Girls Go Scouting: the Bee-Hive Girls and Pioneer Girls

By October 14, 2013

As part of our monthly series on childhood and youth, I asked a colleague from Michigan State University Rebecca A. Koerselman to co-author a post with me. Rebecca received her Ph.D. in history from MSU where she wrote her dissertation on the construction of evangelical identity through youth and summer camps in the post world war II era. Now she lives in Shawnee, OK where she teaches in the history department at Oklahoma Baptist University and in her words ?lives the dream.?  Over the years, we have had many conversations about how Evangelical and Mormon adults, despite religious differences, had similar concerns and reactions to fears about how each group?s youngest members would subsume and maintain their religious identities, and, in turn, guarantee the future of these religious traditions.

One specific way that both Mormons and Evangelicals[1] contended with their fears about the maintenance of their religion through the next generations was to offer wholesome leisure and recreation opportunities for young children. These programs were usually tailored toward the assumed specific needs of each gender. For the purposes of this blog post, we will examine the development of scouting oriented programs for young women.  A comparative examination of the ways that Mormons and Evangelicals encouraged appropriation of proper gender roles through these scouting programs reveals how each religious tradition attempted to achieve the same goal of engaging their youngest adherents. Adult religious leaders did not just promote and develop their own youth programs as a means of offering wholesome entertainment, but they believed that these programs were vital toward the perpetuation of new generations of believers.

In 1909, Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, began the Girl Guides movement in England. Many scouting oriented programs can trace their history back to the development of these groups.[2] After the establishment of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910, two new groups aimed at girls were founded: The Camp Fire Girls (1911) and the Girl Guides of the United States (1912). A controversy arose when the American Girl Guides wished to change their name to the Girl Scouts, a name they believed was more representative of their ?pioneer heritage.? The Chief Boy Scout Executive James E. West expressed outrage at the name change as he believed that associating the term girls with scouts ?sissified? and ?trivialized? the group for young men and would decrease the membership.[3] This, of course, was not the case as memberships for each group skyrocketed. Despite the name change, the Girls Scouts (and the Campfire Girls) still focused on domestic skill within the realm of out-of-doors activities and did not attempt to transform gender roles.

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 1.19.10 AMIn 1913, after the Young Ladies? Mutual Improvement Association learned of the parallel projects happening in England and the U.S., the Ensign Stake Y.L.M.IA. incorporated some Camp Fire Girl activities and the Box Elder Y.L.M.IA. used some aspects of the Girl Guides? activities. After communicating with Dr. Luther H. Gulick, the founder of the Camp Fire Girls, the Church cited a variety of reasons (mostly due to the multitude of work required by the Stake and General Boards to oversee all of the activities throughout the year) that it was not going to  become officially involved in the group. This decision did not lead to bitter feelings. Once when a representative of the Bee-Hive committee visited Dr. Gulick, the representative reported that Dr. Gulick had welcomed him as a brother and was ?not jealous that they had not traveled in the same trail.? [4]

Though the Y.L.M.I.A. regularly acknowledged their debt to these other groups, the Y.L.M.I.A went to extra lengths to stress the Mormon-ness of their scouting group for girls.[5] First and foremost, the adoption of the name Bee-Hive Girls emphasized the church and state?s long history used of the beehive as a symbol to exemplify how industrious church members were. One part of the program was for young women to accomplish several tasks and lessons in various fields chosen by the leaders (Religion, Home, Health, Domestic Arts, Out of Doors, Business, and Public service). Young women had over three hundred tasks to choose from. Many of these such as ?Know what do for a person whose clothing is on fire? or ?Every day for a month take a walk out of doors? were not at all particularly Mormon and fit with larger trends about the importance of being-out-of-doors for children. However, other tasks, particularly in the Religion field, drew attention to the ways in which the older generations aimed to inculcate Mormon values in young women.

The Young Woman?s Journal included monthly Bee-Hive Girls lessons throughout the year. It also regularly reported on the activities of progress and activities of Beehive groups in different stakes.  One column about the Bee-Hive Girls reported on the Awards for the Summer Activities of 1925 for the Utah Stake.[6] One young woman, Hazel Fillmore of the Provo Fifth Ward, remarked that ?In the field of Religion I have learned a great deal about my Church, especially some things about how it differs from other religions. This I feel is a great thing to know. Also about pre-existence, the value of being married in the Temple and many other things which strengthened my faith.? [7] Another young woman of the Provo Third Ward acknowledged that the Beehive girl program ?cultivated? a young woman ?until she blooms, then to become the mother of the girls of tomorrow.?[8]  The lesson to young Mormon women was clear: marriage and motherhood was not only central toward their own Mormon identities but also to both the temporal and eternal future of the Mormonism.

