Camp May Flather Desegregates in 1955

The District of Columbia Council’s flagship resident camp, Camp May Flather, quietly desegregated in the summer of 1955.

The Council’s Camping Committee had made the following recommendation to the Council Board of Directors, which voted for the change in January 1955:

The Committee on Camping recommends that there be no restrictions in any camp based on race. This means that in troop camping we will continue the present practice of camping as troops, but when council-wide encampments are held, there is no segregation.

Day camps will continue to be operated by District Committees and attendance will be limited by District jurisdiction.

Established camps will be open to all girls in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County [Maryland] regardless of district jurisdiction.

There was no big fanfare, no press release, just an invitation to members of a highly experienced troop of African American girls from the Charles Young School in Washington, DC. Troop 35 was led by Pansy Gregg, a second-grade teacher at Charles Young.

Intermediate Troop 35

Intermediate Troop 35 (GSCNC Archives)

Camp May Flather ran from June 27 through August 22, 1955, and five girls attended two-week sessions at camp: Beverly Pyles, Sandra Smith, Norma Turner, Sheila Gross, and Theresa Dorsey.

Council staff and members of the Camp Committee went to the bus stop as girls prepared to depart for Mt. Solon, Virginia, that summer. The women announced that from this day forward, Camp May Flather was open to all girls. Camp Committee chair and future council president Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch” waved a council checkbook and said that she would provide immediate refunds to any family that objected to the new policy. None did.

The campers later wrote about their experience for their school newsletter:

Sixth-grader Sheila Gross recalled:

I had a lot of fun at Camp May Flather last summer. I learned how to swim and how to make earrings and bracelets. I was in a group that played games and sang funny songs. We went on an overnight hike and slept out in the open. I had such a good time that I would like to go back next summer.

 

Prior to 1955, local African-American troops had primarily camped at Rockwood, just outside of Washington. As a National camp, Rockwood was open to all Girl Scouts.

Virginia McGuire (GSCNC archives)

Virginia McGuire (GSCNC Archives)

At the time, District VII, the administrative designation for African-American troops in the District of Columbia, had been raising funds to purchase their own camp. Leaders voted to donate that money toward a new administrative building at Camp May Flather. That building was named for Virginia McGuire, the original organizer of District VII in 1934. McGuire later became the first African American member of the council board.

Camp May Flather’s desegregation came one year after the US Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision. It would take another four years before Virginia began to desegregate its public school system.

At the end of the summer 1955 camp season, the Camp Committee sent a letter to parents of girls who had attended Camp May Flather “to get their reactions as to their likes and dislikes and things they would like to have done or would like to do when they return another summer.”

Members of the Camping Committee, October 1956. Bobby Lerch is second from left. (GSCNC Archives)

Members of the Camping Committee, October 1956. Bobby Lerch is second from left. (GSCNC Archives)

Information for this post was greatly aided by a recent donation from the family of Anne Murray, who was a member of the Camp Committee at the time of desegregation. I’ve already written about the wonderful camp scroll included in this material, and I hope to find more information as I explore the contents.

©2015 Ann Robertson

 

Flood Sweeps through Camp May Flather in 1949

As Camp May Flather staff prepared to welcome campers in June 1949, a huge storm caused flash flooding throughout Virginia.  Six locals died, and the Red Cross reported 2,400 people had been left homeless by the raging waters. Half of the town of Petersburg, VA, was underwater.

Just before the storm hit, on the night of June 17, staff had fanned out across the camp to set up their individual units. When the rain ended, the North River, which runs through the middle of camp, was 15 feet above its normal level. Five staff members were unaccounted for: Director Edith Clark; Assistant Director Eugenia Darby of Alabama; Faith Marr, who led a Brownie troop at the Potomac School in McLean, VA; and Grace McDade and Catherine Ducharme of Lafayette, LA.

CMF Flood

Faith Marr, Kay Ducharme, Eugenia Darby, and Grace McDade. Note the damage to the road.

The next day, a relieved Lenora Mann, director of camping for the DC Council, told reporters that a small plane had flown over the camp and seen the five gathered at the dining hall (Evening Star, June 19, 1949). The plane dropped food to the grateful women, who spent the next 48 hours at the dining hall before they were rescued by the National Guard. Even then, they had to “wade from the camp’s dining hall in the chest-deep water to the highway and then walk a mile to Stokesville” (Evening Star, June 20, 1949).

Staff wait for a Jeep to pick up them and their luggage.

Staff wait for a Jeep to pick up them and their luggage.

