The Girl Scouts began on March 12, 1912, a month before the sinking of the Titanic and eight years before women got the right to vote nationwide. Juliette Gordon Low, a 51-year-old childless Savannah, Ga. widow organized the first troops, based on the already established "Girl Guides" in the United Kingdom. The first meeting had 18 members in two patrols - Carnation and White Rose.
Exactly 100 years later, March 12, 2012 at exactly 19:12 (military time), almost 100 Girl Scouts from Service Unit 409 in Forest Park stood in the dusk beside the flag pole at the park district building. The girls sang songs and passed the "friendship squeeze" from hand to hand around a large circle.
"There's a lot of diversity represented in the Forest Park troops," said Daisy troop leader Teri Blain. "It's hard to tell which girls belong to which parents. We have a lot of adoptive families and mixed-ethnicity families."
Forest Park's troops have expanded and shrunk over the years. Today, the Forest Park branch of 409 is expanding. The village has several community troops, but schools are now asking to start their own troops. All they need are the parents.
"In the last few years we've grown exponentially. We're in great need of adult volunteers to take on leadership and other positions," said Blain.
"From its start, [Girl Scouts have] been an organization that encouraged girls and women to become all that they could dream and to set their sights on making the world a better place," Blain said in remarks to the gathered girls.
"We're using this year, all year long, to talk to the girls in various lessons and messages about how things have changed since Juliet Low's day," she said later.
Peggy Tuck Sinko, who has been a Girl Scout for 55 years, curated a new exhibit at the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest titled, "A Century of Girls Leading the Way: Celebrating 100 Years of Girls Scouting (1912 Ð 2012)."
"Few organizations make it to 100 years old, so it's certainly something worth celebrating," she said. "We want to tell that old Girl Scout story, but we want to show how the organization has adapted and, in particular, focus as much as we can on our local Girl Scout program - their service, travel, crafts, troop activities, badges, and camping. Oh, and cookies, let's not forget them," she adds with a laugh.
"We have pictures from the 1930s of Girl Scouts at a local bakery in Oak Park, actually baking the cookies," Sinko says. "It's more entrepreneurial now, and that is something that has changed since I sold Girl Scout cookies."
Service Unit 409 named Sinko its 2012 "Woman of the Century."
For local Girl Scout history buffs, of great interest might be an authentic 1920s-era Girl Scout handbook. It details "how to earn a Tenderfoot, second class, and first class distinction," Sinko says, including how to earn obscure badges: e.g. the "Laundress," the "Automobilist" and the "Telegrapher," to name only a few.
"The Telegrapher badge required girls to take in 25 words per minute using a sounder in American Morse Code, transcribing the message in longhand or on a typewriter directly from sound, with no mistakes," recites Sinko, a board member of the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest.
Her own specialty was the art of Semaphore flag waving, but Sinko says the ones here were donated by another local Girl Scout. In the 1930s, Sinko's mom used to practice her Semaphore flag alphabetic signals with another Girl Scout in her front yard. Mastering this form of nonverbal communication, she says, was a requirement to advance rank in the early days.
For a century, the Girl Scouts have been teaching skills that have shaped American womanhood: a blend of fitness, domestic abilities, citizenship training and career preparation.
"February 22 is Founders Day for the Boy Scouts," said Blain. "We call it 'Thinking Day' where we think about girls around the whole world and what they can do and cannot do in those countries," said Blain. "This helps us discover not just where we've come from, but the possibilities about what we can do."