The Pioneer Girls Clubs and camping programs, established in the 1940s by a group of women at Wheaton College,[9]  grew out of an exponential blossoming of Evangelical clubs in the postwar era. Many evangelical summer camps found their roots in the 1940s and 1950s as evangelicals connected the importance of summer camp with conversion, training, and discipleship of American youth for the purpose of grooming the next generation of evangelical leadership. The rise of these summer camps corresponded with the postwar context of an expanding middle class interested in new ideas of ?proper? parenting and ways to encourage ?meaningful play? in their children.  In the thriving economic era following World War II, more Americans understood their role as parents to include character-building and religious experiences through summer camps.  Notably, evangelical leadership viewed this newly distinctive group, teenagers, as the ideal opportunity to recreate and redefine their postwar image.  Both parachurch organizations and churches underscored the need for intervention in this postwar youth generation and created clubs, groups, and summer camps in order to train and inculcate evangelical values in American youth.

The Pioneer Girls emphasized the training of believers as well as the saving and teaching of non-believers, foreign missionwork, and biblical study and memorization.  Their brochure  stated the purpose of the Pioneer Girls:

TO WIN girls to a personal knowledge of Christ as Saviour.  TO BUILD them spiritually through experiences which encourage good habits of Christian living and lead toward Christian maturity.  TO DEVELOP in girls well-rounded lives and gracious Christ-centered personalities.  TO TRAIN them in effective Christian leadership and service.[10]

Camp Cherith (KEE rith), the Pioneer Girls camping program, underlined the importance of teaching girls leadership skills to use in the evangelical church and wider community. While at the same time instilling ?feminine? qualities and skills that corresponded with domestic work, the Pioneer Girls also professed a commitment to evangelical leadership training for women.  As the historian Timothy Larsen notes, ?for Pioneer Girls in mid-twentieth century America, being ?Career Girls? was not a term of suspicion or disapproval, but rather an option in life to which girls were explicitly invited to aspire.?[11]

kcpion66The story of Joan Killilea  illustrates the impact of a program like Pioneer Girls in encouraging young evangelical women to pursue careers in ministry.  Her encounter with the Pioneer Girls and experiences at summer camp resulted in a conversion experience that changed Killilea?s values, interests, and life goals.  Killilea who grew up Catholic, and lost her father at an early age, envisioned a happier future: ?When I finish high school, I?ll get a good job and earn lots of money.  Then I?ll buy all the things I want?pretty clothes, a car, a home of my own.? [12] In 1952, She was also invited to work as a counselor at Camp Cherith along with the two friends who got her interested in learning more about the evangelical faith.[13]  In the months following her experience at camp, Killilea eventually made a decision to convert and set out to discover what plans God had for her life.  ?I knew the night I received Christ that it didn?t mean giving the Lord Jesus first place in my life, but it meant giving Him my life completely, for him to do with it whatever He wanted.?[14] As an active member of the Pioneer Girls, she also helped in teaching Sunday School and joined a young adult group at a local evangelical church.  Her biographer even noted that Killilea may have even had the opportunity to date and marry, but she ?had her eyes fixed on another goal.?[15] Due to her experience at Camp Cherith, she decided to attend Columbia Bible College because it had a graduate program in missions, as it would help her prepare for the mission field.[16]

Killilea?s story, published as a biography by the Pioneer Girls, exemplifies the desire of the PG to nurture and promote successful evangelical women with careers in ministry. The PG considered her a role model to emulate and Killilea?s biographer noted that many PG became Christians and entered the ministry as a career because of Killilea.  Most of the directors and leadership of the Pioneer Girls were single women who, in the 1950s, allowed women to ?envision a life of singleness or a career outside of being a housewife and mother.?[17] The Pioneer Girls did not explicitly encourage women to remain single, but it did encourage young postwar girls to pursue God?s work, whether through marriage and family, part time work, or through full time ministry.  The emphasis was on answering God?s call, not the social appropriateness of the work God called these women to do.  The Pioneer Girls provide a useful complication to the traditional historiography of the postwar period as a period that primary emphasized careers of motherhood, even if the PG themselves did not envision themselves as actively pushing gendered assumptions about women and work in postwar America.

Even though the Bee-Hive Girls and Pioneer Girls may have inspired different life goals for their young members at the time of their foundings, they shared the same goal of affirming and reenergizing these young women?s religious beliefs and identities. Both groups also aimed to encourage their young women to take up work that was suited to their gender and would guarantee the future propagation of their religious tradition whether through marriage and motherhood or finding work as ?career women? in the mission field.


[1] Using the definition of Evangelical by David Bebbington, which described the central authority of the Bible, the doctrine of the cross, a conversion experience, and an emphasis on activism, in The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody (Downer?s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005).

[2] For more information on Mormon adaptation of Boy Scouts see Richard Kimball, Sports in Zion: Mormon Recreation, 1890-1940 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 134-145.

