The Girl Scouts came to Tennessee as word of the movement spread across the United States during World War I. Individual, or lone troops, unaffiliated with any council, established independently in Tennessee cities during this era of patriotic fervor. Girls wore military-like khaki uniforms, and troop activities included marching and drilling. A group of Memphis girls promoted the establishment of the city's first troop in 1916. The first Knoxville troop was organized in 1917 but did not affiliate with the national organization. Troops were organized in Chattanooga at the Pilgrim Congregational Church, the Bonny Oaks School, and the Standard Coosa Thatcher School. The Sunflower Troop of Morristown registered as a lone troop in 1917 and assisted at the canteen for World War I troop trains passing through the city. The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) sponsored the first Nashville troops. The YWCA organized in public schools and established a leadership training course for volunteer troop leaders. Nashville troops did not affiliate with a council, which served as a regional organization officially affiliated with the national Girl Scouts office, but paid national dues and purchased uniforms, handbooks, and other materials from the national Girl Scout office. In 1920 the Nashville YWCA discontinued its sponsorship of Girl Scouting, citing costs as the reason for their decision. They replaced scouting with Girl Reserves, a national YWCA program.
After the initial enthusiasm, scouting declined in Tennessee, in part as the result of the lack of a regional or statewide organization of troops. In Knoxville, however, the Knoxville Community Service Council obtained a charter from the national organization in 1922 for the Knoxville Girl Scout Council, Tennessee's first council. Chattanooga established a council in 1926 and began organizing troops across the city. By the fall of 1927 there were at least eight lone troops in Nashville. That year, troop leaders met and applied for a charter for Nashville's first Girl Scout council.
Although closely identified with urban areas, Girl Scout troops began to appear in rural communities by the mid-1920s. In 1925 troops were established in Cookeville and Cumberland Furnace (Dickson County). Another troop organized in Maury County in 1928. During the 1930s Girl Scouting continued its expansion into rural areas, but troops established outside large cities functioned as lone troops, unaffiliated with any council.
During the 1920s Tennessee's few lone troops for African American girls were not able to sustain their program and died out. In the 1940s urban councils began offering segregated Girl Scouting opportunities for African American girls. Councils operated a two-tiered program and recruited African American women to organize black troops. At its Nashville headquarters, the Cumberland Valley Girl Scout Council has identified and commemorated Josephine Holloway's efforts for Nashville African American girls from the days of segregation to eventual integration. Integrated troops appeared in Tennessee in the 1950s but did not become widespread until the 1960s.
Scouting continued to gain members during the Great Depression and World War II by offering outdoor opportunities and camping experiences for girls as well as teaching patriotism. Even the secret city of Oak Ridge organized a Girl Scout troop, which could not formally register with the national council in order to protect the security of the installation and the Manhattan Project.
In 1957 the national organization launched the Green Umbrella plan to bring unaffiliated troops outside the urban areas under the jurisdiction of regional councils. Sixteen Middle Tennessee and three Kentucky counties merged with the Nashville and Davidson County Council to become the Cumberland Valley Girl Scout Council, a name that had previously been used by the Clarksville council. Lone troops clustered near Shelbyville established the Volunteer Council, while the Highland Rim Council formed in Cookeville. Knoxville established the Tanasi Council to include surrounding counties, and Memphis expanded into Arkansas and northern Mississippi to form the Tenn-Ark-Miss Council. With headquarters in Johnson City, the Appalachian Council served upper East Tennessee. The Reelfoot Council was chartered in 1959 to serve sixteen West Tennessee counties. In the early 1960s the Volunteer Council and part of the western section of the Highland Rim Council merged with Cumberland Valley. The eastern counties of the Highland Rim Council joined the Tanasi Council in 1965. In 1975 a special pilot project called “Pixies” was instituted in Memphis to serve five- and six-year-olds. This later became Daisy Girl Scouts.
Today, six councils with service centers in Johnson City, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, Jackson, and Memphis provide services to Girl Scouts from kindergarten through twelfth grade in every county of Tennessee.
Elisabeth Israels Perry, “The Very Best Influence: Josephine Holloway and Girl Scouting in Nashvilles African American Community,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 52 (1993): 73-85