Letters from Camp, #3

As summer camp winds down for the season, it is time to reflect on the experience. Girls’ letters home often provide insights and anecdotes about camp life.

Lois Milstead (right) attended Camp May Flather in its first summer. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital has run May Flather as its flagship camp since 1930. A temporary camp operated nearby in 1929, and Lois attended that as well.

Her letter appeared in the Washington Post on September 7, 1930.

My Camping Trip

I have just returned. from a four weeks’ stay at the Washington Camp, May Flather, situated in the mountains near Harrisonburg. Va., to which I also attended last summer. This camp is for Girl Scouts.

Although I am not yet a Girl Scout, I enjoy the ways of their life. I hope to become one in the very near future.

The whole four weeks to me were but an enjoyable time. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute while there. I am fond of all kinds of athletics and sports and camp life naturally appeals to me. I play golf and tennis a lot at home, and although I had neither of these sports at camp, there were many interesting pastimes to fully make up for the lack of them.

I will give a brief outline of our daily routine. Revielle, breakfast (just before breakfast we have flag raising), kapers (that is little tasks from each cabin), inspection, classes (forestry, camp craft), swimming, court of honor, dinner, rest hour, classes (handcraft, nature), retreat, supper, camp fire, taps.

I took many overnight hikes and one three-day hike. These were loads of fun.

While at camp this year, I met many of the: girls with whom I was acquainted last year.

Mrs. Hoover visited the camp while I was there. Mrs. Cheatham and Mrs. Flather also came with her. They spent two days and a night with us. They were present for the formal dedication of the new camp site. Mrs. Hoover dedicated a picturesque little bridge and Mrs. Flather, for whom the camp is named, donated much toward it.

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
Dorothy Greene, Camp May Flather director, 1930 (GSCNC archives).

Miss Dorothy Greene, the director of our camp, has done much to the bettering of it, making the girls feel at home, and they are trying to live up to the high standards and morals which she has set for them. I had lots of fun at camp, but I was rather glad when the time came to go home, for I missed my mother and daddy.

Lois A. Milstead (age 12), Dahlgren, Va.

Girls prepare for a hike at Camp May Flather, 1930s (GSCNC Archives).

I don’t know if Lois ever joined the Girl Scouts. She graduated from the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1938.

Lois worked on the school newspaper, the Commercial Echoes. She married George Goodwin, a reporter, two years later and moved to Georgia.

©2019 Ann Robertson

To the Moon, Girl Scout!

Where were you when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon? You’ve probably been asked that question and heard many answers today, as we mark the 50th anniversary of that event.

Out of the blue, I received the following memory today from Lisa Wilson:

In the summer of 1969 my best friend, Jane Conable, and I were 12 year old campers at May Flather. It was our first time sleeping in a platform tent, eating (and cleaning up!!) in a mess hall, and searching for snakes along wooded trails. It was also our first and only time getting woken up in the middle of the night to sit around the campfire circle gazing into the cool blue light of a black & white TV set that had been connected to an outlet via a long, LONG extension cord so that us privileged “older” campers could watch the moon landing live. We had to watch in total silence so as not to wake the younger campers and that spectacular silence still rings in my ears today whenever I think about Apollo 11. The juxtaposition of nature and technology was breath taking.

The first Star Gazer badge was introduced in 1920. Since then, astronomy and space science badges have been created for nearly every age level.

The years of encouragement have paid off.

GSUSA CEO Sylvia Acevedo credits her Brownie leader with fueling her interest in space. That interest led to a degree in engineering and job with NASA. (Read about her career in her book, Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist.)

Nearly every female astronaut has been a Girl Scout, a fact that led NASA to create this splendid poster:

NASA: The Path to High Adventure Begins with Scouting
NASA: The Path to High Adventure Begins with Scouting

This week NASA set a new lunar goal: to return to the moon by 2024, with at least one female astronaut on board.

Chances are, she’ll be a Girl Scout.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Victory! Badge PDFs Are Here!!

This week Girl Scouts of the USA announced the introduction of 42 new badges and one program journey. With topics ranging from cybersecurity and coding to astronomy and high adventure, there are new options for every age level.

But the press release overlooked another major development:

Do you see it? Down at the bottom?

YES!!!!! The day has finally come.

On October 8, 2014, on the eve of the Girl Scout National Convention, I published a blog post, “Let’s Make Downloading Badges Legal.”

I argued in favor of creating official downloadable PDF files for journey program books and individual badge requirements. Specifically:

Let’s be honest and fair and admit that distributing bootleg scans of journey books and badge requirements constitutes theft. It is taking a person’s hard work without paying for it. Go ahead, argue “sharing” and “sisterhood” all you want, but if thieves share stolen goods among themselves, it does not make the theft acceptable. Would you walk into a Girl Scout shop, pocket a handful of badges, and walk out without paying? This is no different.

