Clara Lisetor-Lane and the Girl Scouts of America

Please, never, ever, say “Girl Scouts of America” in front of me. Just don’t.

Why? BECAUSE IT IS WRONG. It falls on my editor-ears like nails on a blackboard.

I am a proud, lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of the USA, not some rogue “Girl Scouts of America” group. If you want to be ultra correct, it is Girl Scouts of the United States of America. That is the name printed on our Congressional Charter.

Cover of Leader Magazine, October 1950

Prior to that document, the formal name was “Girl Scouts, Inc.” That name was used when the movement incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1915. That’s how it appeared on early versions of the Girl Scout Constitution and By-Laws. That’s how it appeared on letterhead.

Letterhead from 1944

Actually some letterhead from the 1940s uses “GSUSA.” Perhaps that was purchased in advance of the charter announcement?

Please, be accurate. You’d get testy too if someone constantly got your name wrong.

But there’s another, even more important reason. There really was an actual “Girl Scouts of America.”

Journalist Clara Lisetor-Lane insisted that she had created the “Girl Scouts of America” in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1910; two years before Juliette Gordon Low’s first troop in Savannah.

Lisetor-Lane seemed to prefer working on publicity rather than recruitment. Newspapers of the era report her arrival in towns to organize troops, but no membership numbers were given.

Her program would encourage housekeeping and the outdoors. But some behavior was decidedly not for her Girl Scouts:

Sacramento Star, August 11, 1911.

In June 1911, her Girl Scouts of America, a few self-described “Girl Guides” and the Camp Fire Girls merged to become “Girl Pioneers of America.” The thoroughness of that merger is unclear; reports of the component organizations continued into 1912.

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1924

Lisetor-Lane eventually took up other causes. She founded “Crusaders for Decency,” group that promoted “clean literature and films.”

But she never renounced her claim to starting the Girl Scouts.

Lisetor-Lane even crashed the 1924 Girl Scout national convention and challenged Low to met with her. (She didn’t.)

Lisetor-Lane went to her grave in 1960 insisting that Juliette Gordon Low had stolen her idea.

When the Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated its 50th birthday in 1962, the story of Clara Lisetor-Lane was revived in her home town. A few former members came forward and a Des Moines Register article was picked up by other newspapers.

Although Clara certainly would have been pleased by the renewed interest in her organization, I can only imagine her horror if she had seen how it appeared in the Moline, IL, Dispatch.

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

Girl Scouts, Japan, and Rockwood

Yoshiko Nagata, director of Girl Scouts of Okinawa

Our virtual tour of Girl Scouts in Okinawa, Japan, in the 1950s is almost complete.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

However, I can’t let this topic (or any topic, really) go by without mentioning a Rockwood connection!

The former Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp, located just outside Washington DC, hosted Yoshiko Nagata, the director of the US-sponsored Okinawa Girl Scout Council. She held that post from the council’s inception in 1954. When Okinawa returned to Japanese control in 1972, she continued as director of the new Girl Scouts of Japan..

Nagata-san, as she was typically addressed, visited Rockwood in 1956 as part of a three-month training trip across the United States.

Okinawa Girl Scout director Yoshiko Nagata (left) with
Rockwood National Camp director Ida May Born, April 1956

She was delighted to meet the girls camping at Rockwood during her visit. Brownie Troop 266 of Fairfax County, Virginia, even had the pleasure of inviting Nagata-san to lunch one Saturday. She taught the Brownies several songs in Japanese, and they reciprocated with their own favorites.

Troops from Massachusetts and Gladstone, NJ also met Nagata-san and decided they wanted to pursue service projects that would benefit the Girl Scouts of Okinawa.

Every month, Rockwood staff compiled a report covering groups in camp and other interesting developments.

One sentence in the April 1956 report leaped off the page and went streaking around my office (a common occurrence in this work-at-home time) until I recognized it:

Mrs. Frances Faeth joined Mrs. Nagata for her last day at Rockwood.

It has been several months since we departed on our tour to Okinawa, so perhaps the name doesn’t ring a bell for you.

But this whole series about Girl Scouts in Okinawa began with a donation of three scrapbooks from American Girl Scout troops living in Okinawa in the late 1950s.

The scrapbooks had been Fran’s. Her family generously presented them to the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.

One of three scrapbooks from the Girl Scouts in Okinawa

This truly was a round trip excursion, finishing back where we began.

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

Girl Scouts and Japan, part 3

Girl Scouts and Japan, part 3

As Washington’s cherry blossoms fade and scatter in the wind, it is time to wrap up our time-traveling trip to Okinawa in the 1950s.

(Need a refresh? Return to Part 1 or Part 2 of this series.)

