The White House announced today that President Obama is posthumously awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the founder of Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, recognizes individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”.
“Juliette Gordon Low was a visionary, whose legacy lives on in the 59 million American women who have been part of Girl Scouting at some point in their lives,” said Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. “She believed that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally and spiritually, and in founding the Girl Scouts in 1912, she made an indelible and enduring contribution to the lives of girls and to our nation. It is so fitting that on our 100th anniversary, she should be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
From the beginning, the Girl Scouts has insisted on being a voice for all girls. Juliette Gordon Low’s first 18 Girl Scouts included girls from influential Savannah families, as well as girls from the Female Orphan Asylum and Congregation Mickve Israel. As early as 1917 the first African-American troops were established, as well as troops for disabled girls. One of the earliest Latina troops was formed in 1922; Girl Scout troops supported Japanese-American girls in internment camps in the 1940s, and by the 1950s, Girl Scouts was leading the charge to fully integrate all of its troops. In 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Girl Scouts “a force for desegregation.”
Low’s exemplary life, work, and legacy have received many forms of recognition in the past. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill authorizing a stamp in honor of Low. On October 28, 1979, Low was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and on December 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill naming a new federal building in Savannah in honor of her. It was the second federal building in history to be named after a woman. A bust of Low is displayed in the State Capitol of Georgia.
In receiving The Presidential Medal of Freedom, Low joins the ranks of Frances Hesselbein, who in 1998 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with the Girl Scouts of the USA. Hesselbein served as the CEO for the Girl Scouts of the USA, and is credited with increasing minority membership and establishing the Daisy Scout program for the youngest girls accepted into Girl Scouts.