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BSA and Girls in Scouting


     Actually, this section should really be entitled "Females in the BSA." Because before we can talk about BSA's current policy on banning girls from participating in the Cub, Boy, Exploring (Venturing), Varsity, etc. programs, we need to know how BSA has both treated and viewed women in the Cub Scout program, in the Boy Scout program and viewed girls in the CubScouting/Boy Scout/Exploring programs.



     To say that women were absent from the Boy Scouts in its formative period is an understatement. Until 1974, there had never been a single woman on BSA's National Board. While some might consider BSA to be hostile to women, it was rather BSA's fear of society's perception of the growing feminization of boys, which caused them to reject woman from leadership roles in Scouting.
     One could accurately conclude that BSA was founded because it offered its male leaders an "opportunity to validate the traditional image of masculinity." (As historical scholars have done so.)
     In addition to banning women, BSA also disliked having clergymen and teachers serve as Scoutmasters. Both clergymen and male teachers suffered from imputations of effeminacy, which was antithetical to BSA's view of masculinity.
     In 1912, 29% of the Scoutmasters were clergymen (the largest group), while 10% of the Scoutmasters were teachers. BSA did not like the fact that almost 40% of their Scoutmasters were in "non-masculine" professions. They felt that the presence of clergymen and teachers would damage BSA's image of masculinity.
     Consequently, during the first decade of Scouting, BSA quietly discouraged the recruitment and retention of clergymen and teachers . By 1921, only 15% of the Scoutmasters were clergymen, while 9% were teachers. After 1921, BSA did not request the occupation of its Scoutmasters on their applications.

Women in Cubbing

     In Baden-Powell's United Kingdom Scout Association (UKSA), as early as 1913, women were allowed to serve as both Assistant Scoutmaster and Scoutmaster, under special circumstances. In the United States, BSA wanted "virile young men" who would be father surrogates and male role models. No circumstance was deemed to be so special, as to allow a woman to lead Boy Scouts in the BSA.
     However, women did get involved in Scouting through Cubbing. Without the development of Cubbing by BSA, the involvement of women in Scouting would have been delayed for a much longer period, if they would have been invited at all!
     When the BSA was organized, it was designed to meet the needs of 12-17 year-old boys. Period. As with other adolescent youth organizations, younger brothers always wanted to be a member of their older brother's club. Previously, many adolescent boy organizations developed cadet or auxiliary programs for these "younger boys." So, BSA also began receiving demanding requests for a program for ""younger boys," as many unofficial "junior troops" had already been formed.
     In 1911, at the request of the BSA National Board, Ernest Thompson Seton developed a program for younger boys called "Cubs of America, with a bear cub as the symbol. The boys would be organized into 'Cub rings' with a 'Cub mother.'" Unfortunately, internal differences forced Seton out of the BSA in 1915 and his program was shelved. At this time, the younger boy "program" became known within the BSA as the younger boy "problem."
     It was not until 1928 that BSA authorized field testing of a program called Cubbing to meet the needs of the younger boys. Ironically, the BSA professionals charged with developing Cubbing turned to Seton for assistance. In 1933, Cubbing was officially made available to all interested boys.

     The basic unit of Cubbing was the Cub Pack. The Pack consisted of a Wolf Den (9 year-olds), a Bear Den (10 year-olds) and a Lion Den (11 year-olds). The den leaders were not adults, but rather Boy Scouts, called Den Chiefs. The Cubmaster (male) was the adult leader of the Pack.
     The original plan included a Mother's neighborhood committee to "encourage" Cubs and Den Chiefs, but there were as yet no "Den Mothers" who lead the Dens. In theory, there was to be no adult leader for a den. However, as the dens met in homes, it usually fell to the mother hosting the den to function as an unofficial "Den Leader," particularly if the Den Chief was not mature enough to handle the 9-11 year-old boys. As most Den Chiefs could not effectively manage the dens, the "Den Mothers" took over.
     In 1932 the Den Mother became an official part of the program as a co-leader with the Den Chief. By the mid-1930's, it was evident that dens with a Den Mother functioned much better than those with only a Den Chief. In 1936, BSA approved the optional registration of Den Mothers. By 1937 there were 659 registered Den Mothers. Discussions were had concerning opening up the Cubmaster role to women, as many Packs were in effect being lead by women, but BSA decided not to. The reason? Only males were registered Cubmasters "since it was an American Indian tradition" and Cubbing was based on these traditions.
     In 1948, Cubbing became Cub Scouts and the registration of Den Mothers became mandatory.
     Even after almost 20 years of Cub Scouting, the 1949 handbook still stated that the Den Mother "helps the Den Chief plan Den fun." Not until the mid-1950s did the Den Mother officially assume full control of the den, with the Den Chief becoming the helper. During this period, Philmont Cub Scouting courses were opened to women and the minimum age for Den Mothers and Assistant Cubmasters was raised from 18 to 21. The minimum age for Cubmasters remained as 21 years of age.
     In 1967, Den Mothers became Den Leaders as men were also allowed to lead Dens. The first women were appointed to the national Cub Scout Committee in 1969. And by 1973, women were allowed to serve in all Pack positions except Cubmaster and Webelos Den Leader and their assistants. In 1976 women Cubmasters were permitted and in 1988 women were allowed to be Webelos Den Leaders, effectively removing all gender requirements for adult leadership roles in Cub Scouting.

