Since the Boy Scouts began accepting girls into their ranks this month, thousands of girls across the country have rushed to claim the title of scout.
Among them are 17 girls who have formed the first all-female troop in Chester County. They join more than 4,300 other girls across the country who are now part of Scouts BSA, renamed from the Boy Scouts.
“Our girls in our troop, they’re trailblazers," said Melissa Pendill, scout leader of Chester County’s Troop 19. “They just want an opportunity, and it’s available, so they’re grabbing it.”
There are now more than 200 female scouts in BSA troops in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And by next year, the Boy Scouts of America — Scouts BSA’s parent organization — will welcome its inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts. The opportunity — and challenge — to become an Eagle Scout was traditionally unavailable to girls and is a big draw for many who join the new troops.
The decision to admit girls, made in 2017, came after a years-long push for gender inclusivity, scout leadership said. And it came against the backdrop of declining membership for both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Before the change, the Boy Scouts had membership of around 2.3 million, while the Girl Scouts reported 1.7 million members.
The scouting evolution was not without contention. The Girl Scouts at one point accused the Boy Scouts of a “covert campaign” to recruit girls into its membership, “fundamentally undercutting” the Girl Scouts. In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, the Girl Scouts are seeking to prevent the Boy Scouts’ rebranding to Scouts USA with the inclusion of girls.
While girls are now free to participate in both scouting groups, the Girl Scouts insist that they offer the “world’s single best leadership development experience for girls."
The girls of Troop 19, for their part, welcomed the opportunity to join Scouts BSA and were among the first in the nation to do so.
“We wanted to get going as soon as possible because they’re not getting any younger," said Pendill, the troop leader.
Girls who join Scouts BSA are required to take part in all-female troops. The girls of Troop 19, who list hiking, camping and rock climbing among their hobbies, say they have found a group where they feel comfortable. It is, by all accounts, a different experience than the Girl Scouts, which historically emphasized stereotypically feminine pursuits such as cooking and sewing, although the organization also awards badges for many other skills, including archery, public speaking, and screenwriting.
"I feel like I found people that understand me,” said Lily Rohner, 10, a newly minted scout of Troop 19.
On a recent evening at Troop 19′s first official meeting, the girls were working to master the art of knot tying.
Brianna Rossi, 13, concentrated on tying a square knot as one of the requirements in her quest to earn the scout rank of Tenderfoot and its accompanying badge. To do that, scouts must show that they have the skills required for camp outings. They must be able to help pitch a tent, prepare meals, demonstrate proper use of a knife, saw and ax, administer simple first aid, properly fold a U.S. flag, and have the physical ability to do a series of exercises, including push-ups and sit-ups.
Many of the girls, some of whom are also Girl Scouts, have the ultimate ambition of becoming an Eagle Scout, the crowning achievement for Boy Scouts, said Pendill.
“She’s wanted to be an Eagle Scout since she was 5,” Mike Rohner, an assistant scoutmaster for Troop 19, said of his daughter, Lily.
Other girls hope to take that a step further by also winning the Gold Award, the highest title available to Girl Scouts.
For now, the scouts are starting less ambitiously, learning to camp, tie specialized knots, and improve their physical fitness. So far, Pendill said, they’ve hiked more than seven miles and learned to chop firewood.
“Their enthusiasm about everything is amazing,” Pendill said of the troop. "It’s so contagious. They realize that this is a moment in time, and they’re a part of it.”