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

Out with the Old and in with the New, part 2

What’s cooking, Girl Scouts? The latest exhibit at the Nation’s Capital main office answers that question.

The easy way to create the exhibit would be to pull all relevant items from our collection. But I like to have some organization and a common theme running throughout. I decided to use this passage from the 1926 handbook:

The Girl Scout who has earned the Cooking Badge may be a great help at home if she has learned to work quickly and neatly and may get much amusement both at home and on camping parties. If the first trial of a process is not a success, the Scout should have patience to try again and again until her result is satisfactory. If she has learned to prepare a few simple dishes well she should have courage to try unfamiliar recipes which are found in any good cook book. If she is to be ready to take responsibility when it is necessary, she should be able to plan the meals in such a way that nothing is wasted and that the family is satisfied and well-nourished.

When working in the kitchen, the Scout should wear a clean, washable dress, or a washable apron which covers her dress. She should be sure that her hair is tidy, and she should remember to wash her hands before beginning work. She should try to use as few dishes as possible and not to spill or spatter. She should remember that her cooking is not finished until she has cleaned up after herself, has washed and put away the dishes, washed the dish towels and left the kitchen in order.

I divided up the quote into chunks of one or two sentences, then illustrated with pictures taken from old handbooks and vintage postcards.

Then we added a few more instructions from various handbooks and photos.

We used this opportunity to mention the Little House, a model home in Washington, DC, from 1924 to 1945, and the two tea houses once operated by the local Girl Scouts.

Finally, we included requirements for several vintage cooking badges and captions on recipe cards.

These only show the bottom half of the exhibit. To see it in person, visit the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital office, 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC.

Bon Appetit!

©2019 Ann Robertson

Out with the Old and in with the New, part 1

Exhibits, that is. That probably isn’t the best headline for a history blog!

The Archives and History Committee recently changed the exhibit at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters.

After two months on exhibit, we dismantled “Badges and Biscuits.” This theme covered Girl Guide badges and product sales. It also coincided with our cookie sale and World Thinking Day (February 22).

Girl Guide Badges

The badges date to the late 1950s and early 1960s. They had originally been presented to the former Rockwood national Girl Scout camp by visiting Girl Guides. When that facility closed in 1978, GSUSA left them behind, and they made their way into our council’s collection.

I discovered them wrapped in paper and shoved in a box a few years ago, and I have been looking for an opportunity to share them.

Unfortunately, the foreign badges had been affixed to lengths of burlap with some sort of space-age polymer. I used heat, alcohol, acetone, a jackhammer, and sticks of dynamite to remove them. (OK, not the last two, but I was seriously contemplating it.)

After nearly a week, I had them all removed. I remounted them on 12″x12″ scrapbook paper so that they could fit into frames for display now and stored into scrapbook-sized envelopes after.

I was delighted with the results:

Girl Guide Biscuits

We filled one display case with the Girl Guide badges, the other was devoted to Girl Guide cookie sales. We also had some Girl Guide cookie patches to tie the theme together.

I learned a lot from Girl Guide websites and historians. I stuck largely to English-language sources, so the examples are drawn from a small number of countries.

UK and Ireland

Nope, not in the UK

British Girl Guides do not sell cookies. The Girl Guiding historians I contacted seemed quite proud of this fact.

In contrast, Irish Girl Guides only began selling packets of chocolate chip biscuits in fall 2017. Officials introduced the new program to help “change the imbalance of the number of women in decision-making position across the various sectors of society such as businesses, companies, and boardrooms around Ireland.”

Canada

Canadian Girl Guides have two categories of cookies (sandwich and mint). One is sold in the fall; the other in the spring.

They also have an impressive cookie badge curriculum that includes lessons on the history of their cookie sales and samples of vintage posters, cookie boxes, and other memorabilia.

Canadian Girl Guides

Australia and New Zealand

Australian Girl Guides have sold cookies for decades, but they are limited to one weekend across the entire country. Think of one mega booth sale.

Australian Girl Guide Cookies

Girl Guides in New Zealand kicked off their first biscuit sale in 1957, which grew to selling 28 million boxes per year. But March 2019 marked the last national Girl Guide biscuit sale in New Zealand. The organization plans to seek new fundraising programs for the future as biscuit sales provided one-third of its budget.