Women in Boy Scouting

     While Women were involved in Cub Scouting from its earliest days, they did not even have an advisory role (officially or unofficially) to play in the Boy Scouting program. Because of the ages of the boys, BSA believed it necessary for the boys to be led by men. BSA felt that the presence of women in a program for boys of this age would only strengthen the feminization effects boys were subjected to in the female dominated educational system.
     Once again, while BSA's policies stated that there was no place for women in leadership roles in Boy Scout troops, there were women who filled those roles. Most of the time, these women did so without drawing attention to themselves. However, the Scouts, parents, chartering organizations, and some BSA professionals knew about them.
     A few women did reach public notice:

  • In 1975, Marjorie Ripple of Jessup, MD, had been serving as Cubmaster for Pack 471. When BSA found out about it, they wanted her removed. The Pack, with a membership of 22 boys, refused to take such actions and BSA revoked the Pack's charter.
     
  • For four months in 1975, Genny Newton of Ludlow, MA, served as the Cubmaster for Pack 181. The 26-year-old mother of four, filed sex discrimination charges with the state's office of human rights. It is unknown how that case was resolved.
     
  • Pack 46 of West Hartford, CT, announced plans in September 1986 to appoint Judith Power as the Webelos Den Leader on October 1st. Upon notification of the planned action, BSA stated that the Pack's charter could be revoked. As there was another case pending before the Connecticut Supreme Court dealing with BSA's ban on women leaders, no legal actions were taken by Power.

     Of all the women who assumed the title of Cubmaster, Webelos Den Leader, or Scoutmaster, in full knowledge that their gender prohibited them from that leadership role, none was more well-known than Catherine N. Pollard.

     Pollard, a grandmother, who had been involved with Scouting since 1950, became the Scoutmaster for Troop 13 (Milford, CT) in 1971. She became Scoutmaster because, as in other similar cases, there were no men around willing to make the commitment to take the position. In 1974, she completed a BSA Adult application to be the registered Scoutmaster of Troop 13. BSA rejected her application and she filed a complaint against the BSA with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights. In 1984 the Commission ruled that BSA had to allow Pollard to register and remain Scoutmaster of Troop 13. BSA filed a lawsuit against the Commission, appealing the decision.
     In the meantime, BSA forced Pollard out of the troop and the troop disbanded shortly thereafter in 1976. The reason? No man was willing to be Scoutmaster.
     In 1987, Pollard's case had reached the Connecticut Supreme Court and on July 6th, the Court ruled that BSA had the right to bar women from leadership positions.
     A few months later, in February 1988, the BSA National Executive Board voted to remove gender restrictions on all adult volunteer leadership positions. According to news accounts, one of the motivating factors was the "great cost to the organization, both in terms of money and in the perception of what we are."
     Since this is the only legal case we've been able to locate that challenged BSA's ban on women in certain leadership roles, it is difficult to understand this stated rationale. In terms of money spent, there have been far more spent on cases challenging BSA on the issues of sexual orientation and religious belief.
     Although there are some women holding top level professional positions within the BSA, it is a very small number. None are in top management positions in Irving. In fact, it is our knowledge that the Chief Scout Executive position is restricted to men.
     On the volunteer side, there are more registered women in all levels of Cub Scouting than men. In some Packs, the lack of male participation has become problematic. Many units now focus on ways to attract men during their annual membership drives.

