Eighty years ago this week, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia moved to new office space.
However, it was a short trip, from 1825 M Street NW to 1906 M Street NW, but it provided additional space for an ambitious defense training program and growing membership.
The new, colonial-style building featured knotty-pine flooring. The first floor held a reception room, board room, and a library for volunteers. Upstairs, the second floor was divided into offices for director Eleanor Durrett, three field advisors, and clerical staff.
The 1825 M Street location had been provided to the council by Mrs. Henry H. Flather, who now planned to sell the building which the Girl Scouts had long outgrown.
Known to her friends as “May,” Mrs. Flather spearheaded the efforts to provide a permanent summer camp for Washington’s Girl Scouts. She pledged $10,000 toward the camp, which opened in 1930 and was named in her honor.
Just a few years later, the Council moved to 1712 N Street NW. While there have been additional addresses over the years, Nation’s Capital has been at its 4301 Connecticut Ave NW location since 1999.
Despite the meandering path to the current location, connections to the past remain.
The same portrait of Lou Henry Hoover hangs outside Nation’s Capital’s current board room.
Like most Americans, Ellie Alloway will pause tomorrow to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
But tonight, September 10, Ellie will make an unprecedented contribution to the history of 9/11.
Tonight is the premiere of Ellie’s documentary, “Ripples: 9/11 Reflections from the North Fork, NY.” The film draws from more than 100 interviews that she conducted with survivors over the past two years.
The 9/11 documentary began as her Gold Award project, earning her the highest award available to Girl Scouts. Then it grew and grew. She hopes that one day schools might use her film when teaching about the events of 9/11.
Meet Ellie Alloway: one of the Girls the World Needs.
For more about Ellie and her project, follow these selected links:
This week the Girl Scouts of the USA unveiled new uniform options for the three youngest program levels. Daisy, Brownie, and Junior Girl Scouts may start the new school and Girl Scout years with casual options and a new, softer color palette.
Traditional components, such as tunics, vests, sashes, and neckerchiefs have been refreshed as well. Headbands and matching hair scrunchies, so popular in the 1990s, have also returned.
The pieces have subtle branding so that they may be used everyday.
A new Girl Scout uniform wardrobe for girls in middle school and high school, debuted in 2020. It used a color palette of lavender, sky blue, charcoal, and green. Responding to girl feedback, the vest was redesigned with pockets.
Why a Uniform?
Early handbooks explained the advantages of wearing a Girl Scout uniform. First, “it gives a certain prestige in the community” because the public will recognize wearers as girls who are courteous and helpful. Second, the “uniform puts every girl on the same footing.” Uniforms made be purchased, sewn at home, or hand-me-downs, but everyone wears the same thing.
The first Girl Scout uniforms were a simple dress or coat dress, with an official tie, hat, belt, and socks. The only choice was which color tie a troop would wear. Older troops had a choice between socks and hose. Once decided, every girl was to dress in the same leg wear.
As membership grew and new age levels were established, each phase of Girl Scouts had its own distinctive uniform: a simple dress with a tie and hat. Hats and white gloves were included as they were the norm at the time.
Blouse-and-skirt options became available in the 1950s and 1960s. The new dark green skirt, shown above, was particularly popular as girls could tuck the “GS” tab into their waistband and nobody would know it was a Girl Scout garment.
“Uniform Separates” A Contradiction?
The 1970s brought the concept of separates to each age level, with many options and combinations possible. Instead of troops using a consistent, uniform, look, the 1973 catalog encouraged girls to express their individuality:
NEW UNIFORM LIBERATES CADETTES
Here’s a new Cadette GS Uniform that lets you be you. Whatever you’re doing, whatever your pursuit, there’s an outfit just for you. Six separates mix and match into over 15 different looks. Choose one or all six to suit your tastes, reflect your lifestyle, keep up with your busy life. Whichever you choose, you’re official. For today’s liberated you, official never looked so good. (1973 Catalog)
New fabrics, colors, and designs came along in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, and all of these collections continued to offer multiple options. At times the options were overwhelming.
The evolution of the Brownie uniform demonstrates these changes.
Evolution of Brownie Uniform, 1927-today
The Minimalist “Un-Uniform”
Uniforms all but disappeared in the 2008 catalog. Official, Girl Scout-produced uniform components were reduced to just a sash or vest, worn with any white top and khaki bottom. “Uniformity” now meant standardized across all age levels.
Girl Scout officials believed most girls would already have white shirts and khaki pants, perhaps as part of a school uniform, and would not need to purchase additional items.
