As milestones go, this one was almost overlooked: Last week the Boy Scouts of America quietly dropped the organization's 78-year ban on women as scoutmasters and other troop leaders. The announcement, triggered by a lawsuit filed by a Goleta mother, recognized in somewhat tardy fashion the revolutionary changes that have been taking place in the American family, especially the rise in the number of households headed by women.
Practically from its inception, the Boy Scouts organization had insisted that, once boys outgrow Cub Scouts, they needed male role models. Women could be Cub Scout den mothers, but as their sons grew up, those women were supposed to yield leadership positions to men. The problem with that rule was not that it denied opportunities to women, though it did, but that it punished boys without fathers. In some communities, troops disbanded because there were no men willing or able to be scoutmasters. In other places--as Phyllis Gibson, a divorced Goleta mother, alleged in her lawsuit--camping trips had to be abandoned because her sons and others had no fathers or other adult males to accompany them, as dictated by the men-only rule.
Now that the Boy Scout organization is willing to let women be scoutmasters, its policy will conform to that of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. The Girl Scouts have always welcomed fathers as well as mothers as volunteers, and local councils report increasing numbers of troops led by male-female teams.