[3] Mary Aikin Rothschild, ?To Scout or To Guide? The Girl Scout- Boy Scout Controversy, 1912 ? 1941,? Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies Vol. 6, No. 3 (Autumn, 1981):  116-118

[4] Charlotte Stewart, ?Bee-Hive Girls and Campfire Girls,? Young Woman?s Journal (August 1918): 202.

[5]  Handbook for the Bee-Hive Girls of the Y.L.M.I.A. (Salt Lake City: The General Board of the Young Ladies? Mutual Improvement Association, 1915), 4.

[6] The worker?s pin was awarded to the young woman who ranked the highest in completion of tasks.

[7] ?Bee-Hive Girls,? Young Woman?s Journal (June 1925), 380.

[8] ?Bee-Hive Girls,? 381.

[9] Wheaton College is one of the foremost evangelical liberal arts college institutions and is located in Wheaton, IL.  A number of female students at Wheaton decided to begin their own program especially for girls because a program already existed for the boys. For more information, see

[10] Pioneer Girls brochure, undated, Billy Graham Center Archives.

[11] Timothy Larsen, ?Pioneer Girls: Mid-Twentieth-Century American Evangelicalism?s Girl Scouts,? The Asbury Journal 2008, 70.

[12] Virginia Anderson, Restless Redhead and God (Wheaton, IL: Pioneer Girls, 1968), 20.

[13] Anderson, 41.  Joan told her work supervisor she was concerned about working at a Protestant camp as a Catholic.  Her work supervisor recommended talking to a priest, which she did.  The priest informed her it was okay as long as she did not ?join in the singing or give any contributions.  So Joan felt she could come to camp with a clear conscience as far as her church was concerned.? 41.

[14] Anderson, 52.

[15] Anderson, 52.

[16] Anderson, 58.  Anderson noted that Dean Petty ?recognized Joan?s potential.  She realized that Joan?s stubbornness and tenacity, when properly tempered, would be valuable qualities in missionary work, where persistence and perseverance are sorely needed in times of difficulty and discouragement,? 63.

[17] Larsen, 69.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. It is fascinating and illuminating to think about the interplay of different generations and the efforts of the adult generation to impress certain values and habitus on their children. What intrigues me even more is when peoples of different communities and value systems struggle over the education and upbringing of children/youth especially in colonial relationships. I know that Navajos often participated in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in boarding schools and LDS Navajos were certainly introduced to and participated in such programs. While such youth programs taught about certain gender roles, values, and expectations, they also conveyed certain messages about American identity and national character often using or referring to American Indian images. Philip Deloria highlights and analyzes such examples in his Playing Indian (1998). I know, for example, Boy Scouts still have “powwows” and non-Indian scout leaders will dress in “Indian costume” and wear a headdress for pack meetings when presenting honors such as the “Arrow of Light.” Deloria examines how such instances of “playing Indian” shape/reflect American identity. I wonder how LDS youth, in particular, are affected considering past common Mormon beliefs of Lamanites as Indians, and I am also curious about how such programs and “playing Indian” affects Native American youth who participate in them. Great piece and thanks for prompting such thoughts and ideas.

    Comment by Farina — October 14, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

  2. Great post, Natalie and Rebecca! Like Farina, I wonder about the role of Boy and Girl Scout to shape not only gendered religious norms, but also racialized religious identity. It’s still a common perception that the scouting program “preserves” the beliefs and practices of “disappearing Indians.”

    Comment by David G. — October 14, 2013 @ 6:04 pm

  3. These are excellent points and questions! I know Rebecca wrote about this more explicitly in her dissertation: how different camps would just use Indian terms, etc in parts of their camps.

    I will definitely be thinking a lot about these questions as I delve into my next chapter of writing which includes an examination of the Beehive girls and other leisure and recreation programs. I know I have come across some usage of what Deloria refers to in various handbooks and some YWJ articles. I have to unpack this a lot more.

    Also, thanks for the great questions. They are helpful for research.

    Comment by Natalie R — October 14, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

  4. A fascinating and timely post as the LDS Church celebrates 100 years of (boy) scouting this month. Thanks, Rebecca and Natalie.

    Comment by Christopher — October 14, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

  5. The Church History Museum has two temporary exhibits commemorating the centennial, Chris.

    Comment by David G. — October 14, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

  6. Wow! Lots to think about here. Thanks for this, Rebecca!

    Comment by J Stuart — October 14, 2013 @ 8:55 pm

  7. This is very interesting. I’ve been working on the biography of Ella Bywater Valentine, and helping establish the Bee Hive Girls in Germany in the 1920s was one of her proudest accomplishments, right up there with being the first woman dentist in Utah.

    Also, I teach the Beehives at Church. Different age range, since they’re 12 and 13 years old, but they still love hearing bits about how the program was run a century ago.

    Comment by Amy T — October 15, 2013 @ 9:02 am


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