From Washington in 1915 to Salt Lake City in 2014: Girl Scout Conventions

I’m counting down the days until the 53rd Girl Scout Convention convenes in Salt Lake City, UT, on October 16, 2014. I’ll be heading west earlier for the Girl Scout History Conference, which begins on October 14.

To mark the occasion, the GSCNC Archives and History Committee has installed a new exhibit about Girl Scout conventions.

First, here’s a quick FAQ on conventions:

What is a Girl Scout convention?

Held every three years, conventions include formal National Council Sessions, plus trainings, a history conference, guest speakers, exhibits, a girl Leadership Institute, songs, and friendships to make and renew.

Convention name badge for Virginia Hammerley, a staff member of the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia.

Convention name badge for Virginia Hammerley, a staff member of the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia.

What is the National Council?

Comprised of delegates from each council, the National Council is charged with giving broad direction to the future of the Girl Scout Movement. It is the major link between Girl Scout councils and the national organization. Each council is allotted delegates based on its membership level. Nation’s Capital, the largest council in the country, is sending 36 delegates. Any registered member age 14 and over can be a delegate. With delegates, alternates, staff, and “official visitors” (like me), the Nation’s Capital delegation has 94 Girl Scouts Utah-bound.

 

What will the National Council do?

There are three resolutions on the agenda:

  • Allowing GSUSA to offer new membership formats (now we have just two: 12-month and lifetime; exactly what new formats is not specified in the resolution).
  • Having the GSUSA chief financial officer report to the chief executive officer, not the national board of directors.
  • Changing the ex officio, non-voting status of past GSUSA presidents to voting members of the national board of directors.

There also will be a much-anticipated discussion about the role of the outdoors in the Girl Scout Leadership Experience.

Delegates receive policy proposals ahead of time, along with their council’s perspective on specific issues, such as lowering the minimum age to include 5-year-olds.

Delegates receive policy proposals ahead of time, along with their council’s perspective on specific issues, such as lowering the minimum age to include 5-year-olds.

 

Has the National Council Session ever met in Washington, DC?

Yes, three times: 1915 (the first session), 1923, and 1975.

 

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When is the next convention?

2017 in Columbus, OH.

 

 

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Make New Friends, But Keep the Old….

Salt Lake City will be my second Girl Scout convention.  It will be hard to top my first, Houston in 2011.  I knew I would see my high school troop-mate Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks in Houston, as she worked for the Girl Scout Council of Central and Western Massachusetts. But what we didn’t expect was to run into our Cadette and Senior leaders, who just happened in be in Houston for a different event. I hadn’t seen any of them in at least 20 years, but it felt more like 20 minutes.  What a wonderful surprise that was.

Princess Pat: Chop Down that Tree

My July post about the “Princess Pat” song and its controversial lyrics brought a flood of comments.  They can be divided into two categories: people who insist that the song be sung with the correct lyrics (The Princess Pat, light infantry…) out of respect for this hallowed unit of the Canadian military, and people who favor the garbled camp version (The Princess Pat, lived in a tree….).

I also received many links to an Internet post saying that the Princess Pats had actually asked that people stop singing the Tree version. However, I never found anything to verify that request.

So, I decided to ask the soldiers themselves. While I couldn’t work in a trip to Canada, I did get in touch with Captain Alan M. Younghusband, the regimental adjutant. (Yes, Capt. Younghusband, isn’t that a great name!)

The regimental flag hand sewn by Princess Pat.

The regimental flag hand sewn by Princess Pat.

Although he was traveling (August 2014 was the unit’s centennial, and they were quite busy), he promised to investigate the origins of the song in their records.

I received his response a few weeks ago:

The origins of the “Princess Pat” song is one we call The Ric-A-Dam-Doo Song based on the founding of our regiment and the pride we hold in our original camp flag colour (or flag) that is affectionately known as The Ric-A-Dam-Doo which is Gaelic for “Cloth of thy mother”.  Which refers to HRH Princess Patricia (later Lady Patricia Ramsay) working the flag by hand before presenting it to her regiment before they sailed off to the Great War.  I’ve only ever heard one version of the song (the non-offensive one) and we still use segments of it during Regimental Salutes.  While the colour was retired after surviving WWI , the song is still held within our Regimental Song Book.

Thus, the answer seems to be that there was no official request from the unit. Capt. Younghusband was apparently not even aware of the Tree Version, but he does indirectly refer to it as “offensive.” I suppose it is then up to each troop to decide which lyrics are respectful.

The regiment’s lyrics are:

Our Ric-a-dam-doo, pray what is that?

‘Twas made at home by the Princess Pat.

‘Tis Red and Gold and Royal blue.

That’s what we call our Ric-a-dam-doo.

The wives of the current regiment recorded a beautiful song written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance for the centennial.  The video includes many photos of the regiment over the years.  Proceeds from the song, which is available for purchase from iTunes, will go to Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Foundation, supporting Canadian military service and former military personnel in need.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation released a documentary about the Princess Pats for their centennial, “A Battalion Apart.”  The accompanying website has much more information about the regiment.

Thank you Capt. Younghusband!

 

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.

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!