Camp May Flather sustained heavy damage. One-third of the buildings had been washed from their foundations. The crushed stone roadways were gone, leaving behind “impassible mud and boulder trails” (Washington Post, June 21, 1949). The swimming pool, 12 foot at the deep end, was completely filled with mud. The Boone unit, comprised of eight cabins, an outdoor kitchen, and a troop house, was completely destroyed, as were two new footbridges.  Early estimates put the replacement cost at $10,000.

The remains of Boone.

The remains of Boone.

Staff carry out records and equipment.

Staff carry out records and equipment.

Camp was canceled for the summer. Staff salvaged what they could, loading records and equipment into handwoven pack baskets.

That fall, Lenora Mann made repeated trips to May Flather to supervise the cleanup. Julian Salomon, a camp consultant from GSUSA in New York, also came to inspect the site.

Julian Salomon found the Boone latrine in the Sherando unit. Salomon also designed Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Julian Salomon found the Boone latrine in the Sherando unit. Salomon also designed Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Locals were busy repairing their own property, but the Forest Service helped her hire a cleanup crew from West Virginia. Many of the West Virginians were descended from German immigrants and spoke a German dialect. Somehow in translation they became known as the “Dutchmen,” and the proud workers confided to the Foresters that they found it hard taking orders from a woman.

The

The “Dutchmen” work crew. From left, Roy and Bud, John and his two boys.

The crew bulldozed the remains of the Boone cabins, but left the stone fireplaces from the outdoor kitchen and troop house intact. They had withstood the floodwaters and Lenora would not let them be torn down.

The Boone troop house chimney survived the flood.

The Boone troop house chimney survived the flood.

Lenora carefully documented the cleanup and donated her photos to the GSCNC Archives and History Committee.

Mrs. Hoover Comes to Camp May Flather, part two

Earlier today, I wrote about First Lady Lou Henry Hoover’s visit to Camp May Flather, August 7-8, 1930.

As a special treat, here are the memories of Marguerite Hall, an original staff member at Camp May Flather, tasked with baking a cake for Mrs. Hoover’s visit.

Her math is a little off at the beginning, but keep watching and enjoy!

Mrs. Hoover Comes to Camp May Flather, part one

May Flather may have been the driving force in establishing Camp May Flather, but she had influential friends who helped as well. First among these was First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

Mrs. Hoover was a huge supporter of Girl Scouting. Not only was she honorary national president from 1929 to 1933, she also was the elected national president twice, 1922-1925 and 1935-1937.

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

President and Mrs. Hoover were neighbors of Camp May Flather, with Camp Rapidan, their private retreat, located nearby. When they sold Camp Rapidan in the 1940s, Mrs. Hoover donated much of the furnishings to Rockwood, the national camp outside Washington, DC.

Mrs. Hoover personally donated $100 to build a bridge over the North River, which runs through Camp May Flather. She was actively involved in the design of the bridge, commenting on sketches as they were presented to her. However, she did not want the bridge named for her, so it officially is “Shawnee Bridge.”

To the great delight of campers, volunteers, and staff, Mrs. Hoover agreed to come to camp to formally dedicate the bridge. She arrived on August 7, 1930, and spent the night in a tent.

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A coveted invite to the camp dedication (Hoover Presidential Library)

A coveted invite to the camp dedication (Hoover Presidential Library)

She spent a busy two days at the camp, filled with activities and demonstrations:

Dedication schedule (Hoover Presidential Library)

Dedication schedule (Hoover Presidential Library)

A nervous color guard prepares to post the colors for the first lady (GSCNC archives)

A nervous color guard prepares to post the colors for the first lady (GSCNC archives)

While other campers have their cameras ready (GSCNC Archives)

While other campers have their cameras ready (GSCNC Archives)

Finally, the dedication begins. Mrs. Hoover cut a rope of laurel branches and marched across the new bridge.

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Many Washington Girl Scout officials attended the event. May Cheatham, second from left, was married to US Army Quartermaster Major General B.F. Cheatham, who supervised construction of the camp.

VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH's former secretary) GSCNC Archives

VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH’s former secretary) GSCNC Archives

Then she waves farewell to Camp May Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Then she waves farewell to Camp May Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Which staff remembered fondly.

Clippings from scrapbook of 1930 Camp May Flather staff (GSCNC Archives)

Clippings from scrapbook of 1930 Camp May Flather staff (GSCNC Archives)

Ever the gracious host, Mrs. Flather promptly wrote Mrs. Hoover to thank her for the visit.

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After 85 years, the “Shawnee Bridge” still stands at Camp May Flather.

Mrs. Hoover's bridge today.

Mrs. Hoover’s bridge today.

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)

© 2015 Ann Robertson

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

© 2015 Ann Robertson

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

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)

© 2015 Ann Robertson