Boy Scouts To Officially Admit Girls For First Time

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — Wednesday marked a major changed for the Boy Scouts of America after more than 100 years.

The Boy Scouts of America announced Wednesday plans to admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and to establish a new program for older girls using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts. CBS 2’s Sandra Torres has more on the historic vote from the Boy Scouts Headquarters on the Near West Side.

The Boy Scouts Board of Directors voted unanimously to make this change, which could take effect as early as 2019. It’s a decision welcomed at Boys Scouts of America in Chicago.

Under the plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders. The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.

“It’s big news,” said Aaron Gach, with the Boy Scouts of America Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Chapter, which serves over 23,000 children.

“It has been the product of long discussion and the Boy Scouts of America are internally and externally.”

The organization said the decision to include girls came after hearing from families.

“Over decades of conversation and those conversations typically begin with ‘I wonder why my daughter can’t participate along side my son in this program,’ but in the last I would say 2 to 3 years it’s becoming a much more serious discussion,” he said.

A discussion that resulted in girls potentially reaching the highest rank, Eagle Scouts.

“I think we’re very excited that now young ladies will have the same opportunity to earn that coveted award as our boys do currently,” Gach said.

The Boy Scouts Board of Directors, which approved the plan unanimously in a meeting at BSA headquarters in Texas, said the change was needed to provide more options for parents.

“We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children,” said Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s chief scout executive.

“The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” Surbaugh added.

The announcement follows many months of outreach by the BSA, which distributed videos and held meetings with the Boy Scout community to discuss the possibility of expanding girls’ participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing and Sea Scouts.

The Girl Scouts of the USA criticized the initiative, saying it strained the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA’s move was driven partly by financial problems and a need to boost revenue.

In August, the president of the Girl Scouts accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts’ operations.

“I formally request that your organization stay focused on serving the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts … and not consider expanding to recruit girls,” wrote GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan in a letter to the BSA’s president, AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson.

The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the BSA, founded in 1910, are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from youth sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned and busy schedules that prompt some parents to despair of meeting all their children’s obligations. For some families, scouting programs that welcome both boys and girls could be a welcome convenience.

As of March, GSUSA reported 1,566,671 youth members and 749,008 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014. The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past.

(CBS Chicago and The Associated Press contributed to this copy. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Watch & Listen LIVE