Founded by Juliette Gordon Low in 1912, the Girl Scouts is an international organization for young women focusing on the development of leadership skills and outdoor abilities. Low became interested in starting a scouting program after meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts. Overwhelmed by girls who wanted to join the Boy Scouts, Baden-Powell charged his sister Agnes with leading a similar organization for young women in the U.K. called the Girl Guides. The program was designed to train these girls in outdoor skills, first aid, and honorable values.
Low took quickly to the group’s mission and formed an American version of the Girl Guides in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912; the name was changed to Girl Scouts the following year. Demand for new troops was immediate, and Low helped to organize the first official Girl Scouts handbook and appoint troop leaders and staff to the organization’s national board.
The first Girl Scouts designed, cut, and sewed their own uniforms, as well as the first felt trefoil badges. This three-leaved emblem originally signified a “Tenderfoot,” or girl who was new to the scouting world. Soon girls could earn other participation badges for completing specific tasks and learning skill-sets, which were then pinned or sewn onto their uniforms for display.
By early 1914, the Girl Scouts authorized Sigmund Eisner, who contracted with the Boy Scouts, to produce its official uniform and insignia. Beginning in 1915, the Girl Scouts printed complete catalogs of these badges and uniform pieces, and starting in 1930, every registered Girl Scout received a seasonal copy of the catalog. Though the badges and insignia offer collectors a huge and varied field, with more than 600 different designs, Girl Scout fans also look for other official equipment produced over the last century, like pins, cameras, watches, pocket knives, handbooks, dolls, and camping supplies.
Perhaps the most famous Girl Scout memorabilia relates to the organization’s annual cookie sales: Though these bake sales originated in the Girl Scouts’ own home kitchens, by 1936 the national Girl Scouts organization embraced the fundraisers and licensed its first commercial bakery to produce the treats. Ingredient rationing during World War II forced the councils to sell calendars rather than baked goods, but by 1948 there were 29 licensed bakeries churning out official Girl Scout cookies. The tradition has continued through to the present, necessitating a variety of memorabilia including everything from cookie cutters to advertising posters.