Who’s That Girl Scout? Samantha Smith

Girl Scout Samantha Smith made national headlines in November 1982, but not for selling cookies.

That month was one of the lowest points in Cold War history. Leonid Brezhnev, who had led the Soviet Union since 1964, died on November 10. US-USSR negotiations about nuclear weapons had stalled, partly because of Brezhnev’s physical and mental decline.

Time magazine cover November 22 1982 with portraits of old Soviet leaders
Time Cover November 22 1982

The USSR political system did not have a line of succession, and observers were unsure who would lead the USSR now. Would he ease or inflame the Cold War? After two days, former KGB chief Yuri Andropov emerged victorious. A former spymaster seemed unlikely to pursue peace.

(End of the Soviet leadership lesson.)

In Maine, a fifth-grader named Samantha Smith saw newspaper and magazine headlines about Andropov and the arms race. Samantha, a Junior Girl Scout, decided to take action. She wrote a letter to the new Soviet leader.

Dear Mr. Andropov,

My name is Samantha Smith. I am 10 years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like it if you would. Why do you want to conquer the world or at least our country? God made the world for us to share and take care of. Not to fight over or have one group of people own it all. Please lets do what he wanted and have everybody be happy too.

Samantha Smith

The letter did arrive in Moscow. The leading Soviet newspaper, Pravda, published it, as part of an article on concerned citizens.

After five several months without a direct answer, Samantha wrote to the USSR Ambassador to the United States. Had Andropov received her letter?

A reply from the Kremlin arrived in April 1983.

Samantha with letter from Andropov
Samantha with letter from Andropov

Andropov’s Reply

He reassured Samantha that his country did not want war.

Yes, Samantha, we in the Soviet Union are trying to do everything so that there will not be war on Earth. This is what every Soviet man wants. This is what the great founder of our state, Vladimir Lenin, taught us. …

We want peace — there is something that we are occupied with: growing wheat, building and inventing, writing books and flying into space. We want peace for ourselves and for all peoples of the planet. For our children and for you, Samantha.

Andropov invited Samantha to visit the USSR.

You will find out about our country, meet with your contemporaries… and see for yourself: in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples. 

www.mainememory.net

Samantha and her parents spent two weeks there in July 1983. They visited Lenin’s tomb, watched the Bolshoi Ballet, and she spent three days at Artek, a summer camp for children of her own age.

Two Weeks in the USSR

She did not, however, meet Andropov. Scholars now know that Andropov spent most of his 15-month term undergoing dialysis, slowly succumbing to kidney failure.

Samantha quickly became a media darling in both countries, although cynics said she was being used as a a propaganda tool.

After her trip, Samantha was interviewed by reporters, civic groups, even talk-show host Johnny Carson. Her poise before a camera led her to be cast as Robert Wagner’s daughter in “Lime Street,” a new US television series filming in London.

Tragedy and Legacy

Her father accompanied her on trips to London for the show. They were on their way home when their airplane crashed in August 1985. There were no survivors. Samantha was 13.

Jane Smith established the Samantha Smith Foundation to continue her daughter’s efforts to promote friendship between youth in the United States and Soviet Union. The foundation grew largely dormant after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Samantha Smith Soviet 
postage stamp
Samantha Smith Stamp

Jane was also the keynote speaker for Kennebec Girl Scout Council’s celebration of the 75th birthday of Girl Scouts. After her presentation, Jane unveiled a new USSR postage stamp created in her daughter’s honor.

While Samantha’s story has faded in the United States, she remains extraordinarily popular in Russia.

By the late 1980s, each child growing up in the Soviet Union would know her name and her charming smile. Indeed, to this day, Samantha Smith remains a name that is widely recognized by ordinary Russians born during the Soviet period and has not left the realm of politics.

Matthias Neumann, “Children Diplomacy During the Late Cold War.”

The Artek camp remains in use, with a monument and an annual Samantha Smith session.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Camp photos from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Soviet Art/USSR Culture

Girl Scouts Vote on Marijuana

Today, voters in five states will determine whether or not to decriminalize marijuana use by adults age 21 and older. To date, 37 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws.

The legalization trend has had unintended effects on the Girl Scouts, especially Girl Scout cookies.

Girl Scouts and Marijuana?

Not words you often see in close proximity.