Sharing Traditions

The Japanese Girl Scouts in Okinawa shared many of their traditions with their American friends, such as the song “Sakura” and the Festival of the Dolls. Did you know “Rock, Paper, Scissors” is related to a Japanese game called Jan Ken Pon?

Traditional Japanese “nodder” dolls (right) dressed in Girl Scout uniforms.

Furoshiki

The Americans were introduced to furoshiki—traditional, colorful fabric used to wrap packages and to gather small items. They are the original reusable totes, popular long before plastic bags. The Girl Scouts of Okinawa sold furoshiki as a fundraiser in the 1960s. Several are draped throughout the council exhibit.

Let’s Put on a Show!

All of the Girl Scouts of Okinawa came together for an International Folk Festival on March 2, 1957. Each troop performed a traditional dance from around the world.

The festival was well-reported by island newspapers.

What a delightful trip this has been!

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

Surviving the Big Trip

Surviving the Big Trip

Many Girl Scout troops spend several years working toward a “Big Trip.”

Often it is to one of the World Centers, located in London, Switzerland, Mexico, and India. Perhaps the destination is New York City, Washington DC, or Savannah, Georgia.

The Trip guides badgework, fundraising, camping and field trips that gradually build skills and cooperative behavior.

Planning a Big Trip to Washington DC, from Rockwood Film Strip

For the troop leaders, excitement is tempered by anxiety. How do you take twenty or so girls to the other side of the country; or the world?

(Plus, Girl Scout regulations specify that you must bring home the same number of girls that departed with you. Same number, I suppose you could swap some girls. Or at least threaten to.)

But relax, other volunteers and staff members will help you prepare the girls and yourself. At one time, trip plans had to be approved by the local Girl Scout council.

The Big Trip will make memories that last a lifetime, most of them good!

So, in a belated nod to Leader Appreciation Day, here is 1955 poem composed by a New York leader who took 64 seventh graders on a three-day trip to Washington, DC. And she survived!

Washington 1955 (Leaders’ Ditty)

Washington when Spring is here, to some may seem to be
A gay time, a play time, a time that’s fancy free.

With the blossoms and the buildings and the beauty of the city
To wander o’er and ponder o’er; and it really seems a pity

Or so you’d think, to have to steer wherever you may go
A gaggle of, or straggle of, Girl Scouts both fast and slow.

How very wrong such thoughts would be, the girls add to the fun,
But have no doubts, 64 Girl Scouts can keep you on the run.

They lose their buddies, sing strange songs and roam far and near
And history is a mystery to most of them I fear.

Senior Girl Scouts at Mt. Vernon, from Rockwood filmstrip

They stroll around Mount Vernon, while you revel in it too,
The FBI stands way high in their list of things to view.

Memorials and monuments and museums, where they see
Two-headed babies, gems of rubies – strange things you will agree.

But those they rank as equal to the homes of famous men,
Or the Capitol. They lap it all up – want to go again.

But see these green-clad forms stand still when the Guard is changing o’er
Way, that’s a sound of girls you’re proud of, now and evermore.

And though they give you headaches, if you’re honest, you must say
You’re glad you went, not sad you went, and you loved just every day.

Heading Home, 1950s (Rockwood Collection)

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

Put These on Your Sash

I’m a BIG fan of Spoof badges.

You’ve probably seen examples online, such as these camping-themed badges from Demerit Wear.

They range from funny to foul and some are far too mature for our dear girls’ delicate sensibilities.

(And just how many fart badges does one Cub Scout need?)

I’ve been a freelance writer in a home office for 20-some years, so I earned the full set of working-from-home recognitions long before it was trendy.

Adam Wentworth’s Working From Home series on Etsy

Apparently, spoof badges aren’t a new idea. I found a several proposed leader badges in, where else, Leader magazines from December 1958 and February 1959.

For your enjoyment and troop planning, I present (only slightly edited):

Vintage Spoof Badges

Idiot

The Idiot badge may be earned in various ways. A simple start is to forget the can opener on the night of the big party–or, after careful solitary rehearsal of the flag ceremony, to go blank when a group of wide-eyed Tenderfeet (-foots?) are looking to you for guidance.

Straight Face

The Straight Face badge is one toward which credits can be earned painlessly at every meeting. When you can ask seriously, “Don’t you think steel wool and scouring powder are a little too rough for a baby’s skin?” or comment, “It’s very messy to put your elbow into the soup to test the temperature”– you’re made!

Split Personality

Earned by all those ladies who must be pioneer campers, dignified hostesses, landscape gardeners, puppet makers, and untold other things in rapid succession.

Good Intentions

The primary requirement for earning this badge is to have gotten into improbable and thorough trouble while doing an extraneous good deed.