Let’s resolve to respect authority, including copyright law. The bootleggers know they are breaking the law, which explains why they try to shout down anyone who calls them out with nasty comments and name calling. Do we really have to put labels on every page, photo, design, etc. saying “Not yours. Don’t steal”?

Demand for downloads was obviously high, and I reasoned that many volunteers would come out of hiding and purchase legal copies if given the opportunity.

I also explained why this issue is important to me:

As a writer and editor, words are literally my income. I know that every book has an author, and I know that writing is hard work. Authors deserve to be paid. That is why it really bothers me to see leaders sharing photocopies of badge inserts or websites advertising free downloads of scanned journey books.  (While I don’t get paid to write this blog, it is an opportunity for potential clients to get to know me better.)

Finally, I argued that GSUSA might use PDF fees to recoup some of the lost potential income from leaders who use photocopies instead of purchasing official materials.

I even created a Facebook page called “Girl Scout Publication PDFs Please.” To date over 1,100 people have “liked” the page.

This is just a small step in the ongoing quest for GSUSA to listen to its adult volunteers, and this is merely one step in a long journey.

As this week commemorates the Apollo 11 moon landing, I can’t resist:

PDF Badges: That’s one small step for Ann, one giant leap for Girl Scouts.

©2019 Ann Robertson

The History of Our Own Badges

Regular readers know that I am a HUGE fan of the quirky, obsolete Girl Scout badges known as the Council’s Own. These limited edition badges were designed to add additional topics to the traditional Girl Scouts of the USA badge programs or to highlight resources unique to a particular council.

Their limited production and often very clever designs also have made them highly collectible. But the words “Council’s Own” have become a catch-all phrase randomly applied to a range of unofficial badges, often to increase their selling price.

I’ve fed my addiction by creating a digital archive of these delightful, obscure badges. Since 2014, I have accumulated the name, design, council, and requirements for over 1,500 badges: http://gscobadge.info.

Before including a badge, I have to decide whether or not it meets the definition of a Council’s Own. It can be confusing, because this name is loosely applied to four different programs.

Our Own Troop’s Badge (1958-2010)

The Troop’s Own option was introduced in the 1958 edition of the Intermediate Handbook. The program offered an answer to the many troop scribes who had written to Headquarters with suggestions for new badge topics. There were 12 steps to creating a Troop’s Own, including receiving permission from the program department of the troop’s council. The council approved the topic, but not the actual requirements.

The name of the badge indicated how it was to be earned:

The final requirements and their wording, the badge name, the design, and the actual symbols worn, must be the girls’ own work. While doing all this your leader will help you understand the meaning of badges and what different types of activity should be included.

No other girls in your troop or any other troop can use your work. Even if they choose the same subject, the must create their own requirements and design. It will truly be, “Our Own Badge!”

The topic would be inserted into the badge’s name: Our Troop’s Own Blogging Badge. Troops were asked to submit one badge to Headquarters, but that was for reference only.

Selection of Our Own Troop’s Badges

Leaders were cautioned to step back and let the girls take charge. “If we do these things for girls, then they must, in all honesty, call the badge ‘Our Own Troop Leader’s badge’!”

The “Our Troop’s Own” program split with the 1963 program reform. Now the gold-bordered blank badge was for Cadettes, and a new green-bordered one was introduced for Juniors. The May 1966 issue of Leader features a lengthy article about a Girl Scout troop in the Sudan that decides to create their own badge to learn more about their host country. (Sadly there is no photo of this badge!)

I’ve included some Troop’s Own in my digital archive, as they are extremely difficult to identify. Sadly, their requirements were often discarded when troops disbanded.

Our Own Council’s Badge (1980-2011)

The Worlds to Explore program of the 1980s added an Our Own Council’s Badge. GSUSA described this program as:

Innovative and educationally sound projects developed by the council, to make use of special topics of interest or unusual opportunities and resources within the council or to utilize the rich opportunities provided by council camps.

These badges were developed by adults; typically council staff. They represented the council as part of the national recognition system and therefore should “be developed by people representing a broad spectrum of the council,” according to 1990 GSUSA guidelines.

Most Council’s Owns focused on a specific topic, but a few were tied to a specific event, such as the 1982 World’s Fair (left) and the eruption of the Mount Saint Helen’s volcano in 1980.

