A New Archival Project from an Old Friend

I recently began work on a fascinating new archival project that has nothing to do with Girl Scouts, but it does take me back to my archival “roots.”

I am not an archivist by training; instead, I have degrees in political science and Russian and East European Studies. I came into the archives through the back door, so to speak.

After working on the American Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies at the Library of Congress, I took a job at the International Research and Exchanges Board in 1990. IREX arranged for US scholars to do advanced research (dissertation level or higher) behind the Iron Curtain and, in return, placed Soviet and East European scholars at US universities to do similar research.

I designed the ArchaeoBiblioBase logo 20 years ago.

I designed the ArchaeoBiblioBase logo 20 years ago.

Within months, I found myself working with a Harvard-based scholar, Patricia Kennedy Grimsted. Pat is a renowned expert on Soviet and post-Soviet archives and has published the definitive guides to their collections. With the Berlin Wall down and the USSR about to collapse, Western scholars were gaining unprecedented access to communist archives and finding aids. Pat was updating her guides into an online source that she developed, ArchaeoBiblioBase. I worked with her editing and formatting those guides as well as several articles.

The early 1990s were an exciting time in the archival field, with lively debates about provenance, censorship, restitution, copyright, and fees for access. Westerners discovered that the Soviets had quietly  tucked away a wealth of trophy archives, as well as works of art, books, and other cultural property, including many seized by the Nazis in World War II and presumed destroyed, but actually recovered by Soviet troops. They even claimed to have part of Hitler’s skull disguised in a box labeled “blue ink for pens.”

The 2011 Survey.

The 2011 Survey.

Pat contacted me several months ago to help with a new project.  She has been documenting the current location of the records of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the “Special Task Force” engaged in looting cultural valuables in Nazi-occupied countries during World War II.  Their original files are scattered across 34 repositories in ten countries. Those records are vital to verifying the claims of families requesting the return of their stolen property. The first version of the Survey, published in 2011, was over 500 pages long, and it is only growing.

Patricia Kennedy Grimsted outside Horni Libchava castle in Bohemia, where she discovered that Hitler ran a top-secret counter-intelligence center with captured French intelligence and security archives. Soviet troops captured the materials in May 1945 and removed them to Moscow.

Patricia Kennedy Grimsted outside Horni Libchava castle in Bohemia, where she discovered that Hitler ran a top-secret counter-intelligence center with captured French intelligence and security archives. Soviet troops captured the materials in May 1945 and removed them to Moscow.

Some of the looted items and documentation were recovered at the end of World War II by the “Monuments Men,” as loosely portrayed in the recent Hollywood movie by George Clooney.  If Clooney ever needs an editor, I’ll make room on my calendar!

 

 

 

From Savannah to Frederick, MD

Two weeks ago my family boarded am Amtrak train for a weekend trip to Savannah, Georgia.

Erin and I by the Juliette Gordon Low memorial gate.

Erin and I by the Juliette Gordon Low memorial gate.

Officially, the trip was for my daughter to tour the Savannah College of Art and Design, but I took the opportunity to make my first pilgrimage to the First Headquarters and Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, where Jami Brantley and Katherine Keena were excellent hosts.

Marian Corbin Aslakson, one of Savannah's first Girl Scouts.

Marian Corbin Aslakson, one of Savannah’s first Girl Scouts.

 

 

 

My husband, daughter and I all toured the Birthplace together, and I especially enjoyed pointing out to them Marian Corbin’s name on the early Savannah troop roster.

Part of my haul from Savannah.

Part of my haul from Savannah.

As an adult, Marian Corbin Aslakson was a vibrant and vigorous presence at the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a bonus, our guide, like many at the Birthplace, was a recent SCAD graduate who had lots of insider information for Erin.

 

 

 

I am looking forward to future talks with Jami about the programs that Historic Georgia runs at the First Headquarters, especially as many are run by Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors.  As Nation’s Capital prepares to open a history program center* in its former Field Office in Frederick, Maryland, we are looking at developing our own workshops on our rich Girl Scout history.

Of course we did a ghost tour!  Isn't this a great patch!

Of course we did a ghost tour! Isn’t this a great patch!

*Yes, you read that correctly! I’ll write more on the history program center in future posts.  Stay tuned!

 

Put Girl Scouts on Your Summer Reading List

For almost as long as there have been Girl Scouts, there have been Girl Scout stories.  Stop by the GSCNC office this summer to see an exhibit of Girl Scout fiction books.

The Council’s Archives and History Committee has books ranging from The Girl Scouts at Bellaire, published in 1920, to the Giggling Ghost Girl Scout Mystery from 2012.

In the 1920s and 1930s, when the Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, and other juvenile mystery series became popular, the Girl Scouts followed with their own versions.

Edith Lavell published a 10-volume series in the 1920s that followed Girl Scout Marjorie Wilkinson through her college years. In the 1930s, Virginia Fairfax penned the six-volume mystery series about a group of Mississippi Girl Scouts.

