Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912, during a time when racial segregation prevailed in many parts of the United States. Yet, African American troops formed as early as 1913. Our council, volunteers, and supporters were and remain determined to provide opportunities for all Girl Scouts. For example, in the early 1940s, renowned civil rights activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune helped start a Girl Scout troop at Logan Elementary School in Washington, DC. Bethune later brought that troop of African American girls to the White House to have tea with Eleanor Roosevelt! Troop leaders navigated a complicated system of segregation but found ways for their Girl Scouts to camp and participate in outdoor activities.*
Overnight camping became a central focal point for volunteers who fought for equal opportunities, and in 1955 Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia finally ended the policy of segregation at council-owned camps.
In 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Girl Scouts "a force for desegregation" as volunteers continued to press for adopting policies that would ensure equal treatment for all. For example, in 1960, African American troop leaders Eurselene J. Martin and Lenora Smith pushed Nation's Capital to only work with businesses that did not discriminate against troops like theirs.
Virginia McGuire, the original organizer of District VII in 1934, later became the first African American member of the board of directors at Nation's Capital. In 1972, the council celebrated Ethel Harvey, the first African American president of any Girl Scout council. Progress continued in 1978 as Nation's Capital became the first council to adopt an affirmative action plan to increase non-white participation in leadership roles (volunteer, staff, and board). In 1979, the council started a "Self-Evaluation Committee" required to examine council policies every six years to identify places where change was still needed to address racial inequality.
We are proud of how far our organization has come. As we reflect on our past and look toward the future, we continue to find innovative ways to serve all Girl Scouts.