STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
On a Friday, it's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
Hard to imagine all these people as members of the same club, yet Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Lucille Ball and the pop singer Fergie were all at one time Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts. Founded 100 years ago in Savannah, Georgia, the Girl Scouts now count more than three million members. NPR's Tovia Smith looks at how the Scouts have changed.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It's become as much an American tradition as apple pie.
BILL HARTMAN: One Samoa and one thin mint, please.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: That'll be $8, please.
SMITH: A gaggle of Girl Scouts at a busy intersection in Brookline, Massachusetts collects cash for cookies.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: They're really, really good.
SMITH: From grown ups like 45-year-old Bill Hartman.
HARTMAN: Seeing cookies come out is a warm feeling, and I guess that makes people smile.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Thank you for supporting the Girl Scouts.
SMITH: Oh, always. I was a Girl Scout myself.
Generations of girls grew up in those green uniforms, making memories with cookies, crafts and campfires.
(SOUNDBITE OF GIRL SCOUT FILM)
SMITH: A 1950s Girl Scout film shows girls in long skirts and white gloves learning about the wilderness.
(SOUNDBITE OF GIRL SCOUT FILM)
SMITH: But not everyone approved, as 57-year-old Linda Papatopali will tell you.
LINDA PAPATOPALI: I wanted to be a Girl Scout, and my mother wouldn't let me. She didn't want me to go camping. To her, that wasn't femininity.
SMITH: Today, Girl Scouts are still all about blazing new trails. But the frontier has changed.
ELIZABETH HUEBNER: This one was for math. This one was for camera skills. This one...
SMITH: Eleven-year-old Elizabeth Huebner has earned far more badges for science than sewing.
How much is that?
HUEBNER: Eight dollars.
SMITH: And she'll get math badges for everything from counting money to financing college. The Girl Scouts say they're continuing an old tradition of being untraditional.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: About Juliette Gordon Low.
SMITH: At a meeting of Troop 65343, two Brownies show off the collage they made about the Girl Scouts founder, who was trailblazing just by getting girls out from their isolation at home.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: This is the first troop, and this is Juliette as young woman.
SMITH: At a time when American women still couldn't even vote, Low was offering girls badges for aviation and inviting them to play basketball in their bloomers. Low was unhappily married and would have divorced her philandering husband if he hadn't died first.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SMITH: Showing a bit of the same verve as their founder, these Brownies have titled one picture, "Low and Her Bum Husband."
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Show Sammy, show Sammy.
SMITH: Being honest, after all, is part of the Girl Scout law.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country.
SMITH: It's one thing that's changed very little in the past century.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: ...to live by the Girl Scout law.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: The motto...
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Be prepared.
SMITH: You can be prepared for anything. But this is exhausting, and my hands are frozen.
Back out at the cookie table, the sun gets close to setting, and the tough get going.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Come on. You know you want some. Come on.
SMITH: All right. I'm going to have three cinnamons, please...
No coincidence, Girl Scouts say, that most women who end up CEOs - or, for that matter, congresswomen or astronauts - started out as Girl Scouts. But enrollment has declined since the '80s. A makeover and a new focus on minority and immigrant communities have helped some. Today, there are troops in far-flung rural areas, troops in housing projects and troops for girls with parents in prison. As a spokesperson put it: If you're a girl, we want you.
Last year, when a transgender seven-year-old joined a Colorado troop, some assailed the Girl Scouts as radical and called for a cookie boycott, but not here.
Good luck, girls.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Four boxes left.
SMITH: By dinnertime, they're still unwilling to quit.
Here you go. Get moving.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COTTON-EYED JOE")
SMITH: 11-year-old Elizabeth starts dancing, and within minutes...
HUEBNER: Woo-hoo! Sold out.
SMITH: These girls really have learned to believe they can do anything.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: If we're still alive, we'll do another story for the 200th anniversary.
SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.