Hand-drawn marijuana leaf on green circle of fabric
A curious Troop’s Own badge from my collection

The Girl Scout cookie program is not a fundraiser, in official Girl Scout materials, but a way to foster entrepreneurialism in young women. Ahead of sales, troops set sales goals, apply for cookie booths (usually assigned by lottery), and create their own decorations, slogans, and signs.

As legal marijuana dispensaries opened across the country, a few Girl Scouts did their research and saw an untapped market.

In 2014, a San Francisco Girl Scout set up a cookie both outside a medical marijuana dispensary and did a booming business. Pre-Covid, a Chicago troop used a similar location. Last year, the pot and cookies combo came from Walled Lake, Michigan. Weekend cookie booths outside the Greenhouse of Walled Lake establishment sold more than 1,000 boxes.

When these news stories began to circulate, GSUSA stepped in. They had no problem with the booth locations. But selling products bearing the Girl Scout name was another matter.

We Don’t Like Those Girl Scout Cookies

For many years, “Girl Scout Cookie” has been a popular strain of marijuana. So long as the botanical remained banned, Girl Scout officials chose to ignore the trademark infringement. Any legal action to prevent use of the name would only give publicity to the offending product.

But with legalization, the issue had to be addressed. The increased access to marijuana “edibles” crossed a line. Baked goods are Girl Scout turf. GSUSA released the following statement in 2017: 

We were recently made aware of local dispensaries using the Girl Scouts trademarked name, or a variation of our trademarked name, to sell their products. In January, dispensaries in California were issued a cease and desist letter from Girl Scouts of the USA for trademark infringement and have removed the product in violation from their shelves. “Girl Scout Cookies” is a registered trademark dating back to 1936. Our famous cookies are known the world over for their delicious flavor and we do not want the public to be confused by unauthorized products in the marketplace.

Medical Marijuana Inc.

Representatives of the marijuana industry were not alarmed by the cease-and-desist letters. “We knew it was coming,” admitted the executive director of the Magnolia Oakland dispensary.

We come from the grow room, not business college. There’s a learning curve to business practices and we are becoming more sophisticated lately, but it’s something people should’ve known, there’s no excuse.

Debby Goldsberry, Executive Director, Magnolia Oakland Dispensary

This isn’t the first time the Girl Scouts took action regarding marijuana.

Girl Scouts Vote Not to Decriminalize Marijuana

When the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution, enacted in 1971, lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18, the Girl Scout program offered initiatives that would help girls to become informed voters. One initiative convened fifty years ago.

Red, white, and blue patch showing the female symbol, American flag, and a smoking pipe.
Petticoats, Pot, Politics Patch

In 1972 the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital sponsored “Petticoats, Pot, and Politics,” a Wider Opportunity (Destination) for Senior Girl Scouts. One hundred girls aged 14-17 from across the country joined 25 girls from Nation’s Capital for two weeks of political debate at Trinity College in Washington, DC.

The local delegates helped design the program, selecting current issues with particular relevance for teens.  They passed several bills, including one requiring sex education to be taught in school, but defeated a proposal to decriminalize marijuana, instead calling for possession to be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Uniformed Girl Scouts meet president's daughter.
Conference chair Beaulah “Boo” Law meets Julie Nixon Eisenhower (Leader Magazine, March 1973).
Teen age Girl Scout reading booklet on "The American Woman"
From Leader Magazine, March 1973

The experience ended with a reception at the White House attended by First Daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who declared that she agreed with the girls’ position on marijuana.

Girl Scouts–at the forefront of change.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Wearing Pearls for Founder’s Day

Juliette Gordon Low was born on October 31, 1860, in Savannah, Georgia. Girl Scouts today honor her by wearing pearls on Halloween.

Why Pearls?

William Mackay Low presented his bride, known to all as Daisy, with a magnificent set of matched natural pearls for their wedding on December 21, 1886.

jgl and willy wedding
Juliette Gordon and William Low

It was an extravagant gift from a handsome and quite wealthy groom, but Mr. Low turned out to be a dud of a husband. He had affairs throughout their marriage, never gave Daisy the children she had hoped for, and perpetually late in sending an allowance to his estranged wife.

Just as Daisy was about to take the drastic step of divorcing her husband, Low conveniently died in 1905.

