Girl Scouts’ founder, Juliette Gordon Low attributed the model from which Girl Scouting in the United States was patterned to Lord Baden Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts organization. However, given the activities of so many courageous women of her time—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells, just to name a few—it is hard to imagine that they did not have some level of influence on her as well. Each of these visionary and determined women understood the importance of working together to forge and create better lives for women in the United States and ultimately, the world. The work and passion of these women undoubtedly inspired other women, like Jeanette Rankin who won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first woman ever elected to serve in either chamber, on April 2, 1917—three years before women won the right to vote. This event was the start of a movement that would inspire generations of women to seek elected offices at the local, state and national levels.
Maryland’s first woman legislator, Mary Eliza Watters Risteau, was elected in 1921 from Harford County and took office in 1922. She served for four terms – 1922, 1924, 1931, and 1933. In 1934, she became the first woman elected to the Maryland Senate and served two terms. Then in 1950, she was again elected to the House of Delegates for another term. The year of 1955 brought with it the election of Mary Nock to the post of Senate President Pro Tem, a position she held until 1961. In 1958, Verda F. Welcome and Irma George Dixon became the first African American women to be elected to the House of Delegates, and, in 1962, Verda Welcome became the first African American woman to be elected to the Maryland Senate.
In 1972 Delegate Pauline Menes was appointed to chair the “Women’s Rest Room committee”’ by Speaker of the House Thomas Hunter Lowe, and acting on Senator Rosalie Abrams’s resolution, the Women’s Legislative Caucus was convened by eight women Delegates and three women Senators—and is still in existence today. The overall mission of the group is to improve public policy that affects women’s lives and to increase the number of women elected and appointed to public service in Maryland.
On February 10, 2011 Girl Scouts of Central Maryland paid homage to the history and fortitude of women elected officials in the state of Maryland and the mission of Girl Scouts—to develop girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place—when the first Honorary Girl Scout troop comprised of Maryland women legislators—Troop 1920 in celebration of the year women gained the right to vote—was inducted and pinned as part of Maryland Girl Scouts’ Legislative Day. Senators Nancy Jacobs and Kathy Klausmeier and Delegates Gail Bates and Adrienne Jones are serving as co-chairs of this illustrious Honorary Troop. After the pinning ceremony many of the legislators talked with current Girl Scouts about their memories from their younger days as Girl Scouts. Senator Jennie Forehand came to the ceremony with her Girl Scout sash, pins and badges in hand! She told the group that she often uses the Girl Scout Law as a measure when considering the merits of legislation before her– are they using resources wisely; will it make the world a better place?
The annual Maryland Girl Scouts’ Legislative Day is an opportunity for girls to visit the state capital, meet their state representatives — Delegates and Senators – learn about the legislative process, observe a hearing, chat with legislative pages and participate in a mock legislative session. The experience is meant to encourage girls to participate in the process, see their government and elected officials at work and even consider a career in public service.
In the tradition of women – banning together to affect positive change for girls and women—Girl Scouts has been working in partnership with the members of Honorary Girl Scout Troop 1920 to substantively address issues that impact girls. For 106 years Girl Scouting has been engaged in girls’ lives and has been a resource and expert on their growth and development. We look forward to working with elected officials to ensure that girls continue to have the opportunities and resources that will allow them to be successful—and perhaps— become HERstory makers in their own right.