Mary Ruthsdotter

Job: Co-founder, National Women's History Project

Age: 64

Girl Scout experience: Troop 506 in Miami, Fla., and others—"I was with a lot of different troops, because my father was in the Marine Corps and we moved every year."

What did you like most about your Girl Scout experience?
I liked doing stuff with a bunch of girls. We got to make our own decisions and prove how spunky we were without being overshadowed by a louder voice. Some things we learned by negative example. When a group of us were working on the backyard camping badge, we dug a trench and built a grill out of pieces of wood. Of course, the fire burned the grill and the whole breakfast fell in the tank. My mom says the neighbors were watching nervously, but they figured that learning was part of it all.

Did Girl Scouts help prepare you for co-founding the National Women's History Project?
There's nothing like the Girl Scouts for the experience of setting and achieving a goal with friends. That's what led to the founding of the National Women's History Project (NWHP) in 1980. It was at a time when equity in the schools and equality in the workplace were new and there were a lot of naysayers. It seemed to us that learning about women's history could give us all kinds of new strengths, by proving that all through history women have been "holding up half the sky," as they say in China.

Tell us about the NWHP
The project's goal was to promote the discovery and celebration of multicultural women's history. We established March as Women's History Month on the federal calendar and have promoted it every way we could—developing curriculum units, holding educational conferences, producing videos, coordinating a network of 700 women's history activists across the country, and working with textbook and trade book publishers to increase representation for women. It has been very gratifying work.

Shakespeare wrote, "What's past is prologue."
What do girls learn by looking at our history?

That you can do all kinds of things that you don't even know exist. The inquisitiveness that Girl Scouts can engender will carry girls a long way. And Girl Scout handbooks are great places to start learning about what our culture has to offer.

What would have been your dream badge?
For endurance and speed and getting around obstacles, I'd have loved the challenge of a mountain biking badge. But mountain biking wasn't around when I was a girl.