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

By Susan A. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

Fashioning Girls’ Identities

It is my place to sketch the conditions which have created a new relation of women to the world; to show why a nation-wide organization of girls and women is inevitable,” proclaimed Luther Gulick, founder of the Camp Fire Girls, in a 1912 pamphlet.1 According to Girl Scout history, just a few months later Juliette Low phoned a friend to announce her own intention to start a new organization. “I have something for the girls of America,” Low proclaimed.2 At the time they made their announcements, however, neither Gulick nor Low had anything tangible: no uniforms or handbooks, no emblems, badges, or honors. Nor did they have any girls. What each future leader did have was a vision—at times inchoate and often not internally consistent, but a vision nonetheless—of what kind of people girls were and who they wanted them to become.

Over the ensuing years, as Scout troops and Camp Fires formed, local leaders and, of course, the girls themselves influenced programmatic direction by pursuing certain prescribed activities and ignoring others; but at the beginning, Low and Gulick, along with their closest allies, were the dominant forces that shaped girls’ organizations. These leaders believed that they had arrived at a critical juncture in the ongoing debate about the nature of American girlhood, and in an important sense they were correct. The adolescent girls who had been developing their own cultures in the nation’s high schools since the late nineteenth century had, along with their brothers, been formally introduced to the larger society through G. Stanley Hall’s 1904 monograph, Adolescence. New professionals in educational psychology and social work had begun to study them, and these theoretical ideas were making their way into practice in the form of agencies and programs that served America’s youth. But thus far, those programs had been directed at children in general or boys in particular; none had targeted girls as girls.

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