Brownies soon insisted on their own stories, which led to the Brownie Scouts series by Mildred A. Wirt in the early 1950s.  Millie Wirt added three more Girl Scout titles in the 1950s as well.

But Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson was most famous for the books she wrote under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.

Mildred Wirt Benson, the original Carolyn Keene.

Mildred Wirt Benson, the original Carolyn Keene.

She wrote 23 of the original Nancy Drew books, including the first seven, and is largely thought to be responsible for developing the Nancy character. Her editor criticized the first draft of The Secret of the Old Clock, saying that the heroine was “too flip,” but sent the manuscript to the publisher anyway, launching an industry that remains popular decades later. (For more on the many lives of Carolyn Keene, see the new book The History of Nancy Drew, by Christine Keleny.) By the time of her death in 2002, at age 96, Benson had written more than 130 books.

 

 

 

Other book series have been issued over the years, including the three-volume Nancy series by Jean Henry Large, younger sister of Lou Henry Hoover, collections of articles from American Girl magazine, and the more recent Here Come the Brownies series.

Girl Scouts has long promoted reading and the love of books.

Badges related to reading have been around since the 1920s and national patch programs, many in cooperation with the QSP magazine program, have also encouraged reading skills. Over the years, Girl Scouts have also had opportunities to learn about how books are made, including the Intermediate-level Bibliophile badge available from 1938 to 1963. More recently, Cadettes can try the new Book Artist badge.

Girls have always been able to earn badges and patches for reading.

Girls have always been able to earn badges and patches for reading.

Next time you are at the Council main office of Girl Scout Shop, take time to stop by the history display cases and don’t forget to pick up a copy of the council history book. That one is not fiction!

Arcadia front Cover

Who’s That Girl Scout? Leah Burket

Seventy-five years ago, in June 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Washington, DC.  Girl Scout Leah Burket was selected to present the Queen with a bouquet of flowers as the royal couple left the White House en route to a garden party at the British Embassy.  Her Majesty was enchanted by Leah and paused the procession for a closer look at one of Leah’s badges.

Girl Scout Leah Burkett, left, tells Queen Elizabeth about one of her awards.

Girl Scout Leah Burkett, left, tells Queen Elizabeth about one of her awards.

Today, June 8, 2014, Washington Post columnist John Kelly recalled “Their majesties’ magical tour of Washington 75 years ago.” He included a version of this photo, but the print version cropped out poor Leah. That is a shame, as she was an outstanding  Girl Scout.

Queen Elizabeth asked Leah about her Book Finder badge.

Queen Elizabeth asked Leah about her Book Finder badge.

Leah was a member of Takoma Park, Maryland, Troop 51.  She was in the same troop as Jean Boyer Porter, who remained an active Girl Scout in the Washington area until her death last year.  Jean’s children generously donated her Girl Scout memorabilia to the Nation’s Capital Council, including scrapbooks and photo albums full of Troop 51′s exploits in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Girl Scout troops were to assemble at 3:45 on June 8, 1939, for the royal visit.

Girl Scout troops were to assemble at 3:45 on June 8, 1939, for the royal visit.

Leah, 15, became quite the celebrity.  She told the Evening Star newspaper that after she presented Queen Elizabeth with a bouquet of forget-me-nots, sweet peas, and lilies of the valley, the royal asked to shake her hand.

“Then she asked how many badges I had, and I said there were 15 on this uniform. She asked about one in particular. That is the book-finder badge. She told me that her daughter Elizabeth [now Queen Elizabeth II] is working for her badges.”

The photo of Leah and the royals was reproduced around the world. She recalled getting letters containing the clipping from people across the United States, as well as from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and India.  She became pen pals with several of them and learned about the hardships many people faced in war-torn Britain.

Leah put her Girl Scout leadership skills to work to organize a “Bundles for Britain” dance at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Bundles for Britain sent packages of warm clothing, first aid kits, and other items to British families. Inspired by Leah, the Silver Spring Young Men’s Democratic Club and the Indian Springs Country Club also held similar dances.

Three cheers for Leah Burket!

 

Who’s That Girl Scout? The Peach Pit Girls

One hundred years ago, the onset of World War I provided many opportunities for the new Girl Scout movement.

The "Peach Pit Champions of Washington, DC, collected thousands of peach pits for the war effort.  From left: Lillian Dorr, Troop 60; Helen Collier, Troop 33; Eva Tarslush, Troop 60.  (The Rally, March 1919.)

The “Peach Pit Champions of Washington, DC,” collected thousands of peach pits for the war effort. From left: Lillian Dorr, Troop 60; Helen Collier, Troop 33; Eva Tarslush, Troop 60. (The Rally, March 1919.)

A December 20, 1914, Washington Post clipping reports Takoma Park Troop 5 busily knitting scarves “for the European soldiers.”

