping was always another favorite… I also really enjoyed community service. The girls really seemed to enjoy this as well.”
Now that the organization that brought Montagne and her daughters such joy over the years is about to celebrate its centennial, the Liverpool nurse had only good things to say about it.
“The 100th anniversary — hard to believe,” she said. “Congratulations Girl Scouts! And thank you to all those amazing people who keep it going. It is a commitment of time and energy, but well worth the outcome.”
From humble beginnings
The Girl Scouts have grown significantly since their first meeting in the Low mansion in Savannah, Ga. on March 12, 1912, where topics covered ranged from caring for babies to securing a burglar with eight inches of cord. The meeting was headed up by Juliette Gordon Low, known colloquially as “Daisy,” who believed that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, and spiritually. With the goal of bringing girls out of isolated home environments and into community service and the open air, she created the Girl Guides to offer them the opportunity to do just that. Under her guidance, those first 18 girls hiked, went on camping trips, learned how to tell time by the stars and studied first aid.
Want to help the Girl Scouts celebrate their 100th birthday? There are a number of ways to do so locally. For a full listing, visit gsnypenn.org.
Here’s a sampling of the events you can attend:
5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, March 12: Annual Women of Distinction event, The Oncenter, Syracuse. Join the Girl Scouts of NYPENN Pathways as they celebrate “The 100” who have encouraged girls to lead and achieve on the actual birthday of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Tickets can be purchased at gsnypenn.org.
6:45 to 7:45 p.m. Monday, March 12: Many communities will be holding candlelight ceremonies and sing-a-longs. Listed at gsnypenn.org.
July 27 to 29: Girl Scouts: 100 Years Strong – A Jamboree. Cayuga County Fairgrounds. All Girl Scouts, past and present, are encouraged to attend and join as many as 5,000 of your Girl Scout sisters for a weekend of festivities. Details at gsnypenn.org. Deadline to register is April 30.
As time went on, the Girl Guides — later called Girl Scouts — became more and more popular. In addition to outdoor activities, the organization began to take on community service activities, especially after America became mired in World War I and later the Great Depression. It’s now a staple of the institution.
“Girl Scouts helps to develop girls into leaders to make them better stewards of their communities,” said Judy Gallagher, director of Girl Scouts of NYPENN Pathways, which is headquartered in Cicero. “Girl Scouts is about direct community service, whether it’s collecting 1.200 pairs of pajamas during PJ Round-up for families in transition, or simply planting flowers in a community garden.”
Terry Godlewski Alletzhauser, a troop leader from North Syracuse, said her troops complete a service project every month. Projects range from making cat toys to donate to the Humane Society to collecting items to send to service units overseas.
“I feel Girl Scouts teaches these young ladies how to give back to the community by doing these different service projects,” Alletzhauser said. “The girls in my troop are very receptive to helping out the community.”
Today, Girl Scouts of the USA has a membership of more than 3.2 million girls and adults. More than 50 million women are Girl Scout alumnae. But the core values remain basically the same.
“The values in the Girl Scout Promise and Law have changed little in 100 years, though the words may change to be more contemporary for today’s girls,” Gallagher said. “Our founder had girls doing outdoor activities that society wasn’t accustomed to them doing. Today, the emphasis for activities is in five focus areas: Healthy Living, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), arts, business/entrepreneurship, and outdoors/environment.”
Preparing girls for the future
The Girl Scouts aren’t just focused on what girls are up to in the here and now; they’re also concerned with making sure that girls develop leadership skills for the future.
That’s the goal of the ToGetHerThere initiative, which was launched in January. The program was developed after a new Girl Scouts of the USA study, commissioned in partnership with GfK Roper, found that, while girls are generally optimistic about their futures, they still see glass ceilings in today’s society that could interfere with achieving their leadership potential. The study, based on a telephone survey of 1,000 girls ages 8 to 17, found, for example, that close to three in five girls think that a woman can rise up in a company but will only rarely be put in a senior leadership role. Additionally, more than one-third of girls say they wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to be a leader, and almost 40 percent are not sure they’re cut out to be a leader.
In order to help girls overcome those doubts, the Girl Scouts launched ToGetHerThere, which Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez called “the largest, boldest advocacy and fundraising cause dedicated to girls’ leadership in the nation’s history.” The multiyear seeks to create balanced leadership — the equal representation of women in leadership positions in all sectors and levels of society — within a single generation. The $1 billion philanthropic campaign for girls will fuel this effort and fund opportunities that enable girls to lead. Ninety percent of funds raised will go directly to services and programs for girls across the nation and in 94 countries globally to help fill critical talent gaps in finance, science, technology, environmental, and global leadership arenas.
“It is abundantly clear that our girls have a vision of their leadership potential that is incompatible with what we know they can achieve,” says Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. “The ToGetHerThere campaign is the launch of a cause to impact our girls now, so that we can inspire them to achieve leadership roles in all aspects of society.”
For more information, visit togetherthere.org.
Of course, it takes more than money to develop leadership skills, and Girl Scouts has always been dedicated to helping girls prepare for their futures. That’s why the organization is still relevant 100 years after it was founded, and why it will continue to be relevant 100 years from now.
“Girls will always need a place to belong and learn,” Gallagher said. “Girl Scouts provide girls with a place to belong. Friends that last a lifetime. Opportunities that can’t get elsewhere, from travel to the activities they participate in. We will always continue to do that.”
Most of all, Girl Scouts will always continue to be a girl-driven, girl-oriented organization.
“As an all-girl organization, girls have the opportunity to be themselves, with female role models, the opportunity to make mistakes without the pressure of boys and worrying what they will think,” Gallagher said. “Girls learn by doing, working cooperatively with others, and leading the activities they participate in.”
“Girls should take part in Girl Scouts for several reasons,” she said. “They get to be girls. They don’t have to worry about being stereotyped or judged. They are treated like equals and treated like their opinion or ideas count.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.