Girls joining the Boys Scouts: How and Why Things Have Changed


The author’s troop at summer camp in 2022.

Elizabeth Richter, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Looking around, all you see are trees and the stars. Boys and girls are surrounding the fire, singing songs, doing skits, and roasting marshmallows. Reminiscing, you go back to a time when that could not happen. Only a few years ago, it would be just boys around that fire. The girls were not allowed to be there and be a part of the scouting family. 

When thinking about Scouts, many may go straight to boy scouts and girl scouts, depending on who is talking about the subject, even though scouting with girls and boys ages 11 to 17 together has replaced boy scouts across America. Things may not have changed as much as many would expect. Opinions can vary on the subject. Events in scouting continue even with girls mixed in with the boys. Scouting BSA has embraced the change throughout America over the few years girls have been allowed to become scouts.

When It All Started

For girls across America who may have had brothers or friends that were boy scouts or cub scouts and always wanted to join, February 1, 2019, was their day to join Scouts. Before then, there was a separate program in the Boy Scouts of America organization called Venture Scouts that have been co-ed for over 50 years, yet this is not an option for girls under 13. For many girls, Girl Scouts was an option, but many felt that in Girl Scouts, not enough was done.

Michele “Mickey” Winslow, a former girl scout, current BSA scout of four years, and high schooler at LHS, stated that: “The Girl Scouts focus a lot more on that community service constantly, whereas Boy Scouts is a lot more about survival and learning to do stuff on your own and more, also with the community service aspect.” 

Some girls found that boy scouts offered more opportunities and learning experiences for the real world and pushed for the inclusion of girls in boy scouts. Though this was not the first change to Boy Scouts that allowed people to join. In 2013, Boy Scouts lifted the ban on openly gay scouts, and in 2015, the ban was lifted on openly gay leaders. Even in early 2017, the Boy Scouts allowed scouts who self-identify as male, making room for transgender scouts. These advancements opened the door for females in scouting years before it was ever put in place. 

The Chief Scout Executive, Michael Surbaugh, stated two years before the allowance of girls in Scouts BSA that: “The values of Scouting—trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave, and reverent, for example—are important for both young men and women, [and] we strive to bring what our organization does best—developing character and leadership for young people—to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”

The organization Boy Scouts of America kept its original name, but the Boy Scouts program changed its name when girls were first allowed to join, though this was not the only change to scouts. Scouts BSA became the program’s official name. This name change and even the fact that girls were allowed to join a commonly male organization sparked a feud, though.

Disagreements to the Change

Though Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have had disagreements throughout their time, the name change to Scouts BSA sparked a lawsuit. Girl Scouts sued BSA in a trademark infringement lawsuit. According to Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts’ use of “Scouts” to market to girls violates their trademarks. In the end, the ruling went for Boy Scouts, saying that their use did not violate trademarks. Both sides agreed to drop trademark suits in other courts, and no payment was included in the settlement. 

Though Girl Scouts and BSA have disagreements about change, they teach leadership to many. It is not just the organizations that seem to have problems with girls joining BSA; some people, mostly older male leaders, treat the girls differently and feel that girls should be in girl scouts and not doing the things boy scouts do. 

June Keeler, who has been a scout for a year now, when asked about how people treat the girls, states: “It really depends on the person you are with, as some of them act like some girls shouldn’t be there…some of them hit on the girls.” “The guys were treated a lot more respectively than the girls… I felt like the guys were treated more attentively, and they were less focused on the guys, feeling that they knew what they were doing, but they have focused on us girls as if we didn’t know what we were doing.”

She continued to say that sometimes the girls are almost babied. In most cases, girls are treated exactly the same as boys, but there are circumstances where girls are not treated as well. Some, like troop leader of eight years Laurie Smith, feel that girls involved in scouting have enhanced the program because it not only helps the girls but also aids the boys and the program in general. 

Changes In the Program

Though there have not been many changes to the program, events, troops, and camping, have shifted to allow girls and boys to have the same opportunities. First of all, there was the name change from “Boy Scouts of America” to “Scouts BSA,” creating a more gender-neutral name. A change throughout Scouts BSA was camping. Girls and guys had to have separate camping areas. The boys and girls are not allowed to share tents, going along with a certain age range of campers who share tents when camping.

There are also separate troops. In most circumstances, there will be a main troop with a girls’ troop and a guys’ troop as subdivisions. Some troops may separate altogether if there are enough people in each separate troop. A local troop, Troop 1774, has two sub-troops, Troop 1774B and Troop 1774G, that work together at events. Even in Cub Scouts, there are separate packs for girls and boys.

Events have not had a large effect on them other than separating sleeping areas if it is an overnight event. Many events made it so that the girls could do the same as the guys would, whether it is rifling, cooking, swimming, or welding merit badges. Though when it is a longer event, the girls get separated shower areas from the boys. Trading posts started to carry feminine supplies so that the girls would not have to worry about not having any access.

Overall, for many, it feels as though little has changed. The changes can seem so slight that they are unnoticeable. 

Even Liam Richter, a scout of nine years and high schooler at LHS, said that: “It seemed very similar… But it was not like there was a major change. Yes, there are girls in the activities now, but it has not really affected the activities itself.”

He even said that the only difference may be that when cooking or doing other activities, the troops work separately. This happens not to be a rule, but it happens because, with separate troops, there is not as much communication when it comes to stuff like food preparation. 

Overall, scouting has not changed greatly. Although the change to allowing girls has granted so many the chance to do what they have seen their brothers and friends do for years. These changes have allowed many to get extra experiences that other organizations don’t offer. Without these slight changes, girls across America would not be able to have the same experiences and learn the same skills as boys in scouting. Scouts BSA allows girls to gain knowledge in many fields while also learning to live in the real world and what to do in unexpected situations.