Rebecca Wright was on a Zoom call when she found out she’d be part of the inaugural class of young women to become Eagle Scouts.
While she sat at her computer in Wisconsin, her parents and older brother were in a virtual waiting room in Nebraska. They were all pulled in to celebrate the accomplishment, one that’s been given to only a small percentage of Boy Scouts since 1912, when the first Eagle Scout was named.
As the highest honor available within the Boy Scouts of America, it’s one that was traditionally reserved exclusively for young men and boys. Then, in 2017, BSA announced that young women would be permitted to participate in a wider array of the organization’s programs, including being able to achieve Eagle Scout status. (At the time, Girl Scouts of the USA, which has its own high-ranking honor system, said the move was “reckless” and undercut the work being done by their organization.)
BSA’s decision to open up the high-ranking program led young women such as Wright, 18, to be part of nearly 1,000 others who made history. To achieve the honor, Scouts must fulfill a number of requirements.
“I’m just really proud of myself to have earned Eagle” status, she said. “I earned 102 merit badges, which is super cool. It represents what’s possible for every single Scout, not just girls in the organization.”
BSA celebrated its latest group of Eagle Scouts in a virtual event on Sunday, during which notable women such as CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell and marine scientist and photographer Gaelin Rosenwaks congratulated the young women.
The organization has long had some select coed options outside its flagship Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs, including Sea Scouts and Venturing, both of which are billed as “character-building.” According to BSA, 140,000 girls and young women have joined Cub Scouts (for ages 5-10) and Scouts BSA (for ages 11-17) since those programs became available to them, which occurred in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
But the decision to expand what girls are eligible for came after years of family requests, a spokesperson for Boy Scouts of America said in a statement.
After facing declining membership, the organization has made moves in the past decade toward becoming more inclusive. In 2013, BSA began allowing openly gay youth to participate in its programs and later decided to permit transgender boys to enroll. Openly gay adults were approved to be Scout leaders in 2015.
The changes in policies have rolled out against a tide of lawsuits and sex abuse claims that forced the more than century-old organization to file for bankruptcy early last year. After more than 95,000 people filed sex abuse claims, they said it may no longer have the cash to continue operating.
The controversy that has plagued the organization doesn’t deter Megan Wright, Rebecca’s mom, who is a Scoutmaster for her daughter’s troop.
“The values that are set out in Scout Oath and Law are just basic core principles and how to be a good person,” she said. “Being able to reinforce those principles and watch the older girls mentor the younger girls is just wonderful.”
Rebecca, who is an aspiring genetic researcher in her first year at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, says Boy Scouts provided adventure and community for her.
The ability to wield a knife or build a fire was an attractive aspect of the organization for 18-year-old Texas Christian University freshman Arianna Rochelle Miller, who is studying political science.
Miller said that once the announcement was made, she worked to cram in all the requirements to reach Eagle status before she could age out.
Young women like her should have been allowed to reach one of the ultimate honors in the organization a long time ago, she says, but she hopes that being among the first women to become an Eagle Scout will send a message.
“If I can say anything to young girls, I’d say, ‘Go for it,’” she said. “You can make so many new friends and learn so many new skills.”