Saturday, 5 September 2009


The Girl Guides were founded 100 years ago today. They started in 1909 after a group of girls attended the first Boy Scout rally in Crystal Palace and asked Robert Baden Powell for an equivalent organisation for girls...

I was a Girl Guide (and a Bunny, as the Rainbows were known in Northern Ireland, and a Brownie and also a Venture Scout). In fact I was a member of a Baden Powell organisation from the age of 5 to 17. This may surprise some of you who know me as a girl who dreads so much as breaking a nail, but what might surprise you more is that I loved being a member of all those organisations.

Sure, there were a few sticking points; the incredibly frumpy Guide uniforms, the fixation on Christianity as the only true path and the fact that the church hall was always freezing cold, but generally the experience was extremely positive. I attended an all girls school which tended toward to being bitchy shall we say? But the Guides were a different type of all-female environment where you were encouraged to stay busy, learn new skills, help each other and above all live by the good morals of the Guide Law whilst generally avoiding all the stereotypes of large groups of women.

The Guide Laws are:
o A Guide is honest, reliable and can be trusted.
o A Guide is helpful and uses her time and abilities wisely.
o A Guide faces challenges and learns from her experience.
o A Guide is a good friend and a sister to all Guides.
o A Guide is polite and considerate.
o A Guide respects all living things and takes care of the world around her.

I was heartened to see that this law still exists with its clear principles and strong moral code...and that I could still quote some of it about 15 years after leaving the Guides. Looking at it now with a more critical feminist eye, I feel that the Girl Guides are a valuable oasis of calmness and encouragement in a world that wants little girls to grow up too soon. Sure, they might wear funkier clothes now, but they still allow girls to develop their interests and experiences for life.

I learned a huge amount at Guides. Sadly very little of the stuff I learned for my sleeveful of badges has remained, but most of the social skills still play a part in my life even today. I am still proud of my Guiding achievements. I was a Patrol Leader in my troop and even though it gave me the dubious honour of being Leader of the Thrush Patrol, it did wonders for my self esteem as a awkward and gawky 15 year old.

I drifted away from the Guides not long after this as make up, boys and boozing became more my focus in life than campfires and canvas, but I hung around the edges of the organisation in the mixed-sex Venture Scouts where I learned to talk to boys, fire a shotgun and dig a ditch. But even that was abandoned as my A-levels loomed and in all honesty, I haven't thought much about those days until now.

I'm sure in this era of It bags, Wags and tweens, the Girl Guides are seen as deeply uncool by many girls (and boys). This would depress me as to the state of our youth, except that it was seen as geeky and uncool by many of my peers when I was attending it too, but I still went every week and loved it. And it appears that a huge number of girls are doing the very same thing even now. 50,000 girls are waiting just to join currently.

So when it seems like there is no hope for the next generation of girls, let's remember that the Girl Guides are still providing a no nonsense way to encourage self esteem, teach new skills and life experiences and keep little girls as little girls until they are ready to grow up. Perhaps I'll postpone being a grumpy old woman just a little bit longer...

Here's to another 100 years of learning to light fires, make toilet roll holders out of string and sticks and sing out of tune!

1 comment:

  1. I was a Girl Guide in Canada from 7 - 17, and it was such a fantastic part of my youth. I gained leadership skills, confidence, and an appreciation for nature that remain with me today. My family didn't camp, so I loved camping with the Guides. Your comments about how the environment at Guides was so refreshing in its lack of catty bitchiness that often occurs in all-female environments rang true. Perhaps it was a result of no competition from boys' attention as well as positive female role models. Just last night I was looking at pictures from a trip to Europe I took back in 2001 when I was 23. I visited Our Chalet, and the grin on my face is just like a little kids'. Thanks for sharing.