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From The Bryant Room Archive

May/June 2000

The Girl Pioneers of America

By Myrna Sloam

For many years, I have been fascinated by photographs of the Girl Pioneers, held in the Bryant Library’s Local History Collection. Although little written documentation exists in our files for this group, we did know that they were a local Roslyn group founded by community activist Grace Hicks, and that they were a precursor to the Girl Scouts. After some recent investigation, I am pleased to report that new information has surfaced.


 According to an article in the June 11, 1911 New York Sun newspaper, The Girl Pioneers was founded a week earlier, as a national organization, by Mrs. Ernest Thompson Seton, whose husband was chief scout of the Boy Scouts. Following the founding of the Boy Scouts in 1908, a number of similar groups for girls had formed around the country using various names, such as Girl Guides and Girls Aides. The Girl Pioneers was being formed in an effort to gather these groups into one national organization. Mrs. Charlotte J. Farnsworth of the Horace Mann School was named as Secretary and Mrs. Mary Schenk Woolman of Teacher’s College was named as chairman of the Executive Committee.


Using the Boy Scouts as a model, the founders of the Girl Pioneers adapted their activities and aims to reflect what they called an “essentially feminine” point of view. The aim of the organization, as stated in their first bulletin was, “to develop good citizenship by making girls healthier and happier, by cultivating in them the virtues of simple living, and by instilling in them an enthusiasm for efficient work and joyous recreation.”  They did not intend to ignore outdoor sports and athletics, but they believed that in addition to those activities, a girl should be “encouraged in her love of beauty, in her appreciation of form rather than speed or endurance in what she undertakes to do and in her ideals of service and helpfulness.”  To join the organization, a girl had to be 12 years of age, have 50 cents in her savings bank and pass “certain simple tests.” Although no motto had been selected at the time of its founding, an undated newsclipping in our file states that the watchword for the Girl Pioneers was “I CAN.”


In Roslyn, the Girl Pioneers participated in many cultural and civic activities. They assisted at Fairs, helped in the Canning Kitchen during WWI and worked with the Red Cross. A band was formed and they presented concerts and plays. Meetings and band rehearsals were held at the Neighborhood House (now the Bryant Library Annex) bungalow. A June 1913 news article reported that the Girl Pioneers marched to the Roslyn Cemetery with the “old veterans” on Decoration Day. They were wearing their “new suits,” consisting of “tan blouses and skirts of kahki and large red ties.”  Their sale of candy, cake, lemonade and ice cream after the march, netted $27.07 for the Village Improvement Society. Although the Girl Scouts, founded by Juliette Low in 1912, may have prevailed in other communities, the Girl Pioneers remained an active organization in Roslyn.  We don’t know when they disbanded, but it wasn’t until 1929 that the first Roslyn Girl Scout Troop was formed in Roslyn Heights, by Mrs. Frederick C. Davis and Mrs. Louis Rohland.

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