The Boy Scouts of America announced on Wednesday that it will admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and establish a new program for older girls using the organization’s same curriculum.

In the historic move, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all boys or all girls. Cub Scout packs, which are larger and include a number of dens, will have the option to welcome both genders if they choose.

The Boy Scouts’ board of directors voted unanimously for the change on Wednesday.

“This decision is true to the BSA’s mission and core values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law. The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” Michael Surbaugh, the group’s chief executive, said in a statement.

He added that “we believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children. We strive to bring what our organization does best — developing character and leadership for young people — to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”

The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.

In a statement, the group said that after “years of receiving requests from families and girls,” it “evaluated the results of numerous research efforts” and came to its decision.

The Girl Scouts of America, which is separate and independent of the Boy Scouts, has been the primary scouting alternative for girls, and claims a membership of 1.8 million.

More recently, a rift has emerged between the two groups.

In August, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the president of the Girl Scouts, sent a letter to the Boy Scouts of America accusing the group of carrying out a “covert campaign to recruit girls into programs” in the hopes of bolstering declining membership, according to BuzzFeed News. Hannan wrote that it was “reckless” and shortsighted in “thinking that running a program specifically tailored to boys can simply be translated to girls.”

On Wednesday, officials from the Girl Scouts did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Boy Scouts of America, founded in 1910, was established for boys and their male leaders, and focused on promoting responsibility through an array of outdoor activities and educational opportunities.

In the 1980s, Catherine Pollard, a mother from Milford, Conn., sued the group to overturn the ban against female Scoutmasters, alleging it violated sex discrimination laws. The lengthy legal proceedings — which went on for nearly a decade — drew international attention, and courts ultimately sided with the Boy Scouts.

Even so, Pollard’s fight caught the public imagination, and in 1988, as the Boy Scouts faced mounting criticism from civil rights groups, the group’s national executive board voted to allow women in leadership positions — including Scoutmaster. Pollard became the first female Scoutmaster, and today, according to the Boy Scouts, nearly a third of the group’s volunteers are women.

In recent years the group has found itself embroiled in larger national debates about gender roles and sexual orientation. These debates, in turn, have led the Boy Scouts — which has about 2.3 million members — to examine long-held policies that date to its founding days over a century ago.

Earlier this year, the Boy Scouts announced that it will allow transgender children who identify as boys to enroll in its boys-only programs.

Zach Wahls, Eagle Scout and co-founder of Scouts for Equality, called Wednesday’s decision to allow girls into the group a “step forward.”

“Girls and their families across the country have been asking for decades to participate,” Wahls said. “This is progress and overdue.”


UPDATES:

11:55 a.m.: This article has been updated with details of Girl Scout dispute, quotes, background.

11:10 a.m.: This article has been updated with staff reporting.

This article was originally posted at 10:10 a.m.

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