For example:

  • Ms Susie ventures out into the icy world on a particularly nasty day in order to light the stove at the church where the troop met, so that some hours later the room would be warm. On the way down the hill from the church, her car slips into a deep ditch, requiring a tow truck and the payment of $150.
  • Ms Linda decides to take home one of her Brownies who lives miles beyond nowhere in the Arkansas countryside, rather than let her wait an hour for her parents to pick her up. Heavy rains had converted the back roads into deep mud. On the return trip, to avoid some heavy branches overhanging the road, she got ignominiously stuck in the mud, up to the floor of her car. It took a good half hour to get out, to say nothing of mud (sprayed over everything and oozing through the floor) and frayed nerves. In cleaning up the car after my fiasco, I scrubbed the skin off my hands trying to get everything mud-free and ran the well dry.

Broken Note

To earn this badge, you must NOT to be able to sing. It is a noble ambition to have our girls learn to sing, and, whenever possible, to do so by listening to someone sing the song. Some volunteers can read music easily and have an excellent memory for words.

But others (you know who you are) can’t sing a note. Or more accurately, they can sing one note. They all come out the same. When they sing “Make New Friends” it sounds like a Gregorian chant. This badge is awarded to all who have suffered the frustrations and woeful eyes of girls who want so badly to learn and enjoy but can’t make heads or tails of the melody, at least not the way their leader sings it.

Scrounger

Any Girl Scout leader who wasn’t born a scrounger and saver must develop into one or perish.

There are three requirements for earning this badge.

  • Save one dozen items, such as two-pound coffee cans, to be used “at a later date” for “something.”
  • Save one dozen items for at least a year, such as empty baby cereal boxes with spouts (there must be some use for spouts?), which collect dust, dirt, and despair.
  • Scrounge ten different items from ten different sources, whether they be No. 10 cans from a restaurant (we all know what those are used for) or cuttings from the local greenhouse.
The Sacred Pot of Golden Yellow Nuggets

Needless to say, all of these tasks must be accomplished with minimum expenditure, if not free.

Personally, I live with the giant jar of yellow pony beads that has been passed through my Service Unit for 25+ years. The SU was merged out of existence several years ago, but the beads remain. Alas. They do make a good door stop.

Black Day

The Black Day badge consists of two parts.

First: There are certain conditions that must be present before the other requirement may be completed: it has to have rained solidly at least three days; you have to have a cold, or think you have a cold; you must at least have a headache, a toothache, or a husband on a diet.

Second: Face one of the listed experience or a similar calamity.

  • When the young ladies duly burst into troop meeting, they are like uncaged tigresses, deaf to ideas and entreaties, unable to sing or play games or otherwise vent their energies without producing chaos. The leader must be poised, gracious, in full command of the situation, smiling and bright.
  • The second requirement is to have chaos at home develop at the moment you leave for a meeting: a younger child has just come down with scarlet fever, measles, or such; the stove has blown up or the bathroom overflowed; your husband is bringing home three guests for dinner. Again, you must appear at meetings, poised, gracious, and with three of the craft supply boxes living in your basement.

Surely these coveted recognitions will be wonderful additions to your new, official leader vest!

Preview(opens in a new tab)

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

Girl Scouts and Japan, part 2

Let’s return to Japan and keep touring our exhibit on Girl Scouting in that country.

(Need a refresh? Jump back to part 1.)

Our three scrapbooks represent three different US troops and document their activities for about two years. There is some repetition and duplication due to multiple newspapers covering the same event.

What kind of events? The girls living in Okinawa did the same Girl Scout activities as US-based troops. They wore the same uniforms, recited the same Girl Scout Promise, and earned the same badges.

That was the purpose of having Girl Scout troops for families living abroad. Parents knew that their daughters would find a warm welcome and many new friends when they attended their first troop meeting.

Local residents from the Girl Scouts of Japan were often invited to troop meetings to share in the fun.

Twist Me and Turn Me

Courts of Award

Girls of Kaden Air Base receive their First Class pins from base commander Col. William C. Adams. First up is Sammie Towne, while Sharon Foley, Marylin Earl, Martiele Graham, and Kaye Rodgers (USAF Photo)

Active Citizens

Service Projects

Jane Ruiz of Troop 12, Kadena Air Base, presents a Girl Scout handbook to Katherine Newsom of Keystone library. (Note the “Professional Military Books” shelf!).

Mealtime

Square Dancing

Camping

Day Camps for Brownies and Intermediates began in 1957.

Badgework

In addition to regular Girl Scout badges, the American troops on Okinawa created their own badge for learning about Okinawa. The design was apparently used for patches as well. (I’ve also seen a Okinawa troop crest with the red Shinto gate symbol.)

That tradition has carried into modern day, with USAGSO offering badges on Okinawa’s culture and sea life. These can be ordered online.

Shared Activities…

… will be featured in part 3.

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

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