Girl Scouts: Creating the Next Generation of American Leaders

by Feb 7, 2024Civil Dialogue

Girl Scout Stamp Cover Art

We are just a few weeks away from spring, which means that Girl Scout cookie season will soon be coming to an end. Today, the people and images featured on the cookie boxes celebrate the individuality and stories of members of the Girl Scouts. For more than 100 years, Girl Scout troop leaders have prepared young women to become active and engaged members of society. As stated in the Girl Scout Law, the organization gives girls the skills they need to make the world a better place.

Girl Scouts has a history of active involvement in American politics. As a recent example, a group of congresswomen have formed an honorary troop known as “Troop Capitol Hill,” which is made up of 21 United States Representatives and seven Senators, including Senator Elizabeth Warren. Girl Scouts and Troop Capitol Hill collaborate to advocate for issues that are important to young women and to support the work of Girl Scouts in local communities.

As part of this broader civic engagement effort, Girls Scouts teaches girls about civics and democracy through badges and patches. There are two types of rewards girls can earn to decorate their uniforms — badges and patches. Badges are determined on a national level and have specific requirements girls must follow to earn them. Girls as young as five or six, known as “Daisies,” can earn badges for democracy and for learning to be a good neighbor. Older Girl Scouts also can earn badges in democracy, public policy, and citizenship, with more rigorous requirements for the activities they must complete to do so.

The other type of reward, patches, are determined by local councils and awarded to girls for working with their troops to complete meaningful activities. In recent years, councils have created their own patches related to civics, justice, and democracy. A few years ago, the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles (GSGLA) introduced the Justice Patch for Girl Scouts of all ages to “develop a sense of fairness, an understanding of why we have laws, and how laws can be changed.” While earning a Justice Patch, Girl Scouts will also learn “how laws are designed to help people, as well as the role of lawyers and judges in the community.”

The Justice Patch was first brought to the Girl Scouts’ attention by Judge Sandra R. Klein, a United States bankruptcy judge in the Central District of California. A few years ago, Judge Klein hired an extern who happened to be a former Eagle Scout. They discussed the opportunities available to Boy Scouts, and the extern mentioned a badge that boys could earn by visiting a courthouse to learn about the legal profession. Judge Klein believed that the Girl Scouts should have a similar opportunity, and through her influence, the Justice Patch was born.

Judge Klein has had a deep involvement with GSGLA over the years. She co-founded Troop 1085, which is made up of girls experiencing homelessness, and gives girls opportunities to participate in meaningful activities, such as trips to Mountain High or the Getty Museum. Judge Klein also participates in a four-week program in which professionals mentor girls in high school and prepare them for various career paths.

Thanks to Judge Klein’s efforts, Girl Scouts of all ages can now earn the Justice Patch. All girls in Grades 2 or above (Brownies through Ambassadors, in Girl Scout terms) are required to tour a courthouse and meet with a judge to earn the patch. Younger girls are encouraged to discuss the roles of lawyers amongst themselves and prepare questions to learn more about the legal profession. Older girls are asked to educate members of their communities about civics, host debates within their troops, and research student rights, among other activities. The goal of these exercises is to prepare young women to become advocates, both for themselves and for their communities.

Judge Klein believes it is important for girls to become involved in civics and democracy from a young age. “They’re the ones who will be leading this world,” she said. “I hope they will build upon what recent generations have accomplished.”

Girls haven’t always had a voice or the opportunity to express what issues they found important. When Girl Scouts visit Judge Klein’s courtroom to earn their Justice Patches, she discusses the significance of a good education and what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated profession. In a world where one in four girls believes that they would have to work harder than a man to be taken seriously and more girls aspire to be movie stars than President of the United States, these lessons can change how girls view the world around them.

As girls move through the ranks of Girl Scouts, they often take on leadership roles through the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards. These are girl-led community service projects that aim to leave a lasting impact on a community. The Gold Award is typically earned by high school students and is equivalent to the Eagle Scout Award. Many girls choose to complete projects related to civics, such as voter apathy or direct advocacy to state and local legislatures. These projects give girls a chance to apply the skills they learned in their younger years to enact meaningful change.

One such project led one Girl Scout, Cassandra (Cassie) Levesque, all the way to the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Levesque started her Girl Scout journey at the age of five and quickly learned that her involvement entailed more than selling cookies. She used Girl Scouts to further a cause that was important to her by focusing her Gold Award on banning child marriage in New Hampshire. At the time, children could get marriage licenses when they were as young as 13. Both Levesque’s grandmother and great-grandmother married as minors, so this issue was especially close to her heart.

Levesque faced many challenges in getting her bill passed. One lawmaker dismissed her as “just a little Girl Scout” who didn’t have the experience to get a law changed. Levesque persevered, and her hard work paid off. As a teenager, she had the thrilling experience of watching three bills she helped write become law from the senate floor. The New Hampshire Senate unanimously banned child marriage.

The experience inspired Levesque to run for office, and at the age of 19, she became the youngest female representative elected in the 2018 cycle. She continues to write and advocate for laws that will benefit young women.

Girl Scouts will always be known for selling delicious cookies, but in my opinion, they should be equally known for their activism and their work to prepare young women to become more involved in American democracy. Girls should know that, even from a young age, they have the power to make a difference in the lives of others. Girls Scouts offers them opportunities to develop the skills that will make them engaged and effective citizens.

Celia Janes is a third-year student at Duke Law who is originally from Orange County, Calif. She has developed interests in various constitutional issues while at Duke, including the Full Faith and Credit Clause and reproductive rights. Prior to law school, Celia attended UCLA, where she majored in History and double minored in Society and Genetics as well as Global Health. After she graduates from law school, she will serve as a law clerk in Santa Ana, Calif. She then plans to practice healthcare regulatory law. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and reading historical fiction and fantasy.

DISCLAIMER: This article is an academic commentary, intended for general educational purposes only. It may not reflect current law nor is intended to provide legal advice or guidance on litigation. Views expressed belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Bolch Judicial Institute or Duke Law School.