Buying the Birthplace

I have had the good fortune to make two trips to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah in the past month. In between, I decided to learn more about the history of the building. How did it become a Girl Scout National Center?

Leader June 1954

Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, purchased the home from the Gordon family in 1953.  The Birthplace became the third national Girl Scout center, joining Camp Edith Macy in New York and Rockwood outside of Washington, DC. The Savannah home would become

a unique center for Girl Scouting in this country — a place where ideas for new troop activities can be tried out, where there will be records of the past and plans for the future of Girl Scouting where girls from all over the world may come together to find friendship and inspiration.

–Lilly Macintosh, chair of Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Committee in 1954

The GSUSA Board of Directors advanced the purchase price ($500,000), intending to launch a national fundraising campaign to pay for the building and its renovation.

Girls were asked to contribute pennies equal to the cost of an ice cream cone.

However, the campaign did not go as smoothly as hoped. Only $88,450 had been raised by late 1954; $100,000 was needed before restoration could begin.

To date, contributions to the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace fund have been very slow. As a report will be made at the regional conference of Girl Scouts in October, it is asked that any adult or troop wishing to make a contribution to this fund do so as soon as possible.

Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman (October 5, 1954): 18.

Other indications of trouble were sprinkled throughout local news columns on Girl Scout activities, such as “the local quota of $105 for the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace restoration” and “each troop be contacted and made acquainted with the plan of contributing one dollar or more for restoration.”

Birthplace Gift Form

Coupons like this ran in Leader magazine in 1955.

If the Girl Scouts were to meet their target grand opening in 1956, they needed a new strategy. So they turned to a time-tested fundraiser: baked goods.

One year earlier, Helen Duprey Bullock, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, had begun adapting “classic” cake recipes for Dromedary Heritage Series cake mixes. Not only were the recipes based on family traditions from historic American homes, but a portion of the profits went to restore the related home. Dromedary was a division of the National Biscuit Company

The company’s first mix, First Lady Martha Washington’s “Great Cake,” was a flop (perhaps because it required 40 eggs), but her gingerbread recipe was a hit.

Soon Bullock created mixes for James Monroe’s white cake,Thomas Jefferson’s pound cake, Mary Todd Lincoln’s yellow cake, and Theodore Roosevelt’s devil’s food cake, among others.

For Juliette Gordon Low, she created an angel food cake mix. Thankfully, the required 13 egg whites came with the mix.

JGL Cake Mix

The result, according to advertisements, was

Angel Food light as a moonbeam, fluffy as a summer cloud, white and moist as a fresh snowfall. And with a delicate crust and flavor all its own.

Dromedary kicked off the deal with a $500 token payment. Going forward, the company would pay royalties of three-fourths of one cent per case of angel food cake mix. They anticipated selling six million cases per year and pledged an advertising campaign worth $1 million.

I haven’t found the total amount raised, but the cake mix strategy was evidently a recipe for success. The  beautifully restored Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low re-opened in 1956.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Back to the Birthplace

Last weekend, I finally visited the renovated library at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia. I had not toured the house since the library’s controversial redo in April 2015.

Based on the criticism I’d read, I expected to step into a high-tech Apple Store, with rows of gleaming iPads, computer monitors, and glaring fluorescent lights. The reality was quite different.

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez (right) discusses the theory behind the new library (photo by Mark Bowles)

I watched a Cadette troop swarm into the room and head straight for the activity table in the middle of the room. Most of them passed right over the iPads—that’s something they see every day. What they really liked was the stereopticons. Everyone had to try out the “vintage virtual reality glasses.”

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The stereopticons were extremely popular (photo by Mark Bowles)

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez, front view (I forgot to take her picture!)

 

I spent over an hour in the library with Lisa Junkin Lopez, the executive director of the Birthplace. She arrived in November 2015, shortly after the new library was unveiled and instituted several modifications in response to a range of feedback. We had an excellent discussion about the purpose of various museum features.

Honor the Past, Serve the Future

The interactive table is the focus of the library and provides hands-on activities that allow girls to physically connect with the past. After a series of “do not touch” displays in other rooms, the girls welcome the change. The activities are grouped around the themes of Poems, Songs, Speeches, and Storytelling.

 

The exhibit has also been designed for maximum accessibility. Girls can feel Braille letters, for example. Girls are encouraged to compose poetry about their Girl Scout experiences, and they can leave their own mark on history by adding their favorite book to the memory journal. At one point, they could use a beautiful blue vintage typewriter to record their thoughts, but it was so popular that the machine would jam and congest the room. As the last stop on the tour, the library also offers a transition between past and present.

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This desk once held a vintage typewriter, a technology that proved too popular to remain on display  (photo by Mark Bowles)

Community Service

The library is now stocked with books by and about women, which builds on the Gordon family’s love of reading and learning. Troops are encouraged to bring contributions for the library, and returning girls often search the shelves for “their” books. Surplus books will be donated to Loop It Up, a local literacy charity.

There are also traditional Girl Scout handbooks and fictional stories on view, but these are for display only. It might be nice to have scanned excerpts of the older books available to browse on the iPads.

