• Cindy Zampa


Legacy of Agnes Baden-Powell

“…girls must be partners, comrades, rather than dolls.”

My stomach felt a bit queasy. Hmm…what did I eat last? Oh yeah. About half a box of girl guide cookies. Groan. I promise myself every year that I’ll ration them, but something primeval takes over whenever I get a fresh box. I can’t seem to help myself.

This LEGACY 52 project makes me curious about many things I’ve previously taken for granted. This year’s cookie caper, for example, made me ask, “Who made the first girl guide cookie?” In turn, that sparked an interest in the roots of the scouting movement in general. “Whose legacy is it,” I wondered, “that lives on today in the form of this world-wide, do-good organization, and that annually sells the cookies I over-indulge in?”

My childhood did not allow me to be part of a pack or troop, so I started this research with very limited knowledge. I soon learned Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts in 1908. At the first Boy Scout rally, in 1909, thousands of boys gathered in London, and it was stormed by hundreds of girls, demanding to participate in the organization as well!

Although supportive of the girls’ initiative, Baden-Powell’s efforts to create a separate organization for them was met with resistance. Victorian morals were tested by the prospect of girls participating in activities deemed ‘unladylike’. Robert’s younger sister, Agnes, who was by then in her 50s, finally agreed to act as organizer. Agnes and Robert adapted the guide 'Scouting for Boys', into a girl’s version titled 'The Handbook for Girl Guides or How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire.' (Cue dramatic trumpet score.)

Some websites incorrectly credit Olave Baden-Powell, Robert’s wife, for establishing the female version of the scouting movement. While Olave did assume the position of Chief Leader years after the association was formed, it appears there was little love lost between Agnes and Olave. Agnes is buried in the family grave, but her name is not on the monument. Some have white-washed Agnes out of history altogether.

In my painting, I chose to put the portrait of her in an elegant Victorian styled glass frame, as befitting a lady of strength, courage, and class. I'm sure her character and lady-like sensibilities would prevent her from over-indulging in cookies.

Fun facts:

Girl guide cookies were invented on the Canadian prairies to raise funds.

Roberta Bondar, a Canadian astronaut, juggled girl guide cookies in space.

Canadian soldiers arriving in Kabul were given a box of girl guide cookies.

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