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Feminist Success Stories - Célébrons nos réussites féministes

Karen A. Blackford
Marie-Luce Garceau
Sandra Kirby

Part III: Reinventing Ourselves at Any Age — Partie III : Réinventons nos vies

Girl Guides of Canada: The Feminist Promise in the “Promise and Law”

Patricia Whitney

Texte intégral

Thanks. The renewal of the Promise and Law was made possible through the extraordinary work of many Guiding women, most especially my volunteer colleagues Marjorie Gerrard, Daphne Young, Michelle Ghisholm, Sally Steers, Gaby Levesque, and our staff associates Barbara Crocker and Marika Munshaw — a wonderful group of women who have feminist process in their souls.


1If woman came from Adams rib, as the Bible claims, so the Girl Guides came forth from the Boy Scouts. The analogy is apt, given the “Muscular Christianity” that imbues the foundations of both the Guides and the Scouts. This particular form of Christian practice saw Victorian men living “by God’s blessing ‘a strong, daring, sporting wild man-of-the-woods’ life” while preaching “a healthful and manly Christianity, one which does not exalt the feminine virtues to the exclusion of the masculine,” as the Reverend Charles Kingsley wrote in His Letters and Memories of His Life (1877) (Houghton 1964, 204).

2The Boy Scouts were founded by just such a Muscular Christian, Sir Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), the “hero of Mafeking,” later to be styled Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell and known to Boy Scouts as “B-P” or “The Founder.” Baden-Powell set out his philosophy in Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship Through Woodcraft, the original edition of which appeared in 1908 after his return from the Boer War (1899-1902). This manual admonishes boys and leaders to think of the Movement, as it came to be known, as “a school of citizenship through woodcraft” where boys would learn “to live, not merely how to make a living” (Scouting4). Baden-Powell further writes that “the aim of the Scout training is to replace Self with service, to make the lads individually efficient, morally and physically, with the object of using that efficiency for the service of the community” (Scouting 4). These character-building aims were to be achieved whenever possible in the open air, rousing, Baden-Powell writes, the “vast reserve of loyal patriotism and Christian spirit lying dormant in our nation to-day” (Scouting 5). Boys were to aspire to a vigorous manliness and to learn the medieval code of knightly chivalry, emulate the deeds of St. George who slew the dragon, and be particularly polite to and considerate of “respectable” women.

3In his later writings, such as Rovering to Success: A Guide for Young Manhood (1922), Baden-Powell again counsels his readers never to forget “the chivalry due to women” and to heed “the development of the manly and protective attitude to the other sex” (101). Baden-Powell suggests that the boy look to the stag, the “Monarch of the Glen,” sketched after the portrait by Landseer, and model his behaviour accordingly: “He is the king of the herd.... He is of a type of courage, strength, and virile beauty... And he takes his responsibilities, ready at all times-and able-to protect his hinds and fawns against all aggressors” (Rovering 101-2).

4Although his view of women was highly romanticized and intensely patriarchal, Baden-Powell’s advice on health, diet, and exercise seem generally enlightened, if class-bound. A dark shadow is cast, however, by his racism and his discussion of women not as persons, but as objects to be chosen wisely or foolishly by young men. Africans, for example, are “Swazi savages entranced by the London omnibus”: “They were so taken with its brilliant colours and the idea of its being entirely for joy-riding!” (Rovering 119). In a similarly condescending tone, Baden-Powell states: “There are women and there are dolls” (Rovering 121). Wives are to be “pure and clean” women, both virtuous and malleable; Baden-Powell writes that “women’s character shapes itself according as it is led by their man” (Rovering 127).

5Throughout the chapter on “Women” in Rovering to Success, Baden-Powell, while advising his readers — all of whom are assumed to be male, white, Christian, and heterosexual — to show women utmost respect, reinforces the position of women as mere adjuncts to men. For example, man’s duty to present himself to his wife as “clean and strong and chivalrous” is necessary in order to fulfil his duty to “God in carrying on the race on the best lines” (121). Semen is presented as a sacred substance. Life is passed from father to son, with woman’s role scarcely acknowledged: “The germ from which you were made was passed down by your father just as he came down from the germ of his father before him...So it is a sacred trust handed down to you through your father and his fathers from the Creator — The Great Father of us all” (Rovering 105).

