Lady Scouters: A very clear ceiling

Cambridge District scout Archive

The Cambridge Experience

There were recognised, valued, long serving and important ladies in Cambridge Scouting.  However, for many years the Boy Scout Association limited the role of women. The limits to roles for Ladies in Scouting were clearly laid down in POR.

There exists no clear example of Cambridge District breaking this codification of social mores.  There is no evidence yet located in the Cambridge records of them being pushed to do so. 

The terminology of POR for many years was, throughout, ‘Ladies’.  It is used here to echo a flavour of the time.  Lady, here, carries an expectation of a social code of conduct rather than suggesting an effete, distanced upper class.  The nuances of context, from which allusions to each very specific stratum of society can be unpicked, are not to be found in the bare bones of an organisational policy.  The term is no longer used.

The Context

The first female ‘postman’ in Cambridge was appointed in Cambridge in December 1915; women got the vote in 1918 and the first female mayor in Cambridge was appointed in 1924.  Men got paid more when they married.  Scouting reflected the general social norms of this era.  It was seen as an organisation for boys and sat alongside the Girl Guides which was and is only for girls.  To date men cannot be Guide Leaders; they can be unit helpers.

The Rules, the Limits    POR (1952)     (POR 1938 – substantially the same)

Ladies ‘may only be recommended for warrants in conjunction with Cub Sections of the Movement, except in special circumstances…’                                             POR (1952) – 58

Warranted roles in the Handicapped Branch were open to Lady Scouters in the 1959 POR.

Ladies were not excluded from the District role of Akela Leader (Ak L) but could not be appointed to Assistant County Commissioner for Training a role open to male Ak Ls and District Camp Commissioners.                                                                                 POR (1952) – 104

They could be appointed as Lady Worker, a Non executive rank, which  ‘ may be conferred …upon a lady who has carried out the organisation and administration of a Pack or Troop in the LA (Local Authority) and has secured the services of a warranted Scouter, or who is giving regular instruction to a pack or Troop in any subject that can be efficiently taught by a lady.’     POR (1952) – 15

‘A warrant of GSM will only be issued to a lady at the discretion of IHQ in exceptional circumstances…’                     POR (1952) – 170

This rule refers to two further rules 247g and 255 neither of which mention ladies but that the presence of ‘a suitable Scouter available not holding any other warrant in the Group except, if necessary GSM’ being necessary for the formation of a Senior Scout Troop or Rover Crew.  The rules are not clear if Senior Scouts or Rovers would be allowed with a lady GSM, would only be allowed in very exceptional circumstances, or would not be allowed if the GSM was a Lady.  Elsewhere RSL or SSL roles are not open to Ladies.

The Sex Discrimination Act

The first version of the Sex Discrimination Act came into being in 1975.  The Venture Scout section was open to girls from 1976 and all Sections were permitted to be open from 1991.

The Terminology

1919 ‘Ladies’               1952 ‘Ladies’               1985 ‘Ladies’               1995 ‘Female’

2018 ‘ Women’ ‘Female/s’     The Scout Association offers equal opportunities for all regardless of gender, disability, race, religion, class or sexuality.  These terms in 2018 are used only:

  1. to say all posts are open
  2. to identify two uniform differences
    1. being a Naval pattern Tricorn Hat option
    1. pleated skirts rather than kilts

Cambridge Archive

1917    ‘I wish Jock Dawson was here – to know of a minute of the Executive Committee of November 1917: Senior Scout Club. Girl friends and relations of the members may be invited to social evenings with their mothers from time to time, but no girl shall be admitted unless accompanied by a suitable chaperone,” But the permissive age crept on, and on the 27th of January, 1919 the Executive solemnly decided that “Chaperones on the social evenings are no longer required.”’  Archaeology WTT

1917    BP at Sheeps Green rally  ‘Next the chief spent some time with Grantchester Troop (5th District) that is run by ladies’

1921                Miss L C Bickerstaff was warranted CM and SM at Barton and recorded in post in 1926 and 1931 (see below).