For All Girls

While the Birthplace is one of the holiest shrines of Girl Scouting, it also is one of the best-known house museums among the many restored mansions in historic Savannah. It is also the only house museum that has an elevator, making the upper floors accessible to visitors with physical disabilities.

Lisa explained that the Birthplace has an opportunity to expand on Juliette Gordon Low’s principle of inclusion. It can serve as a model and resource for other historic house museums seeking to improve the accessibility of their facilities without compromising their historical integrity. That seems like an outreach effort worth pursuing.

The Girls’ House

Overall, I did not find the new library as horrific as often portrayed. I’d feared isolated girls with earbuds roaming about, following a pre-recorded tour.

Instead, I was delighted to watch girls eagerly experience both the old and the new technology. We need to use the tools and technology available to help modern girls connect with the past. I’m sure I’m not the only Girl Scout historian who has referred to semaphore as “vintage texting.” That translates into something the girls understand, something more appealing than waving an old rag on a stick.

vintage-texting

Girl Scouts has long embraced technology. These campers from the 1920s are using “vintage GPS systems,” also known as a compass (GSCNC Archives).

I also don’t think the redesign of the library has damaged the historical integrity of the building. The rooms have not been structurally modified, just the contents changed. Any house museum will have to make compromises to meet modern building codes. I’m fairly sure the gift shop and public restrooms were not part of the original layout either, but I don’t hear complaints about those.

I find that when girls connect with Girl Scout history, when they discover their place in this venerable movement, they come away with a deeper appreciation of Girl Scouting. That’s what I saw happening in the Birthplace library, and I have no problem using the occasional iPad to help that process along.

©2017 Ann Robertson

Don’t Buy Cookies from an Aardvark, part 2

My last post shared a cute little booklet, “Don’t Buy Cookies from an Aardvark.”

I didn’t know any backstory about the booklet until reader Arielle Masters contacted me. She said there had been a TV commercial with this theme, but that she couldn’t find a clip online.

There’s a challenge I can’t resist!

After some searching, I found that Arielle was correct.  Here’s the full commercial from 1976:

In fact, this is one commercial in a series that has animals pushing sub-standard cookies, including a rooster,

 

an alligator:

and a panda.

There are many vintage cookie commercials online, why not share them with your troop?

Thanks, Arielle!

©2017 Ann Robertson

Don’t Buy Cookies from an Aardvark

I found this treasure in one of our cookie boxes at the GSCNC Archives & History Program Center in Frederick, MD. (An archival box of cookie sale materials, not a box of actual cookies, although I could use one right now…)

It is a letter-size sheet of paper, folded and printed as a booklet, that tells the story of Girl Scout cookies:

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(GSCNC Archives)

aardvark-tale-1

(GSCNC Archives)

aardvark-tale-2

(GSCNC Archives)

The back cover, in tiny print, reads “J. Moore, 51-4 GSCNC.” I assume that this is the work of Jean Moore, who was once an active member of Nation’s Council (and a plaintiff in the Rockwood case).

I suspect there’s a good story behind this delightful tale.

If it has made you half as hungry as it’s made me, try out the Girl Scout Cookie Locator to find cookies close to your location. Look for the girls in green, blue, brown, or khaki, and beware any aardvarks.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Who’s That Girl Scout? The Yellow Brick Girl

She’s the fresh-faced young lady in a khaki pork-pie hat beaming in a vintage Girl Scout poster.

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Her friendly face is also captured on a vintage pin-back button.

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But who is this famous Girl Scout?

Sadly, this model Girl Scout has no name.  She is the creation of popular artist and illustrator Lester Ralph (1877-1927).

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Lester Ralph specialized in paintings of women and their pets. 

The watercolor painting was first used on a poster for Girl Scout week in 1919.  It was used for a variety of publicity purposes, but she is best known as the face of the 1924 “Buy a Brick” campaign.

As the Girl Scouts entered its second decade, the national headquarters had outgrown its space at 189 Lexington Avenue in New York City. Perhaps another factor in the decision to move was the neighborhood. In May 1922, thieves broke into the offices and stole nearly $10,000 worth of Girl Scout pins, watches, and uniforms. According to the New York Times, the robbers dropped their loot when “they were frightened off by a shooting in the neighborhood caused by other criminals working at cross purposes.”

In any case, by 1924 the organization was trying to raise $500,000 for a new building at 670 Lexington Avenue.

The national fund drive was chaired by popular mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, who came up with the notion to sell “parts” of the new building. One brick cost $10, walls were slightly higher. Donors received the small button as an acknowledgement of their generosity.

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Mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, in the light-colored dress, had a Girl Scout honor guard greet guests when she gave a large tea at her Washington, DC, home on November 12, 1924 (Library of Congress photo)

The building campaign overlapped with the Girl Scouts’ acquisition of the model Little House in Washington, DC, causing considerable confusion on several fronts. Unaware that the Girl Scouts had already approached the Rockefeller Foundation for a donation toward the new headquarters, the regular operating budget, and American Girl magazine, Lida Hafford, director of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, contacted the very same foundation about funding a permanent home for the Little House.

