What Happened to the Girl Scouts?

A graduate of Clark University who served as a navigator in air‑sea rescue during the war, BEN H. BAGDIKIAN has been a reporter and columnist on one of New England's ablest newspapers, the Providence Journal, since 1947. With Louis Lyons, Curator of the Nieman Fellows at Harvard, he was one of the first to be alarmed by the policy of retreat disclosed in the article which follows.
More

To the leaders of two million Girl Scouts the name Juliette Gordon Low has all the special meaning which surrounds the founder of any idealistic movement. The official biography of Mrs. Low in early editions of the Girl Scout Handbook recounts that in 1912 when she returned to Georgia from England she telephoned a close friend:

"Come right over, Nina, I've got something for the girls of Savannah and all America and all the world and we are going to start it tonight." Start it she did, and the 1947 edition added: "The concept of 'One World' had taken shape in her lively mind many years before the phrase became common. She was one of the first true internationalists."

Local Scout executives with copies of the new Handbook must have been somewhat bewildered when in August, 1954, they received a twelve-page pamphlet ordering a number of changes in the text. Conspicuous among the "corrections" was the striking out of the "one world" and the "true internationalist" description of Mrs. Low's ideas. Substituted was the single sentence: "The concept of 'international friendship' had taken shape in her lively mind long before the phrase became familiar to everyone."

This emergency pamphlet was the more confusing because an entirely new edition of the Handbook had been issued only eleven months before. Every six or seven years the Girl Scouts completely revise their manual. In between - ordinarily the book remains the same during additional printings except for minor typographical corrections.

But this was a special change. It had taken something like two years to assemble and write the new book. Yet less than a year after the first printing, more than sixty changes were ordered. Some expressions were toned down, strong sympathies diluted, and a few plain facts erased.

This set more than one Scouting parent to comparing various editions of the Handbook. It was evident that there had been a growing nervousness about international friendship.

For example, the 1947 Handbook described a Scouting insignia: “. . . the trefoil rests on a flamelike base, the flame of the love of mankind, symbolizing the highest thoughts of international friendship." But in 1953 the new Handbook cut the sentence at "mankind." The old Handbook said, "Scouts and Guides all over the world are known for their willingness to help other people." In 1953 the "all over the world" was dropped.

The 1947 Handbook had said, "No one human being is all good or all bad. So it could not be true of any one nation, creed or race." The 1953 Handbook put it in the form of a question: "Do I believe there is good in every person and nation?" The emergency pamphlet ordered this changed to "Do I believe there is some good in every person?"

The pamphlet correcting the new 1953 Handbook was filled with instructions like: -

"Page 86. Change the sentence beginning with Line 2 to read: 'Service is your way of making a contribution to your community." A few months before, it had read: "Service is your way of making this a better world in which to live."

Where international friendship remained, steps were taken to make it less noticeable by altering marginal guides and paragraph headings. The pamphlet reads, for example: "Page 218. Cross out the heading, 'The World Conference."

In September the League of Women Voters of the United States was mentioned in three places as a source of information on government. By August the League had disappeared from sight.

A section devoted to "My World" (formerly "One World") in September contained sixty-five lines. In August it was cut down to thirty-five lines. What came out were such things as the fact that coffee comes from Brazil, olives from Spain, toys from Japan, wool from England, watches from Switzerland. Gone were such sentences as "Cablegrams, telegrams, and radiograms have also united us into a family of interdependent nations." Twenty-nine lines in warm espousal of the United Nations on these particular pages were reduced to seven lines, cold and noncommittal. In the 100,000 Handbooks sold since the "corrections" of last August, there is in this section a completely blank page (Page 9) representing the thirty lines cut out of "My World." Presumably Page 29 will remain blank for the next five years, or as long as this (hinted book will be the official manual.

Throughout the changes there is a tendency to shy away from the specific, to avoid names and titles that might be taken out of context.

The Architecture proficiency badge requires a project on traditional American architecture, then includes an optional project that in September, 1953, read: "Locate pictures of the work of such architects as Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies Vander Rohe." It now reads, "Locate pictures of the work of some present-day architects . . ." No names. An article on learning to know people different from ourselves formerly said, “Start now by making new friends among those you think you do not like." It now reads: "Start now by making new friends."

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In