Vintage New Zealand Girl Guide poster

Keep following the Girl Scout History Project to see our latest installation!

©2019 Ann Robertson

Narwhals, Leopards, and Cookies, Oh My!

The 2019 season is nearing its end, with a heated contest for the Narwhals and Clouded Leopards.

Am I talking about NCAA basketball? The Super Bowl, World Series, or some national team mascot showdown?

No, it’s time to wrap up Girl Scout cookie season for 2019.

Each cookie baker has an annual theme with a mascot that shows up in promotional materials, cookie patches, and other incentives that girls earn for selling various amounts of cookies.

This year it was the ABC Narwhals against Little Brownie Bakers’ Clouded Leopard.

ABC Narwhal
Little Brownie Baker’s Clouded Leopard

Each baker has a motivational theme associated with its yearly sale (Inspire, Imagine, Innovate! and Go for Bold!), but you need a mascot to use for a cute plush incentive. (Although I do wonder about that horn on the narwhal, seems more hazardous than cuddly.)

The mascots even have names!

Nellie Narwhal has an identity crisis. Some councils call her “Sparkles”

Tradition of Prizes

Cookie incentives are almost as old as cookie sales themselves, but most councils originally applied cookie profits to summer camp fees. Some councils offered patches or charms to sellers. I still remember the goal I set for my first cookie sale–enough to attend day camp free. The pride of “earning it yourself” is behind all incentive programs.

Cookie prizes from the 1960s (author’s collection)

When Girl Scouts of the USA consolidated the cookie program into a handful of national bakers in the 1970s, the companies introduced annual themes and mascots. Burry-LU’s animal series is perhaps the best known, not just for its bright colors and easily recognizable design, but for a few “what were they thinking?” selections.

My poster “wall of shame,” according to my family

Prize Proliferation

The number of patches has grown exponentially since the 1990s, as councils, bakers, and some third-party vendors have jumped on the bandwagon with offerings related to the annual theme.

Visually similar patches with absolutely nothing to do with cookies, such as early registration, have been added to create a yearly set of patches.

Compare, for example, 1972 with 2015-16.

Cookie patches from 1972 (Cookie Crumbs)
Cookie patches from 2015-2016 (Cookie Crumbs)
and they keep coming!! (Cookie Crumbs)

And there are patches for adults, too!

Girls’ Choice

The patches and other prizes are fun and appealing to many Girl Scouts. Many consumers may not realize that the girls have a say in the marketing program as well.

In most councils, older Girl Scouts (middle school and high school age) can opt out of the incentive program in return for a higher profit per box. This is especially appealing for girls and troops saving up over several years for a big trip. After all, a girl can use only so many sparkly pens. (Opt-out girls usually still receive some patches.)

Girls also have a say in selecting the mascot for the next cookie season. Some councils allow all girls to vote, others may use a more limited random sample, but the principle of girl-led carries through.

Little Brownie Bakers ballot for 2018-2019. Are Macaws and Frogs really “furry”?
Cookie mascot options for 2019-2020 from ABC Bakers

For more on cookie patches and prizes over the years, see Cookie Crumbs, my web archive.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Thin Mints and Nutella?

News this week that Girl Scout cookie supplier Little Brownie Bakers has been sold to an Italian company proved to be no April Fool’s joke.

Girl Scout cookies from Little Brownie Bakers

In a deal valued at $1.3 billion, Ferrero Group purchased select properties from Kellogg, including Little Brownie, Keebler, and Famous Amos.

I found out from a Wall Street Journal reporter who called me for background on the history of Girl Scout cookie sales. Although I was surprised by the news, I’m not alarmed. Flavors, food trends, and bakers have come and gone for years, but Girl Scout cookies aren’t going away.

The Pooh Tree at Camp Potomac Woods

Despite the Keebler connection, Girl Scout cookies have never been made by elves in hollow trees. Besides, our hollow trees are full of girls.

Girl Scouts in Oklahoma began selling homemade cookies in 1917. Their popularity led other troops to fire up their ovens. As the volume of cookie sales increased, in 1934 Girl Scouts in Philadelphia turned to Keebler-Wyl, a commercial baker, to produce shortbread cookies.

