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Archive Awareness Campaign 2011 – Culture & Diversity


Given that Lord Baden-Powell wrote ‘Scouting for Boys’ in 1907 and that the organisation’s name for the first sixty years was The Boy Scout Association it is easy to see why it is commonly assumed that girls were excluded or not thought of in Baden-Powell's plans for a youth movement. By exploring the early records of the movement it is clear this was not the case.


Girl Scouts around the camp fire, circa 1908

Early Days

In the hand written manuscript for ‘Scouting for Boys’ Baden-Powell describes the aim of the movement as ‘to help in making the rising generation of whatever class or creed into good citizens’ and that it ‘might also be extended to the training of girls.’


With the publication of the pamphlets in 1908, both boys and girls formed their own Patrols and Troops across the Country on their own initiative which then required Baden-Powell to create an organisation with an office to deal with the demand for advice and information.


Miss Eileen Tatham is an example of an early Girl Scout.  She is referred to in a letter to Baden-Powell from Percy Everitt dated 27 August 1909. Everitt informs that Miss Tatham has been a keen Scout since the beginning of 1908, took part in the first display on Wimbledon Common and an expert in signalling and first aid. By the end of 1909 there were at least 6,000 girls registered as Scouts with a total membership of the Association of 55,000 and a dedicated scheme for girls.

Girl Scouts at the Crystal Palace Rally, 1909

The above image of Girl Scouts at the Crystal Palace Rally in 1909 became both a seminal image and event for Scouting and the British public.


In Edwardian Britain girls and boys were generally separated in schools and their parents had far more control over their children’s friendships. Scouting allowed boys and girls at this time from different classes, races and backgrounds to mix with each other and learn from each other which was at the time a radical approach. Not unsurprisingly the media of the day attacked such a concept with the Spectator describing Girl Scouts as ‘mischievous and improper, unfitting the future housekeepers of the nation for their predestined state: a glorified skylarking, which will further militate against the pursuit of the domestic arts, in which women, in every walk of life, are so scandalously deficient.’ Faced with opposition from the media and adults within British Society, Baden-Powell had little choice but to form a separate organisation called the Girl Guides in 1910. His thinking behind this was that ‘girls must be partners and comrades, rather than dolls. Their influence in life on the actions and quality of the men is very great; they become their ‘Guides’. They, therefore, needed character-training quite as much as boys. They also drew on the skills required by the Corps of Guides in India which included industry, practical common sense, self-reliance.

Girl Scouts providing first aid, circa 1908-1910

Happy Reflections

The first period of Scouting being co-educational ended in 1910 but the final words on why girls enjoyed Scouting during this time can be left to Thusie Reay who attended a camp at Broughton Astley, Leicester in 1910.


‘You asked me what I liked best in camping out. I think it is the cooking; we took it in turn, one patrol one day and another the next. We had boards to sleep on and then a bed casing filled with straw. As to dislikes, I don’t think there were any things we disliked. I don’t dislike anything very much, except earwigs at night. I dislike one thing, and that is that camping is not long enough. Miss Renals presented an award for the best Girl Guide in camp for the whole week. Nearly every girl voted for Gladys Rogers, and we had our photos taken. One of the Captains had her mouth wide open as she was asleep. We were so glad we were called to render First Aid, where Boy Scouts were having a sham fight. The brigands were trying to capture the country, and we bandaged the Scouts, who were supposed to be hurt.’


Girl Scouts of the 1st Walworth Troop with Lord de Walden, circa 1908-1910


A woman’s influence

Although girls could not be Scouts after the creation of the Girl Guides there were certainly female leaders and role models to influence the Movement. One of the first female Headquarters staff who had a critical role in shaping Scouting was Vera Barclay who joined in 1916. Her first task was to compile the Wolf Cub’s Handbook for the new section aimed at boys between eight and twelve which would include creating the badges and tests. She spent four years in the role as Wolf Cub Secretary before moving to Birmingham where she continued to be a leader of a Pack and Troop of Scouts. Vera had an interesting career working for the Catholic Church and the author of several adventure stories for children.


9th Cub Course including Vera Barclay at Gilwell Park, April 1924

Female leaders as role models can be seen in the image below of Assistant Scout Mistress Miss W. Gelston of the Livermere Troop who was awarded the Medal of Merit on 31st October 1914 for stopping a runaway horse.


Assistant Scout Mistress Miss W. Gelston

Before and during the Second World War Hélène Vagliano was a Scout Leader with the 1st Cannes (British) Scout Group and her amazing story is brought to life by Maureen Emerson in another of our on-line exhibitions.  Hélène is the only woman to be recorded in The Scout Association's Second World War Roll of Honour which is currently being transcribed and can be found on the Collections page.


Hélène Vagliano

A movement moving on

By the 1970s, The Scout Association was once again looking at co-education in Scouting with feminist groups promoting more equal rights and opportunities for women in Society. The decision to allow girls to join Venture Scouts in July 1976 had followed a pilot project where Girl Guides Ranger and Venture Scout Units could be operated alongside each other with both sections catering for those roughly aged between fifteen and twenty. The experience of this led to an amendment to the Association’s Royal Charter in July 1991 to allow girls to participate in all sections.


After one hundred years The Scout Association once again offers equal opportunities for all young people regardless of gender, disability, race, religion, class or sexuality.

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