Four Sonoma County girls become area’s first Eagle Scouts, top Boy Scout achievement
Ella Jacobs remembers the day she knew she wanted to be a Boy Scout.
She was a Girl Scout, on a camping trip in Mendocino County a few years ago. By coincidence, she’d been to the same spot, Camp Navarro, with a local Cub Scout den. (Her older brother was a Cub Scout, and the den leaders let her tag along.) She was struck by the difference in post-lunchtime activities.
“When we were in Cub Scouts,” said Jacobs, 15, now a sophomore at Cardinal Newman High School, “they let us run around in the woods doing who knows what. When I was with the Girl Scouts, we had naptime.”
Girl Scouts are great, she hastened to add, “if you like that type of program.” As a lover of the outdoors whose father and brother are both Eagle Scouts, it’s not surprising that, given the choice, she opted to become a Boy Scout.
Faced with declining membership, Boy Scouts of America announced in 2017 that it would start accepting girls in its core programs, like Cub Scouts. Starting in 2019, girls were given the opportunity to earn the organization’s highest and most hallowed rank: Eagle Scout.
Earlier this year, for the first time in its 111-year history, the Boy Scouts of America welcomed its first wave of female Eagle Scouts. Among those pioneers are four young women from Sonoma County: Jacobs was joined by Megan Fike, 19, and Caterina Sharp, 19, fellow members of Santa Rosa Troop 55. Also earning her Eagle badge was Sierra Robertson, a member of Troop 848 in Petaluma.
Like Jacobs, Robertson’s father is an Eagle Scout. She has six siblings, including a 14-year-old brother who is also in scouting.
“It was cool to be the first one of my Dad’s kids to earn my Eagle,” said the 18-year-old, whose raft of merit badges include one for shotgun shooting. “I never thought I’d get the chance.”
Her scoutmaster, Jennifer Masterson, has evolved on the issue of girls in boy scouting. The mother of two boys, both Eagle Scouts, she’s been volunteering 25 years for the organization. When talk first arose of girls joining, she recalled, “I was not really for it. I felt the boys needed a place to be boys.”
Once girls got the green light, Masterson and Troop 848 welcomed them with open arms.
“Going off to summer camps in Montana and other parts of the country,” she recalled, “some people were not as welcoming. My advice to the girls is, ‘You’ve earned the right to be here. Hold your head high. We’re gonna build bridges, not fences.’
“And that’s what they did,” Masterson said. “We’ve had scout leaders from Midwest coming up, shaking our hands and saying, ‘You raised the bar for the boys, on your flag ceremonies and everything else.’”
Troops 55 and 848 fall under the umbrella of the Boy Scouts’ Redwood Empire Council, which includes over 1,200 youths, including 150 girls, in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
“It was very popular,” said Charles Howard-Gibbon, the council’s chief executive, of the decision to welcome girls. “There was absolutely no controversy. There might have been some grumbling out there somewhere, but I don’t know about it.”
What resistance there was, said Danelle Jacobs, who is Ella’s mother and her troop leader, “came from the adults, not the Scouts.” In the summer of 2019, before Troop 55 attended a scouting function in Oregon, volunteer Dave Smilie called the camp director. “Look,” he told the director, “we’re bringing girls. Are you ready for this?”
Everything went smoothly. “They were fantastic,” Smilie said.
“I actually made friends with a lot of (boys),” Sharp recalled, “doing merit badges and stuff. Friends I talk to now.”
The exacting requirements for this coveted scouting achievement — completing an Eagle service project; earning 21 merit badges, including 13 specifically required for the rank — take at least 20 months to complete, often much longer.
Nationwide, the number of scouts who go on to earn their Eagle badge is 6%. In the Redwood Empire Council, Howard-Gibbon said, that number is 10%.
Ella Jacobs didn’t wait for a green light from the Boy Scouts to join her brother when he became a Cub Scout. Jacobs and some of her friends formed an unsanctioned, rogue troop called the Unicorns. They met regularly, wore uniforms and mastered the same skills learned by Cub Scouts. Invited to participate in a Redwood Empire Council “Camporee,” they entered a skills competition — fire-building, astronomy, archery — “and we beat everyone,” she recalled.
In 2015, however, after someone filed a complaint to the national office, the Unicorns were banned from participating in scouting activities. “I was frustrated and mad,” Jacobs recalled. “I was like, Why can’t I do this, too?