A new man, Robert, Lord Baden Powell, entered her life five years later, and soon Daisy devoted herself to the scouting movement then emerging in Great Britain. She launched an American version in Savannah in March 1912. (Dear readers, you realize this is heavily abridged.

But she envisioned her movement as a national one, so in June 1913 she set up a national headquarters in the Nation’s Capital — Washington, DC.

Low signed a lease for Room 502 of the Munsey Building at 1327 E Street NW. Monthly rent was $15, and she spent $2 for a sign on the door.

The 12-story building was full of law firms and financial executives. It boasted luxury details throughout, including marble Roman Doric pilasters, brass details, and exotic wood paneling. Black and red marble designs on the floor indicated the entrances to each suite.

Formal portrait of middle aged white woman in white dress and long string of pearls.
A 1922 portrait of Daisy wearing a different (presumably) string of pearls. (GSUSA archives)

Daisy summoned National Executive Secretary Edith Johnston from Savannah, GA, who set up shop with Miss McKeever, a local woman hired to handle mail requests for information, handbooks, and badges. Johnston also publicized troop activities, and local newspapers had a regular column about local Girl Scouts.

Low paid the rent herself and covered the cost of uniforms, handbooks, and all types of expenses until the organization could become self-funding.

Who Needs Pearls in the Woods?

When expenses became overwhelming, Daisy sold the pearl necklace to raise funds for her girls. She had rid herself of her husband, and his pearls held little sentiment.

Jewels are not important, but my Girl Scouts are, they need the money more than I need pearls.

Juliette Gordon Low
Muncie Evening Press Mon Sep 8 1913
Muncie Evening Press Mon Sep 8 1913

Ted Coy, the celebrated former captain of the Yale football team, bought the pearl necklace for his new bride, Savannah native Sophie Meldrim. They had just moved to Washington DC, for Ted to begin a career in finance. One client owned the Munsey building, and soon the Coys met Daisy. She responded in typical fashion, informing Sophie that she was now the Girl Scouts’ national treasurer. “Since I can neither add nor subtract,” Sophie recalled with a laugh, she passed the job to Ted.

In 1970, Sophie told American Girl magazine that her husband had paid $2,800 for the pearl necklace. Other accounts report the price as $8,000–close to $200,000 today.

The Coys soon moved to New York City and stayed in contact with Daisy, especially after she moved the national headquarters to New York City in 1916. The Coys divorced in 1925.

The Woman with the Pearls

Before Sophie married Horatio Shonnard in 1929, she and Nona McAdoo Park opened Chez Ninon, a couture salon in Manhattan, where they dressed many wealthy women in custom copies of the latest European styles.

The most famous outfit that Sophie created was the pink wool skirt suit that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wore to Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Sophie had worn the pearl necklace almost daily, but “Years later, sad to say, they were lost and I never got them back.”

Mrs. Kennedy’s dress is stored at the National Archives annex in College Park, Maryland. The fate of Daisy’s pearls, however, remains a mystery.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

 

New Membership Pin?

Do we have a new Girl Scout membership pin? According to the online Girl Scout shop, we do.

Surprise!

Did anybody get a memo?

Girl Scouts of the USA has just completed one of its periodic rebranding campaigns. Every decade or so, the Powers-That-Be decide to “refresh” the look of Girl Scouts. These changes are typically inoffensive–a new font, a new color palette, some new placement of the trefoil. However, the membership pin has always been sacrosanct.

The last time GSUSA tried to present a new “face” to the world, they really flubbed the rollout. Here we go again.

Debut or Debacle in Denver

Traditional Membership Pin
Traditional Membership Pin

The climax of the 1978 National Council Session in Denver came on the final day. With great fanfare and suspense, GSUSA President Gloria Scott unveiled the “new face of Girl Scouting.” The national Board of Directors had adopted the new logo as the building block for an identity project that would modernize the organization with a fresh, new image. Gone was the golden trefoil bearing an eagle. Gone was the close resemblance to the Great Seal of the United States. Gone was the design that founder Juliette Gordon Low had patented in 1914.

The new Girl Scout emblem was still trefoil shaped, but it now depicted the overlapping profiles of three females. Instead of gold, the new logo had a bright, eye-catching, green-and-white color scheme. The logo was introduced to the entire membership in the January 1979 issue of Leader magazine. Designed by Saul Bass, the new face presented Girl Scouts as “contemporary … pluralistic … an independent organization that helps girls to grow and develop values.”  

