The Girls’ Brigade (GB) began in Ireland in 1893 by Miss Margaret Lyttle, with the aim of 'the extension of Christ's Kingdom among girls', she met with a small group of girls in Sandymount Presbyterian Church in Dublin. At a time when a woman’s place was traditionally in the home and society was very much male dominated, the idea of having an organisation for girls was positively counter-cultural. As word spread about the group in Sandymount other companies were soon formed in churches around Dublin.
People of similar vision in other parts of the British Isles had established their own organisations along similar lines. The Girls’ Guildry was formed in Scotland in 1900 with the aim of helping girls to become mature Christian women and The Girls’ Life Brigade in England in 1902 with the motto 'to save life' and the aim 'to help girls become responsible, self-reliant Christian women'.
The Girls’ Brigade (Ireland) – 1893
Formed in Dublin in 1893 for the purpose of ‘the extension of Christ’s Kingdom amongst girls’. The programme was based on Bible study and physical training.
The Girls’ Guildry (Scotland) – 1900
This was a church-centred organisation, founded in Scotland in 1900, providing programmes for four age groups. Its varied activities aimed at helping girls to become mature Christian women. The movement was interdenominational and international, with a strong emphasis on service to others.
The Girls’ Life Brigade (England) – 1902
GLB founded in England in 1902 by the National Sunday School Union, was a church-based international movement, with a varied programme for four age groups. Its aim was ‘to help and encourage girls to become responsible, self-reliant, useful Christian women’ and its motto was ‘to save life’. In 1921, the first Girls’ Life Brigade was founded in Northern Ireland as First Portadown Company attached to Thomas Street Methodist Church.
The Girls’ Brigade - 1965
The Girls’ Brigade was formed in July 1965 by the amalgamation of the above three organisations.
Growth in the early years
All three organisations were designed to provide weekday activities for members of Sunday Schools and Churches. They developed into uniformed organisations with programmes designed to meet the needs of girls and young women at that time. Over the course of the next 60 years, the three organisations developed and adapted, meeting the needs of the changing cultures around them. As these three organisations grew and developed they extended into many countries around the world. They all saw much growth including, in 1923, the opening of the first overseas groups in Jamaica. Work also developed in Capetown, Riga and Latvia (all in 1925) and by its Jubilee Year in 1952, work had spread too many more countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.
Click here to view a timeline of GB History.
Over the years there were many conversations between the three organisations, but probably the most crucial and historic decision was the one made in 1964 when the three groups agreed to amalgamate. It was with this amalgamation that the modern organisation of The Girls’ Brigade was officially formed in July 1965.
The Formation of GB International
The inaugural meeting of the Brigade International Council was held on 10th June 1968, attended by 19 countries. The meeting appointed Miss Joan Chenhalls MBE as the first International President. At this time two committees were established to oversee the developing work in the Atlantic and Pacific areas of the world. From this time on The International Council met every five years in different locations around the world.
In 1993, the international Girls' Brigade family celebrated its centenary with celebrations around the world. This culminated with the sixth Brigade International Conference in Dublin, Ireland. The next Brigade International Conference in 1998, held in Brisbane, Australia saw a reorganisation of the international structure. As a result of this meeting the Atlantic and Pacific committees ceased to exist and were replaced with five fellowships: Africa, Asia, Caribbean and Americas, Europe and Pacific.
The Formation of Girls’ Brigade NI
In 1940, the GB was introduced into Northern Ireland when Mrs Irene Burns started the first company at Enniskillen Presbyterian Church. Two years later, a company began in First Lisburn Presbyterian Church and from this point onwards, GB started to flourish and grow throughout the Province. In 1945, the Northern Ireland Battalion was established. In 1949, Miss Hannah Bell, then Captain of Trinity Presbyterian Bangor, was appointed Secretary to the Northern Ireland Battalion.
Initially the GB programme was based on Bible study and physical exercises but, as the organisation grew and developed, Efficiency and Attendance Badges were awarded and the highest award was the Girls’ Brigade Star.
In 1967, it was decided to divide Ireland into two divisions: the Dublin Division and the Northern Ireland Division. Northern Ireland was subsequently divided into 13 districts. Between 1967 and 1970 the first Handbook and Programme Book were published. With the continued growth of the Northern Ireland Division, the districts were then divided into 15 districts by 31st March 1988.
The first National Executive Board was convened in 1976 under the chairmanship of Rev C N Sansom.
In 1991, the Northern Ireland Division became The Girls’ Brigade Northern Ireland and in 2005 a limited company.
Past Presidents of Girls’ Brigade Northern Ireland
2017 - 2018 - Mrs Latifa McCullagh, Magheragall Presbyterian
2012 - 2017 - Mrs Lyn Campbell, Castlereagh Presbyterian
2009 - 2012 - Mrs Margaret Ming, St Andrew's Presbyterian, Bangor
2006 - 2009 - Mrs Morva Brown, Hamilton Road Presbyterian, Bangor
2002 - 2006 - Miss Pearl Hassard MBE, Trinity Presbyterian, Bangor
1999 - 2002 - Mrs Laura Greenaway, Banbridge Methodist
1995 - 1998 - Miss Annetta Smyth MBE, Joymount Presbyterian, Carrickfergus
1992 - 1995 - Miss Isabel Rowley, Carnmoney Presbyterian
History Room and Borrowing Old Uniforms
Our History Team have been working very hard over the past few years developing a History/Archive Room at GBHQ. The room presents wonderful GB artefacts that have been donated by GB members who have kept the items over the years. This room is open to our GB members to visit at any point. If you have any GB artefacts including uniform and badges that you would like to donate to the History Room. Please contact the general office on 028 9454 8054.
We have a selection of old Uniforms from Old GB and GLB that are available to borrow. You can also borrow display stands for each of the uniforms. Please note these uniform are for display purposes only and are not permitted to be worn. If you would like to borrow these uniforms for any of the events you are hosting for the 125th anniversary or for any special anniversaries for your company, please email us via firstname.lastname@example.org