1923    The Cambridge Scouters Club held an event ‘including several ladies whom we were very pleased to welcome.’

1924 Mrs Marjorie Donovan was SM at 9th Cambridge District Bassingbourne. A number of female ASM’s were also recorded at this time.

1931    Warrant          Miss L Bickerstaff GSM 17th Cambridge District (subject to IHQ permission)                       This was agreed by IHQ as a ‘special case’.

The District Minutes notes the existence of an IHQ publication  ‘Notes for Women Scouters’.

1933                Hon(ourary) SM to Miss J E Willers    She was listed as Lady SM in 1931.            District Minutes

1933    GSG     Scouters Social            ‘..and are invited to bring a friend (wife/ husband, actual or prospective)’

District Executive Minutes

1938 April       ‘Mr Thurbon asked whether there was any truth in the rumour that Lady Cub Masters will not be asked to take part in this year’s (gang) show.  Mr Feary stated that this question had not yet been discussed by the subcommittee.

1938 May        ‘ and the opinion stated at the Scouters Meeting that the ladies would be pleased to take their rightful place in connection with the show.’  No clarification of this interchange can be read from the minutes.

1939               ‘owing to difficulties of arranging site it had been decided that the Cubs will not attend but that the lady Cub masters will camp in the Vicars Meadow’.

1940 May          The Scouter recorded ‘The CMs have formed a knitting circle, so that all the Rovers and Scouters that have been called up will be equipped with woollens’. (Not Cambridge)

1946                The Scouter records Lady Scouters who were part of the international relief teams as equal partners.

See Scout International Relief Teams under Local History/ WW1 WW2

1951                Plans to refurbish the Grafton Street HQ ‘Ladies reasonably requested that a toilet for them have a priority…’

1954                CUSAGC  by Miss Duke, Vice President.    ‘The influence of both men and women is essential for Cubbing.  Women are needed for the boy of eight and nine and a half, while a man’s influence was needed for the boy of nine and a half to eleven.’

1954                CUSAGC           Annual subscription 10/- (ladies 7/6) or 4/- (ladies 3/-) a term Skyblue

1956                Bob a Job         Suitable jobs that anyone can do included for Lady Scoutmasters:   Baby sitting, patching sails, wool winding, floor scrubbing, darning

See bob a Job / Activities

1958                Beryl will resign her warrant as an ACM and become a Lady Auxiliary as she only does Badge and star work these days.

1966                Advance Report          ‘all uniform be reviewed regularly: lady Scouters’ uniform to be reviewed every 3 to 4 years, and other uniform every 6 to 8 years.

1971                The Gang Show stage manager appealed for assistants… he needed at least 7 men (Ladies welcome of suitable strength)

Mixed Groups

The Scout Association has been co-educational at all levels since 1991. From 2000 new sections were required to accept girls; from 2007, the centenary, all Scout groups and sections become co-educational.

Initially mixed Groups were required to have a mixed or totally female leadership (POR1995).  This is no longer a requirement.


No surprises here.  Many of those whose work had significant influence on Scouting in Cambridge were not recognised by title. E H Church has few specific credits to his name but was clearly held in high esteem for his work.  He became Secretary and President.  Miss Isaacson, Miss Long and Mrs Cann did significant work over many years.  They, however, did not have the option of employing their talents to the benefit in a wider Scouting field. 

Cambridge and Cambridgeshire have now both been lead by ‘Ladies’.  In 2015 Dr Ann Limb was appointed Chair of the Scout Association.

Appendix 1

The following have been awarded a Silver Acorn or Silver Wolf. Information is missing for the years between 1983 and 1999 when Cambridge split into North and South. No definitive list has been located.

2010Jane CarterSA bar
2009Pam ButlerSA
2006Rosemary ChambersSA bar
2005Pauline WestSA
2003Jane CarterSA
1983Lettice DawsonSA
1979Rose CostonSilver Wolf
1978Beryl TabbitSA
1977F E IsaacsonSilver Wolf
1974Mrs Gardiner SmithSA
1973Rose CostonSA

The Cambridge Numbers

The following numbers are taken from many different lists, some clearly spanning several years and / or incomplete.

