NYC Girls Are Among The First To Join Previously Boys-Only Eagle Scouts
When the Boy Scouts of America started allowing girls to enroll last year, one of the first people to sign up was a Manhattan teen who had been pushing the century-old organization to drop its gender requirements. Sydney Ireland, now 19-years-old, grew up lobbying the Boy Scouts to let her and other girls officially join. Specifically, she wanted a shot at earning the top honor: the Eagle.
The Boy Scouts program, now called Scouts BSA, allowed girls to officially join in February 2019. But it was not until October 1st, 2020 that girls could become Eagle Scouts. And on October 1st, Ireland did.
“By being an Eagle Scout, it shows determination and passion and service to others,” said Ireland in a recent interview from Amherst College where she is currently a sophomore.
Only 6 percent of scouts, on average, achieve the Eagle rank, according to the Boy Scouts of America. To earn it, scouts must take on leadership roles within their troops; earn a minimum of 21 merit badges covering a range of activities; and spearhead a culminating community service project.
After completing all of the requirements, Ireland sat for her Eagle Board of Review over Zoom last week and passed. Once the national council validates the award, Ireland and other girls will, for the first time, join an elite club of Eagle Scouts which include astronauts like Neil Armstrong, and political leaders like President Gerald Ford, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Being an Eagle Scout opens up opportunities for scholarships, internships, and networking.
"I think it’s essential that women are able to have that same opportunity, and I'm so glad that they are,” Ireland said.
Ireland has been an unofficial member of Troop 414 in Manhattan since she was just 4 years old, when she tagged along to scout meetings with her older brother. Over the next several years, she took part in the same activities as the boys around her, but was unable to earn merit badges. She decided it was not fair.
By age 11, Ireland felt that the organization was discriminating against girls, and started an official campaign to join the Boy Scouts. And she was not the only one: other girls around the country loved the Boy Scouts’ programs and campaigned for change, too. Over the years, Ireland picked up support in her endeavor from the National Organization for Women-New York City, and from her congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney.
Nancy Pelosi, Sydney Ireland, Carolyn Maloney
COURTESY OF GARY IRELAND
Ireland is not the only new Eagle in town. Another teen from her troop, Beatrix Bisceglia, also sat for her Board of Review on October 1st and earned the Eagle rank at around the same time.
“When I see somebody that’s an Eagle Scout, the first thing that comes to mind is" ‘They’re a good person,’” said Bisceglia, 16, and a junior at Beacon High School. “They’ve done something good for their community. They want good things for others.”
Bisceglia’s brother and father are both Eagle Scouts. She was drawn to the organization’s co-ed programs as a young teen. But then she heard Ireland speak at a leadership conference and thought—I can join Troop 414, too. She said that, as a city kid, scouting has meant a lot to her — “Growing up in Manhattan, it’s really hard to go out and experience those things—going on a hike, going camping in the woods, going in a hammock for the night.”
Ireland, Bisceglia, and all other girls earning the Eagle rank between now and February 8th, 2021 will be recognized as part of an “inaugural class” of female Eagle Scouts early next year.
For her part, Ireland wishes the Boy Scouts could have let girls join sooner. But she said she is thrilled to attain the rank of Eagle after nearly a decade of pushing the organization to be more inclusive. If anything, the organization helped foster her leadership in the endeavor and her own determination.
“Scouting has really enabled me to see how I could make old institutions improve,” Ireland said. “I can help them, and I can listen to other people’s concerns. So I think the idea that traditions can change has really been instilled in me.”