Mobile, Ala.—MacKenzie Brackett, 14, held up a toothbrush ready for transformation. “We’re going to finish up our robotics badge by making a toothbrush robot,” she announced to four fellow members of Mobile, Ala.’s Girl Scout Troop 8274 in June. Under her khaki uniform vest MacKenzie wore a T-shirt featuring the periodic table, with the slogan periodically i’m sarcastic.

MacKenzie’s mother began snipping the heads off toothbrushes while co-leader Evelyn Toler, 14, stood ready to demonstrate to three members on Zoom.

“I am He-Man, I have the power,” Alyssa Edwards muttered, looking at her battery. “Or She-Ra.” Switching sci-fi references, she looked at her battery’s V-splayed wires and held up her hand in the Spock sign. “Live long and prosper,” she said.

Girl Scouts of America has lived long, and it has prospered. The organization dates back to the early years of the 20th century and boasts alumnae as groundbreaking as Sandra Day O’Connor, Mae Jemison, Queen Latifah, Hillary Clinton, Martha Stewart, and Condoleezza Rice. But now, it is threatened by multiple factors, including the Boy Scouts’ going coed, the Covid-19 pandemic, and, ironically, the success of feminist movements that made the core Girl Scout mission of girls’ empowerment mainstream. Membership has been declining, and the organization’s efforts to increase diversity have not borne significant fruit: Girl Scouts remain disproportionately white.

Troop 8274 faced a more immediate challenge, imposed not from without but within. In second grade, MacKenzie and Evelyn broke away from a (to their minds) insufficiently ambitious Brownie troop because they wanted to earn every badge in the book. And it looked like they were on track to do so. But, as the core of the troop finished eighth grade, they still needed to earn 16 Cadette badges, and had only eight weeks to do it.

Their mothers felt nervous. The girls felt confident. “The positive wire is longer than the negative wire,” MacKenzie instructed her troop-mates as they stuck batteries onto their toothbrush heads, ready to motor.

As befits the grand dame of girls’ empowerment, what became the Girl Scouts of America has been standing up for itself from the start. The seeds for the organization were planted more than 100 years ago when a group of British girls showed up at a Boy Scouts event in the UK and staked their own claim to Scouting, according to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Rather than include them, the founder of Scouting in the UK, Robert Baden-Powell, created a separate organization. Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah, Ga., introduced the group to the US soon after.

Science was in the new organization’s DNA. The very first badges, in 1913, included Naturalist, Electrician, and Health. The curriculum prepared girls for service to the country, not primarily to a husband and children. That may owe something to Low’s unhappy marriage: She was in the process of divorcing her husband when he died, according to biographer Stacy Cordery. The 1920 handbook presented homemaking as just one option for adulthood, along with working as a nurse or a naturalist or in defense. Before Girl Scouts sold cookies, they sold Liberty bonds.

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Source: Girl Scouts Against the World

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