Beyond Cookies: How The Girl Scouts Shaped My Future

As the organization’s 100th birthday approaches, Tanya Tarr shares how The Girl Scouts of America influenced her as a young woman, and how they continue to do so today.

On Monday, March 12th, the Girl Scouts of America turn 100 years old. Originally, I wanted to write a post that set every arch-conservative critic of the Girl Scouts in his or her place, or talk about how the War on Women has raged wildly out of control (which it has.) But other people have done a better job at that, and I’m not good at being sarcastic.

I am, however, an excellent volunteer. About six years ago, a friend of mine asked me to help her with a Title IX celebration that her Girl Scout Council was having. She knew that I was a proud 12-year veteran of wearing the Brownie, Junior Girl Scout, Cadette, and Senior Girl Scout uniforms and that mentoring younger women is deeply important to me. It had been years since I was active with a troop, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to help out.

When I got to the public library where the event was happening, I was greeted by almost 100 girls—ranging from 7 to 17 years of age. I was tasked with helping run the “discussion” module of the celebration. I was handed a sheet of interesting but slightly esoteric questions, and was given permission to re-write the questions. It was hard for many of the girls to talk about what Title IX meant to them, so I started with simple questions like “what do you think a girl could be when she grows up?” and “what women do you admire the most? who’s your favorite heroine?” I also asked them if they expected to get married someday, and if they expected to go to college.

What followed was an impromptu set of focus groups on how young women thought of their heroines, hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

When I asked the group if they expected to get married someday, only half of the hands went up. When I asked if they expected to go to college, almost without exception, all hands went up.

When I asked the Girl Scouts about what they thought they could be when they were older, I got a wonderful collection of answers. A girl could be an engineer or a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher. A girl could be a mom. A girl could be a police officer. A girl could be an astronaut. Their heroines read like a list out of a women’s history book: Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Sandra Day O’Connor, Maya Angelou, Susan B. Anthony, Mia Hamm, Hillary Clinton, and of course, Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girls Scouts. Some said their mothers, grandmothers, or aunts. Everyone could name a name.

Of all the girls I talked to, the one who made the biggest impression on me was the Girl Scout who—at the precocious age of 10—was certain she would some day be a CIA spy. “Girls make the best spies. I mean, just think about it—no one is going to suspect a sweet looking girl in a skirt!” This young lady was slender, pretty, and blonde. She complained about being sent to ballet class, and said that the only thing she really wanted to do was learn more about “spy stuff.” She proudly told the group how her uncle had taught her how to bug her brother’s room with a listening device, and how she was inspired by Condoleeza Rice as our (then) Secretary of State.

At the end of the day, I was exhausted (how do public school teachers and employees do it every day?) but I was reminded that Girl Scouts are—above all—inspired to be resourceful and critical thinkers. We are encouraged to include others and treat everyone, regardless of where they come from or what they look like, with respect. We celebrate the truth that we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to. We are reminded to be curious about the world we live in.

It’s been almost 20 years since I was a part of my senior Girl Scout troop. I realized that day that it was being a Girl Scout that helped me become—without hesitance—a part of a highly competitive profession where I would often be the only woman (and for some time, the only woman of color) in the room. Yet, my uniqueness never stopped me from continuing to do good work or be an active part of my professional community. Because long ago I had been inspired to be a part of making the world a better place, and I would fearlessly do it. The idea that I wasn’t supposed to be in a room with a bunch of people who didn’t look like me never crossed my mind. I just wanted a chance to help make a difference.

I think we tend to get caught up in our own experiences and often lose a true sense of historical perspective. It’s hard to have an appreciation for growth or change when we are consumed by the 24-hour news cycle. Spending time with those 100 Girl Scouts helped me understand something: There has been a dramatic and fundamental change for women in the United States and wherever Scouts are. It’s hard for those of us who fight for this everyday because we still see where changes need to be made. But the girls I met, who are now in high school and college, are more confident and resourceful than I ever was, and they are boldly optimistic about the possibility of their futures.

The Girl Scouts wear their 100 years well. If we measure our success by the people who come after us, the future for women and Girl Scout alumnae is limitless. The allegations, boycotts, and manufactured outrage of a few misinformed individuals might top the news cycle for a few days, but nothing can break the spirit or the purposeful stride of a Girl Scout. No one will ever be able to convince a Girl Scout that she cannot make the world a better place—whether that’s in a classroom, board room, or even as the future head of the CIA.

Find out more about the Girl Scouts of America and their last 100 years. 

Tanya Tarr lives in Texas, where she helps fight for public education. She haphazardly blogs at

Photo credit Rocky VI/Flickr 

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