Blank Badges Used for “Our Own” Badges

The border colors indicate the year the blank badge was issued, it is not related to the colors of the five worlds. Gold borders were used for COs, green for TOs. When the Worlds program phased out, each age level had one border color for all of their badges, including Troop’s and Council’s Owns.

Make Your Own Badge (2012-2014)

Under the Girl Scout Leadership Experience model, the Our Own options were replaced by a Make Your Own option. The program was discontinued after three years. Members considered the one-off, screen-printed badges to be expensive and unattractive. Plus, they were intended to be for one girl only, but leaders were creating them for entire troops. Guidelines for the program noted:

An important part of the Make Your Own badge is what girls find out about their own learning styles as they created a personalized plan to build a skill. If a girl does a badge designed by another girl, she doesn’t have this chance to learn about herself.

Make Your Owns did not need design or requirement approval from GSUSA, Councils, or even troop leaders. I do not track these in my digital archive.

When a CO Isn’t a CO

Girls and leaders today are demanding badges beyond those offered through GSUSA. Headquarters has responded with Girl’s Choice’ badges, robotics, cybersecurity and more.

But there are still patches available that claim to be a Council’s Own. My archive is intended to document official badges and to help Girl Scouts identify unusual badges. I include a list of known “Not-COs” because future Girl Scouts may be curious about a badge seen on many sashes but does not appear in an official handbook or catalog.

I approach this not as the “badge police,” but as an historian seeking accuracy.

Many pseudo-COs are described as remakes of discontinued Council’s Owns. While providers may redesign the badge, they often recycle requirements developed by other people, presumably without permission or payment. That is little different than putting a new dust jacket on an old book and claiming to be the author.

Similarly, badges developed by individuals are not official, no matter what shape they are. The name “Council’s Own” indicates that its content is council approved. It guarantees that these badges reflect the movement’s high standards and offer substantive, age-appropriate activities.

There Should Be a Patch for That

There are many quality, but unofficial, programs out there, but let’s use correct terminology. These should be patch programs, because they are not Council’s Own badges. Many councils now offer “Council’s Own Patch Programs,” a phrase that just offers more confusion.

Instead of sending me terse, desist messages about the “flood” of telephone calls from leaders seeking to purchase discontinued Council’s Own badges, perhaps councils should take the hint that there is a demand for quality recognitions on these topics. Yes, they could MAKE MONEY by turning these old badges into patch programs.

Some councils have made this change. Many more should consider it.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Four Years in Savannah

Last week my daughter graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design. (Summa Cum Laude in scriptwriting, I know you want to ask.)

When she opted for SCAD, I knew we wouldn’t get to see her very often, as the SCAD campus is some 600 miles away.

But I’m glad we made the effort to visit this beautiful city. My husband and I became regulars at a Hampton Inn near SCAD, and only partly because of their free waffles.

Husband (left) and daughter at commencement

Over time we walked around the historic district enough times that we no longer need a map.

As we drove over the Savannah River and into South Carolina and back to Maryland, it was easy to review what I’d learned these past years. Most are connected to Girl Scouts, which began in Savannah in 1912.

1. I was already familiar with the bridge when the Girl Scouts of Georgia lobbied (unsuccessfully) in 2017 to have it named for founder Juliette Gordon Low.

2. My daughter had the coolest college job ever, as a docent at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. I learned a lot from her about how to bring former residents “alive” in a house museum. After all, tours are just another form of script.

3. I was lucky to have a peek behind the curtain to see Birthplace operations, including the renovated library.

4. I learned more about museum strategies to humanize artifacts. Instead of just showing a uniform, add details about who wore it and what she did while wearing it.

5. I had a fancy dinner in the Birthplace dining room with two of JGL’s great-nieces. They were just as warm and friendly as you’d expect.

6. I learned that shrimp and grits are nature’s most perfect food.

7. And yes, Leopold’s ice cream really is that good.

8. I participated in a GSUSA Task Force on the future of the Birthplace.

9. I didn’t spend nearly enough time at the Girl Scout First Headquarters museum. I don’t remember how many rounds of phone tag the director and I had, but we seldom connected.

10. I learned that if you stand on a street corner and yell “It’s Girl Scouts of the USA” every time a tour guide says that JGL founded the “Girl Scouts of America,” tourists think you’re just a weird Girl Scout vigilante and ignore you.

I deliberately decided not to visit the Andrew Low House or Laurel Grove cemetery. I’m saving them as the reason to return in the future.

Farewell to the Birthplace!!
(and, yes, passing tourists stared)

These four years in Savannah were unforgettable. And yes, I got the patch. All of them!

