Growing Girls: The Natural Origins of Girls' Organizations in America

Growing Girls: The Natural Origins of Girls' Organizations in America

Growing Girls: The Natural Origins of Girls' Organizations in America

Growing Girls: The Natural Origins of Girls' Organizations in America

Excerpt

Why, asked the New York Times in November 1920, was the Girl Scout movement growing so rapidly that it was forced to turn away four thousand potential members each month because of shortages of staff and resources? The “reason for this is that the scout corps answers a question which is asked in every family where there is a growing girl: ‘What is the matter with Jane?’”

As “childhood merges into young womanhood new ideas and new longings come, which are the most potent of all for good or evil,” the Times noted. Yet at this critical juncture in her development, when a girl most needed the camaraderie and council of loyal allies, she found herself alone, unable to depend on friends and family. Just as “she has abandoned her dolls Jane finds herself abandoned by her little-boy playfellows, who have attained the age of the loftiest scorn of the ever-feminine—the only true cave-man age of school and college sports and of the gang spirit.” Owing to the small size of the “modern family” and parents’ preoccupation with their own affairs, Jane became further isolated, “a child hermit of the spirit” left to her own devices. The matter with Jane was that she was adrift in a rapidly changing modern world, bereft of the guidance she needed to understand both it and the changes taking place in her adolescent body and soul.

The girl faced a daunting array of challenges, some presented by her family, others, sadly, of her own making. “Solitary Jane takes to the romantic novel, to the theatre, to the movies. Her social presence and her clothes become matters of agonizing importance. Jane’s sensible mother finds she is lamentably self-conscious and vain; her even more sensible father that she spends too much time at the movies. And so Jane, who least of all knows what is the matter with her, gets her first feminine skill in concealment and evasion,” the Times warned. If parents were part of the problem, and the girl only made things worse for herself, then who was going to help her?

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