Three Faces of Eve
Three Faces of Eve

Reaction was mixed. Fans agreed that it would never be confused with the Boy Scout emblem. But many long-time volunteers were appalled. They saw no reason to mess with tradition. Opponents dubbed it “the three faces of Eve,” referencing the 1957 Joanne Woodward movie about a woman with multiple personality disorder.

Some critics pointed out that it violated the Muslim practice of not depicting the human form.

Rely Tampons
Rely Tampons

Perhaps worst of all, the new logo bore a very strong resemblance to that of Rely tampons, which had just been recalled because the brand had been linked to several fatal cases of toxic shock syndrome.

New Logo and New Pin?

If the new logo was official for everything, did that mean there would be a new membership pin too? Well …. maybe?

According to Leader magazine, Audrey Finkelstein, chair of the GSUSA Board of Directors’ Communications Committee, told delegates and guests–mostly adults–to work with the design and note public reaction. “Above all, we need time to get a sense of how girls feel about having the new trefoil for the membership pin.”

Many councils polled their members after the convention. But additional statements from GSUSA implied that the decision to change the pin’s design was a foregone conclusion.  

The Nation’s Capital president and executive director, among others, asked for clarification. “We were distressed to hear recently, from National Personnel, that it was their impression that Mrs. Finkelstein had reported at the Denver session, that the National Board had adopted the new logo for use on a membership pin.”

Nation’s Capital received input from 3,700 of its members, almost all negative. Respondents were very attached to their traditional pin and declared they would fight any change. Forwarding the results to headquarters, the Nation’s Capital representatives asked for “the date and actual wording of the National Board action.”

A definitive answer came out of the May 1979 meeting of the GSUSA Board of Directors. The meeting summary sent to council presidents and executives stated, “The National Board regrets that its action in May 1978, to seek guidance on this matter from the membership, was not adequately communicated.” How they would “seek guidance” was not specified. The question did not appear in Leader.

Faced with criticism on multiple fronts, the National Board decided in January 1980 to have two membership pins. The new logo would be used on merchandise and other materials, but individuals could decide for themselves whether to wear the traditional gold pin or the new, “contemporary” pin. Both pins would be sold at the same price. (Disclosure: I wear the first contemporary pin.)

Bangs! We Need Bangs!

Another brand refresh occurred just prior to the Girl Scouts 100th anniversary in March 2012. Each program level was assigned its own color that would be consistently carried through uniforms, badges, and publications. The contemporary logo and pin received a facelift, but no major surgery.

Changes to Contemporary Logo 1
Changes to Contemporary Logo in 2010

The branding-industry newsletter Under Consideration liked the changes immensely, but their review is now behind a paywall. Here’s their (very detailed) take:

Adding the bangs on the first profile really helps in making this logo more contemporary, as the old profile, with the hair pulled back, made the girl too matronly. The perkier nose is cuter and the lips look a little less numb. The one thing that stands out more in this revision is the length of the necks, where they feel a little too stretched in this rendition by being so angular, whereas before the effect was diminished by the curvature. In terms of the shape of the trefoil itself, the update is a vast improvement with new horizontal axis asymmetry, making it look more like a badge than a four-leaf clover.

Underconsideration.com

In other words, the girls got bangs and the design became pointy-er. The words “Girl Scouts” were ALSO moved from the bottom of the pin to the top.

Faceless for the Future

The 110th anniversary celebrated in 2022 included yet more refreshment. The change is not immediately obvious because the difference is what is missing–the faces. This is major–a decision with consequences as far-reaching as the logo introduced in 1979,

The controversial three-faces motif has been quietly replaced with a solid trefoil emblem. Collins, the graphic design firm tasked with the re-do, pushed the traditional green trefoil into a new prism of multiple colors.

The Girl Scouts movement has been represented by the Trefoil since its inception. It has seen many iterations, but is now simplified in the hopes that it communicates its “iconic essence.” While the symbol is rooted in green, it can now selectively expand beyond green-only applications so the mission can come to life in multicolor.

GDUSA

The three-faces pin is no longer offered on GirlScoutShop.com.

I try to keep up with Girl Scout news, but this new membership pin caught me off guard. I can’t find any mention of it on the GSUSA blog, nor press releases going back three years.

