Meet May Flather

In the late 1920s, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia were trying to raise $25,000 to build a camp of their own. For nearly a decade, summer camps had rotated among several borrowed sites.

After an unsuccessful attempt to raise funds to purchase Fort Foote in 1927, the council’s attention turned to land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains, near North River Gap, between Grindstone and Lookout Mountains.

A new fund raising campaign began, asking donors to fund a specific building.  A sleeping cabin, for example, would cost $120, a latrine $100, and an infirmary for $400.

Camp May Flather Fund Raising Brochure (Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.)

Camp May Flather Fund Raising Brochure (Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.)

But the real breakthrough came in the form of a fairy godmother: Mrs. Henry H. Flather, known to her friends as “May.”

Mary Rebecca Mullan Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Mary Rebecca Mullan Flather (GSCNC Archives)

May Flather pledged $10,000 for the camp, on the condition that the council raise matching funds.  With that sizable start, additional donations rapidly followed. Edith Macy, for example, donated $600 for the director’s cottage. Mr. Julius Rosenwald donated $2,500.

May’s donation was used to build the picturesque Stone Lodge, she also secured a bank loan to complete the lodge’s roof.

Mary Rebecca Mullan was born on May 13, 1871, in San Francisco. Her father, Captain John Mullan, built the first military road in the northwestern United States. Mullan Pass near Helena, Montana, was named in his honor.

May married prominent Washington banker Henry H. Flather in 1916. Two years later, the Flathers purchased and restored Tulip Hill, an 18th-century estate in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. (George Washington really did sleep at Tulip Hill.)  She held open houses at Tulip Hill to raise money for the Girl Scout scholarship program.

May became active in the new Girl Scout movement, becoming commissioner (president) of the Washington Council in 1926. During her two-year term, she made acquiring a permanent camp her top priority. May also loaned the council a house at 1825 M Street NW, which served as council headquarters from 1929 to 1943.

After stepping down as commissioner in May 1928, May spearheaded the efforts to provide a permanent summer camp for Washington’s Girl Scouts.

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Girls and parents usually assume that Camp May Flather was named for a flower found in the area. But let’s not forget the generous woman who made the camp possible.

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

Washington Girl Scouts Need a Camp!

The District of Columbia Girl Scout Council was chartered in 1917, but ten years later, in 1927,  Washington’s Girl Scouts still had no camp to call their own.

For the past six summers, resident camp had been held at several borrowed sites. The most popular was “Camp Bradley” held adjacent to Edgewood Arsenal (now Aberdeen Proving Ground) in northern Maryland.  That deal had been arranged by General Amos Fries, chief of the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service, whose eldest daughter Elizabeth was in Washington Troop 8.

General Amos Fries (Arlington Cemetery)

General Amos Fries (Arlington Cemetery)

Fries contacted Joseph H. Bradley, who owned some unused land adjacent to the arsenal and agreed to lend it to the Girl Scouts. Fries dispatched soldiers to set up the camp, complete with wooden boardwalks and even electricity.

Camp Bradley staff, 1924 (GSCNC Archives)

Camp Bradley staff, 1924 (GSCNC Archives)

Washington (and Baltimore) Girl Scouts enjoyed Camp Bradley for several summers, but in 1927 girls went eight miles south of Washington, to Fort Foote, a former Civil War-era garrison near Fort Washington in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The campers lived in Army tents and used existing buildings for a commissary, kitchen, and assembly hall. Washington Council director Dorothy Greene called it “a beautiful site for a camp and a natural amphitheater on a hillside has been selected for the pageant picturing the Spirit of Camping.”

The Army was considering selling the 66-acre site, which Army Quartermaster General Benjamin Cheatham had valued at $9,750. When the council was granted a license to continue using the camp in November 1927, they leapt into action, hoping for the opportunity to buy Fort Foote, if they could raise enough money.

