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Women in the History of the OA

  Reese Davies             Lodge Ledger

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Women in the History of the OA

March is Women’s History Month and in honor of it we are taking a comprehensive look at the history of women in the Order of the Arrow!

Prior to 1988 women leaders were not allowed in the OA. However this did not stop them from serving. Women leaders prior to 1988 were recognized with the Red Arrow, an award given in recognition of outstanding service to the Order of the Arrow by non-members. The Red Arrow is considered to be the equivalent of the Distinguished Service Award for non-members. 

Some of the first recipients of this award were Natasha Hawaka, for her work as an administrative employee in the OA national office, and Doris Tonemah, a Native American who volunteered with the NOAC American Indian group. Other women received the Red Arrow in honor of their service with their husbands. This included Louise Goodman, wife of founder E. Urner Goodman.

To find a full list of Red Arrow recipients, both men and women, please visit this page or pages 384-85 in the 2015 edition of History of the OA

Unfortunately for many women the Red Arrow would be the only recognition of their service. Only one woman was awarded both the Red Arrow and Distinguished Service Award. Nina Dukes was awarded the Red Arrow in 1990 and was recently awarded the DSA for her service to American Indian events.

Prior to 1988 women may have been unofficially inducted as “honorary members” however this practice was not officially sanctioned and varied by lodge.

Starting in 1988 when women were allowed to become adult leaders in the Boy Scouts of America they also became eligible for official membership in the OA. Three years later the first women to be recognized with the Vigil Honor were inducted. In 2009 Kay Trick became the first woman to be presented with the DSA;  she is also the first woman to be appointed to the National OA Committee. In 2021 Tracy Atherton became the first woman to serve as a region chair.

We spoke with Tracy Atherton about her role as Gateway Region Chair.

Atherton started her Scouting journey in 2000 when she registered as a unit committee member. Not long after, she was inducted into the Order of the Arrow and she is now a proud Vigil Honor member. Tracy tells how her and her son were inducted at the same time. His Scoutmaster, a woman she looked up to, was involved with the OA and she said she wanted to be just like her.

When asked about a favorite OA memory, Tracy detailed that,

"being involved with the initial class of Operation Arrow trek guides in 2013 and seeing the program evolve was really inspirational.”

For any adults in the OA who are prospectively considering serving in an adviser role, Tracy advises,

“be open minded when asked to do a job you aren’t familiar with. The person asking you might see more potential in you than you realize. Also, be available.”

Atherton went on to say,

“the OA represents to me the future leaders of our country. We have the unique opportunity to provide experiences to young men and women who might not have other opportunities.”

On February 1, 2019 when the Boy Scouts program was rebranded as Scouts BSA to serve all youth, young women became eligible for induction to the OA. Simultaneously, Venturing Crews and Sea Scout Ships were authorized to hold elections, resulting in the first Venturers and Sea Scouts being elected and inducted. Previously only Venturers and Sea Scouts already elected by a Troop were eligible.

We spoke with several outstanding OA members who are women about how the OA has shaped their scouting journey.

We spoke with Cassidy Christian who is an impressive young woman, currently studying at Cornell University, and serves as the 2021-2022 National Sea Scouting Boatswain.

Cassidy has been involved in Scouting for the past 15 years! She joined the Girl Scouts program in Kindergarten and Scouts BSA when girls were first allowed to join the program. Later in the Summer of 2019, she was a founding member of her Sea Scout Ship. She was inducted in September 2019 and she is a proud Brotherhood Honor member.

When asked about what the OA meant to her, Cassidy shared,

“The Mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. The Order of the Arrow prevails as a great instrument for our organization to achieve our mission. It is empowering when we help another person, make our community a better place, or continue the cycle of giving back. The greatest characteristic about serving others is that it never ends. There is always someone else to aid or another project to begin.”

Cassidy said her favorite OA memory so far has been her Ordeal. She said,

“it was really empowering to be at one of the first inductions in my Lodge including young women. Although we all came from different Troops and Units, it was inspiring to hear the other Scouts’ stories and to work together on our day of service. Even in silence, we were able to forge a strong bond.”