6For Baden-Powell then, the woman is the mere vessel in this triumphalist framing of life as derived from and perpetrated by the male, who is himself the image of the Creator, the Ultimate Father. This model is, in the words of feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, “the doctrine of patriarchy as the normative order of history” (1993, 80). In the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, woman is “defective and misbegotten in her individual nature,” yet still essential owing to her role as birth giver; nonetheless, for Aquinas, “for any form of spiritual help, man is better served by a companion of the same sex than by woman” (Ruether 1993, 96).

7I am not suggesting that Baden-Powell knew of Aquinas, although as the son of an Oxford professor-priest it is likely. Rather he was advocating a Christian way of life that revered “pure” women, particularly mothers (women who had, obviously, fulfilled their procreative role), while establishing and maintaining an organization in Boy Scouting that, like the Church and the institutions of the State, forbade women’s participation in any meaningful way while asserting men’s superiority. If the man was to be the “Monarch of the Glen” as well as Bishop of the Church and Prime Minister of the State, woman was to be, in the words of Coventry Patmore’s, The Angel in the House, she who is “most excellent of all,” she who must be praised “as Maid and Wife,” and, before whose “affecting majesty,” all men must bend the knee. Such is the position, stifling for the middle-class women assigned to it, and simply ludicrous for the millions of working-class and destitute women in the British Isles that underlies Baden-Powell’s assumptions and writings.

8Baden-Powell had come to adulthood in the Victorian age, but by the time Scouting was getting under way in England in 1907, the old Queen was dead and new ideas were beginning to ferment. For example, in 1905, Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) organized the Women’s Social and Political Union and took up the struggle for women’s suffrage in Britain. So, perhaps it is not surprising that girls were casting an eye at Baden-Powell’s Scouting Movement, misogynist as it was, and wondering if it held anything for them.

The Crystal Palace

9The first Boy Scout Rally was held at the Crystal Palace in London in September 1909. Among the eleven thousand boys and men parading before Sir Robert Baden-Powell were many girls wearing the broad-brimmed Boy Scout hat and homemade uniforms. In fact, there were “already six thousand girls registered as Boy Scouts” by this time (Rosenthal 1984, 11). The girls had hidden their gender by registering under their surnames and initials.

10Not wanting a female presence in Scouting, Baden-Powell turned to his sister, Agnes, and asked her to take on organizing the girls. This she did (although the girls feared they would lose all the adventure of Scouting in this new organization) and the Girl Guides were born. In fact, parents were apprehensive that their daughters would be engaged in unseemly pursuits in Guiding. To Baden-Powell’s credit, he wrote in 1918: “Now I shall be told that I am trying to make girls into tomboys. Not a bit of it — quite the opposite; but girls don’t want to be dolls, they have ambitions beyond that, and also men do not desire to have dolls as their wives — they want comrades” (Robinson 1984, 2). Baden-Powell was still harping on what was best for the male (“they want comrades”), but, nonetheless, girls and women did get their own organization — and they were ready to make the most of it.

Agnes Baden-Powell and the Girl Guides

11Agnes Baden-Powell was a remarkable woman who spoke six languages and played four musical instruments (Crocker 1990, 17). Her book, The Handbook for Girl Guides or How Girls Can Help Build the Empire [1912], became the first manual of Guiding. In it, she writes that the aim of the Girl Guides is “to get girls to learn how to be women — self-helpful, happy, prosperous, and capable of keeping good homes and of bringing up good children” (vii). She visualizes this training for “all classes” in society but particularly sees Guiding as “a grand field for national work [for] young women who have had a better upbringing” (vii). These advantaged women are to provide leadership to “the girls of the factories and of the alleys of our great cities, who, after they leave school have no restraining influence, and who, nevertheless, may be the mothers, and should be the character trainers, of the future men of this nation” (vii). Thus women’s responsibilities were to be the mothers of the nation and indeed the mothers of the British Empire. Robert Baden-Powell, who collaborated with his sister in writing The Handbook, was fond of quoting Lloyd George to the effect that “You cannot maintain an A-l Empire on C-3 men” (Rosenthal 1990, 3). Girl Guides were to become the mothers of those necessary “A-l” men.

12Agnes wanted her girls to grow in “womanliness,” a state marked by sweetness and tenderness but also by courage. Girls, but particularly those who live in “one of the British Dominions,” must be particularly resourceful, able to milk cows, cut firewood, and indeed “defend yourself for your life” (The Handbook 24). Above all else, however, the plucky, competent, and able Girl Guide is to be a mother, bringing up her children to be “good, hardworking, honourable, and useful citizens for our great British Empire.... Britain has been made great by her great men, and these great men were made great by their mothers” (The Handbook 24).

13A marked characteristic of the Guiding movement was, and remains, an emphasis on fitness and competence in nature. In The Handbook, Agnes Baden-Powell writes that Guides must “be accustomed to living in the open: they have to know how to put up tents or huts for themselves; how to lay and light a fire on the ground; how to kill, cut up, and cook their food; how to tie logs together to make bridges, and rafts; how to find their way by night as well as by day in a strange country, and so on” (1912, 27). A Guide was to be trained to lift manhole covers in an emergency to allow sewer gases to escape and to turn a barn or school into a hospital; she was to assist her parents in creating a serene home. Above all, she was to be brave and intensely patriotic. The model Guide presented was an honourable girl, fit in body and mind, courageous and strong, resourceful, and compassionate. Certainly, her destiny was to bear and raise the next generation of the Empire; nonetheless, she was more than a brood mare for imperialism; she was a woman who would “know the right thing to do at the right moment, and [be] willing to do it” (The Handbooks 38).

14It is almost impossible to realize today just how unusual the Guiding program was in its beginnings. The Victorian ideal had been the pale faced, delicate woman who eschewed exercise and strove to suggest gentility in all her behaviours. Moreover, this “concept of the Victorian woman was not necessarily reserved for upper-class women; even working-class women who had to work hard each day were still expected to maintain a mythical gentility” (Henderson et al. 1989, 22).

Fitness, the Empire, and Social Control

15In Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History and Sociology of Women’s Sports, Jennifer Hargreaves writes that “Physical education became an integral feature in the curriculum in increasing numbers of elite girls’ schools from the middle of the nineteenth century” (1994, 63). Girls from wealthy as well as merely economically comfortable homes were playing field hockey, tennis and cricket; doing gymnastics; and riding horses. Girls, like boys, were to be trained for empire building, the 1890s being “the height of the era when notions of empire-building were an entrenched part of British ruling-class ideology” (Hargreaves 1994, 67).

16Hargreaves writes, however, that “throughout the nineteenth century there was no equivalent form of physical activity in schools for working-class girls” (1994, 68). Military style drilling was introduced for working-class boys as “an effective device to inculcate mechanical obedience,’ viewed as necessary to provide an industrial and paramilitary training for workers and soldiers” (Hargreaves 1994, 69).

17The equivalent means of social control for girls was Swedish gymnastics, introduced to the London schools in 1879 (Hargreaves 1994, 69). Agnes Baden-Powell recommends this system of fitness to the Guides in The Handbook “Swedish or ju-jitsu exercises every morning and evening [are] a grand thing for keeping you fit” (1912, 33).

18The Swedish system received legitimacy through the support of ruling-class figures, but the hidden reality was that the Swedish system was a means of social control which had an ideologically subordinating function: it was no accident that Swedish gymnastics, rather than freer, more spontaneous forms of movement, became the accepted from of exercise for working-class girls... (Hargreaves 1994, 72).

19With its emphasis on fitness-Guiding was early defined as a “jolly game played in the out-of-doors” — and its opportunities for women of the “better classes” to “guide” girls of the lower orders, it seems reasonable to position the early Guiding movement not only within the project of empire-building, but also within the influence of “useful” leisure (the Victorians and Edwardians, with their reverence for the Protestant work ethic, could justify leisure only if it served to refresh one for labour) and sport for women. That said, it is of considerable interest that Guiding was radically committed to those “freer, more spontaneous forms of movement” for girls and women, albeit within a fixed set of class assumptions. Compare, for example, Agnes Baden-Powell’s emphasis on health, physical strength, and outdoor adventure in The Handbook, published in 1912, with the advice in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1925, which “implied that young girls in this ‘age of feminine freedom’ were overdoing athletics” and thus having “a harmful effect on the all-important role of motherhood” (Henderson et al. 1989, 23).

20The early days of Girl Guiding provided middle-class women with forms of “leisure” outside the home. As Hargreaves has pointed out, “youth work was a socially acceptable extension of the traditional female role” wherein women could “escape from the confines of domesticity without undermining their prior duty to home and family” (1994, 110). Certainly, there was a class-based agenda here, and indeed it can be argued that such voluntary work was “part of a conscious attempt to control working-class free time and collective group behaviour” (Hargreaves 1994,110); nonetheless, such “practical recreation,” to use Henderson’s term, gave middle-class women an opportunity to socialize and to assume leadership roles within their communities. This model of female interaction remains a feature of adult women’s involvement in Girl Guiding today.

21Among the groups organized to provide a healthful and disciplined environment where bourgeois values could be imparted to the working classes were the Church of England working girls’ clubs, the Girls’ Friendly Society, the YWCA, and the Girl Guides: “Almost all these ‘socio-religious’ organizations included some form of sport or physical activity...chosen for their ‘improving’ qualities” (Hargreaves 1994, 111). The Girl Guides Association in Britain may be seen, then, as providing the opportunity for the upper social classes to determine the leisure practices of working-class (and other) girls; develop the female body for childbearing; provide “suitable” social interaction for middle-class women interested in philanthropic youth work; and support of the goal to “Help Build the Empire.”

Guiding in Canada

22This enthusiasm for social improvement and control and for the project of empire building was also embraced in Canada. In 1912, Lady (Mary) Pellatt was named Chief Commissioner of the Girl Guides in this country; in 1916, she hosted the second Annual (Canadian) Girl Guide Rally at her home, Casa Loma, in Toronto. In the secretary’s report of 1 April 1917, Guide Companies were recorded as organized in Day and Sunday Schools, the YWCA, the Girls’ Friendly Society (Social and Factories), while Senior Guides to be trained as officers were organized among undergraduates at the University of Toronto. Thus, we see in Canada a continuation of the model of girls and women from the higher social classes developed for leadership of working-class women and girls.

23While Guiding developed in Canada in ways that were unique (for example, a girl did not need to be a British Subject to become a Guide in this country), and “newcomers were allowed to use their own language at meetings and were encouraged to carry their National Flag at enrolment ceremonies along with the Union Jack” (Lax, 13), the culture of Canadian Guiding was absorbed from the “Mother Country” with scant criticism or reflection. Canadian Guiding remained a creature of British colonialism, even as it surpassed Britain in program innovation and cultural and ethnic inclusivity.

The Promise and Law

24An essential component of Guiding is the Promise and Law. These consist of a pledge and a code of conduct. The original Guide Law, as set out in Agnes Baden-Powell’s The Handbook for Girl Guides or How Girls Can Help Build the Empire states:

  • A Guide’s honour is to be trusted. A Guide is loyal.
  • A Guide’s duty is to be useful and to help others.
  • A Guide is a friend to all, and a sister to every other Guide, no matter to what social class the other belongs.
  • A Guide is courteous.
  • A Guide keeps herself pure in thoughts, words, and deeds.
  • A Guide is a friend to animals.
  • A Guide obeys orders.
  • A Guide smiles and sings (under all circumstances).
  • A Guide is thrifty.

25The original promise reads: “On my honour, I promise that I will do my best: To do my duty to God and the King (or God and my country for those outside the Empire); To help other people at all times; To obey the Guide Law” (Constitution and By-Laws).

26Although there were minor adjustments over the years, the Promise and Law remained basically true to this 1910 wording, save the excision of “no matter to what social class the other belongs” and a reordering of the laws.

Project of Renewal

27In March of 1991, I was approached by Joan Howell, Chief Commissioner of Girl Guides of Canada/Guides du Canada, to begin looking at the Promise and Law with an eye to making them more contemporary in both thought and language. The project of empire building was long dead; the rigid social class stratification of Guiding’s early days was obsolete if not downright offensive; Canada was recognizing herself as a multi-cultural and multi-faith (or no-faith) society; and we were twenty-five years into the contemporary women’s movement.

28Believing, as I do, in the unique capacity of the Canadian women’s movement to be welcoming to the efforts of first wave women’s organizations to renew themselves within feminist principles, I accepted the challenge. For the next two years, a committee of women volunteers from across Canada devoted countless hours to the design of a consultative process that would allow girls and women from every province and from all ethnicities to participate in focus groups, complete questionnaires, discuss, debate, write letters — and above all, be heard. Our objective in consulting our members was to establish and maintain feminist process in this project as we undertook the renewal of the Promise and Law. The result has been, I believe, a re-forming of the principles of the Girl Guides of Canada.

Making the Model

29Since the incorporation of the Canadian Council of the Girl Guides Association in 1917 by an act of the Canadian parliament, Guiding had grown by 1991 to a national organization of women and girls numbering about 275,000. It is common knowledge that the demographic profile of the country has altered radically during those years. Canada is characterized by more people of colour, many more immigrants from the southern hemisphere, an overall weakening of the majoritarian influence of Anglo-Celtic culture, the independence movement in Quebec, a sharp decline in the authority of the mainline Christian denominations, and second and third waves of the women’s movement.

30It was clear that if Canadian Guiding were not to disappear in the next century, then Girl Guides of Canada (GGC) had to examine its roots and revise its rules. First steps were taken at the National Council meeting held in Toronto in June 1991. Members of Council, including the Chief Commissioner and her deputies, National Directors, Provincial Commissioners, elected members, and members of the senior paid staff participated in discussion groups on the Promise and Law. Overwhelmingly, these women agreed that the Promise and Law were “too authoritarian,” that obedience had to be removed from the Law, that both the term “God” and the term “Queen” should be examined (Canadian Guides in 1991 were still promising to do their “duty to God [and] the Queen”). In addition, Council members stated that concern for the environment and the enhancement of girls’ self-esteem were essential components of a Promise and Law for the twenty-first century.

31Subsequent to the June 1991 National Council discussions on the Promise and Law, the members of the National Communication Services Group, including women from Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia, developed a questionnaire designed to elicit opinions from girls and women across Canada. This questionnaire was tested by the 200 participants at the GGC National Conference held in Toronto in January 1992. Minor adjustments were made to the instrument following the Conference. The Service Group then developed a Promise and Law Renewal Kit which included an open letter from the Chief Commissioner, “Facilitator’s Notes for Conducting Focus Groups,” and ten copies of the questionnaire, “Looking at the Promise and Law.” We also produced a simple ten-minute video which explained how to organize and conduct a focus group.

32In May 1992, Promise and Law Renewal Kits were sent to all National Council members and to every Division, Area and Provincial Commissioners across Canada and to Companies and Packs on Foreign Soil (Canadian Guiding units overseas). In June, the National Council met in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and participated in Promise and Law focus groups.

33In addition, each Provincial Commissioner was sent twelve “flagged” Kits to be distributed to target groups such as teachers (non-Guiding women), parents, units with Guiders and girls with disabilities, women and girls of colour, older women, Aboriginal girls and women, and religious groups, as well as Guiding committees at every level of the organization. Some provinces chose to integrate the Promise and Law focus groups into trainings or events (for example, about 150 women and teenaged girls participated in a Promise and Law weekend at Doe Lake Camp in Ontario in October 1992 as did Canadian Guiders in Germany).

34All completed questionnaires were submitted for tabulation by December 1992; the final report of the Promise and Law consultation was submitted to me as National Director of Communications and Chairwoman of the Communication Services Group in January 1993. The results of this “snapshot” of our membership indicated that some 10,000 girls and women, either as individuals or as participants in focus groups, had taken part in this key step in the Promise and Law Renewal Process.

