N.H. Girl Scout leaders grapple with Boy Scouts’ admitting girls, too

  • Girl Scouts Aeris Davis (left) and Pypper McKay run to find items for the troop’s scavenger hunt at Rolfe Park in Penacook on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Girl Scouts Aeris Davis (left) and Pypper McKay work on finding items for the troop’s scavenger hunt at Rolfe Park in Penacook on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Girl Scout Troop 12651 leaders Liz Lucier and Pam Smith hand out treats after the scavenger hunt at Rolfe Park in Penacook on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Girl Scouts Aeris Davis (right) and Pypper McKay work on finding items for the troop’s scavenger hunt at Rolfe Park in Penacook on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Junior Girl Scouts Aeris Davis, 9, and Julia Dickson (right) look for holes in trees during their Girl Scout Troop 12651 scavenger hunt at Rolfe Park on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

For many, it was a surprise: The Boy Scouts of America, the storied, national, male institution, announced Oct. 11 it will soon be accepting girls.

National outlets were quick to hypothesize whether the decision could hurt Girl Scout membership. And the head of the Girl Scouts of America, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, disparaged the move, referencing a string of recent accusations of sexual abuse she said the Boy Scouts must still atone for and calling the addition of girls “an accelerant to the house fire” in an ABC interview.

But to Kate Ess, leader of Girl Scout Troop 20727 in Bow, the decision was a welcome one. As a parent of participants in both the boys’ and girls’ scouting programs, Ess said allowing girls into Boy Scouts would broaden options for families and for girls.

“I certainly personally don’t have an issue with it,” she said. “We have a lot of girls in our community that have siblings that are Boy Scouts, and I think it’s nice to give them new opportunities.”

Not all leaders are as positive. But six days after the Boy Scouts’ surprise announcement, New Hampshire’s Girl Scouts leadership said it wouldn’t dampen Girl Scout enthusiasm or membership – whatever their personal views. For all the rising national acrimony between the two youth organizations, leaders in the Granite State said the decision has not led to bad blood.

Instead, with newfound competition, the best way forward is to emphasize the unique strengths the Girl Scouts program can provide, leaders say.

“We’re not trying to dismiss or say negative things about another organization,” said Patricia Meller, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, a Bedford-based parent organization overseeing New Hampshire and Vermont. “But to us it is very important that people understand the true value of Girl Scouting and what we do.”

According to its announcement, Boy Scouts of America will begin accepting female members at the start of its 2018 program year; girls will be eligible to qualify for the Eagle Scout award by 2019.

The decision was made following long-standing requests from Boy Scout families, the organization said. And it came following months of consultations across the country – including a series of town halls in New Hampshire, according to a representative for the Daniel Webster Council in Manchester.

“Obviously from the Daniel Webster Council’s perspective we’re enthusiastic about the change and looking forward to the opportunity of serving families,” said Jay Garee, the New Hampshire group’s CEO.

But he said that the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are separate organizations with the same goals in mind, calling the relationship one of “good will.” Ultimately, he said, the decision of which organization to join will come down to parents.

Meller echoed that thought. But she repeated criticism by Hannan and others that the Girl Scouts were never approached by the Boy Scouts for feedback on the integration idea.

If she had been, Meller might have brought up what she said are the positive benefits of gender separation in leadership programs. Studies show that girls in coed groups are less likely to raise their hands and more likely to feel self-conscious, potentially hampering leadership development, she said. In contrast, the Girl Scouts program has produced a number of female politicians and business leaders, including New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators, she added.

“We have a 105-year history, and our alumnae prove the success in our program,” Meller said.

These days, the Girl Scouts program is a different body than in decades past, with new focuses in outdoor skills development and an emphasis on training in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, which have low female representation. The cookie sales are still an annual staple, but now badges include survival camping and web design, and wilderness trips for older girls are common.

“We very much take the lead; these are girl-initiated and girl-driven choices,” Meller said of the changes. And she said the breadth of the new programs should remain a draw for new families.

For their part, local Girl Scout leaders said their feelings were mixed.

Standing near the picnic tables at Rolfe Park in Penacook – a pack of Junior Girl Scouts romping through the background – Troop 12651 leader Pam Smith said she isn’t concerned about any new competition from the Boy Scouts. Many of the activities are the same across both groups, she said.

It’s the integration plan she worries about. To Smith, Scouts provide a refuge away from the social politics of school; breaking down the gender walls, she said, would bring that all into the program.

“I think we want them to grow up slower,” she said. “They’re already growing up too fast. And I think by mixing them together, because of their hormones and everything, you’re going to get more problems. ... It’s going to have to change the whole outlook.”

Co-leader Traci Lucier nodded, adding that girls were in a better place for development in the scouting programs without gender distractions. But she said she doesn’t have a problem with having an option.

“You know, if there are girls who want to join, why not?” she said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at