Female Boy Scouts settle into their troops and become leaders 


Scouts BSA, formerly the Boy Scouts of America, was one of the last scouting organizations in the world to allow women to join.

  The program, which opened its ranks to women in 2019, welcomed its first class of female Eagle Scouts just two years later. Despite some initial pushback, the creation of new female units and the teaching of traditionally ‘male’ skills, such as camping, woodcraft, and backpacking, ensued for female scouts.

   In 1910, British Army Officer Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts of America, an organization dedicated to teaching boys practical life and outdoor skills. The association soon gained international recognition with its hundreds of thousands of members. In 2019, 111 years after its founding, Boy Scouts opened its doors to girls interested in joining and rebranded themselves as Scouts BSA. 

   The institution operates as a federation of regional Councils that administer local districts. Older Scouts, called Senior Patrol Leaders, run units called troops, which constitute each district. Senior Patrol Leaders also take advice from adults called Scoutmasters. Troops are further made up of smaller groups known as Patrols, and experienced scouts or Patrol Leaders lead each patrol.

   The program builds itself around the Scout Oath and Law to promote values such as duty to oneself and others, which Scouts BSA attempts to convey to the 350,000 young men and now 125,000 young women within the organization. 

   “The program that [Scouts BSA] offers is a genderless program. These are ideas and skills that anyone and everyone can learn,” Field Director for the Golden Gate Area Council Mark Woodman said.

   Once the national organization allowed women in scouting, it was the responsibility of young women and their support staff to charter their new troops.

   “We had to figure out how to make the program function with girls in it. You would think it would be easy but it’s not quite that easy. You have to figure out a lot of new stuff, you have to be a pioneer,” Eagle Scout and Acalanes senior Catie Bronte said.

   Two main troop models have emerged since: separate troops, where female Scouts act independently of male Scouts, and integrated troops, where both male and female Scouts interact regularly in meetings and outings. Both structures have their own advantages and disadvantages. 

   “I would just say that I see [integrated troops] as more difficult, there are more obstacles doing that than just having boys and girls separately,” Eagle Scout, founder of Girls Troop 402, and Acalanes senior Christine Mlynek said. “Overall what I’ve seen from our girls is they have had more chances to talk outright [when in a separate troop], they feel more confident being surrounded by girls, they feel safer being surrounded by girls, they feel like they can be themselves, they feel there is not anyone to impress.“

   Conversely, integrated troops allow both boys and girls to interact with each other to foster a greater sense of community. They also help teach skills and introduce a preexisting troop culture, especially for when girls first form their Patrols.

   “I enjoy going on trips with the boys … It’s fun because we talk to the boys and we get to interact with them. It’s just different than what you do in [a separate troop],” Senior Patrol Leader and Acalanes sophomore Dakota Goyert said.

   Shortly after the introduction of women into Scouts BSA, the COVID-19 pandemic began, leading to many complications for scouting as a whole but especially for women. With only one brief year to create their troops while simultaneously learning and teaching new scouting skills, female Scouts now had to deal with the additional struggles of quarantine. Despite the challenges that the pandemic brought, female Scouts found ways to persevere through. 

   “From what I have witnessed and from what I have heard, it helped to build resilience in these young women, to get past the adversity of everything and succeed,” Woodman said.

   In Scouts BSA, the Eagle rank recognizes a Scout’s hard work and their duty to the Scout Oath and Law. The Eagle rank is the highest rank attainable, being a culmination of requirements achieved in six previous ranks, each more difficult than the last and each further introducing skills. As young women enter Scouts BSA, they learn to internalize the Scout Oath and Law and strive to attain the Eagle rank.

   “I think scouting is very blatant in its push to teach us the Scout Oath and Scout Law and not only to memorize those words but to understand what they mean and how they apply in our day-to-day lives,” Mlynek said.

   The most committed female Scouts became the first female Eagle Scouts in the midst of a global pandemic. Many of these young women have since worked to attain the Eagle rank for its leadership opportunities. However, the process of becoming an Eagle Scout can be tedious and takes a substantial amount of time.

   “First going through the program as a scout and making it to Eagle Scout is pretty difficult, you have to do a lot of paperwork, but then also I had to jump through a lot of hoops as one of the first female scouts. A few parents were not quite for it and we had to set them straight and make sure new rules were being made,” Bronte said.

   The journey to Eagle Scout is one that usually takes about seven years, but to be in the Inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts, female Scouts needed to earn the rank in a two-year period. 

   “You definitely need to think about what requirements you can knock off on different trips, like how many cooking opportunities you will have on camping trips in the future,” Bronte said. “You need to budget your time on when to do all the merit badge paperwork because it takes a really long time. It requires planning, you can’t just earn it based on willpower.”

   As female Scouts rise into leadership positions, earn admirable ranks, and settle into their troops, many male Scouts adjust to the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA.

   “Initially there was a lot of questioning about the change but I think it was pretty obvious that it was bound to happen at some point. The transition has honestly been pretty smooth from what I can tell,” Eagle Scout and Acalanes senior Cole Regan said.

   However, not all reactions to the change have been positive. While many female Scouts have experienced no major issues from male members of their troop, some undergo subtle challenges.

   “I’ve bumped into a little bit of passive-aggressiveness and belittlement. For example, one of our Scoutmasters would be really nice to my face, but then behind my back he would be really against girls in scouting, which broke my heart to know that in secret he didn’t like me being there,” Bronte said.

   In addition to passive-aggressive sentiments, some female Scouts experienced outright opposition.

   “We had adult leaders in other troops question the requirements we had signed off, we also had people yelling and slamming doors on us while fundraising telling us to join Girl Scouts, but despite those snags, we really pushed our troop to be the best it can be and because of the environment we had there we were accepted eventually by pretty much everyone,” Mlynek said. 

   Despite some initial recoil, those who reached the Eagle rank in time to be in the Inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts received commensurate accolades.

   “I have seen some girls get full-ride scholarships to colleges, get appointments to military academies and all these things may not have happened without their participation in the scouting program,” Woodman said.

   The inclusion of young women in Scouting marks another step for the advancement of women in society and means that women across the country can appreciate and practice the same Scout skills as any other scout.

   “Scouting has had an immense impact on my life. It’s a wonderful opportunity that I would not have had anywhere else to really make a difference in the lives of so many young women. I have seen our troop instill a sense of confidence in many girls as well as teach practical skills,” Mlynek said. “We’ve had girls who have never lit matches before, who don’t know how to use a knife and it’s the best feeling in the world to see those changes over the weeks, months, and years in the kids who really stick with it and learn these skills.”