Girl Scouts Online: Then and Now

Have you ZOOMed yet?

Thanks to the coronavirus quarantine, this program has, well, zoomed its way to prominence.

Schools, hospitals, shuttered businesses and more are using Zoom to create virtual classrooms, meetings, exercise classes, and more.

I had my first experience with the popular video platform yesterday. A group of former staff of IREX, the International Research and Exchanges Board, met online to share war stories about working and living in the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Patch from Snappy Logos

The Girl Scouts have also jumped on the Zoom express, using the platform to hold virtual troop meetings, long-distance staff meetings, discuss program proposals, and to bring guest speakers to the girls. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital held 60 virtual troop meetings last week.

Councils with Annual Meetings scheduled over the next few months are turning to Zoom as well. (As of April 7, 2020, I have no idea what will happen to the National Council Session scheduled for this October.)

Which troop has the privilege of being the first to go virtual?

First Online

Cyber Girl (1998-2010)

That honor goes to a REALLY large troop in western South Dakota. Starting in fall 2002, 2,400 girls worked on badges and service projects from their own, very isolated homes. The Black Hills Council sought to bring Girl Scouts to these girls and GSUSA responded with a new program. The virtual troop covered 34,000 square miles, with an average of six residents per square mile.

Girl Scouts on the Small Screen

In a lower-tech time, GSUSA experimented with training by television. The first programs were done in conjunction with public television stations.

In 1955, only 18 education television stations existed in the United States. One of the 18, the University of Alabama, turned to the local Girl Scouts for program suggestions. The Girl Scouts of Jefferson County had plenty of ideas and eventually came up with a three-month series of programs:

There were to be four programs on leadership of Senior troops, followed by two on outdoor activities and three on ranks and badges. Later, a series of afternoon telecasts was outlined to present a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout demonstrating outdoor skills, crafts, and dramatics.

Leader Magazine (June 1956): 15.
Radio-Television (1963-1979)

When the Camping Caravan (a station-wagon traveling the country and providing outdoor trainings), arrived in Alabama, its training team added their own flourish to the programs.

In one episode, camping expert Kit Hammett fried an egg over a tin-can stove. As the emcee closed the show, Kit flipped over her egg and bread creation to reveal toasty perfection just as the credits began to roll.

The Colorado Springs Council piloted another TV training program in 1958. Staff from the Training Division and the Radio-TV Section in New York created an eight-part series for new leaders. They also created a workbook that applied to all of the 30-minute shows.

A local commercial television station provided free air time for the shows. They were so popular that the council received many inquiries from non-Girl Scouts who had seen the programs and wanted to join.

Technologies and Tradeoffs

Whether on television or in cyberspace, the Girl Scouts have embraced new technologies to bring the movement to its members. But just as in the 1950s, today’s virtual programs risk leaving some girls behind. Girls may live in remote areas with poor internet service, and not every family has a computer. Let’s find a way to include them, too.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Masks? Who Needs Masks?

Today you cannot turn on the news or surf the internet without seeing plea upon plea for face masks to protect health care workers during the Covid-19 crisis.

Groups across the country have sprung into action, sewing masks while quarantined at home. Girl Scouts are doing their part, collecting materials and sewing masks themselves. Troops across the United States are sending cases of cookies to hospitals and other health-care centers.

Girl Scouts have provided war-time service since the movement was founded in 1912. When the United States entered the World War I in 1917, girls distributed sandwiches to soldiers passing through town, raised homing pigeons destined for the front lines, and made bandages for the Red Cross.

Girl Scouts dig a victory garden behind the DAR Hall in Washington, DC, 1917

Local Girl Scouts also jumped in to help when another mask-related emergency occurred.

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 "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.)

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.”

Hopefully we won’t have to resort to fruit as protective gear but if so, the Girl Scouts are ready.

Many troops had to cancel cookie booths due to social distancing. You can purchase cookies online and have them delivered to first responders, food banks, or yourself!

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Breathe in Virtual Fresh Air

Got cabin fever? If not, it’s coming soon.

The ongoing coronavirus crap means that thousands of spring Girl Scout camping trips have been cancelled.

Maybe this vintage postcard from a 1920 leaders’ camp will help anyone experiencing camp deprivation:

Leaders perform their morning calisthenics at camp.

These leaders are starting their day with a round of “setting up” exercises, just like the campers in the Golden Eaglet, a 1918 promotional film from the Girl Scouts.

This postcard was never mailed. Instead, the owner used it as a souvenir of her time at camp.

For you non-cursive folks, it reads:

“The mess hall is to the left and the lake down to the right. I am the 7th one in the 2d row from the left and Rose is the 4th one in the 3d row. The 3d on in the 4th row was our bugler. We called her Tommy. She was fine at the taps trade.

Our tent isn’t shown here.”

Don’t you just love the camp uniform of middies and bloomers?

Those were the days!

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scouts and Japan, part 1

The newest history exhibit at the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital is inspired by the capital’s famous cherry trees.

We timed the installation to coincide with the city’s Cherry Blossom Festival.

It was a great idea. Except that the coronavirus decided to come to Washington at the same time. The festival was cancelled, the Girl Scout offices closed.

While the city offers virtual strolls among the blooming trees, we can do the same thing with the exhibit.

