In the beginning…
In 1869, the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association was organized by Brigham Young to encourage modesty, decorum, and retrenchment. This program eventually progressed into what is now recognized by the LDS Church as the Young Women’s Organization. At the same time, the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association was also organized as the male counterpart. Eventually, this program for young LDS boys partnered with the Boy Scouts of America.
These are the programs we know and love today, but what led to the boys becoming the Young Men’s program and partnering with the Boy Scout’s and while the girls remained as a solo church organization? Why did the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association affiliate with the Boy Scouts of America in 1913, yet the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association of the same time period continue developing their own activity and personal progress programs? Did the Church ever consider a partnership with the Camp Fire Girls, Girl Scouts or Girl Guides? And if so, why didn’t they affiliate?
Here are some history highlights that can answer these questions and provide insight into Scouting’s relationship with LDS girls.
1869 – The Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association was organized by Brigham Young to encourage modesty, decorum, and retrenchment. (History of the YLMIA, 1911, p. 9.)
1907 – Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scouting Movement in England. The movement was wildly successful and quickly established in countries around the world.
1910 – The Boy Scouts of America was officially established in the United States.
At the founding of the Boy Scouts, Baden-Powell realized that young ladies also wanted to join Scouting. However, Baden-Powell thought that the “rough and tumble” activities you would find in Scouting were not appropriate activities for young girls. Additionally, he felt that the Boy Scout program would then become “sissified” if girls were allowed to join. Boys would, in turn, resent their involvement and no longer enjoy Scouting.
To remedy this issue, Baden-Powell decided to enlist the help of his sister, Agnes, to organize the Girl Guides. This program was tailored more specifically to girls. It focused on the needs and virtues of women, according to LDS/BSA relations. Baden-Powell’s wife, Olave, eventually became the head of Girl Guides and it experienced great growth as a companion to the Boy Scouts. Today, many Girl Guide groups are involved in the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), of which the BSA is also a very active participant.
1910 – Camp Fire Girls of America, the U.S. version of Baden Powell’s Girl Guides, was founded “to guide young people on their journey to self-discovery.” James E. West, the first Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts, also played a large part in the founding of the Camp Fire Girls.
1911 – Juliette Gordon Low, future founder of the Girl Scouts of America, met Baden-Powell in England. He encouraged her to start Girl Guiding in America.
1912 – The Girl Guides of America (changed to The Girl Scouts in 1913) was officially organized by Mrs. Low in the United States. Her goal was to provide a program for girls that was identical to the one the boys were receiving.
Was affiliation ever discussed?
In an article celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Bee-Hive Girls’ Association, Ann M. Cannon, chairman of the original Bee-Hive Committee, writes about how girls could fit into Scouting. She wrote: “About the time that the YMMIA began to talk of Scouting for boys, … The General Board…began a study of the Girl Guide work in England, which had been started to parallel the Boy Scout work. They followed it by a study of Camp Fire work which had sprung up in the USA as a follower of the Girl Guides.”
After studying this program to figure out how it could fit into the MIA plan, it was put into a sort of trial run for some Stakes in Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake City Ensign Stake used the Camp Fire program for the summer and “the Box Elder Stake asked for the Girl Guide work.” These programs were granted and the stakes were able to try them out that year.
Later, a committee wrote to Dr. Luther Gulick, President of the Camp Fire Girls, and asked for the privilege of joining their organization “on a plan similar to that on which the YMMIA had joined the Boy Scouts.” After many letters passing back in forth, discussing the plan, Dr. Gulick said in effect, “I see why you cannot join us under our plan. I hope you see why we cannot let you join under yours.” He suggested the Church form its own organization and gave permission for them to use any of their ideas and even offered assistance.
The Chartered Organization concept was key to the partnership of the YMMIA and the BSA, yet such an agreement could not be reached with the YLMIA and the Camp Fire Girls. It is important to note that as a chartered partner, the Church has the freedom to make significant decisions within their BSA programs, including choosing their own leaders and implementing BSA activities in a way to meet their needs.
Although the Church has never officially partnered with the Girl Scouts, Girl Guides, Camp Fire Girls or other programs for girls, they still support the good in these organizations. The Church values all programs that build youth and help them develop strong values.
In a panel discussion on faith at the 2014 Girl Scouts Convention held Thursday, October 16, 2014, in Salt Lake City, Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president spoke to girls, Her speech was titled “Faith in Action: Understand the Impact of Faith on Girls’ Lives and on Their Communities.”
“This is a challenging time to live,” Sister Oscarson said. She told the audience that, to help young women meet these challenges, the Church’s Young Women’s organization emphasizes faith and leadership.
Sister Oscarson said it’s possible to have faith and not belong to a religion, but “[Christ] organized a church, and I think that’s our example.” She shared that gathering and learning together is “a way to strengthen one another” (See the full article here).
Oct. 11, 2017 The BSA announced they will expand their membership to allow girls to join the Cub Scout and Boy Scout program as all-girl dens and troops. Chartered organizations are allowed to decide if and how they will use the dual programs. The Church responded that their current “Activity Days and Personal Progress programs have long been in place to meet the needs of girls and young women in these ages groups, and no change will be made in church programs. We recognize that the desire of the BSA is to expand their programs to serve more young people in the United States. The Church, too, continues to look at ways to serve the needs of our youth worldwide.”
So, while the LDS Church’s program will not be integrating girls into a Scouting program, young women in the Church can join Scouting with another chartered organization that has a girl program if they choose. Girls have also always been welcome to join BSA’s Venturing program with other chartered organizations other than the LDS Church.
This article was adapted from information contributed and compiled by Scouting historians Roma Bishop, Kathi Robertson, and Nettie Francis on the LDS BSA Relationship Blog.
Author: Madison Austin | Marketing Associate, Utah National Parks Council