She expands on what she has learned from the OA and tells,

“I want to be a leader of people. The Order of the Arrow makes me question how we can make each other better? Helping others prevails as the center of our human experiences. The only way we can rise is by lifting up each other. In times of hardships, collaborating together is not solely an option, it’s a necessity.”

Cassidy was also inspired by her Scoutmaster to become involved in the Order of the Arrow. Cassidy’s scoutmaster, Jessica Kurtz, took on the role of being scoutmaster for a girl Troop that was not universally accepted.

“She fought for us to be involved everywhere we went. When we wanted to camp in the cold winter of 2019, she was there for us. I would like to thank her for all of her time, advice, and leadership. I would not be the Scout I am today without her.”

Cassidy has had many experiences as a Scout and would like to impart some of her wisdom.

“After you complete one goal, you should always aim even higher. There is so much more to do in Scouting beyond being your Troop’s Senior Patrol Leader, earning the rank of Eagle Scout, or even turning 18. Older youth programs like the Order of the Arrow, Venturing, and Sea Scouts have even more experiences for leadership, awards, and High Adventure. I encourage every Scout to make the most out of every opportunity and join one or multiple of these older youth experiences. Life is not about what’s given. Life is about what is beyond what is in front of us. We need to explore what’s not evident and go after the opportunity that may be unknown.”

We also spoke with Katie Osterhout, the incumbent Section G17S Chief.

Katie is going into her fifth year registered in Scouting, although she has been unofficially involved with her dad and brother for many more years. She joined Venturing in 2018 and Scouts BSA in 2019, and was inducted to the OA on August 10th, 2019. She is proudly a Brotherhood Honor member.

Katie sees the OA like a family. At the end of the day, everyone is there to support each other and have a good time. 

Her favorite event to go to is Conclave. She says,

“I get to see my friends from other Lodges that I usually only get to see once a year. I have lots of fun memories from staying up late playing Magic the Gathering to competing in relay races. There is never a dull moment!”

From the OA, she said she has learned,

“how to delegate and lead others in a way that strengthens a team and builds others up. I think that is one of the most important parts of being a leader.”

To all young women considering leadership positions in the OA, Katie says,

“Never forget why you joined the OA. You are going to face challenges that might be different than other Arrowmen, but always follow your heart. You are making a difference and leaving a legacy.”

“Keep in touch with everyone you meet! One of the coolest things is being able to see friends at NOAC and Jamborees that are from across the nation and share different cultures from your area with others.”

Lastly, but certainly not least, we wanted to speak with Laura V. Díaz-Piferrer Acevedo, the 2021 Yokahu Lodge Chief in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Laura says she has been involved with Scouting pretty much her entire life. Her dad has been a Scoutmaster for 30 years and she officially joined Scouting in 2015. She was inducted in the summer of 2019 and is also a proud Brotherhood Honor member.

Laura, like Katie, feels that the OA is like a family. She goes on to say, “It has helped my bond with my family. The OA represents many of the things that are important to me like community service. Joining was a reflection of my values.”

One of her core memories in the OA as a lodge chief was inducting girls from her Troop that she founded. She states,

“it was very fulfilling to watch them join an organization that means a lot to me.”

She also tells how the OA has made her a better leader. Laura says,

“Once you get to a certain point in Scouting you think you know everything. Being lodge chief has humbled me. It has also improved my communication skills and patience. I have also had the opportunity to work with adults I had not known previously, which was beneficial since until that point I had only worked with adults in my unit whom I knew well.”

Laura would not be where she is today without her father as inspiration.

“My father has given himself in service. As I got older I wanted to have the same experience bonding with him like my brothers did. He has been an inspiration to me.”

Her advice to young women just starting out in the OA is to,

“stay involved after your induction and take a leadership position as soon as possible. Being a leader is different from being a participant and in my opinion is better. Don’t be discouraged by people questioning if you belong. Times are changing and we can do anything we set our minds to. The sky is the limit.”

A special thanks to Dwayne Fontenette, Nelson Block, Ken Davis, and Ryan King who assisted in the creation of this article.