How and why has this development flown under the radar?

We have another national convention coming next July. Perhaps GSUSA plans to follow the rollout used in 1978 and make the announcement a big event, with balloons, confetti, and baby juggling. But selling the pins now takes away the suspense.

One again, it appears that headquarters ordered a few million pins and then asked for feedback. Did GSUSA really think we wouldn’t notice?

GSUSA did not respond to my inquiries on this topic.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Chartreuse Buzzards: The Real Story

I went to Macy last month and what did I see? Four plain buzzards, sitting in a dead tree.

Palisades Buzzards
Palisades Buzzards

Alas, these birds were not chartreuse, but they spoke of a chronicle, long in disuse.

Macy Entrance Sign
Macy Entrance Sign

It seems their history was recorded 30 years ago, taped at a gathering at Rockwood (wouldn’t you know).

It was not kept at Macy nor with any national staff. Instead, it was stashed in Maryland, secretly stashed on the buzzards’ behalf.

When an archival box was knocked off a shelf, out tumbled an old DVD, not some stupid elf.

The disc had no label, the images were unstable, but the program was still better than most public-access cable.

With the story discovered, the legend of the chartreuse buzzards has now been recovered.

Let us rejoice!!

Gloria Quinlan, Chief Buzzard

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

For All Girls: Native American Girl Scouts


Native American culture has long been part of youth organizations in the United States. The Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, and YMCA Indian Guides and Princesses placed a generic form of “Indian lore” at the center of their program. Uniforms and insignia were said to be derived from Indian traditions.

The Girl Scouts also embraced Native American culture, but the movement never incorporated Native motifs in its uniforms, structure, or vocabulary. Instead, emphasis was placed on developing the Native American girl. A Girl Scout troop was established at the Onondaga reservation, near Syracuse New York, as early as 1921—before the Girl Scout movement’s 10th anniversary.


Girl Scouts for Native Americans

photo of middle-aged white woman in 1930s Girl Scout uniform and hat
Henrietta Bates Brooke

Readers may recognize the name Henrietta Bates Brooke (Girl Scout national president, 1937–1939) for her key role in acquiring Rockwood national camp.

But she was also deeply interested in the welfare of Native Americans. She chaired the Washington DC chapter of the Association on American Indian Affairs. She persuaded leaders of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to establish Girl Scout troops at the various residential Indian schools across the United States. In her autobiography, Mrs. Brooke argued that “the friendships and skills of scouting might prove a valuable help in their final adjustment.”

The first residential troop was established at the Indian Boarding School in Pawnee, Oklahoma, in 1930. Six years later, 1,200 Native American girls across 17 states were registered as Girl Scouts.

Thomas Indian School NY 1934
Girl Scouts at Thomas Indian School in New York 1934

The controversial Indian Residential School Program used coercive, even violent, techniques to rid their students of their “savage ways” so they could become productive members of mainstream [that is, White] society.

What, exactly, was the “adjustment” sought by Mrs. Brooke? Many early accounts mention using Girl Scouts to help assimilation.

“The modern Indian girl is faced with the necessity of making the difficult transition from the old Indian way of living to a modified form of our own civilization.”

Leader (May 1932)

But my preliminary research suggests that the Girl Scouts may have subtly pushed back against some aspects of the residential school concept.

While remote residential schools kept their students away from local children their own age, residential Girl Scout troops often interacted with local community troops.  

“Their joint meetings with other troops of the city and invitations to participate in picnics brought a real feeling of sisterhood between them and the other Girl Scouts. They were proud of being Girl Scouts, of doing their part, and of being able to bring to other troops contributions from their own tribes.”

Leader (June 1939)

Four residential girls and their troop leader attended a White summer camp near Roswell NM in 1930. While the visitors were shy at first, they soon were teaching beading techniques to other campers.

In 1938, a Cherokee Girl Scout, Mayme Thompson, was part of a five-girl delegation selected to visit Our Chalet, the international Girl Scout/Girl Guide center in Switzerland.

The Girl Scouts organized residential summer camps for troops based at the residential schools, beginning in Oklahoma in 1933. This was a new option. The residential schools did not allow students to return home during summers; instead, they were sent away to be farm hands and housekeepers, with their “wages” generating income for the schools.

