WINDHAM — The Boy Scouts honor their best achievements with the Eagle Scout rank. The Girl Scouts honor their best with the Gold Award.
In Scouting, the two achievements are considered equivalent. But while the the Boy Scouts' accolade enjoys instant name recognition with the general public, in contrast, the Gold Award has an unfamiliar ring.
That doesn't bother Victoria Berger of Windham. Berger, now a student at Northeastern University, recently earned a Gold Award. Her Gold Award service project was helping to restore the Windham Wonderland Community Playground.
"Generally, not a lot of people hear about the Gold Award," she said. "More boys go out for Eagle Scout, and usually, you hear about the Eagle Scout award. But it seemed like in our town we got equal recognition. We both were in the local newspaper."
Berger collaborated on her service project with three other members of Windham Girl Scout Troop 01007 — Cynthia Simonoff and Lauren Satkwich, both of Windham, and Krystal Cummings of Bow. All four earned the Gold Award.
Only 5.4 percent of all U.S. Girl Scouts achieve the Gold Award annually, according to Mary Ellen Hettinger, public relations manager for Girl Scouts of Swift Water Council. The percentage of Boy Scouts who attain Eagle Scout rank is about the same as Girl Scouts who earn the Gold Award.
The Yankee Clipper Council's Randy Larson was an Eagle Scout himself. He respects the Gold Award and says the Girl Scouts probably are being slighted compared to the Eagle Scouts. But the reason Eagle Scouts are better known than Gold Award Girl Scouts may not be due completely to social biases in favor of boys.
The reason may be dumb luck, Larson said. "Part of the marketing and the familiarity has been due to the eagle," he said. "It's our national symbol."
Through sheer luck — or maybe somebody's vision, he said, the Boy Scouts in 1911 changed the name of their highest accolade to Eagle Scout.
"It used to be known as the Wolf Award," Larson said. "It was the wolf back in 1911; the wolf was replaced by the eagle, and the fact that's our country's national symbol has been a boost."
Absolutely, the Boy Scouts did a better job of marketing their Eagle Scout brand, said Patricia Mellor, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.
Also, the Boy Scouts have kept the Eagle Scout name for most of their 110-year history, while the Girl Scouts have periodically changed the name of their highest award. In past years, the Girl Scouts gave the First Award and the Curved Bar Award to recognize excellence.
The Girl Scouts only rolled out the Gold Award in 1980. Twenty-eight years isn't enough time to create a history comparable to the Eagle Scout badge, Mellor said.
"There aren't too many female CEOs who earned Gold Awards," she said, but there are plenty of male corporate leaders who were Eagle Scouts.
In fact, Larson said, so many corporate leaders have told him they give resumes of Eagle Scouts top consideration, he has stopped doubting their word. "I've heard it so many times," he said, "it can't just be anecdotal."
The Eagle Scouts also enjoy an edge in some college admissions, he said, especially at West Point and Annapolis, the military academies.
Berger specifically mentioned the Girl Scouts Gold Award when she applied to Northeastern, but couldn't say for sure if that helped her gain admission. (She had good grades, high College Board scores and other extracurricular activities.)
"It might have added to what I could bring to campus," she said.
At Northeastern, she is continuing her Girl Scout connections by helping young disadvantaged girls in the Boston area start their own Girl Scout troops.
"I think it'd be really cool," she said, if the Gold Award Girl Scouts developed into a lifetime commitment like the Eagle Scouts.
"I have a very strong impression of the Gold Award — for excellence, perseverance and so many positive things," Larson said. "The Eagle Scout badge is virtually the same. But because somebody had the vision to call it eagle, it just has a ring."