35Working with these data, the discussion notes from the June 1991 National Council, and our knowledge of and experience with girls and adolescent women, the Service Group set about drafting a renewed Promise and Law. An important document in this process was the Promise and Law section of the 1992 WAGGGS Programme Pack (WAGGGS refers to the London-based World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the coordinating body of the 129 Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting countries in the world). The WAGGGS document was timely for our purposes in affirming the role of Guiding as an organization dedicated to “the advancement of girls and young women” and celebrating difference within the world “sisterhood” of Guiding.

36In drafting the renewed Promise and Law, we sought to stress beliefs and values over behaviours, stating the following:

37If a girl is taught to develop a spiritual centre in her character and to respect herself and others she is on the right track to developing behaviours that will increase her self-confidence, enabling her personal vision to grow outwards from her own small self to her unit [Guide Company], her community, and to the world sisterhood of Guiding. (Whitney 1993)

38In May 1993, two draft options for a renewed Promise and Law were presented to National Council in Toronto for discussion. These options, essentially alike, differed in whether to use the word “law” or the word “challenge” for the Guide Law.

39These options were widely distributed to girls and women across Canada during the spring and summer of 1993. In July, GGC hosted 3000 girls and women from some 30 countries at an international camp held over a period of ten days near Guelph, Ontario. This gathering presented GGC with an ideal opportunity to seek additional feedback from Canadian young women as well as from international adolescent women. Sally Steers, Allison Whitney, and I conducted focus groups with about 50 of these young women, whom we found to be overwhelmingly in favour of renewal of the Promise and Law. In this, they reflected the results of the 1992 national consultation which indicated that almost 95% of participants wanted a change to the Promise and Law.

40By the fall of 1993, many women and girls from across Canada had taken the opportunity to write to GGC with their views on the Promise and Law options that had been circulating throughout the country. All these letters were read and key issues identified before the Communication Services Group met in mid-October 1993. This, then, was the final opportunity for this committee to prepare a proposed Promise and Law, incorporating the results of over two years of research, for presentation to National Council for vote in November 1993.

41The document presented to National Council in November was a compromise. As might be expected in an organization rooted in the first wave, some members were reluctant to see any change, and some few were adamantly anti-feminist and seemed to perceive, rightly, that the process of renewal of the Promise and Law would change Canadian Guiding significantly.

42It would be quite wrong to suggest that the Promise and Law Renewal process was a survey. Rather, it was an attempt to involve as many women and girls as possible in a national “dialogue” about the fundamental code of GGC. The members of National Council who were called upon to vote did not reflect the face of Canadian Guiding. There were no “out” lesbians nor First Nations nor poor women. There were some young women, some women of colour, and some women with visible disabilities, but the majority were middle-class and upper middle-class women, from Christian, white, able bodied, and heterosexual situations. While precise demographic information is sketchy, these women were a fair representation of GGC, although the tendency was to higher income and education level than the “average Guider.”

43The proposal presented to and approved unanimously by the National Council of Girl Guides of Canada-Guides du Canada was as follows:


  • I promise to do my best.
  • To be true to myself, my God/faith* and Canada.
  • I will help others and accept the Guiding Law.

45*Choose either the word God or the word faith according to your personal convictions.

46Law: the Guiding Law challenges me to:

  • be honest and trustworthy,
  • use my resources wisely,
  • respect myself and others,
  • recognize and use my talents and abilities,
  • protect our common environment,
  • live with courage and strength,
  • share in the sisterhood of Guiding.

47This renewed Promise and Law, while abiding by WAGGGS regulations that all Guides must make a promise that includes patriotism, acknowledgement of a spiritual quest, and service to others, nonetheless, goes a significant way toward a more inclusive and woman-centred Promise and Law. We were striving for a Promise and Law that would affirm self-respect for every girl and woman (the Promise and Law were designed to be accessible to the girl of nine years, the developing adolescent, and the mature woman). We were determined to honour the deeply felt religious beliefs of many members and yet be open to those girls and women engaged in a spiritual quest; to maintain the tradition of service to girls and women between 5 and 85, and yet state this idea simply as “I will help others” rather than in the words of the “old” Promise which spoke of helping “other people at all times” — not a useful notion for girls and women too often socialized to servitude.