Reports about these camps suggest that their methods differed from the regimented life at school. Instead of large dormitories, groups of five girls lived in screened cabins, and each day they could select from a range of camp programs. Swimming was particularly popular as few residential schools had swimming pools.

The campers were also allowed to speak their native language, with staff prepared to award Interpreter badges to the girls who helped them communicate with the camp’s Cherokee neighbors.

“Until only recently the speaking of Indian languages has been discouraged in the schools. As a result many of the girls cannot speak the dialect of their tribe. Those of the campers who could, undertook to teach salutations and other short expressions to their fellow tribesmen, to girls from other tribes, and to white staff members.”  

Leader (August/September 1934)

Teaching Girl Scouts about Native Americans

The Girl Scouts offered resources for all girls to learn about Native Americans. Two issues of Leader magazine (May 1932 and August/September 1934) devoted to “American Indian Girl Scouts” sold out completely.  The magazine also offered lists of helpful books written and published by other organizations. While Leader suggested troops learn about Indian designs and plant “Indian gardens,” Indian-themed activities were largely confined to camps. 

One suggested manual, Indian and Camp Handicraft, was noted for its

Yellow and red book cover with Indian symbols

“simplified instructions for constructing 30 projects of special interest to boys and girls at camp. It includes such articles as an Indian wigwam, peace pipes, ceremonial bow and arrows, moccasins, snowshoes, treasure chests, hollow-log birdhouses, each historically authentic and reduced to the abilities and equipment limitations of the average camp.”

three Girl Scout badges with colorful Native American designs
Wood (1938-1963); renamed Indian Lore (1963-1980); Native Peoples of the USA (1980-1994); and American Indian Lore (1987-1997)

Girl Scouts of the USA has offered badges on Native American culture in the past. During the Council’s Own badge era, many councils offered badges focused on native populations in their area.

Collection of Native American themed Girl Scout badges
Collection of Native American themed Council’s Own badges

Cultural Appropriation?

The Girl Scouts have not faced the backlash over cultural appropriation that the Boy Scouts, Campfire, and YMCA have. These organizations have taken steps to tone down their Native American references, with varying degrees of success.

The YMCA voted to retool their Indian Guide and Indian Princess programs into “Adventure Guides” in 2003. The Camp Fire Girls, now simply Campfire, also toned down its claimed cultural references.

Indian headdress on Boy Scout badge
BSA Indian Lore Badge

Boy Scouts have modified portions of their especially offensive Order of the Arrow honors program, but Native American groups say they have not gone far enough. Boy Scouts still offer an Indian Lore badge.

1500x650 gsah header nahm
Native American Heritage Patch

Girl Scouts of the USA has a Native American heritage patch program for November, as do several councils.

Future Research

This post is merely an introduction to a fascinating and under-studied topic: Girl Scouts and the Indian Residential Schools. I look forward to probing deeper and broader—what about Boy Scout troops at the schools? What about troops on reservations? Were summer camps always segregated? How did programming change after the residential school system was abolished? Did Girl Guides have a similar program in Canada?

So many questions!!

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Exploring the First Girl Scout Headquarters in Savannah

I recently discovered this wonderful vintage photo from inside the Girl Scout First Headquarters in Savannah, Georgia.

I’ve visited the First Headquarters several times, and it doesn’t feel this open and spacious. I thought it would be fun to see how the building has changed over the past 110 years.

The building today known as the First Headquarters was originally the carriage house behind Juliette Gordon Low’s marital home in Savannah (now known as the Andrew Low House). Early Savannah troops, such as the girls in the photo, held their meetings in the converted building.

Inside First Headquarters

First HQ Interior 1928
First Headquarters Interior, 1920s

The Savannah Girl Scout council used the upper level as offices and opened their own small museum on the main floor in 1948.

Girl Scouts seated around formal tea table
Savannah Girl Scouts Launch 1936 Cookie Sale (First HQ photo)

The Savannah Council outgrew the space in the 1980s and moved their offices elsewhere. The First Headquarters building was modernized and reopened as an equipment shop in 1996. After a further renovation, the building came a museum and history program center in 2003.

Today, the building is divided into three rooms–a gift shop, the museum, and a small meeting room. The upstairs is closed to the public.

The central, museum portion has not significantly changed. The windows, fireplace, and even the portrait match up perfectly.

