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!

 

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.