Last year we celebrated the news that 25 years on from all sections being open to girls 25% of Scouts in the UK are female.  The history of girls and women in Scouting is an interesting one and not as straightforward as some might expect.

Girl Scouts

Following the publication of Scouting for Boys in January 1908 girls were actively engaging in Scouting, they were just as inspired by the ideas in the book as their male counterparts.  One group of Girl Scouts, only known to us as “Kangaroo Patrol” were so inspired by the quote below they copied it into their patrol magazine.

“I think girls can get just as much healthy fun and as much value out of scouting as boys can.  Some who have taken it up have proved themselves good souls in a very short time. As to pluck, women and girls can be just as brave as men and have over and over again proved it in times of danger. But for some reason it is not

expected of them and consequentially it is seldom made part of their education, although it ought to be; for courage is not always born in people, but can generally be made by instruction.”

Robert Baden-Powell, The Scout, May 1908

The cover of Kangaroo Patrol’s Magazine clearly showing Girl Scouts, 1909

During 1909 announcements were made by HQ that a separate scheme was being developed for Girl Scouts.  In September 1909 a Scout Rally was held at Crystal Palace.  It is often stated that Baden-Powell was shocked or even horrified by the Girl Scouts who turned up and demanded Scouting for Girls.  As the evidence above shows this was not true, both B-P and HQ were aware of Girl Scouts and plans for a specific programme were underway.  The Girl Guides launched in 1910.

Scouting in the UK remained a boys only Movement for the next 66 years.  In 1976 girls were allowed to join a youth section of the Movement for the first time since 1910 as the Venture Scout section for 15 – 20 year olds became co-educational.  In 1992 the remaining youth sections also opened their doors to girls.  At this stage groups who wished to remain single sex could opt out, in 2007 this option was discontinued removing the last bar to girl Scouting. 

Women in Scouting

Women have had a tremendous impact on the Scout Movement.  The first woman to receive her leader warrant was Miss Wade Henfield of Brighton, listed as Scoutmistress 16 March 1909.  These women were Scouting pioneers just as much as their male counterparts, but had the additional challenge of overcoming the social prejudice of the time regarding appropriate activities for women and whether a woman could lead a group of boys.  Some had thought that once the Girl Guides were launched female leaders would choose to work with dedicated girls provision.  This proved not to be the case, an article entitled “Lady Scoutmasters”, by Lady Baden-Powell, October 1913 reflected the number of women taking up Scouting.

“The experiment of ladies being Scoutmasters has through the good and earnest work of those carrying it out provide itself successful; it only remains for it now to become a more widespread practice among young women keen to do something for their country”.

 As with so many areas of life war drove innovation and social change.  Throughout the First World War, due to the lack of male leaders, but also in recognition of women’s already considerable contributions, there were continuous calls for more women to engage in Scouting. 

Come now and “Go Scouting” If you want to help the nation, your fellow-men and yourself my advice is “take up Scouting”.  Boys are no harder to manage than girls (they make more row but give less trouble in the long run).

An Appeal to Ladies to take up Scouting, S.M. Humble, June 1918

Arguably the most famous of these early pioneers was Vera Barclay who, aged 19, had started working with a Scout Troop in 1912.  She and her sister then set up one of the earliest Cubs Packs following the launch of the pilot scheme in 1914.  In 1916 she was appointed to the first HQ role for Cubs where she led the development of the section until 1920.

Throughout the years women have continued to play an important role in the Movement , two of these women Dorothy Hughes and Betty “Rikki” Melville Smith are remembered at Gilwell Park.  The Dorothy Hughes Pack Holiday Centre and Rikki’s Store are named in their honour.

Their legacy continues and today over 43% of the adult volunteer team (working across all sections and other volunteer roles) are female.


Vera Barclay