One of the three donated scrapbooks from Okinawa

The exhibit draws from three scrapbooks donated by the family of long-time Girl Scout Fran Phoenix. Each album has a heavy black lacquer cover with mother-of-pearl inlay, and each belonged to a different US Girl Scout troop in Okinawa, Japan, in the late 1950s.

Those Pesky Prepositions

(This may get complicated, so grab a buddy. )

The albums were created by US Girl Scout troops in Japan. Their activities are preserved, as well as their many activities with local troops. That means we have Girl Scouts in Japan, Girl Scouts of Japan, and combinations of both.

Plus, the Girl Scouts of Okinawa is a branch of USA Girl Scouts Overseas (which has had many names over time), and Girl Scouts of the Ryukyu Islands is a division of the Girl Scouts of Japan.

This exhibit covers a range of Girl Scout groups in Japan

Not Japanese Girl Guides?

Oh my, this is confusing. Let’s go to the exhibit signs for help. First, the American context:

Yes, Japanese Girl Scouts

Now, the Japanese side. Although their group briefly was Girl Guides, they have proudly been Girl Scouts for nearly a century.

In fact, the Japanese Girl Scout organization has a special online history exhibit marking their 100th birthday.

Japanese Girl Guide troop, 1920s

Got it? We’ll look at some photos and clippings from those scrapbooks in Part 2.

In the meantime, enjoy these images of our exhibit.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Another Day, Another Pandemic

This post was originally published in 2014, and it has been updated for the coronavirus era.

The Washington Post recently compared the influenza epidemic of 1918 to the current Ebola outbreak, but the newspaper left out the Girl Scout part of the story.

From late 1918 through early 1919, a particularly nasty strain of flu killed 50 million people worldwide and some 500,000 in the United States. Washington, DC, was particularly hard hit because the city was overflowing with federal workers (“living three or four to a room in private homes and boarding houses”) and soldiers passing through on their way to or from the World War I front.

The Girl Scouts had already mobilized to sell sandwiches, cake, and ice cream to soldiers and war workers.  One girl, Edna Schwartz, recalled making stacks and stacks of egg and ham sandwiches and setting up a stand near the Corcoran Gallery of Art at lunchtime. They put those skills to work as a new enemy attacked.

Flu Soup Kitchen
Volunteers ladle soup to children whose parents were stricken by the flu (Bettmann photo)

Invalid Cook, 1916

That’s “invalid” as somebody with a persistent disease, not something “not valid.”

(Photo from Vintage GS Museum)

When the Spanish flu brought Washington to a near-standstill in October 1918, the Girl Scouts set up a Diet Kitchen first at Central High School, then later at 1101 M Street NW.

Girls who had earned their Invalid Cook badge had mastered the art of making soup, broth, custard, gelatins, and a formidable-sounding substance labelled “kumyss” in their Handbook. Now they worked from dawn to dark cooking gallons of these very basic meals.

Volunteers delivered the hot meals to patients throughout the city. Leaders had to make a public appeal for drivers and containers to meet the demand. Some 2,180 patients were served from the high school and a total of 7,821 patients at the peak of the epidemic. Troop 60 put on a play and sang songs, charging 10 cents a head, and raised $25 for supplies.

Washington DC Central High School (later Cardoza HS) https://historicsites.dcpreservation.org/

The Diet Kitchen was such a success that Susie Root Rhodes, DC Supervisor of Playgrounds, asked the Girl Scouts to also distribute soup at playgrounds in two of Washington’s poorest neighborhoods. This meal often was the only meal, certainly the only hot meal, that many of these children received each day while their mothers worked or were ill.

Image from The Economy Administration Cook Book, 1913

Mrs. Rhodes credited the Girl Scouts with saving the lives of people too poor to afford doctors and preventing malnourished children from succumbing to influenza.

Is it a coincidence that the latest virus arrived at the same time as Girl Scout cookies? Girls Scouts to the rescue again!

DISCLAIMER: There is no scientific proof that Girl Scout cookies prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But they don’t hurt, either…

©2014, 2020 Ann Robertson

Those Naked Leaders?

Those Naked Leaders?

I received this announcement from GSUSA today:

GSUSA Message, February 25, 2020

The new scarf looks lovely. But what really caught my attention was the statement that I underlined:

“In 1968, our first adult uniform…”

Oh my. No adult uniforms for the first 56 years? Really?

That gives a whole new dimension to exploring the great out-doors.

Perhaps what was meant in this release was that 1968 was the first time a well-known designer created an adult uniform?

Wrong again.

In 1948 the American designer Mainbocher created new uniforms for Intermediates, Seniors, and ADULTS.

GSUSA eagerly announced the new garments in its own publications:

1948 National Equipment Catalog

… and press releases.

Lancaster New Era (September 8, 1948)

Before the Girl Scout uniforms, Mainbocher was best known for outfitting the WAVES (women serving in the US Navy) during World War II.

A retrospective exhibition of Mainbocher’s work was held in Chicago in 2016. Vogue magazine described the man as “The Most Important American Designer You’ve Never Heard Of.” (And it’s pronounced Main-Bocker)

Tsk. Tsk. Next time, run it by a Girl Scout historian. Better yet, an editor/Girl Scout historian.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian