The History of Guiding

At the start of the 20th century, when Lieutenant-General Robert Baden-Powell returned to England from the Boer War, where he became famous as the “hero of Mafeking,” he discovered that many boys and young men were avidly reading his book Aids to Scouting. This book was intended as a military training manual, teaching soldiers techniques such as observation, tracking and initiative, so he decided to develop a similar sort of scheme for training boys. He tried out his ideas with a group of 21 teenage boys at a camp on Brownsea Island, Dorset, in 1907 and the following year published them in a book, Scouting for Boys. The book was an instant success and boys throughout the country read the book and enthusiastically took up 'scouting' and Baden-Powell soon found himself organising the Boy Scout Movement.

Girls also read the book, and soon began registering in Scout groups too, using just their initials to conceal the fact that they were girls. At the Scouts' first rally, at the Crystal Palace in 1909, Baden-Powell was faced with a small group of these girls, representing hundreds of others, who insisted they wanted to be Scouts too.

Initially Baden-Powell was all in favour of allowing girls to become Scouts (in separate troops), but had to change his mind due to the pressures of Edwardian society. In an age when skirts were ankle length and ‘young ladies’ never ran, or even raised their arms above their heads, the idea of girls being involved in camping, hiking and similar activities received a very mixed response. Angry critics denounced 'girl scouting' as a 'mischievous new development', a 'foolish and pernicious movement', and an 'idiotic sport'.

When he founded the girls' movement, Baden-Powell decided the name should be changed from Girl Scouts : this was partly because he thought it would antagonise the boys for whom Scouting had been developed and also alienate parents, who would not welcome such a tomboyish image for their daughters, but mostly because he wanted to create a separate identity for the girls so that they could work for self-development independently, not in imitation of their brothers.

He had to think of a name, and soon he remembered that he had been particularly impressed with the 'Khyber Guides' in India. These men had operated on the North West Frontier and their main task was to go on very dangerous expeditions. Even when they were off duty the Khyber Guides were still training their minds and bodies. With this in mind, Baden Powell decided that 'Girl Guides' would be good name for these pioneering young women.

In 1910 Baden-Powell – now Sir Robert Baden-Powell - formed the Girl Guides and asked his sister Agnes to look after the new organisation as its first President. A scheme for Girl Guides was published in the 'Scout Headquarters Gazette' and together with Agnes, he wrote the first Guide Handbook called 'How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire'.

In 1912 Baden-Powell married Olave St Clair Soames, 32 years his junior, and the Guide movement continued to grow. In 1914 a section for younger girls between 8 and 11 was formed, initially called Rosebuds. At first they didn’t wear a uniform but when, in 1917, their suggested uniform consisted of brown dress and gold coloured tie, they soon became known as “Brownies.”
This younger section was soon followed by a Senior Guides section in 1916, re-named Rangers in 1920.

From her marriage onwards, Lady Olave Baden- Powell took a greater and greater part in the running of the Guides. In 1916 she was appointed UK Chief Commissioner and in 1918 became Chief Guide.

The next few years were extremely busy ones for the Baden-Powells, as they attended rallies, camps, meetings and conferences organized by the increasing numbers of Girl Guides, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts all over the world. In 1920, Baden-Powell was elected Chief Scout of the World and in 1930, Olave Baden-Powell was elected World Chief Guide. By the early 1930s there were more than one million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world .

The idea of Thinking Day was first suggested in 1926 and developed in 1932, at the 7th World Conference in Poland, as a day on which every Girl Guide and Girl Scout is encouraged to think of other members of the Movement around the world. Now called World Thinking Day, this special day is still observed on 22 February each year, the joint birthdays of Robert and Olave Baden-Powell.

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts was established at the Fifth International Conference in Hungary in 1928, with 26 founder member countries, and by the 1930s there were more than one million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world. In 1931, the Chiefs undertook a world tour and were delighted at the progress they saw in every country they visited.

Robert Baden Powell died at his home in Kenya on January 8th 1941, at the age of 84. Lady Baden Powell returned to England in 1942 to carry on his work. She continued to travel the world in her role as World Chief Guide until 1970, when failing health prevented her from travelling overseas, but she continued her work with the Guides in the UK. She died in June 1977 at the age of 88.

At the start of the 21st century the movements created by Robert Baden Powell have grown to touch almost every corner of the globe :
The World Organisation of Scout Movements (WOSM) has 150 member organisations. Scouting is now in all but five countries in the world: China, Cuba, Myanmar (formerly Burma), North Korea and Turkmenistan are the only countries which do not have any Scout movements.
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) has approximately ten million girls and young women in 144 Member Organizations worldwide. It is one of the seven largest international youth organizations in the world and the largest voluntary organization for girls and young women.

Together, Guides and Scouts have had a total membership over a century of Scouting (and Guiding) somewhere in the region of half-a-billion, and its effects have touched many, many more.


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Old Uniforms - Old Proficiency Tests - Origins of Thinking Day

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