1912                Annual report              Only Scout Masters and Assistant Scout Masters were listed and no females were in these roles.

1912/13           Annual report              A more complete list of roles with five ladies as Members of the Association, two instructors and one Hon Sec and Treasurer.

1918                District Notice            

  • Cub leaders                 13 of 19, two of whom were married
  • Cub Examiners           13 of 18, covering all the badges for Wolf Cubs except athletics and swimming    
  • Scout Master               5, two in Cambridge District (villages) and one a Private school
  • Scout Examiners        12 of 85 covering Ambulance, Laundryman, Basketwork, Missioner, Bee Farmer, Poultry Farmer
  • Members of the association 6 of 42

This report covers the last year of the Great War.   It is after the formation of Wolf Cubs. After this date the numbers of ladies holding recorded posts declined.  The return to male leaders over the next decade was gradual.  The numbers of Lady Instructors remained high.

1919                District Notice

  • Cub Master                             12 of 18
  • Cub Examiners                      20 of 26
  • Scout Master                          2 of 37, both villages

1921                Annual Report

  • Cub Master                             8 of 15
  • Scout Master                           2 of 40, both villages
  • Members of the association 4 of 41


  • Cub Master                             7 of 18
  • Scout Master                          1 of 37
  • Group Scout Master             1 of 35,            both SL and GSM in villages

In two packs male ACM worked with Lady CM’s.  There was no expectation of a man taking precedence over a woman.

1933    Scouters Social            ‘..and are invited to bring a friend (wife/ husband, actual or prospective)’

1938    Exec Numbers                   3 of 30  Elected CM, SM member and DCM

c. 1940                        A list of names, probably incomplete, which are mostly labelled as warranted, associated with Groups gave:

  • 59 names in 21 Groups of which 20 were ladies                               (34%)
  • 3 Mrs, 17 Miss

This balance, taken during the Second World War, is as the situation demanded.   Another incomplete list of c.1941/2 records 20 warranted scouters as being on Active Service.  This did not include all the potential leaders taken from Scout and Rover Crews. 

1943    Another list c. 1943 of Cub leaders gave 30 Ladies of 37 listed.  Ten of these were married. No ladies were listed in the Scout or Rover Section.

In October 1943 the Examiners list 11 of the 29 Wolf Cub Badge examiners were ladies. The House Orderly badge assumed a mothers teaching, although the term orderly has a military overtones.  The seventy four Scout badges had lady examiners for four badges; Basket work, Folk Dancer, Missioner and Tailor. 

1946                Census             39 male Scouters, 20 Ladies

1948                Census             48 male Scouters, 29 ladies

1957                A list of Warranted Scouters in Cambridge District (not District roles)

  • 173 Warranted leaders in 34 Groups, of which 37 were Ladies        (21%)
  • 19 Mrs, 18 Miss
  • All were Cubmaster (CM) or Assistant Cubmaster (ACM)
  • Three Groups had only one warranted leader of which two were Ladies, neither of whom was GSM

The following figures are from the 2003 Annual Report and are part of a report on the number of girls in the sections.  They are Section leaders.

                        Female                        Male    (adults)           

  • 2001                86                    135
  • 2002                93                    134
  • 2003                83                    140

2005                from a District contacts directory by Group (not District roles)

  • 172 leaders of which 50 were women           (some ambivalent names)      (30%)
  • No differentiation of single or married status
  • All sections and two GSL (Group Scout Leader rather than Master)
  • 18 with Beavers, 23 with Cubs and 9 with Scouts
  • A higher proportion of women in Committee roles

2018                Sample from Cambridge District list by date of appointment

  • 40%     The early pages (longest serving) have a lower percentage of women reflecting past practices, the later distorted by ‘Occasional Helpers’ booked in for a week each term.

JWR Archivist Feb 2019