Worth Reading: Check out this fascinating new interview with the first woman president of Exploring

A photo of Mary Wright from 1974

The BSA’s Exploring program, created in 1935 under the name Explorer Scouts, welcomed its first female members in the early 1970s. In 1974, Exploring named its first female president, Mary Wright.

Kathy Leach, a longtime BSA volunteer (and, incidentally, one of the first women to work as a ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch), caught up with Wright and asked her to reflect on her experience from 50 years ago.

“Fifty years ago, at age 17, I became an icon,” Wright told Leach of her memories from her induction at the National Explorer Presidents’ Congress that year. “Standing in a spotlight on the stage of a Sheraton ballroom, in front of 2,000 applauding, cheering teenagers, adult leaders and my father, I became the first female National Explorer President. I was not in any way prepared for the resulting firestorm of activity from this milestone.”

Check out the entire story in this post on the Women and Girls in Scouting blog.

A scan of a story from a 1974 issue of Exploring magazine

Who is Mary Wright?

In the early 1970s, Wright was an active Explorer from Auburndale, Mass. The June 1974 issue of Exploring magazine called her election “significant in at least two respects:

“1. It proved that young women, after only three years as full-fledged members, are truly equals in the Exploring movement and are treated as equals even though they are outnumbered 2 to 1 by male members.

“2. It also showed that young adults in Exploring, unlike their elders in national politics, are willing to elect women to the highest positions of leadership.”

According to the Explorer Congressional Record, a publication that exclusively covered the 1974 convention, Wright defeated fellow candidate Gary Griffiths by 102 votes.

“Girls and guys should be judged on the same basis and treated as equals,” Wright told the magazine.

The article notes that Wright pledged to delay college for a year so she could devote more time to Exploring, a detail that Wright remembers well, according to Leach’s story.

I had just a short time to prepare a speech to the attendees where I promised to do my best for them, and then declared that I would not be attending college in the fall but rather take a year to devote my time and energy to the Exploring program. Nothing like making a major decision on the fly.

Later, Wright went on to earn a Master of Business Administration in public/nonprofit management from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Affairs from Connecticut College, according to Leach.

Presenting the Silver Buffalo to President Ford

The Silver Buffalo Award is a national award presented to those who have performed noteworthy and extraordinary service to youth. The recipient need not be a registered member of the BSA, nor does their service have to be within the Scouting program.

On April 9, 1975, Wright presented the Silver Buffalo to President Gerald Ford. At the time, Ford was the ninth U.S. president to receive the Silver Buffalo.

Unsurprisingly, Wright told Leach that her experience in Exploring heavily influenced the rest of her life. She has worked as a vice president at Financial Guaranty Insurance Company, director of The Conference Board Workforce Readiness Initiative, director of employer alliances at Jobs for the Future and manager of the apprentice program at the Society for Human Resource Management.

As a manager, I remembered how important it was to be given responsibility for assignments and be guided rather than be told how to complete the task at hand. Later in my career, I entered the world of workforce development and saw how valuable the original concept of the Exploring program is for creating the employees of tomorrow.

Click here to read Leach’s entire story.

A scan of an article from the Explorer Congressional Record

All images and scans from the BSA archives


About Aaron Derr 448 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.