From cookies to Congress: More than half the women elected to the 116th Congress were Girl Scouts

Young women who participate in Girl Scouts leave with more than just a green vest, some hard-earned badges and a knack for driving cookie sales. Girl Scouts have a track record of growing up to become leaders — especially in Congress. According to Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., 60 percent of the women elected to Congress during the historic 2018 midterm elections are Girl Scout alums. Among those elected who promised to live by the Girl Scout Law are representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes, as well as the reelected Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Additionally, five of the nine newly elected female governors are also former Girl Scouts, including Laura Kelly of Kansas, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.

“We don’t think it’s a coincidence that the majority of women in the 116th Congress, and the majority of female political leaders in Congress from nearly the past decade, were once Girl Scouts,” says Alice Hockenbury, vice president of public policy and advocacy for Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.Girl Scouts offers a powerful program for girls to have leadership opportunities, build confidence, take risks, learn from failures and so much more — all of which is essential when running for office and taking on those positions of power.

According to Hockenbury, civic engagement has been a core focus of the organizations since its founding more than a century ago. Girl Scouts can earn civic-engagement-related accolades like the Inside Government for Juniors badge and the Public Policy for Ambassadors badge. The organization even launched G.I.R.L. Agenda Powered by Girl Scouts, a “nonpartisan initiative to inspire, prepare and mobilize girls and those who care about them to lead positive change through civic action,” says Hockenbury.

On the state level, one former Girl Scout, Cassandra Levesque, was elected to New Hampshire’s state legislature at only 19 — a state in which the average age of state legislators was 66.

“I think people are a little bit surprised because when they think of someone running for office, they think of someone older. They don’t think I’ll take it seriously,” says Levesque.

However, Levesque credits the Girl Scouts for the skills and confidence that will help her succeed in office in spite of her youth.

“Having been in Girl Scouts all the way through helped me become a leader and make my confidence even greater,” says Levesque, the youngest female representative in the state’s House of Representatives. “I was always taught that I can do anything that I set my mind to in Girl Scouts.”

While beating out five other candidates for a seat at New Hampshire’s state legislature as a college freshman alone is an impressive feat, this wouldn’t be the first time that Levesque achieved something with sheer determination.

The Democratic member-elect has already rewritten child marriage legislation in her state after learning about the archaic laws at a Girl Scouts conference in Rhode Island in 2015. She later discovered that New Hampshire’s laws allowed girls as young as 13 and boys who are 14 to be married with the consent of a judge.

Cassandra Levesque, Democratic member-elect of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, drafted and passed child-marriage legislation in her home state earlier this year. (Photo: Girl Scouts of USA)
Cassandra Levesque, Democratic member-elect of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, drafted and passed child-marriage legislation in her home state earlier this year. (Photo: Girl Scouts of USA)

“They’re just entering their teenage years, going into puberty, just discovering things about themselves. They’re not ready to discover marriage,” Levesque told CBS Boston at the time.

Levesque confronted pushback to repeal the law from older male state legislators who called her efforts “a request from a minor doing a Girl Scout project.” However, with the help of local female representatives and Girl Scout leaders, Levesque pressed forward and was finally able to get a bill passed that raised the minimum marrying age in the New England state to 16.

After experiencing success passing her child-marriage bill and seeing an unprecedented number of women running for office at all levels, Levesque was inspired to run for state office in November.

“It feels really good that I am part of this movement,” says Levesque, who will now juggle holding a political office with a freshman-year course load at Southern Hampshire University and leading Girl Scout Troop 1204. “I’m very proud that there are so many young women stepping up for office and getting elected. We’re all going to make a huge difference.”

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