First Headquarers Museum in 2015
First Headquarters Museum in 2015 (photo by Ann Robertson)

The exterior has also evolved, reflecting the shift from one large room to three separate spaces.

Outside First Headquarters

Originally, the building had large doors on the right that allowed carriages and automobiles to exit onto Drayton Street. Pedestrians entered the building through a door facing Drayton Street.

Front of two-story stucco building with vintage Girl Scouts on sidewalk.
First Headquarters Building, 1920 (GS Historic Georgia)

This version of the building was immortalized in a color post card.

Sketch of two-story stucco building with vintage Girl Scouts on sidewalk.
First Headquarters Postcard

A replica of the First Headquarters was used as the centerpiece for a 25th anniversary celebration in Washington DC in 1937.

1937 GSUSA Party in DC cropped
Model of the First Headquarters in 1937 (Harris & Ewing photo)

The model initially went to the Girl Scout Little House in Washington. When the Little House closed in 1945, this along with the Little House doll house were transferred to Rockwood, where they were discarded. The Little House model was saved from the dustbin, but not that of the Savannah building.

Rockwood Trivia: The gentleman in the photo above is John W. Caughey, widower of Carolyn Caughey, who built Rockwood.

The garage doors were replaced with standard door and window in 1948. Another renovation in 1968 replaced the door with a window.

GSFHQ Modern
First Headquarters Building today (GS Historic Georgia)

The contemporary photo above was taken when the main sign was temporarily removed, perhaps due to an approaching hurricane.

Juliette Gordon Low and a dozen Girl Scouts stand under a sign reading "First Headquarters."
Juliette Gordon Low joins a troop outside Girl Scout headquarters in Savannah (GSUSA photo)

The has not been lost, although it has been updated.

Trip Advisor
Trip Advisor

The First Headquarters museum doesn’t get as much publicity as the nearby Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, but it is well worth the brief walk to pay a visit.

You might even find Daisy there herself.

For more architectural history about the Girl Scouts and Savannah, see the National Parks Service application to create the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scout History Project Ranked among Best Scout Blogs

I am honored to again have the Girl Scout History Project named one of the 35 Best Scouting Blogs and Websites by FeedSpot. The full list is available here.

via GIPHY

FeedSpot reviewed thousands of blogs on the web, and selected this elite group based on traffic, social media followers, domain authority, and freshness.

Of the blogs cited, 24 covered Boy Scouts, while 10 focused on Girl Scouts. Twenty-two blogs were official; that is, written by national or council offices. One-third (12) were written by volunteers.

(Yes, I know this adds up to 34. I don’t know why.)

Screenshot from Girl Scout with a Cause blog.
Screenshot from Girl Scout with a Cause blog

This year the Girl Scout History Project was ranked 23rd. Amy Brown’s Girl Scout with a Cause blog was 21st.

It’s nice to have loyal followers and to be in such esteemed company!!

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Rescue Rockwood: New Girl Scout History Book

At very long last, my Girl Scout history book, Rescue Rockwood, has been released!

Between 1938 and 1978, a half-million people visited Rockwood, the Girl Scout national camp in the nation’s capital. When members discovered it had been sold to developers, nine local Girl Scouts sued GSUSA to save their treasured gathering place. 

Packed with photos and eye-witness stories, Rescue Rockwood traces the development of the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Girl Scouts of Washington DC alongside the drive to preserve Rockwood.

Women in vintage dresses holding protest signs in front of brick mansion
Rescue Rockwood Cover

Amazon has both paperback and e-book/Kindle versions available.

Enjoy!!

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Lou Henry Hoover: The Foundation of Girl Scouts

Black and white portrait of Lou Henry Hoover in Girl Scout uniform
Lou Henry Hoover in uniform, ca. 1930s

Juliette Gordon Low was the founder of the Girl Scout movement, but it was Lou Henry Hoover who created the institutions that remain its foundation today.

As first lady, Mrs. Hoover was the honorary president of the Girl Scouts. But she also served two terms as the elected president of Girl Scouts, one pre-White House and one post-White House.

She worked to streamline administration, professionalize staff, and better democratize relations between councils and the national headquarters. She launched the Little House program, encouraged day camping, and promoted commercial cookie sales.

I spoke on this topic for the Hoover Presidential Foundation’s “Third Thursday” talk for June 2022.

The Foundation taped the presentation, which may be accessed here or below. Enjoy!!

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian