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The British Girl Scouts

The British Girl Scouts were founded in 1909 and were the counterpart to the British Boy Scouts, a Scouting organisation independent from Baden-Powell's organisation. The attraction of Scouting, not only captured the imagination of boys but also that of girls. Not only did Girl Scouts exist in 1909, but one letter to the Spectator on December 4th 1909 reveals mixed troops existed. In the second edition of Scouting for Boys, the details of a girl scout uniform were provided. Public criticism on the issue of girl scouts was both sharp and vocal, leading both Baden-Powell and the leaders of the British Boy Scouts to avert criticism. Baden-Powell's answer was the creation of a separate scheme in November 1909 'Girl Guides', leading to a separate organisation 'The Girl Guides Association' in 1910.

The first recording of any official information about Girls within the BBS was an announcement in 'Chums' the BBS Journal published by Cassell & Co., January 5th 1910 stating that 'The British Girl's Nursing Corps' had been formed which would be the generic heading of the Girl Scout sections that had been until now attached to British Boy Scout Troops. The Executive meeting had taken place in December 1909, thus revealing membership of Girls in the BBS late 1909. The British Girls Nursing Corps was placed under a 'Chief Scoutmistress' and the Corps was governed by the BBS Laws and controlled by the BBS Executive. The BBS Executive had been under the same public pressure as the B-P organisation and had offered a similar solution. By June 1910 the Nursing Corps was of sufficient strength as to be able to launch its own journal 'The British Girl Nurse' and had established its own organisation separate from the BBS.

Despite the directive of the BBS Executive, once Vane had taken part in the leadership of the BBS, the solution for the issue of girl scouts was no longer straight forward. Sir Francis, as Commissioner for London in the B-P Association would have had contact with the numerous Girl Scout Troops which formed within his area. Tim Jeal author of the Biography "Baden-Powell", Hutchinson, 1989, in writing to the author on the subject of Girl Scouts notes "It occurs to me that some of the very large numbers of Girl Scout troops formed from 1908 onwards ....may have been affiliated to the BBS" -letter dated April 8th 1986. This would have owed itself to the defections to the BBS late 1909. This suggestion of Tim Jeal's is confirmed by Edward Shield (a researcher on the life of Sir Francis Vane) in his notes sent to the author. According to these notes towards the end of 1909, Sir Francis Vane introduced a Girl Scout Troop into the BBS, which probably had been organised under the B-P Scouts. This Girl Scout Company was based at Brixton Hill London SW. They asked Sir Francis if they could be renamed 'Sir Francis Vane's Own'. It was this Company that attended the Knighthood ceremony at the Chapel Royal of the Savoy in 1911. A second Girls Troop mentioned by Edward Shield was at Toynbee Hall, where the Scouts enjoyed the support of Harvey and Vane.

One factor that may be significant in relation to defections from the B-P Scouts is the substitution of the name 'Guide' for 'Scout'. Rose Kerr reports "The new name was not received with any great enthusiasm by those who had already styled themselves 'Girl Scouts' and many of them felt that the scheme now proposed to them, with its substitution of nursing and domestic duties for the more boyish activities, was rather a watered-down edition of Scouting" -Rose Kerr, The Story of the Girl Guides 1932 revised 1964, Girl Guide Association Page 35. The view that, 'girls should not be scouts, and should be organised on a separate basis under a differentiating title', was not shared by Vane, and the 'generic heading' for girls work within the BBS, may have been a compromise as the Troop under Vane's name continued with the title 'Girl Scouts' (as reported at the Ceremony at the Savoy Chapel).

The policy of the Executive may have been modified because on March 30th 1910 the BGNC is described as 'This new scouting girl movement' in "Chums". With the resignation of the original members of the Executive Committee Vane's views gained ascendancy with the Girl Scouts being represented by that title in 1911 as part of the Order of World Scouts, giving an indication that the Brixton Troop did not exist in isolation. Despite Sir Francis' preference for Girl Scouts, he also managed to carry over into the World Scouts, the British Girl's Nursing Corps. The BGNC was not connected with the remaining BBS after Vane's departure. By 1914, as only the Girl Scout Troops remained as the female counterpart to the boys work in the BBS, the name 'The British Boy and Girl Scouts Association' came into use in districts where Girl Scout Troops were present. By 1928 this became the main title of the BBS under the fuller heading of 'The British Boy Scouts and British Girl Scouts Association', and modified in 1933, with the change of name from 'The British Boy Scouts' to 'The Brotherhood of British Scouts'. In 1993 the BBS restored the 1928 title for regular use. The tradition of Girl Scouts started as part of the B-P tradition continued, but as part of the BBS, although they did not enjoy any wide representation after the First World War, with the imbalance being corrected in the last two decades with equal membership of girls and boys, although within an organisation a fraction of its former size.

A continuing tradition
The BGS continues as a Christian Scouting Association, holding to the convictions the BBS leaders held when it was first formed; avoiding bureaucracy, seeking to promote the cause of peace, of being a Christian organisation.

The Christian commitment of the BGS is now framed within the constitution "The Association is first and foremost a Christian organisation and seeks to serve the Christian Church as a means of advancement of the Christian Faith. This is achieved through local Churches sponsoring BBS & BGS Groups or Companies, in which leisure, education and Christian influence are combined in an attractive way. It can provide both an activity for Christian young people and be the means of introducing young people to the Christian Faith" Part 1 General Principles 3.1

Single sex troops of British Girl Scouts can be formed, or co-educational Troops may be formed with British Boy Scout members and British Girl Scout members included in a single Troop.

Details gained from the documented history in the British Boy Scout Archives.

FURTHER READING

Sir Francis Vane 'Agin the Governments' Sampson Low 1929 - Vane's autobiography. John Springhall 'Youth, Empire and Society' Croom Helm 1977 - for a picture of Edwardian Youth movements. TIm Jeal 'Baden-Powell' Hutchinson 1989 - details of the beginnings of the BBS and the role of Sir Francis Vane.