A fund drive was organized for December 2-9. The council needed $55,000 for operating expenses, existing debt, and a resident camp. Among other activities, troops demonstrated Girl Scout skills in the windows of a dozen Washington department stores while their leaders stood on the sidewalks outside with collection cups. (See clipping WP 1927 Dec 4).

Similar demonstration of laundry skills, November 1925, likely at the Little House (GSCNC Archives)

Similar demonstration of laundry skills, November 1925, likely at the Little House (GSCNC Archives)

Matoaka clipping

Matoaka clipping

Unfortunately, they only collected about $20,000 and could not make a bid for Fort Foote.

In 1928 girls went to Camp Matoaka in St. Leonards, Maryland, on land loaned by Mrs. James Alburtus.

Resident camp moved to Rawley Springs, Virginia, in 1929.

Brochure for Rawley Springs camp (GSCNC Archives)

Brochure for Rawley Springs camp (GSCNC Archives)

This sprawling site in the Allegheny Mountains was near Rapidan, President Herbert Hoover’s mountain getaway.

And, there was another site, not far from Rawley Springs, that might make a good permanent camp, if the Girl Scouts could raise $25,000, a tremendous amount at the onset of the Great Depression. If only they could find a benefactor…

to be continued

The Little Little House

Today, instead of Throw Back Thursday (#TBT), let’s have Throw Out Thursday.

I’ve written before about the Girl Scout Little House in Washington, DC. Located at 1750 New York Avenue NW, about two blocks from the White House, it was a model home where Girl Scouts learned the basics of housekeeping, hospitality, and child care.

A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

Lou Henry Hoover and a group of well-dressed Girl Scouts wait to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

Built for the second Better Homes Demonstration Week in June 1923, the Better Homes in America and General Federation of Women’s Clubs donated it to the Girl Scouts, and National Girl Scout President Lou Henry Hoover quietly paid $12,000 to move it from the National Mall to its new location.

Lou Henry Hoover (third from right) supervises a kitchen demonstration at the Little House (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

Lou Henry Hoover (third from right) supervises a kitchen demonstration at the Little House (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

To encourage other councils to create similar opportunities for their troops, in 1930 Mrs. Hoover, now first lady, commissioned a highly detailed doll-sized version of the Little House. Everything matched the actual house, down to the wallpaper patterns. The dolls inside even wore tiny Girl Scout uniforms. She arranged for the doll house to be displayed at the 1930 national convention in Indianapolis.  Afterward, the doll house toured the country, before taking up residence at the original house in Washington.

Photo from Dorothy Angel Tenney.

Photo from Dorothy Angel Tenney.

Side view of doll house (Hoover Presidential Library Facebook page)

Side view of doll house (Hoover Presidential Library Facebook page)

Eleanor Roosevelt (second from right) enjoys a "15 cent lunch" in the Little House dining room, 1933 (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

Eleanor Roosevelt (second from right) enjoys a “15 cent lunch” in the Little House dining room, 1933 (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

Doll house dining room, with original hutch, tables, chairs, and wallpaper, matching the photo above (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

Doll house dining room, with original hutch, tables, chairs, and wallpaper (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

The Little House was used continuously for trainings and demonstrations of the domestic arts from June 1923 to April 1945. The Girl Scouts soon outgrew the building and vacated it in May 1955. The house itself was torn down in the early 1970s.

The doll house was taken to Rockwood, the Girl Scout national camp outside Washington, DC. But the manager there saw no need for a doll house at a camp, so it wound up on the trash pile.

I knew that a Rockwood housekeeper, Maude Hill, retrieved the doll house and gave it to a family that she worked for part time. The family had a little girl who was just the right age for the toy. She played with it and eventually donated it to the Hoover Presidential Library in 2012, the year of the Girl Scout centennial.

Imagine my surprise a few months ago, when that “little girl” contacted me, offering photos of the doll house!

