Boy Scouts in May saluting at a Memorial Day ceremony in Michigan. On Wednesday, the organization announced that it would accept girls into the Cub Scouts.

Jake May/The Flint, via Associated Press..

The Boy Scouts of America announced plans on Wednesday to accept girls, marking a historic shift for the century-old organization.

The group cited the desire to nurture female leaders as reasons for the decision, pitting it against the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., which operates under a similar mission.

“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,” said Michael Surbaugh, the group’s chief scout executive.

Starting next year, girls will be allowed into the Cub Scout program, which had been limited to boys either in the first through fifth grades or between the ages of 7 and 10. A separate program for older girls will be announced next year and is expected to be available in 2019.

“Dens,” small groups of six to eight members, will be segregated by gender, according to the statement. Packs, or groups of dens, will have a choice: they may accept female dens into existing packs, create new all-girl packs, or remain as all-boy packs.

The decision comes nearly two months after the organization was harshly criticized by the president of the Girl Scouts for what she said was a “covert campaign to recruit girls.”

“I formally request that your organization stay focused on serving the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts,” the president, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, wrote to her counterpart at the Boy Scouts in August.

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