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Catherine Pollard v. BSA

     The only legal challenge to BSA's membership requirement barring women from leadership positions in Boy Scout Troops, ended in a victory for the BSA. But, in the end, the woman who challenged BSA's policies won!

     Of all the legal challenges (those that went beyond the trial court level) to BSA's exclusionary membership policies documented on this web site, the case of Catherine N. Pollard is the strangest.
     Catherine waged a 14-year legal fight against BSA to allow her to "legally" serve as Scoutmaster for Troop 13 in Milford Connecticut. It was in 1971 when Catherine became Scoutmaster for Troop 13. Her reasoning was simple. No man wanted to volunteer to be the Scoutmaster to the boys in the troop.
     For five years Catherine served as the leader of Troop 13. During this time she was not registered as the troop's Scoutmaster. In both 1974 and 1976, Catherine attempted to register as the troop's Scoutmaster, but each time her application was rejected. BSA stated that boys needed male role models and she would not be able to provide that. Finally she decided to file a complaint against the BSA for sex discrimination with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
     When she filed the complaint, she was forced to relinquish her leadership role in Troop 13. Once again, no man stepped forward to take over as Scoutmaster. As a result, the troop was forced to disband.
     In 1984, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities issued its ruling that BSA had violated the state's public accommodation statue and must register Catherine as a Scoutmaster. BSA immediately filed a lawsuit against the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities challenging its ruling.
     By 1986 the case was litigated in the Superior Court. In court, BSA advanced, as one argument, that women could lead Cub Scout Packs for 7-9 year-old boys and Explorer Posts, for 15-20 year-old boys and girls, but could not lead the Webelos program for 10 year-olds or a Boy Scout Troop for 11-17 year-old boys. BSA felt that boys between the ages of 10-17 needed a male role model to look up to "in the difficult process of maturing to adulthood."
     The Superior Court struck down the Commission's 1984 ruling and accepted BSA's arguments. The Commission appealed the judgment to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
     On July 6, 1987, the Connecticut Supreme Court held (see Quinnipiac Council, BSA v. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities , 528 A. 2d 352, 357 (Conn. 1987)) that the BSA did not violate Connecticut's public accommodations statute by refusing to permit a woman to serve as a Scoutmaster because there was no denial of "access to its goods and services" and therefore the woman was not deprived of an "accommodation," as that word was used in the statute. The Supreme Court did not feel that the Commission had argued persuasively enough that serving as a Scoutmaster does not constitute an advantage or privilege. The Court opined that while volunteer Scoutmaster positions may not be "goods or services," they are a "privilege" and an "advantage."
     Of course Catherine rejected BSA's role-model argument. "Who models the male in the first place?" she asked. "The mothers do. The fathers are out working." She added, "When you have a given ability to lead young people, you should be able to do it."
     As the case involved only state law, there was no possibility of appealing the case to the US Supreme Court. Given this fact, one would think that would be the end of the story. But not quit yet.

     On February 11, 1988, just over seven months since their victory in the Connecticut Supreme Court, the BSA National Executive Board voted unanimously to remove gender requirements for all adult leadership positions.
     When informed of BSA's actions, Catherine, who by this point was a 70 year-old grandmother, said, "We straightened out a wrong."
     "I think that it is a great thing that happened and I think it's about time, after trying hard for 14 years to get this stupid situation straightened out," she told reporters.
     "I do think this is marvelous because there have been women all over the United States, in fact all over the world, that have been doing these things for the Boy Scouts because they could not get a male leader, bet we could not get recognition for the things we've done," she said.
     In one news article, Catherine, a widow who lived with a son and daughter, described herself as a 'tomboy' "who enjoys camping, chops her own wood, drives a tractor and rides a motorcycle."
    BSA stated to the press that "the time had come when it was appropriate to recognize the valuable leadership women can provide." However, they also stated that one of the motivating factors was the "great cost to the organization, both in terms of money and in the perception of what we are."

     So, after BSA fought 14 years with a widowed grandmother to be able to keep her away from a Boy Scout Troop, seven months later they were willing to take her $7 registration fee to be a Scoutmaster. As mentioned earlier, this case had a very strange ending.

     Below are excerpts from BSA's publication BSA Today on it's decision to remove gender restrictions on all adult leadership roles.

Leadership Qualifications
BSA Today, Spring 1988

The national Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America voted at its February 1988 meeting to remove gender restrictions on all Scouting leadership positions. This change was made after careful consideration. It is time to recognize that in our changing society the unique strength of Scouting lies in the dedicated efforts of both men and women. Our efforts must be focused on helping chartered organizations select the best possible leadership, male or female, to carry forward a Scouting program that serves the youth and adults for whom the organizations are responsible.

The long-standing tradition of providing exclusively male leadership to adolescent boys in Boy Scouting was rooted in the belief that a crucial part of a boy's development as he grows older is his relationship with a caring adult male. Scouting has provided a structure in which men can interact with boys in a non-threatening way, more as friends or mentors than as authority figures. Under this new policy, community-based organizations that use the Scouting program will continue to select the best available leadership for boys in Scouting, but with an even larger pool of potential leaders from which to choose.

The criteria used to select unit leadership are now, more than ever, in the hands of the individual organization that is using Scouting as a resource. All recommendations for commissions to serve in unit leadership roles shall originate with the unit committee. The heads of the community unit committee and the local council must approve the registration of the leader. The importance of selecting the most qualified person available to be the unit's leader cannot be overly stressed.

The pamphlets Securing A Cubmaster, No. 3071A; Securing A Scoutmaster, No. 3072A; and Securing An Advisor, No. 3063A outline the qualities necessary for leadership roles and detail the steps to be taken by a unit committee to identify and recruit the most highly qualified individuals available. The Boy Scouts of America will provide adult leader training in a timely and appropriate manner as soon as the leader is secured.

Leadership on Outings
BSA Today, Spring 1988

The new policy eliminating gender requirements for all leadership positions will also apply for troop outings. This does not change the recently announced policy requiring at least two adult leaders, one of whom must be at least 21 years old or older, for all trips or outings. Also important to reiterate is the "safety rule of four" that requires no fewer than four persons (always with a minimum of two adults) on any trip into uninhabited areas. Additional adult leadership requirements must reflect an awareness of such factors as size and skill level of the group, anticipated environmental conditions, and overall degree of challenge. Every effort of precaution must be taken to guarantee safety as well as a high-quality program.

Catherine N. Pollard, 88, First Female Scoutmaster in U.S., Dies

December 15, 2006


MILFORD, Conn., Dec. 14 (AP) — Catherine N. Pollard, the first woman to be a scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America, died on Wednesday in Seminole, Fla. She was 88.

Her death was confirmed by Shawn Smith of Smith Funeral Home here.

Ms. Pollard ran a Milford troop from 1973 to 1975 because no men had volunteered. But her application for a leadership position was denied when the Boy Scouts contended that a woman was not a good role model for young boys involved in the Scouts.

The state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities sided with her, but state courts reversed the commission's ruling. In 1987 the State Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling that boys "in the difficult process of maturing to adulthood" needed the guidance of men.

In February 1988, however, the Boy Scouts of America did away with all gender restrictions on volunteer positions, and Ms. Pollard, who was 69 at the time, became a scoutmaster in Milford.

"I do think that this is marvelous," she said at the time, "because there have been women all over the United States, in fact all over the world, that have been doing these things for the Boy Scouts because they could not get a male leader, but we could not get recognition for the things we've done."

Lou Salute, the Scout executive at the Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America, in Milford, confirmed that Ms. Pollard was the first woman in the United States to be a scoutmaster.

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