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National Director Jane Deeter Rippin shares her concerns with national president Lou Henry Hoover (GSUSA, NHPC Little House Collection)

Even the Girl Scouts national board of directors became befuddled over the matter, with some thinking the national headquarters was returning to Washington, DC, specifically to the Little House.

National President Lou Henry Hoover eventually came to the rescue. With a flurry of telegrams she clarified who was moving where, and she even put up her own money to physically tow the Little House to a permanent site just west of the White House.

Little House Moving

Little House on rails for its trip from the National Mall to 1750 New York Avenue NW (GSCNC archives)

Throughout the administrative ordeal, our yellow brick Girl Scout never lost her confident smile, never slumped her shoulders in despair. Her image was repurposed for additional posters before being retired in 1928, following the death of the artist.

I think it is time this girl has a name, and I propose that from here on she be known as:

Dorothy, the yellow brick Girl Scout.

If we could just make ruby slippers part of the Girl Scout shoe collection…..

©2017, Ann Robertson

 

Girl Scouts on Parade

parade-patch

Hooray to our confident young women who braved the insults and haters and stood tall and proud yesterday during the 2017 Inaugural Parade.

 

 

The issue of whether or not the Girl Scouts should have participated in the events surrounding the swearing-in of a new president generated considerable discussion.

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Girl Scouts marching in the 2017 Inaugural parade (photo by Julie Lineberry)

Some commentators dismissed the uproar as the work of “childish feminists.” (Their argument might have been more convincing if they used our real name, Girl Scouts of the USA, not Girl Scouts of America.)

My own blog post on the matter was shared around the digital world, and I was interviewed and quoted by the Boston Globe.

Today GSUSA, the national headquarters, released their own follow-up statement, which reads in part:

Being a leader means having a seat at the leadership table no matter what. It means being willing to work with whomever happens to hold political power. It means not running from the face of adversity but, rather, standing tall and proud and announcing to the world and the powers that be that SHE is a force to be reckoned with—and that girls’ viewpoints and needs must be taken seriously. This is what we model at Girl Scouts, as to do otherwise would be to tell girls to sit down and be quiet—and that they don’t count.

Now there is a movement afoot to not ask Melania Trump to serve as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, another 100-year old tradition dating back to Edith Wilson. (Edith was Woodrow Wilson’s second wife and second First Lady; his first wife, Ellen had declined the invitation and then promptly died.)

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First Lady Grace Coolidge in her beloved Girl Scout uniform (GSCNC archives)

Again, I disagree. We are non-partisan, we can’t pick and choose who we’ll take and who we want. That’s the first lesson in troop management. Would we reject the Trump granddaughters if they wanted to join?

In fact, I hope Mrs. Trump becomes deeply involved in Girl Scouting. It would be an excellent way for her to be a voice for women in the United States, a voice that quite literally has the president’s ear.

So, Mrs. Trump, after you drop your son at school Monday, why don’t you take a stroll down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. GSUSA headquarters is only a few blocks south of Trump Tower. You can pick up your membership pin and a beautiful official scarf in the GS Shop—and we’ll help you to begin learning what it means to be strong, confident, and independent.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Why the Girl Scouts Should March in Trump’s Parade

The official lineup for the 2017 Inaugural Parade has been announced, and the backlash has begun. I was not surprised that the Girl Scouts are being criticized for participating, but I am very alarmed at the calls to boycott Girl Scout cookie sales.

I, too, was disappointed with the presidential election results, but I still think the Girl Scouts should participate for six reasons:

Because We Serve Our Country

We are a non-partisan organization that promotes civic education.  According to the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital: “The event is a symbol of our democracy and the peaceful transition of power. This year, the Presidential Inaugural Committee offered the opportunity for 75 Girl Scouts to march in the parade.”  

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Girl Scout greeters at the 2013 Inauguration (GSCNC Archives)

Because We Respect Authority

The Girl Scout Law also instructs us to respect authority. That means to respect the office, if not the office holder.

Because We Teach Resilience

With elections, one side loses. Deal with it. We need to teach girls to lose with grace. If they don’t like the outcome, get up and do something about it.  Don’t go home and pout.

Because We Keep Our Commitments

We should march because we made a commitment to march—a commitment to the Inaugural Committee and a commitment to the girls who applied and were selected. There are much fewer opportunities for Girl Scouts this year. While for past Inaugurations Girl Scouts were posted at metro stations and other locations to provide information and directions, this year they were only invited to participate in the parade.

Because It Was a Struggle to Participate

Girl Scouts have marched in Inaugural Parades since 1917, but it was a major struggle to win that privilege. Parade organizers didn’t think delicate young girls could stand the physical demands of marching, and we actually had to audition in advance.

WP Feb 24 1917

Finally,

Because the best defense against a powerful misogynist is to raise a generation of strong, confident young women.

Watch out. We are coming.

And one more thing…

Has anybody else noticed that the Women’s March on Washington logo looks familiar?

 

©2017 Ann Robertson. All opinions are mine alone.