Dorothy Angel as a child (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

Dorothy Angel as a child (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

Dorothy Angel Tenney grew up about a half mile from Rockwood. According to Dorothy,

On May 26, 1950, Mrs. Hill told Mrs. Angel that a wonderful doll house had been just tossed out for junk and that Mrs. Angel’s young daughter would love it. Mrs. Angel said she did not want some ratty little doll house that no one else wanted. Mrs. Hill persisted during the next several days and eventually prevailed upon Mrs. Angel to look at it. Mrs. Angel immediately had a laborer load the doll house in her car trunk and took it home.

For Dorothy, it was a wonderful toy. She played with it carefully and didn’t break a single piece of furniture. However, many of the original pieces, including the dolls, had been lost by the time Mrs. Hill discovered it.

Fortunately for Girl Scout history buffs, Dorothy’s father wasn’t just an ordinary father. He was an archivist! In fact, Herbert Angel, was Deputy Archivist of the United States from 1968 to his retirement in 1972. He researched the provenance of the doll house, and the family kept the treasure long after Dorothy outgrew dolls.

Dorothy shared these photos of the doll house. Isn’t it a delight?

Living room, bed room, and nursery (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

Living room, bed room, and nursery (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

Doll Rooms 2

Bedrooms, dining room and kitchen (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

Remembering Rockwood

Did you ever visit Rockwood, the GSUSA camp located in Potomac, Maryland, from 1938 to 1978?

The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

Perhaps you camped at Weston Hill, took a training in the Manor House, or bunked in Carolyn Cottage when your troop toured Washington, DC? Or maybe you attended a language camp, a selection weekend for Our Chalet, or a Wider Opportunity?

I fell in love with the place when my daughter camped there as a Brownie. The more I learned about the history of Rockwood, about the amazing women who built the original estate, transformed a country home into a national camp, and filed a class-action lawsuit to prevent its sale, the more I became enchanted.

I’ve blogged about Rockwood several times, and I am now writing a book about the Rockwood story.

I’ve spent several weeks going through the files at the GSUSA National Historical Preservation Center in New York, and I have many documents and scrapbooks from Washington-area Girl Scouts.

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I know the nuts and bolts of Rockwood. I have statistics on how many troops camped there month by month. I have diagrams of the woefully insufficient septic system. I have legal papers about the acquisition and sale of the camp and the process of turning part of it over to the Montgomery County, Maryland, park system.

But that is only part of the story. I need help from former Rockwood campers. What was the experience like? What memories have stuck in your mind over the decades? Was it the friends you made from other councils? A favorite meal in the dining room? Singing and skits in Brooke Hall? The sweltering cabins in August?

Most of all, I need photos. GSUSA has some photos, mostly exterior shots of buildings. Other than a few postcards and the images in the slideshow above, I’ve seen precious little of the interior. Few images have captions, either.

I’ve setup a Facebook page, Remembering Rockwood, with some of these photos. Please take a look and see if they trigger any memories. Add your recollections to the comments. Maybe you’ll recognize faces and places.

If you have photos, color slides, scrapbooks, or other related items, please contact me. I will cover shipping costs if you let me borrow and scan them. Rockwood is a wonderful part of Girl Scout history. Please help me tell it.

Girl Scouts and the American Bicentennial

Girl Scouts and the American Bicentennial

Happy Independence Day from the Girl Scout History Project!

Back in 1976, the United States was giddy celebrating the 200th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.

The Girl Scouts joined in, of course, issuing two national patches that could be worn on the uniform.

Proposed designs for a third patch highlighting “Horizons 76″ appeared on the cover of the March 1975 Leader magazine. Each troop could vote for one. “Horizons 76″ was a national program encouraging local service projects. A book containing descriptions of these projects was presented to First Lady Betty Ford at the national convention in Washington, DC, in 1975.

Individual councils also marked the American Bicentennial, with patriotic themed patches for local events and cookie sales.

Bicentennial-themed patches from various councils.

Bicentennial-themed patches from various councils.

One of the largest programs came from the Connecticut Trails Girl Scout Council: “If I Were a Girl Scout in 1776.” The program handbook was divided into two sections. The first two parts, “Home and Family” and “The Nation in 1776,” each had six badges that encouraged girls to delve into the history of their families, communities, and country.

