Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low
Girl Scout troop in 1922
Two girls from Troop 1500
The notion of Girl Scouts—those all-American young women in the crisp green uniforms—going into American prisons may seem strange, anomalous or even humorous, but it’s actually in keeping with the traditions of the Girl Scouts as laid down by the group’s founder, Juliette Gordon Low.
Inspired by the success of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides in England, Low founded the American Girl Guides in 1912 as an organization dedicated not just to the domestic arts, but to outdoor activities, athletics and knowledge. Soon the name was changed to Girl Scouts of the USA, and by 1920, there were more than 70,000 members represented by every state in the country.
From the beginning, the group was inclusive. A troop for physically challenged young women was founded in the early years, and other sub-groups in the 1920s included groups for Native American Girl Scouts and Mexican-American Girl Scouts. A decade later, Girl Scout materials were being published in Braille, and the group’s inclusionist policies predated the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.
As the world began to change in the 1960s, so did the Girl Scouts, with social issues of the day also present in scouting. In the 1970s, ecology and earth sciences became focuses of study, but it was the 1980s, with the introduction of the Contemporary Issues series of booklets, that recognized that the world of a modern Girl Scout was very different than the world of Juliette Gordon Low. Drugs, teen suicide, hunger, literacy and child abuse all became areas of study.
It was against this backdrop in 1992 that the first Girl Scouts Beyond Bars (GSBB) program was founded in Baltimore as a pilot project between the Girl Scouts and the National Institute of Justice, arranging for formal visits between Scouts and their incarcerated mothers. Since then, the concept has spread to more than 30 troops in 23 states, serving nearly a thousand girls at any one time and keeping the vital mother-daughter connection alive through the bars and across the razor wire of America’s women’s prisons.
There are two GSBB troops in the state of Texas, one of which is Troop 1500, which is expanding the concept to provide nurturing and care in the Scouts’ day-to-day lives—and that of their mothers.
Learn about Girl Scout Troop 1500 >>
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Find out about what life is like for incarcerated mothers >>