This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scouts, and on Saturday, June 9th there will be an estimated 200,000 girls coming to Washington DC for the Girl Scouts Rock the Mall event. There are many famous women, including First Ladies, a Supreme Court justice, CEOs, and even astronauts who remember their days in Girl Scouting as ones that helped shape their careers. Most of us know that the Girl Scout organization was designed to empower girls and teach values as well as practical skills. But did you know that at a time when most women and girls were being told the only job for them in aviation was that of stewardess, the Girl Scouts were offering a program to teach girls to fly airplanes? The Wing Scout Program was started in 1941 and was designed for girls who were “interested in flying and wanting to learn enough about aviation to serve their country.”
The Wing Scout Program was developed to be part of the Senior Girl Scout Mobilist Project, a combined program pamphlet with suggested activities in aviation, bicycling, boating, and automobiling. The Wing Scout portion of the program started with very limited expectations. However, when the first leadership training was offered in Philadelphia in 1942, 29 leaders from 15 states showed up to become certified. These leaders then went back to their councils and began setting up the Wing Scout Program on a national level.
The Wing Scout Program took on a new importance once the United States entered World War II and Girl Scouts focused on civic duty as part of their war efforts. The first formal mention of the Wing Program was a description printed in the 1943 Senior Girl Scouting in War Time. Later official Wing Program publications appeared in 1944 with a short four page pamphlet and then in 1945 with a 16 page pamphlet which was quickly replaced with a 20 page booklet. In August 1945, William T. Piper donated the first of three Piper Cub training aircraft (similar to the one in our collection) to the Girl Scouts making them “the first national youth organization to own an airplane,” according to Mrs. Thomas H. Beck, Chairman of the National Wing Scout Advisory Committee.
After World War II, the Wing Scout Program continued into the Jet Age. In 1959, the Girl Scout Council in San Mateo County, California partnered with United Airlines to start an aviation program for Senior Girl Scouts. As part of the United Airlines partnership, scouts were given a courtesy flight on one of United Airline’s jets. For many girls in the program this was their first time flying in an airplane. The aviation program was taken very seriously and those girls who participated for three years were proficient enough in their abilities to be offered the opportunity to take the controls of a small aircraft during flight.
Although the Girl Scouts did offer an Aviation badge beginning in 1916, it was the Wing Scout Program that really caught the imagination of girls nationwide. Even today many Girl Scout Councils offer aviation programs. Who knows — maybe the last flight you took was piloted by a former Girl Scout.
Beth Wilson is a museum specialist in the Education Division of the National Air and Space Museum.