From Many Bakers to Two

Other councils followed the Philly girls’ lead and negotiated contracts with regional companies. Volume and demand increased exponentially, until there were 29 authorized bakers by 1948. Another 14 were added in the 1960s.

All bakers made the signature shortbread cookie, and by the 1960s many had introduced mint and sandwich cookies. Most bakers also offered one or two of their own flavors.

As part of a brand standardization effort, the national Girl Scout organization limited production to four bakers starting in 1978. GSUSA provided graphics and program information, although the individual bakers picked their own annual theme, usually with a cute animal mascot.

By the early 1990s, the number of bakers had narrowed to two: Little Brownie Bakers, based in Louisville, and ABC Bakers of Richmond, Virginia. (Who bakes for you? Click here.)

I never made it to the bakery, but I got a patch 30 years later.

(Disclosure: As a born-and-raised Kentucky girl, I’ve always been partial to Little Brownie. When my Cadette troop visited Louisville years ago, we wanted to arrange a tour. I couldn’t find “Little Brownie” in the phone book so I called information. The operator thought it was a prank call and hung up on me.)

While the bakers have changed over the years, the basic recipes have not. Hopefully that will continue to be the case with Ferrero.

Other Foreign Connections

I can’t imagine Ferrero moving production overseas as it would prohibitively drive up shipping costs. But even if they did, it would not be the first time that some Girl Scout cookies were not made in the USA.

In 1984, sharp-eyed consumers noticed “Made in Belgium” written on boxes of Kookaburras. Representatives from the baker, Burry-LU, explained that that they were still testing the flavor. Because US-based factories did not have the proper equipment, this one flavor was temporarily being made in Belgium. It the cookie made the cut, Burry-LU would need to fork over $2 million for new production equipment.

Source: Mental Floss (March 4, 2016)

And if anyone wants to get very picky, ABC Bakers is a subsidiary of the Toronto-based Weston Foods.

Change is the Secret Ingredient

What makes Girl Scout cookies so popular? It is a combination of tradition, quality, adorable vendors, and flexibility.

Each baker is required to offer four traditional cookies (Mint, Samoa, Trefoil, Tagalong) plus up to four more flavors. Over the years, these elective varieties have often reflected changing tastes and dietary concerns. Past offerings have been low-fat, crunchy granola, gluten free, 100-calorie packets, and even crackers, such as the Golden Yangles of the 1980s.

Source: Mental Floss (March 4, 2016)

Perhaps it is easier to justify scarfing down a box of Thin Mints if you balance them out with such healthier options.

That’s a Lot of Cookies

Simply stated, the Girl Scout cookie jar is too big to loose. With total revenue from both bakers estimated at $800 million annually, including Little Brownie Bakers undoubtedly sweetened the deal for Ferrero.

I don’t see a need to begin hoarding Girl Scout cookies–not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Instead, I see the new owners as offering some tantalizing opportunities.

Two words: Nutella cookies. I’m just saying…

For more cookie history fun, see Cookie Crumbs, my online archive of cookie prizes past and present.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Flying with Girl Scout Cookies

This poster hangs on a wall at our Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland. Bright yellow and 28×22″, it always attracts comments.

However, we didn’t know the story behind the picture. We found it in the back of a closet, in a ratty old frame held together with Scotch tape.

Based on the uniforms and the fact that it says “70th Anniversary,” the image is obviously from the early 1980s, presumably 1982.

But the mystery was solved thanks to an old Nation’s Capital newsletter. For Girl Scout Week 1982, Delta Airlines replaced their normal peanut snacks with packets of Trefoil shortbread cookies. Delta bought and distributed 800,000 cookies March 7-13, 1982.

This was the second time an airline joined the national cookie sales. In 1981 United made what was then the largest corporate cookie purchase in history. United included a packet of two Trefoils on every meal tray.

The success of the United program encouraged Delta to participate. Delta went one step further, having their own company artist, Brad Diggers, commemorate Girl Scouts’ 70th birthday with a special painting.

Limited editions of the painting were presented to 15 Girl Scout councils served by Delta. Nation’s Capital has print number 10 of 34.

Close-up of artist’s signature

Happy Birthday, Girl Scouts!!

© 2019 Ann Robertson