Told by Council Historian, Christine A. Caragher
A friend of mine is a Daisy leader and is now getting the troop ready for their bridging ceremony. This event has inspired me to look back on the tradition of becoming a Brownie and share a bit about the Brownie Program and its origins.
At the beginning of Girl Scouting, there were only Girl Scouts, which started at age 11. Only one complication: the Girl Scouts were often responsible for their little sisters, as they often had to babysit the little ones. To solve this problem, the first official Brownie Program was created.
The program and its principles were inspired by the children’s book, The Brownies by Julia Horatia Ewing. In the book, the Brownie is a quiet, clever fairy helper who helps the mortals in their homes by doing “good turns.” Early Brownies had traditions like making a Brownie Promise and being “obedient and helpful to other people, especially those at home.” They had a motto: “Be Prepared,” and a cry: “L. A. H.” which stood for “Lend A Hand.” The Brownies became little versions of their big sister Girl Scouts. They also went by the nickname “Junior Scouts.”
The leaders were lovingly called Brown Owl and Tawney Owl. The leaders had a guidebook, The Brown Book for Brown Owls. (Note: the council historians have this book in our collection. You may request to see it. You may request any book in the collection if you ask by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org)
Only Brownie Girl Scout leaders had a handbook titled Leader’s Guide to the Brownie Scout Program. Some topics were: Service Brownie Scouts Can Give, The Brownie Song, Brownie Scout Troop’s Own Special Days, Suggested Activities for Brownie Scouts in the Outdoors – Three Years of Progressive Activities, and lots more! The handbook also included tests and requirements to lead the Brownies to awards and become Girl Scouts!
It was not until 1951 that Brownies got their handbook. It was titled Brownie Scout Handbook. The book was all about Girl Scouts and traditions, and, in those days, a girl had to attend four meetings, pay $1.00 for national membership dues, and recite the Brownie Promise before becoming an official Brownie.
I became a Brownie in 1957, and we still used the 1951 handbook. My mom was one of the troop leaders. We had a huge troop and three leaders. It was great! I went through Girl Scouts until I reached Cadettes in 1962. I later became my two daughters’ Girl Scout leader until they became Seniors. And now, I am a Girl Scout historian! Thanks, Mom!
Today, the Daisy Program starts in kindergarten, and when Daisies reach second grade, they can become Brownies through a special bridging ceremony.
You may be wondering: what is a bridging ceremony?
A bridging ceremony is when troop members, volunteers, and family gather to recognize those who are ready to move up a level in Girl Scouting. They are a time to reflect on the past and look toward the future with confidence, courage, and character.
Bridging ceremonies happen between all levels of Girl Scouts. Each level of the bridging ceremony is unique, but all ceremonies are a key part of the life of a Girl Scout.
For a bridging to Brownie ceremony, the words are special. The ceremony relates to the same children’s book that the Brownie Program was inspired by.
The leader states, “To prepare for bridging today, our troop read “The Brownie Story,” a story about girls who went to a forest in search of “very helpful persons” called Brownies. There they met a wise old owl who told them that they could find the Brownie if they looked upon the magic pond and finished a magic rhyme. Now we, too, will perform a little magic. I’d like to call all new Brownies to stand around the magic pond and listen carefully while I read this poem.
Cross your little fingers, stand up on your toes,
That’s a bit of magic that every Brownie knows.
Now we all are standing inside a forest glade,
Listen very carefully; see the magic made.
And tucked inside this great big wood,
You’ll find a pond that’s pure and good.
Then turn yourself around three times,
Gaze into the pond; complete the rhyme.”
One at a time, each new Brownie walks to the pond and is met by a co-leader or helper who turns her in a circle while the Girl Scout says, “Twist me and turn me and show me the Elf; I looked in the water and saw myself!” The Girl Scout then receives a Brownie Membership Pin pinned upside down and returns to her fellow Girl Scouts. The leader explains that Girl Scouts must perform three good deeds for their family for their pin to be turned right side up.
After the three good deeds are done, the Girl Scout is now ready for new adventures, new badges, new skills to learn, and new trails to blaze as an official Girl Scout Brownie.