A sample of my many Savannah patches

©2019 Ann Robertson

Seven Books Every Girl Scout Historian Should Have

7. Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries,
Jessica Lacher-Feldman (2013)

Intended for repositories with far larger budgets than most Girl Scout archives, but the basic info on exhibit design will benefit any reader. Extensive illustrations and examples.

Expensive; look for used copies.  

6. The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository
Christina Zamon (2012)

Excellent go-to reference book. Provides clear instructions and succinct definitions for the amateur archivist. A standard work for “Intro to Archives” courses. Also expensive. Look for used copies.  

Bonus Points: Clever title

5. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You
David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty (2010)

The back cover says it all: “A comprehensive handbook for those interested in investigating the history of communities, families, local institutions, and cultural artifacts.”  Great tips on how to plug Girl Scouts into local history.

4. Saving Stuff: How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions
Don Williams (2005)

This 2005 book from the Smithsonian Institution can be difficult to locate, but it’s worth the effort. There are few things that the book does not cover. Need to preserve macaroni art? It’s in here. Also covers fundamentals of storage such as light and temperature.

3. Scouting Dolls Through the Years: Identification and Value Guide
Sydney Ann Sutton (2003)

Take the dolls chapter out of the Collector’s Guide and quadruple it in length and the result is this comprehensive guide. Extensive color photos make identification quick, and the book includes licensed dolls not necessarily available from the Girl Scout catalog. The book was published in 2003, so the estimated values are not realistic.

Bonus Points: Published in my home town, Paducah, KY

Covers 100 years of Girl Scouting in the Washington DC area. Also includes Girl Scout basics and GSUSA events and buildings in the capital city. More than just a pictorial history, the captions provide detailed information about programs, camps, and more.

Bonus Points: Yes, I wrote it.

1. Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, 3rd edition

This book is the primary reference work for Girl Scout historians, with detailed information about uniforms, badges, publications, and more. My copy is full of comments, notes, and post-it flags. Unfortunately, the most recent edition was published in 2005. There is no 3rd edition.

Did history stop in 2005? Hardly. What has happened since 2005? The Girl Scout Leadership Experience program, journeys, an entirely new series of badges, troop crests, and handbooks. Two CEOs, three national presidents, five conventions, and our 100th birthday. Realignment, anyone?  

A girl born when the most recent Guide was published would now be on the brink of bridging to the Ambassador level. But wait, there’s no mention of Ambassadors in the Guide because that level was only created in 2008. 

The Collector’s Guide never hit the best-seller lists, but its value to the movement should not be dismissed. A new volume could be subsidized, grant-funded, or perhaps live online.

Girl Scouts are supposed to use resources wisely. Hopefully these reference works will provide some guidance for the women (and men) tasked with preserving our past.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Little House in the Nation’s Capital

Note: This entry was originally published on March 10, 2014, but somehow it was accidentally deleted.

No, it’s not a newly discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder book.   The Little House in Washington, DC, was the first in a series of model homes used by Girl Scouts across the country.  Sadly, the Washington Little House is long gone and one current Little House in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, is about to close.

Built behind the White House in Washington, DC, for the second Better Homes Demonstration Week in June 1923, the Little House was a fully working home, with a modern kitchen, breakfast nook, three bedrooms, and a nursery. Between June 4 and June 10, 2,500–3,500 people visited the house each day. After the exhibition, the Better Homes in America and General Federation of Women’s Clubs donated it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center. It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.

Moving the Little House to New York Avenue
Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 for the Little House to be moved from its exhibition site to its new location at 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone.

Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 to relocate the Little House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone, as Hoover watched.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Little House was THE place to go on Saturdays. There was always some badge activity to try or new skill to learn, and the First Lady, as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, might decide to drop by. After all, the White House was just around the corner.

These girls look a bit tired after preparing a luncheon for First Lady Grace Coolidge (in white).
These girls are preparing lunch while their guest of honor, Eleanor Roosevelt, observes.
A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

The Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia rented a room in the northwest corner of the second floor as its headquarters until it outgrew the facility in 1928. The Little House was used continuously for trainings and demonstrations of the domestic arts from June 1923 to April 1945. The building was used as a branch of Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, for the next decade then given to the landowners in May 1955. The Little House was torn down in the early 1970s. There is a commemorative plaque in the lobby of the office building that currently sits at the site. Update: We now have the plaque at our Frederick Archives and Program Center.

dollhouse version of the Little House has been on display at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

For more about the original Little House, see the pamphlet, “Girl Scouts Keep House in Washington.”

POSTSCRIPT: All of the photos used here are from the Harris and Ewing collection and may be downloaded FREE OF CHARGE from the Library of Congress.  You don’t need to buy the overpriced copies offered on eBay!!

©2014 Ann Robertson