Girls in BSA

     Of the 3-G's, the notion of allowing girls to be members of the Boy Scouts is the oldest of the three. As early as 1907, after Baden-Powell's Boy Scout pamphlets were published, thousands of girls formed their own troops in 1908 and 1909. By the time a group of "girl scouts" approached him at the Crystal Palace Rally in 1909, Baden-Powell realized something needed to be done.
     While Baden-Powell decided some organization for girls should be formed, he had two firm requirements: 1) That they call themselves anything else, other than "Scouts," and 2) that the girls' organization be separate from the boys' organization. Thus the Girl Guides were formed in Great Britain.
     In the United States, the new BSA encountered the same situation as Baden-Powell had had with girls. James West, Chief Scout Executive, was also adamant that girls should be in a separate organization and that they should not be called "Scouts." To accomplish this goal, in 1911 West gathered several Scout officials, including Seton, and they met with Luther and Charlotte Gulick to discuss the situation. Out of this group came the formation of the Camp Fire Girls of America, headed by the Gulicks, which averted even the suspicion that the Camp Fire Girls were imitating the Boy Scouts.
     The Girls Scouts (GSUSA) was developed in the United States by Juliette Low, based on Baden-Powell's Boy Scout program. This did not sit well with BSA (or Baden-Powell), as they felt that Girl Scouting would undermine the BSA's image of masculinity.
     So it comes as no surprise that girls were not officially involved in any Scouting program for many years. It was not until 1969 that girls were eligible to participate as non-registered Explorer Scouts, BSA's program for the "older boy" (ages 15-21). By 1971, Girls were eligible to register as full fledged Explorer Scouts. But not as Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts.

     As with the case of women fulfilling leadership roles, there have undoubtedly been girls who have participated in Cub Packs and Scout Troops with their brothers. Again, with the full knowledge of parents and unit leaders. However, it was not until the 1970's that girls wanted to be full-fledged members of Scouting and to be eligible for advancement.
     Below are a few young girls whose participation in BSA garnered public notice:

  • Eight year-old Carrie Crosman, of Colleyville, TX, attempted to register as a Cub Scout in Cub Pack 842 in 1974. However, the BSA rejected her application and also requested that Mrs. Cecil Wollery and Mrs. Robert Rush, resign from BSA, as they both encouraged and supported Carrie in her registration attempt.
     
  • In 1981, the parents of 9-year-old Marystephanie Constantikes (Norman, OK), whose friends called her "Toffie," filed a Federal sex discrimination suit against BSA. The reason for the suit was because BSA found out that she had been participating in her brother's Cub Scout Pack for over a year.
    They discovered this fact when Toffie decided to attend a Cub Scout Day Camp with her brother. Her parents filled out the papers and sent them in. "Then we got a letter from the Scouts and our money back. The letter said they hadn't thought that Marystephanie was a girl," said her parents.
     
  • Seven Nevada girls, ranging in ages from 9 to 14, were attracted to Boy Scouts by its first-aid and outdoor-survival skills program . They wanted to become self-reliant and independent in the forests and mountains that were their backyard in rural Plumas County.
    Scoutmaster Ken Nelson, who had organized a troop in January 1991, asked the eight boys how they felt about having girls as members. "They voted them in. Everyone thought it was a great idea," said Nelson, an Eagle Scout and father of two of the girls.
    Nelson reported the recruits to the Reno-based Nevada Area Council, filed their applications and began leading them through a variety of activities. Several girls earned merit badges, which were presented at an awards ceremony attended by district officials.
    But in early March 1991, when Nelson placed an order for girls uniforms through the Nevada Council, he learned that the uniforms do not exist. The council also learned that it had girls registered in a troop in it's council. They quickly rectified their mistake and expelled all the girls.
    The troop asked the American Civil Liberties Union to help them challenge the decision. The entire troop had endorsed Nelson's appeal through the ACLU. "Discriminating against girls goes against Boy Scout teachings," he said. "They teach you to stand up for your rights. We're not just little uniforms in the corner," Nelson said.
    The ACLU never filed any legal action against the BSA in this matter.

     To our knowledge, there have been only three legal actions (Schwenk, Mankes and Yeaw) taken to challenge BSA excluding girls from membership in the Cub, Boy and Varsity Scouting programs.
     This section provides background information on these three legal cases, as well as BSA's official position on the membership of girls, a review of the policy, an historical timeline of the role of women in the BSA, and reviews of the: Pollard case, Shwenk case, Yeaw Case, and the Mankes case.
 

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