girl scouts; campfire; uk scouts; 1909

The issue of gender in Scouting is interesting. At different points in Scouting’s history it has led to barriers to participation being both introduced and removed.

Girl Scouts

Following the publication of Scouting for Boys in January 1908 girls were actively engaging in Scouting, they had been just as inspired by the ideas in the book as their male counterparts. Troops and patrols of Girl Scouts were encouraged by Robert Baden-Powell;

“I think girls can get just as much healthy fun and as much value out of scouting as boys can. Some who have taken it up have proved themselves good souls in a very short time. As to pluck, women and girls can be just as brave as men and have over and over again proved it in times of danger. But for some reason it is not expected of them and consequentially it is seldom made part of their education, although it ought to be; for courage is not always born in people, but can generally be made by instruction.”

Robert Baden-Powell, The Scout, May 1908

UK scouts; girl scouts; boy scout; 1909
An early Scouting family showing the father as a Scoutmaster, the son a Boy Scout and the daughters as Girl Scouts. c1909

One group of Girl Scouts, sadly only known to us as “Kangaroo Patrol” were so inspired by this quote that they copied it out at the beginning of their patrol magazine in May 1909.   Their magazine was full of adventure stories with Scouts preventing robberies and kidnappings, it also showed girls and boys Scouting together.

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An illustration from a Girl Scout patrol magazine showing a Girl and Boy Scout playing a wide game. May 1909.

During 1909 various announcements were made by HQ recognising that there were over 6,000 girls registered with Scouting and that a separate scheme was being developed for Girl Scouts. In the September a Scout Rally was held at Crystal Palace with both girls and boys attending. This is sometimes cited as the origins of Girl Guiding however, plans were already well underway for their launch the following year and had been announced in the August 1909 Headquarters Gazette.

scout rally; crystal palace; girl scouts; boy scouts; uk scouts
Girl Scouts attending the Crystal Palace Scout Rally, September 1909.

Scouting in the UK remained a boys only Movement for the next 66 years. In 1976 girls were allowed to join a youth section of the Movement for the first time since 1910 as the Venture Scout section for 15 – 20 year olds became co-educational.

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Female Venture Scouts in 1977.

In 1992 the remaining youth sections also opened their doors to girls. At this stage groups who wished to remain single sex could opt out, in 2007 this option was discontinued removing the last bar to girl Scouting.

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Girls making a raft as part of a Scouting activity day.

Women in Scouting

Women have been involved in Scouting from the very beginning. The first women to receive their Scout leader warrants were Miss Wade of Henfield, West Sussex who started the 1st Henfield Scout Group (still active today) and Mrs Scott Malden then Headteacher of Windlesham School, West Sussex both women are listed as certified Scoutmasters, 16 March 1909.

The most famous of these early female leaders is Vera Barclay who went on to be the co-founder of the Cubs section.  These women were Scouting pioneers just as much as their male counterparts, but had the additional challenge of overcoming the social prejudice of the time regarding appropriate activities for women and whether they could lead a group of boys. An article entitled “Lady Scoutmasters”, by Olave Baden-Powell, October 1913, reflected the number of women taking up Scouting;

“The experiment of ladies being Scoutmasters has through the good and earnest work of those carrying it out proved itself successful; it only remains for it now to become a more widespread practice among young women keen to do something for their country”.

As with so many areas of life, war drove innovation and social change. Throughout the First World War, due to the lack of male leaders, but also in recognition of women’s already considerable contributions, there were continuous calls for more women to engage in Scouting, by 1918 65% of Cub leaders were women.

Wolf Cubs, Lady Cubmasters, female scout leaders; girl scouts; 1916
Two Lady Cubmasters supervise a Wolf Cub Grand Howl, 1916

Throughout the years women have continued to play an important role in the Movement, two of these women Dororthy Hughes and Betty “Rikki” Melville Smith are remembered at Gilwell Park. The Dorothy Hughes Pack Holiday Centre and Rikki’s Store are named in their honour. Their legacy continues, the first ever UK Youth Commissioner, appointed in 2014, was Hannah Kentish and as of 2017 43% of the adult volunteer team are female.

Hannah Kentish; UK Youth Commissioner; girl scout; scout; Scouting magazine
Cover of Scouting Magazine celebrating Hannah Kentish’s appointment as UK Youth Commissioner.