Oklahoma Scouting’s Historic Reach

One of the first troops in the Boy Scouts of America started in Pawhuska, while Girl Scout cookies began in Muskogee.

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Above are some of the members of one of the first Boy Scout Troops in America.
[2012.201.B0100.0001], courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society
Being a Girl Scout is about a whole lot more than cookies, camps and crafts. Likewise, being a Boy Scout involves much more than just camping, cooking and canoeing.

All the activities are fun … but fun with a purpose. Both U.S. programs, with significant Oklahoma ties, have been around since the 1910s and continue to influence young people’s lives today.

“Girl Scouts offers the best leadership development experience for girls in the world, from taking a night hike under the stars to lobbying the city council with her troop to tackling cybersecurity and to running her own cookie business,” says Lauren Zeligson, a communications specialist with Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma. “Almost everyone knows about Girl Scout cookies, but some don’t realize that the Girl Scout cookie program is the largest girl-run business in the world.”

Juliette Low, founder of Girl Scouts (right), Elenore Putsske and Evaline Glance pose for a picture in 1917.
Harris & Ewing, photographer, 1917. courtesy Harris & Ewing Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

The first batch of Girl Scout cookies – sugar cookies to be exact – was baked and sold by the Mistletoe Troop in 1917 out of the Muskogee High School cafeteria to raise money for a service project, Zeligson says.

“In July 1922, the American Girl magazine, published by Girl Scouts of the USA, featured an article that provided the recipe that had been given to the [Chicago] council’s 2,000 Girl Scouts,” Zeligson says.

Decades later, cookie sales have morphed into a nearly $800 million empire, according to the Girls Scouts website. For each box sold, 75 percent

of the money goes to the local council, while 25 percent goes to bakeries. The national headquarters also receives royalties for licensing.

“When you make a Girl Scout cookie purchase, you’re helping the next generation of girl entrepreneurs get an important taste of what it takes to be successful – teamwork, planning and a positive outlook,” Zeligson says. “Many alumnae tell us that their experience selling Girl Scout cookies was a critical first step on a path to success in their lives and careers.”

A Girl Scout serves cookies at a social event in 1936 – almost 20 years after the first cookie was sold in Muskogee.
LC-H2- B-9335 [P&P], courtesy Library of Congress
The Oklahoman published this photo of Boy Scout badges in 1931.
[2012.201.B0100.0168], courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society
Selling cookies is just a small part of the Girl Scout experience. Camping, hunting, fishing, community service, drawing, cooking, sewing and canoeing are some of the activities a Girl Scout can expect to participate in with a troop. She will learn important skills in areas that form the foundation of the Girl Scout leadership experience: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); outdoors; life skills; and entrepreneurship.

Fun and leadership are also fundamentals of the Boy Scouts of America, which also has deep roots in Oklahoma.

“The Indian Nations Council, originally called the Tulsa Council, was … chartered in 1911 and has a rich heritage of building leadership skills in youth,” spokesman Thomas Parsons says. “Today the council serves more than 21,000 youth [with] over 4,000 adult volunteers throughout 18 counties in eastern Oklahoma.

“Over the past century, the council has positively impacted hundreds of thousands of scouts and their families and it all started in Pawhuska in 1909 by the Rev. John F. Mitchell, a missionary priest … sent to St. Thomas Episcopal Church by the Church of England.”

This Pawhuska troop formed a year after the Boys Scouts movement began under British Lt. Gen. Robert Baden-Powell. The Boy Scouts of America started in 1910. (Several troops across the United States claim to be the first in America.)

A vintage Boy Scout letter seeks volunteers for the effort.
Portfolio 132, Folder 26, COURTESY Library of Congress

Boy Scouts garner a multitude of experiences, many of them outdoors, Parsons says.

“Scouting is an outdoor program designed to develop character, citizenship and fitness,” he says. “Scouting helps a boy develop into a well-rounded young man.

“What makes being a scout in Oklahoma so exciting is the abundance of opportunities that are provided in terms of camps and programs. We believe that we have some of the finest facilities available, with more under construction, along with a professional staff and the best volunteers around.”

The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are constantly improving what they offer to youth. In May, the Boys Scouts decided that girls can join its ranks. In February, the older ranks of that group will be simply known as Scouts BSA.

“We wanted to land on something that evokes the past, but also conveys the inclusive nature of the program going forward,” BSA chief executive Mike Surbaugh told the Associated Press.

Surbaugh says that those in renamed organization would simply be called Scouts. Groups within the program will still divide along gender-lines, but all members may earn merit badges and pursue Eagle Scout awards.

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