UBC Graduate Research

Girl Guides and Progressive Education in British Columbia, 1910-1950 Scharf-Way, Caitlin


Canadian society experienced significant changes from the beginning of the twentieth century, with shifting perceptions of the role of the family, the meaning of childhood, the improvement of health, and definitions of Canadian citizenship. The aims and objectives of the Girl Guide organization in British Columbia, from its inception in 1910, reflected the concerns of Canadians. By providing character training for young girls, the organization’s intention was to mold women, wives, and mothers of the future as useful, loyal citizens. Within the same period, progressive thoughts on education began to take root in Canadian school systems, as the federal government became involved in educational reform, and curriculum changes occurred across all provinces. The Survey of the School System (Putman-Weir Report) in 1925, and the curriculum revisions of 1936 and 1937 in British Columbia reflected themes of ‘child-centredness,’ development of the whole child (inside and out), ‘learning by doing,’ and preparation for future living as Canadian citizens, which characterized the ‘new education’ in British Columbia. This study used archival research to examine tenets of progressivism within the rhetoric and practice of the British Columbia Girl Guides. Guide leaders were committed to a child- centred program dedicated to the interests and needs of the girls, using activities to teach important lessons relating to female character. The leaders were often children themselves or were previously trained as girls to assume leadership positions as adults. Simultaneously, the Girl Guides offered a sense of discipline and order through militarism and included an administrative hierarchy of women which reflected principles of industry found within a social efficiency view of Canadian education. This included a program dedicated to preparing children for future vocations through badges, testing, and projects. Studying the Girl Guides illuminates the multiple ways in which Girl Guides shaped the identities of British Columbia girls as citizens, gave girls responsibility for their own educational opportunities, and provided women the authority to impact the lives of others in their communities without overstepping gender boundaries. With the proclaimed ‘death’ of progressive education in schools by 1950, and the change of leadership and programs in the Girl Guides at the same time, the face of education transformed at the school and community level.

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