March 12, 2022, marks the 110th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of the USA, an organization founded in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low that’s dedicated to instilling confidence in young women ages 5 to 18, whether they were Daisies (kindergarten to first grade), Brownies (second and third grade), Juniors (fourth and fifth grade), Cadettes (sixth through eighth grade), Seniors (ninth and tenth grade), or Ambassadors (eleventh and twelfth grade).
In order to earn a shiny new badge for their sash or vest, Girl Scouts must complete a set of tasks centered around an activity like camping, first aid, or coding. These badges, which were created as an incentive to help young ladies learn new skills—and meet society's expectations of the types of activities women should excel in—have changed a lot since 1912. Meaning that a number of sexist, politically incorrect, and outright bizarre Girl Scouts badges have fortunately been retired over the years. Here are 11 of the strangest ones.
1. Good Grooming
Introduced in 1947 and retired in 1980, this overtly sexist Cadette badge was around for more than 30 years before someone finally realized how trite and unempowering it was. While certain elements have been incorporated into the present-day Social Butterfly badge for Juniors, the original requirements for this Cinderella-esque badge focused mainly on maintaining proper hygiene and “the importance of good grooming, posture, and appropriateness of clothing,” which seems pretty petty compared to the merit badges Boy Scouts were earning around the same time for more important topics like aviation and conservation.
2. Folk Dancing
While there isn’t a lot of information out there regarding which specific dances Girl Scouts needed to master to earn this badge, the Folk Dancing badge was one of the most popular honors when the Cadette level of Girl Scouting was born in 1963. By the time the 1970s rolled around, however, it was essentially obsolete . It also happens to be one of the rarest and most highly sought after collectible badges on the planet (you can find them on eBay for about $4 a pop).
With a badge sporting a vintage lute, music-loving Cadette Girl Scouts who managed to learn three traditional American folk songs, three popular folk songs popular from other countries, two art songs (vocals sung with piano accompaniment), and two songs featuring complicated melodies could earn this now-popular collectible from 1929 to 1980.
4. Invalid Cooking
The Invalid Cooking badge was one of the original 27 proficiency badges listed in the early days of the Girl Scouts. Between 1918 and 1920, it was bestowed upon Scouts who could make foods that would provide basic nourishment—like gruel, milk toast, barley water, beef tea, chicken jelly, clam or oyster soup, and a complicated fermented dairy product called kumyss—and keep people alive even if they weren’t able to digest much.
Among other badge-earning opportunities geared toward everyday female activities—although, to their credit, there was a Boy Scout equivalent in the form of the Laundry Man merit badge—Girl Scouts were rewarded with a badge for learning popular homemaker activities like washing, ironing, and starching blouses, softening hard water, using starch and soap properly, and pressing skirts.
While the idea of this badge may automatically conjure up scenes of colonization and imperialism in the Wild West, earning the Pioneer badge had more to do with survival camping when it was introduced in 1913. Included among the skills girls had to learn were how to how to build a rudimentary shelter, tie six knots, construct a fire, cook basic meals, find and purify water, and use an axe, saw, and hatchet. Its original design, which was available until 1938, featured two crossed axes, while later versions depicted a Native American teepee. These Intermediate and Cadette Proficiency badges were officially retired in 1980.
7. Dairy Maid
Farmwork was a large part of life for many early Girl Scouts of all ages. As a result, they had a chance to earn the Dairy Maid proficiency badge from 1913 to 1918 for completing tasks like churning butter, testing samples of cow’s milk with a sulfuric acid substance via the Babcock Test, cleaning pans and utensils used to milk cows, and—among other reality checks—raising, killing, and serving poultry.
8. Matron Housekeeper
As a way to prepare young girls for what were sure to become everyday duties and expectations as a homemaker, the Matron Housekeeper badge was awarded to Girl Scouts who learned to wash windows, vacuum, polish and stain hardwood floors, properly clean dishes, and polish silverware. Available from 1913 to 1918, badge recipients were also required to learn about various types of meat, seafood, and game and how much they cost; keeping track of seasonal produce, so they'd always know when fruits and veggies were at their ripest; knowing how to measure and purchase flour, sugar, cereal and rice; and preparing the kitchen and home for the rest of the family.
Introduced in 1963 and offered until 1980, the Gypsy badge, which pictured a hobo-like rucksack stuck to a pole, was all about leading full-day hikes. Junior-level girls were expected to plan a safe route, carry enough food to cook for themselves and any accompanying girls, build a fire, dress appropriately, and carry the right tools—which, for these purposes, meant a rope, bandana, and the correct eating utensils. Singing hiking songs, knowing emergency first aid, tying knots, navigating with a compass, and handling a knife were also necessary, as was teaching others a game to play as you hiked.
10. Oil Up
This badly-named badge, which was introduced in the early 2000s and retired in 2011, aimed to teach Juniors about the horrors of oil spills, including what happens to wildlife and what it’s like to be a scientist or rescue worker charged with cleaning them up. While most requirements focused on fossils, tracking the number of petroleum-derived products in a week, and learning about the language and culture of people living in oil-producing areas around the world, a major component was actually creating your own oil spill by pouring vegetable oil into a pan of water with sand and wooden objects (to recreate a beach scene) and trying to remove it with a string, spoon, and by soaking it up with paper towels and cotton balls.
11. Law & Order
This Cadette and Senior level interest project award, initiated in 1997 and phased out in 2011, required Girl Scouts to investigate the ins and outs of law enforcement by interviewing police officers, hosting crime-and-justice-themed slumber parties, and holding mock trials based on issues that affect teens, among other in-depth assessments and activities. Investigating lawsuits regarding students and learning about polygraph tests, DNA testing, and fingerprinting were also listed as optional requirements needed to earn this oddly serious Girl Scouts badge.