Some of the badges available.

Selection of program badges. Top row, l-r: My Flag, George Washington, The State House Bell, My Heritage; Bottom row: My House and Yard, My Country, Toys and Games, My Colony (hand drawn on blank).

The third section contained instructions for making “the 1776 Girl Scout uniform,” which included a gown or dress, an apron, a fichu (scarf), mob cap, and shoes.

My bicentennial dress from 4th grade.

My bicentennial dress from 4th grade.

I was a Junior during the Bicentennial and really wish I’d known about this program. I would have earned all of the badges!

Happy Fourth of July!

Lion Brothers: Behind the Badge

Quick question: Which of these GSUSA ID strips was made in the USA?



Answer: the one on the right. The left strip, with the red, white, and blue shield, was made in China.

Girl Scout badges and fabric insignia have been manufactured by Lion Brothers of Baltimore, Maryland, since the 1920s. Lion Brothers also makes badges and embroidered logos for the Boys Scouts, various branches of the military, university and professional sports teams, and NASA.

Lion helped GSUSA transition from sewn-on insignia to iron-on products in 2003 and produces the Make Your Own badges.

patches, badges

Lion distributed these patches at the 2014 Girl Scout Convention in Salt Lake City.

Lion was founded in 1899 but nearly shut down two years ago. In 2013 the US Customs and Border Patrol Agency, one of Lion’s largest clients, changed its procurement rules from “Made in America” to “Made in America and by trading partners.” According to the Washington Post, that altered wording allowed the government to change manufacturers. Lion lost a huge chunk of its business. While Lion has its own factory in China, it is used for professional sports jerseys and university logo-wear, not the intricate designs of uniform badges.

Lion CEO Suzy Ganz laid off workers and stopped production lines. But rather than surrendering to the changed market, Ganz adapted. She received help from the Mid-Atlantic Trade Adjustment Assistance Center to revamp her US factories, turning them into high-tech “micro-facilities.” Then the Girl Scouts stepped in.

Lion Brothers CEO Suzy Ganz

Lion Brothers CEO Suzy Ganz

The Washington Post reports that the real turning point for Lion came when “the Girl Scouts agreed to bring all production in China back to the United States.” That vote of confidence helped Ganz secure additional funding and begin hiring again.

Senior Textile Arts badge

My teen troop has been working on their Textile Arts badge and we may tour Lion to learn about commercial embroidery.

I’ve heard many leaders complain about the redesigned ID strips, calling them a scheme to suck more funds out of our pockets. I don’t think that is a fair accusation.

Just because a newer version of our insignia has been issued does not mean that you have to immediately rip the old one off a vest and rush out to buy its replacement.

But if you are buying the new strip, perhaps for a newly bridged Brownie or Junior, keep in mind that you’re buying American again, helping a small, woman-run company survive and provide jobs here at home.

Unrolling Girl Scout Camp History

People often drop off donations for the council archives at my house. Usually it’s an old uniform piece or handbook, perhaps a pocketknife or handful of badges. I also have an enviable collection of random Girl Scout socks that regularly appear on my desk at the main office.

But buried inside the latest two boxes of musty, mildewed paper was a real treasure.

Camp history scroll

Camp history scroll

This hand-drawn paper scroll offers the camp report for 1960-1961.  Think of it as an early PowerPoint. You unroll just enough paper to see the next illustration, then move to the next “slide.”

Each camp is listed separately, with attendance levels,

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program offerings,

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and property development detailed.

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The delightful illustrations are hand-drawn with marker, and most of the draft pencil marks are still visible.

I have not measured the entire scroll, but it is at least 60 feet long.

The boxes came from the family of Anne Murray, who was on the National Capital Council Camp Committee in the late 1950s and early 1960s. (National Capital was one of five councils that merged to form Nation’s Capital in 1963).

The scroll will definitely have a featured place in the new Archives & History Program Center opening this fall.

Thank you Roxanne Beatty for arranging this donation!!