Home > Essays > Lest We Forget: Populist Conservative Conspiracists Have a History of Pushing Back Against Communitarian Organizations Like (Ahem) the Girl Scouts!

Lest We Forget: Populist Conservative Conspiracists Have a History of Pushing Back Against Communitarian Organizations Like (Ahem) the Girl Scouts!

July 30, 2021

JSTOR writer Ashawta Jackson offered a timely reminder that the anti-intellectualism of populist conservative conspiracists have a long history of pushing back against organizations that espouse communitarian values like the Girl Scouts of America. Really! 

Despite their image as a wholesome organization, over the years the Girl Scouts of the USA have seen more than their share of controversy. In the twenty-first century, critics have accused the group of being too liberal, based on its support of sex education, the optional mention of “God” in its Girl Scout Promise, and its acceptance of trans girls as troop members.

But as much as these seem like modern objections, the organization has always had its share of detractors, scholar Susan H. Swetnam points out. In the 1950s, the Girl Scouts were the target of conservative organizations that saw the group as deeply un-American. “Cold War paranoia might have destroyed the movement,” Swetnam writes.

I need to be reminded from time to time that know-nothing anti-Communists were as big a threat to democracy as the current Trump wing of the the GOP is today. Joseph McCarthy, a GOP Senator, capitalized on anti-communist sentiment to fabricate charges against individuals and organizations who failed to pass HIS muster as being sufficiently partiotic… and at one point the Girl Scouts were in the cross hairs of his acolytes. And like the “patriotism” of today, McCarthy’s followers saw any form of racial harmony as a threat to the nation:

In 1953, the California right-wing group America Plus railed against the Scouts’ celebration of International Thinking Day, “a long-time celebration of Scouting around the world,” Swetnam notes, instead of George Washington’s birthday. A 1954 article by Robert LeFevre, a right-wing radio host and writer, called “Even the Girl Scouts,” denounced the group’s association with the League of Women Voters, which he considered leftist; its support of public housing; and its racial integration. The article, Swetnam writes, “went the 1950s version of viral, re-printed and adapted in newspapers from coast to coast.”

I trust that the irony of the combination of opposition to “International Thinking Day” and the League of Women Voters is not lost on readers… and appreciate that Ms. Jackson did not place the juxtaposition in bold print. 

But here is what I find chilling: the Girl Scouts literally rewrote their handbook AND rewrote history in response to this outrageous allegation:

In response, Girl Scout leadership issued public statements and reached out to some famous friends, notably Eleanor Roosevelt, to champion its message. The organization also changed some of its policies in response to the criticism, including edits to its official handbook and the renaming of some badges. Patriotism, although in the guide all along, was placed front and center, with “Star Spangled Banner” verses “inserted prominently on previously blank front pages of the book.” Finally, mentions of any communist state, no matter how minor, were removed, including a sentence that credited China with bringing tea to the world (China was replaced with India in editing).

Here’s hoping the efforts to inject honesty into US History succeed today… and students know that China is the source of tea and maybe NOT the source of Covid. 

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