Scouts BSA — formerly known as Boy Scouts — allowed girls to join their ranks for the first time in February. Since then, more than 100,000 girls across the U.S. have joined. At the local level, 1,000 girls have joined or formed troops under the Alamo Area Council, which serves Bexar and 12 surrounding counties.
Some of those girls are currently attending the Bear Creek Scout Camp, which runs through July 27 and serves about 1,500 kids over the course of six sessions. At the current session, 22 of the 265 scouts are girls. They’ll spend the week rappelling, hiking, kayaking, orienteering, shooting, learning first aid, rocketry and ecology alongside their male counterparts.
Following Scouts BSA’s integration announcement in October 2017, some parents and scout leaders were skeptical. Kimberly Magnuson is an assistant scoutmaster with troop 226, and she is the parent of four scouts.
“At first I was a little hesitant because I didn’t know how that was going to work out, but I think it’s great. The girls are super excited,” Magnuson said. “They are doing things they have always wanted to do but just haven’t been able to.”
For decades, girls have unofficially shadowed their brothers during scouting activities, and Scouts BSA received many requests for exceptions to their boy-only policy.
Girls have been included in select Boy Scouts of America programs since 1971, when the “Exploring” program was made co-ed. But the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts remained closed to girls for decades, preventing girls from reaching the rank of Eagle Scout — a title that carries far reaching benefits and connections in the academic and professional world. Steven Speilberg, Jeff Sessions, Neil Armstrong and Michael Bloomberg are among the men to have earned that rank. Girls can become Eagle Scouts for the first time in 2020.
Mary Swift, 15, is the patrol leader for Troop 1921 out of Cypress, Texas. She remembers the moment she found out girls would have the opportunity to become an Eagle Scout.
“It had always been my dream to become an Eagle Scout, although I knew I couldn’t,” Swift said. “My dad was an Eagle Scout, and we’ve always had an Eagle Scout for three generations, I think, and I just wanted to keep that going.”
After seeking community feedback, Scouts BSA finally allowed girls to form their own, single-gender troops earlier this year. Girls can now form independent troops, or they can form sibling groups attached to existing Boy Scout troops. Since 2018, girls have been allowed in the Cub Scouts program, which serves youth in kindergarten through fifth grade and acts as a feeder program to the Scouts BSA program.
In February, the name of the Boy Scouts program was changed to the gender-neutral "Scouts BSA." The name of the corporate body overseeing scouting programs like Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA remains "Boy Scouts of America."
The troops are single gender, but some of the activities at Bear Creek Scout Camp are co-ed.
“I really felt like, at least for my daughter, that an all-girl troop would be the best thing, and for my son because she doesn’t want to be in a troop with her brother,” Magnuson said. “So it’s actually perfect the way it is now.”
Ann Specht has worked with scout troop 346 for about 25 years, and she is now the scoutmaster for their newly formed girl troop. She brought a group of 13 girls to this session of the camp.
Like Magnuson, Specht was initially hesitant about Boy Scouts of America's integration announcement.
“And then I started thinking about it, and I was like, ‘Well why wouldn’t we want to teach these girls the values we teach the boys,’ and so my goal for these girls is to teach them to be confident, fierce young women in a good way,” Specht said.
Eva Salmon, 14, is the patrol leader for Specht’s troop 346. She says the leadership opportunities offered by Scouts BSA are what make the organization unique. The Scout’s leadership program is known as the “patrol method,” and it places leadership responsibility on the scouts.
“It’s very different,” Salmon said. “I haven’t been put in many experiences where I’m able to learn how to use my voice in the way of taking leadership roles and showing myself to the world.”
Before joining Scouts BSA, Salmon spent some time in the Girl Scouts. She says that experience differed from her time in Scouts BSA.
“So, Girl Scouts is not as much about survival, and it’s just more of — I wouldn’t say easier, but it’s more of a relaxed pace in my experience,” Salmon said.
Girl Scouts of the USA is currently suing Boy Scouts of America for trademark infringement related to the use of the word “scouting” in relation to serving girls. Girl Scouts has also released several critical statements about the integration of Scouts BSA. They accuse Boy Scouts of America of including girls in an effort to address flagging enrollment. During peak enrollment in 1972, Scouts BSA had 6.5 million members. They now have about 2.3 million members. Boy Scouts of America maintains that the inclusion is based on decades of requests from communities across the country.
Salmon is excited that girls will soon become Eagle Scouts. She intends to earn the rank.
“I’m very excited that people who are younger than me and also female are going to be able to look at me and be able to imagine themselves doing that because there’s other people in that situation,” said Salmon.
“It’s like you’re saying that girls can do anything that they put their mind to,” said 13-year-old Abigail Cooper, the SPL — senior patrol leader — for troop 346.
Cooper, Salmon and the other 20 girls at the camp will spend the week earning up to six merit badges for activities ranging from art to archery. As founding members of their five-month-old troops, all of the girls have already earned a “founder’s emblem.”
Each of the seven girls interviewed for this story plan to become Eagle Scouts.
Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@tpr.org.