In February 1915, Juliette Gordon Low arrived in Washington from England. She met with troop leaders at the National Headquarters (the Munsey Building at 1327 E Street NW) and “gave a graphic account of the remarkable relief work being done in England by the Girl [Guides].”

WP1915 June 13

The Girl Scout organization pledges its support to President Wilson during World War I. (Washington Post, June 13, 1915)

After the United States entered the war in 1917, Girl Scouts stepped up their efforts. Girls joined Lou Henry Hoover to distribute sandwiches to soldiers passing through town, raised homing pigeons destined for the front lines, and made bandages for the Red Cross.

The March 1918 edition of The Rally (the first Girl Scout magazine) introduced a Girl Scout War Service Award to “stimulate thoughtful direct effort that would have a distinct value to those in the war.” To earn the award, girls had to knit two pounds of wool, make 50 jars of jam, and sell at least 10 Liberty Bonds. The Rally also directed Girl Scouts to collect and dry fruit pits and nut shells:

A CAMPAIGN FOR PITS

Gather up the peach pits,

Olive pits as well.

Every prune and date seed

Every walnut shell.

The magazine article explained that “200 peach pits or seven pounds of nut shells produced enough carbon for one filter for a solider’s gas mask” (GS Collector’s Guide, p. 87).  With the German military deploying highly toxic chlorine gas against the Allied troops, the Red Cross and other organizations launched peach pit collection drives across the country, according to The Atlantic magazine.

The Girl Scouts rose to the occasion, and three Washington, DC, Girl Scouts — all under age 13 — were declared “Peace Pit Champions.”

Well done, ladies!

Who’s That Girl Scout? Eleanor Putzki

You’ve seen her photo, but how much do you know about Eleanor Putzki?

Eleanor Putzki, the "Best Girl Scout in America."

Eleanor Putzki, the “Best Girl Scout in America,” wears the Golden Eagle of Merit, pinned just below her Sunflower Patrol crest. She is standing at the White House gate, after receiving her award from First Lady Edith Wilson (Harris and Ewing Collection, Library of Congress.)

Eleanor Putzki was an original member of Washington, DC, Troop 1.  Formed in late 1913, the troop met at Wilson Normal school and was led by Mrs. Giles Scott Rafter, a leader in the PTA movement and vigorous advocate of education for girls and statehood for the District of Columbia.

Eleanor was an outstanding Girl Scout, whose accomplishments were regularly mentioned in newspaper reports about the young movement. At the October 9, 1915, all-troop hike, for example, Eleanor was praised for correctly identifying 25 varieties of wildflowers. She received her Red Cross badge from none other than Juliette Gordon Low herself in January 1916. In May 1916 she was asked to “display her assortment of proficiency badges and explain what they meant” for other troops.

She had to impress an unusually well qualified board of examiners to receive those badges.  She was quizzed by Professor Wells Cook of the US Department of Agriculture and experts at the Smithsonian Institution  and Department of the Interior. Her nursing exam was administered by the head of the Visiting Nurse Association, while Fred Reed, the first Eagle Scout in Washington, assessed her mastery of the material for her pathfinder and pioneer badges.

Eleanor was awarded the Golden Eagle of Merit from Mrs. Woodrow Wilson at a ceremony at the White House on June 21, 1917.  She was the first Washingtonian to receive the award and the fifth nationwide.  The award was the highest available from 1916 to 1919 and required earning 14 proficiency badges; Eleanor earned 25.  Fewer than 50 Golden Eagles of Merit were presented before the honor was revised and renamed the Golden Eaglet.

Eleanor was named “Best Girl Scout in America” in 1918 and explained her enthusiasm for Girl Scouting to Literary Digest:

Why, no one will ever know what the Girl Scout work has done for me. Only three months ago, when I started after my badge for pathfinder, I scarcely knew the difference between northwest and southeast Washington. To win that badge I had to know all the public buildings, schools, streets, and avenues, monuments, parks, circles, playgrounds and, in fact, be qualified as a guide. Going after Girl Scout badges just woke me up. It makes you see things, and see why and to want to do things better and to help others.

At the age of 17, Eleanor was given her own troop at Webster School.  The troop grew from seven girls to 34 in just three weeks; and after two weeks’ training 18 of of the girls were rated proficient in first aid and wigwagging (semaphore).

She had ambitious plans for her troop:

Outdoor life is the best thing in the world for girls and I want to encourage every other girl all I can to get out in the open with ears open and eyes open and with lungs open. That’s why I’m going to make my troop of girls the best in the city. I’m going to have every one of them a first-class scout before I’m through.

Born on August 5, 1899, Eleanor was the daughter of Kate Stirling Putzki and the artist Paul Putzki, best known for his china paintings. Eleanor married Freeman Pulsifer Davis and moved to Indianapolis. I’ve located little information about her life in Indiana, aside from a handful of clipping that suggest she was an avid golfer.  I hope she remained an avid Girl Scout, as well.