The Girl Scout Red Scare, part three

Sixty years ago, on August 6, 1954, the Illinois branch of the American Legion denounced the Girl Scouts for “subversive and un-American influences.”

It was the latest battle surrounding the 1953 Intermediate Girl Scout Handbook.

When we last examined the allegations of Girl Scouts promoting communism, it was July 1954 and the debate had reached the US Congress.  Florida radio personality Robert LeFevre had published an article in his obscure newspaper suggesting that the new handbook promoted a dangerous world order instead of patriotism for the United States. When LeFevre heard that a handbook revision was underway, he crowed that it was because of his complaints. In fact, the revision process was already well underway, so that a newer edition would be in Girl Shop shops in time for the start of the school year.

Several Illinois Congressmen inserted LeFevre’s accusations into the Congressional Record, but tempers seemed to calm on  July 27 when Illinois Representative Timothy P. Sheehan read a statement from GSUSA President Olivia Layton explaining the revision process. Congress adjourned for a summer break and all seemed well.

Then came the bombshell.

On August 5, a reporter called the National Office from the Illinois State American Legion Convention. Edward Clamage, head of the Anti-Subversive Commission for Illinois, was about to introduce a resolution withdrawing American Legion support for the Girl Scouts. He had never examined the Handbook or bothered to contact a single Girl Scout, but he had read LeFevre’s article.  The local council mobilized and gave him additional information about the revisions that already gone to press.

Clamage remained unswayed, and his resolution was presented on the convention floor on the evening of August 6.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

He repeated, almost verbatim, the pro-United Nations accusations first leveled by LeFevre, but the “certain pro-Communist authors” accusation was new.

It referred to a review of the book First Book of Negroes by Langston Hughes that had appeared in the February 1953 issue of Leader magazine.  In a memo to field staff, GSUSA summarized the criticism about the book review and explained that it had been “carefully read by our editors and members of our Program Department” and was selected for “its clear presentation of the history and accomplishments of the Negroe race, and its contribution to increased understanding of an important aspect of our American heritage and culture.”

The First Book of Negroes was reviewed in the February 1953 Leader magazine.

The First Book of Negroes was reviewed in the February 1953 Leader magazine.

However, Hughes had been called to testify before the Joseph McCarthy and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in March 1953 on charges of Communist sympathies. The Girl Scouts risked guilt by association.

After 90 minutes of debate on the convention floor, a minister got up and read Hughes’ poem “Goodbye Christ,” which includes these lines:

“Good-bye, Christ Jesus,

Lord, God, Jehovah,

Beat it on away from here now,

Make way for a new guy with no religion at all.

A real guy named ‘Marx, Communist, Lenin, Peasant, Stalin, Worker, me.”

Although that poem was written 20 years earlier, published only in Europe, and did not appear in the book reviewed in Leader, that recitation sealed the deal. The resolution passed.

The press had a field day, mocking the resolution, and numerous organizations came forward to defend the virtue of the Girl Scouts. The Chicago Daily News called the incident “berserk patriotism” and Eleanor Roosevelt agreed with one Legionnaire who’d shouted out, “How Screwy Can We Get?”  National Capital Post 15 of AmVets told the New York Times that they had conducted their own investigation and determined, “They favor marshmallows and Gregory Peck. They oppose homework and mosquito bites. None of these are on the Attorney General’s (subversive) list.”

One of the many editorial cartoons about the controversy.

One of the many editorial cartoons about the controversy.

GSUSA National President Olivia Layton issued a response on August 9, rejecting the “unwarranted and unfair charges”:

 

Layton also had several telephone consultations with Irving Breakstone, who was elected commander of the Illinois American Legion at the convention and was embarrassed by the mess. Breakstone told the Chicago Sun-Times that he deplored “the method used to call attention to the mistakes made by the scouts’ leaders. It was unnecessary because the scouts themselves already were in the process of making corrections.”

Layton was concerned about the resolution going to the National American Legion convention set for August 30 through September 2 in Washington, DC. Breakstone assured Layton that the resolution would not reach the floor in Washington — but that would not be the case.

© 2014 Ann Robertson

Princess Pat Out of Her Tree

We’ve all heard of the Princess Pat, and most of us know that she didn’t really live in a tree.  But who was she?

Princess Patricia of Connaught (London Illustrated News)

Princess Patricia of Connaught (London Illustrated News)

Born in 1886, Princess Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth of Connaught was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Her parents were Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, and Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia. After a lengthy career in the army, the duke served as Governor General of Canada from 1911 to 1916. Because her mother was in poor health (she passed away in 1917), Patricia served as her father’s official hostess in Canada. Patricia was very popular and highly respected for her work for the Red Cross.  She was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the newly formed Canadian Light Infantry in 1918 and personally embroidered the regiment’s first official colors — their flag. Colonel-in-Chief is a ceremonial role, similar to a sponsor or patron.

Princess Patricia and the Duke of Connaught at the Winnipeg Expo in 1912 (http://dukeofconnaught.yolasite.com/).

Princess Patricia and the Duke of Connaught at the Winnipeg Expo in 1912 (http://dukeofconnaught.yolasite.com/).

The Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry was formed in August 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, and will celebrate its centennial next month.  Members are affectionately known as the “Princess Pats” or the “Patricias,” and their annual magazine is The Patrician. It is a highly decorated unit that served with distinction in both World Wars, Korea, Cyprus, the Balkans, and Afghanistan.

The popular “Princess Pat” camp song is said to be a variation on the regiment’s own marching song, with lyrics that have become increasingly garbled over time. Like a game of telephone, the phrase “light infantry” has transformed into “lived in a tree.” The word “rigabamboo” (or rickabamboo) refers to the red, gold, and purple regimental flag and is “Ric-A-Dam-D00″ in the original.

Princess Patricia presents a wreath to the troops.

Princess Patricia presents a wreath to the troops (www.birthofaregiment.com).

I’ve come up with at least three versions: the Scout Tree song, the Scout Light Infantry version, and the Regimental lyrics.  Although I could not find a definitive statement, the regiment supposedly has asked that the song not be sung with the irregular lyrics as they regard it as disrespectful.

In addition to her needlework talent, Princess Pat was an accomplished painter whose work was widely exhibited. She married Alexander Ramsay, a Naval officer who worked for her father in Canada, in 1919. Now known as Lady Ramsay, Patricia traveled the world with her husband as he rose to the rank of admiral. They had one son. Lady Ramsay passed away in 1974, but Princess Pat lives on in hundreds of Girl Scout, Boy Scout, and Girl Guide camps around the world.

Want to learn more about real princesses? Check out my new patch program, Real Princess.

My Real Princess patch program.

My Real Princess patch program.

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!