2009 – Girls’ Association
Historically in Ireland The Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade (1893) were “brother” and “sister” organisations however in Scotland the ‘BB’ and the Girls’ Guildry (1900) were but in England the female body was the Girls’ Life Brigade (1902) “sister” to The Boys’ Life Brigade. The ‘BB’ in England had no such “sister”. In 1926 the ‘BB’ and ‘BLB’ united as did the three girls organisations in 1964. From statistics where there was a female organisation alongside they were likely to members of the Guide Association.
Around the time of the Boys’ Brigade Centenary there started to be talk about the ‘BB’ involving girls more in the movement. I say “more” as we have had female leaders and Staff Sergeants for very many years.
In some areas girls were unofficially admitted but in others they tried to say within Brigade Regulations. This is the story of one such company…
In 1986 the 1st Barnet Company’s church’s Girl Guide unit closed with nowhere for girls leaving the Brownies to go. The ‘BB’ Company approached the headquarters of the Girls’ Brigade about starting a ‘GB’ Company in Barnet but that proposition was not thought viable so it was proposed that Company/Senior Section were formed with the members taking part in most of the Company activities.
To avoid breaking ‘BB’ regulations the Girls’ Section used a different emblem and awards and they were insured under the church’s scheme. All leaders involved had to be existing staff. Over time a number of other companies in London adopted this approach and, to put them on a more formal footing, The Centenary Memorial Sunday School, a registered charity who owned the property where the District was based, took over the supervision of the then Girls’ Association. At that time there were 279 girls in 15 London District Companies.
The membership expanded over time to correspond with all Brigade Sections and specially produced sweatshirt and polo shirts incorporating a slightly revised emblem were made available. Metal hat badges of the emblem were also manufactured and the 1st Barnet Company undertook the supply of awards. From the beginning the Girls had their own Membership Cards until the Brigade provided the ones for companies incorporating girls. The early ones were small credit card size whereas the later coloured ones mirrored the Boys issue.
Over the years there was interest from almost eighty Companies covering every one of the English Districts as well as one from Scotland. Not all these Companies remained in existence, or in membership of the association – preferring to do their own thing perhaps. The Girls’ Association units were able to be incorporated officially as part of The Boys’ Brigade in January 2009 and since March of that year the 1st Barnet have been taking girls into all age groups and has maintained strong numbers across the Brigade age ranges. It should be noted that one of their Girls became the holder of the first Girls’ Association President’s Badge – yes the association had their own President – however as they did not have their own queen the holder then went on to qualify for the Brigade Queen’s Badge as a Staff-Sergeant who had attended KGVI.