48The new Law is designed to maximize a girl’s potential and to help her respect and believe in herself as a person, as well as in her talents and abilities. The new Law acknowledges the need for all girls and women to protect and nurture the Earth, our mother, and to use our resources — time, energy, intellect, and insight — for our own good and for humanity’s welfare. The girl and woman are challenged to “live with courage and strength” in an echo of Agnes Baden-Powell s exhortations to the Guides of 85 years ago, and in the certainty that today’s woman and tomorrow’s woman had need to be prepared for a massive struggle to achieve and secure dignity and equality.

49The new Law ends in sisterhood, surely a much disputed term in a time of identity politics when the “sisterhood is powerful” slogans of a generation ago ring hollow. Yet, this Law, “share in the sisterhood of Guiding,” was very much welcomed. This is sisterhood with our eyes open. This is a sisterhood that is struggling with strong anti-racist policies and practices. This is a sisterhood that is, very late in the day to be sure, finally beginning to acknowledge the essential role that lesbian women play in Canadian Guiding. This is a sisterhood that, in spite of the gross horrors of inequality and racism and the erasing of the dignity of difference in western society, still happens among women and girls across Canada every week of the year as they meet in school gyms, churches, synagogues, and temples to learn to be stronger, more competent women. It is a model of women taking girls by the hand and saying “come and grow into your potential as a woman.”

50It would be incorrect to argue that the Promise and Law Renewal process has transformed Girl Guides of Canada into a fully feminist organization. It has not. The procedure has, however, introduced feminist process in a way and to a degree that has subverted the male, military model that prevailed heretofore.

51I would argue that GGC is now better equipped to re-form itself into an inclusive pro-feminist organization, one which provides a single-sex environment that values diversity and valorizes the girl-child as strong, independent, and cooperative. The renewed Promise and Law were accepted by Girl Guides of Canada/Guides du Canada in a unanimous vote held at National Council in November 1993. Subsequently, the Constitutions Committee and the World Committee of WAGGGS gave approval in the spring of 1994, in time for the proclamation of the renewed Promise and Law at the Annual Meeting of Canadian Guiding held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on June 11, 1994. There is no looking back now, as Girl Guides in Canada face the future as part of the Canadian women’s movement.



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Baden-Powell, Robert. 1912. Revering to Success: A Guide for Young Manhood London: Herbert Jenkins. 1922 rpt.

Baden-Powell, Robert, n.d. Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship Through Woodcraft. Scout Brotherhood Edition. National Council: Boy Scouts of Canada.

Crocker, Dorothy. 1990. All About Us: A Story of the Girl Guides in Canada 1910-1989. Toronto: Girl Guides of Canada-Guides du Canada.

Hargreaves, Jennifer. 1994. Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History and Sociology of Women’s Sports. London: Routledge.

Henderson, Karla et al. 1989. A Leisure of One’s Own: A Feminist Perspective on Women’s Leisure. State College, Pennsylvania: Venture.

Houghton, Walter E. 1964. The Victorian Frame of Mind 1830-1870. New Haven: Yale UP. 1957 rpt.

Lax, Joan. n.d. Window on a Changing World: The Girl Guides of Canada, The First Fifty Years, 1910-1960. Unpublished paper.

Patmore, Coventry. 1993. “The Angel in the House.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 6th ed. vol. 2. New York: Norton.

Robinson, Marita. 1984. Celebration: 75 Years of Challenge and Change: A Portrait of the Girl Guides of Canada-Guides du Canada. Toronto: Grosvenor House.

Rosenthal, Michael. 1984. The Character Factory: Baden-Powell and the Origins of the Boy Scout Movement New York: Pantheon Books.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1993. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon.

Whitney, Patricia. 1993. “Rationale: Option #1 and #2, Promise and Law Renewal,” National Council, 26-29.

World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. 1990. Constitution and By-Laws of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. London: WAGGGS.

World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. 1990. WAGGGS Programme Pack: Promise and Law. London: WAGGGS.


Coordinator of the Women’s Studies Program, University of Prince Edward Island

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