Although any white shirt was acceptable, new Girl Scout uniform white shirts and bandanas were available for purchase.
GSUSA also introduced a new line of “official casual” uniforms in a separate fall 2008 catalog.
Some old-timers believed the movement had finally caved to the demands of the many members, especially teens. Many of these girls believed they would absolutely and totally DIE if their friends knew they were Girl Scouts.
The un-uniform decision had two consequences. First, uniforms were one of the few dedicated revenue streams at the National level. Revenue from merchandise sales, according to annual reports, dropped from $45.7 million in 2006 to $20.7 million in 2011.
Second, many Girl Scouts disappeared from public view. It became difficult to recruit new members for this phantom organization.
The generic uniform design also contradicted the first strategic priority adopted at the 2005 National Council Session.
Transform the Girl Scout image with a compelling brand that resonates with girls of all ages and cultures, that makes girls feel proud and excited to join.
Leader (Winter 2005): 11.
The change to minimal uniforms evidently was not popular with all of the membership. The more traditional Brownie and Daisy uniforms reappeared in the 2010 Girl Scout uniform catalog.
The pendulum swung in the other direction following the 100th birthday celebrations in 2012.
Options expanded with two new uniform shirts: the “shorthand” polo in 2013 and an “activity shirt” in 2017. The activity shirt touted its moisture-wicking fabric, acting as a successor to the long-retired camp uniform. New coordinating neckerchiefs, slides, and hats completed the look.
Volunteers had their own shorthand shirt, neckerchief, and slide.
If the latest designs leave you underwhelmed, you and your troop can always go retro. Girl Scout shops have the shorthand and activity shirts on clearance.
Another option is to go vintage. It is perfectly acceptable to wear a uniform from the past, although you should pick one style, not mix-and-match decades. Check thrift shops, family attics, and your local Girl Scout historians.
Today musicians across the country will play both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” Over the years, many people have called for making “God Bless America” our national anthem. Among other arguments, it is a much easier song to sing.
I happen to agree, but I have an ulterior motive. I want the royalties.
Written in 1917, “God Bless America” debuted on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1938. It was an instant hit. Irving Berlin’s lyrics captured his love of the United States, the country that had welcomed his family when they fled Russia in 1893. He decided to use the royalties from this song to invest in the country’s future, especially its youth.
Berlin sat on the board of directors of the Boy Scouts and his wife on the board of the Girl Scouts. The Fund’s trustees explained the selection of beneficiaries: “It was felt that the completely nonsectarian work of the Boy and Girl Scouts was calculated to best promote unity of mind and patriotism, two sentiments that are inherent in the song itself.”
At the time, right-wing fringe groups attacked the Girl Scouts for accepting Berlin’s gift. Noting that the composer was Jewish, they denounced the song as being part of a Jewish conspiracy to replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Historian Sheryl Kaskowitz reprints excerpts from some of these startling letters, including one that claimed the Girl Scouts had accepted $15,000 from Berlin as part of the conspiracy. “Millions of Christian Americans resent certain forces using a great Patriotic organization such as yours to further their own selfish interests, and further the lid is about to be blown right off this slimy trick.”
The Girl Scouts persevered despite its critics, and ten years later, in 1950, Fund president Herbert Bayard Swope cited the movement as “a leading factor in the fight to end race, color, and religious discrimination in the United States.”
Focus on Greater New York City
Originally the royalty funds were distributed to councils across the country, but since the 1990s the fund has focused on the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York and the Greater New York Councils: Boy Scouts of America. Both organizations have used the funds to provide programs in low-income neighborhoods of New York City.
According to the Chicago Tribune (November 7, 2001), the song generated about $200,00 per year, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Royalties swelled to $800,000 for 2001. By 2011 some $10 million had been distributed to both organizations.
Boy Scout Royalties Withheld
However, Fund trustees became increasingly uncomfortable with the Boy Scouts’ official policy of discrimination against homosexual members. Fund publications began to stress that royalties went to the Greater New York Council, not the national organization. Each year the Greater New York Council had to assure the Fund of its non-discrimination policy. (Boy Scouts ended this restriction in 2015.)
The Fund was not satisfied by the council’s statement in 2012, and it refused to cut a check to the Boy Scouts for several years. However, eventually the Fund was satisfied and donations resumed. I cannot pin-point the resumption date as the council’s website has dead links for all annual reports between 2014 and 2017.
The Fund has never had a problem with the Girl Scouts. For 2020, Girl Scouts of Greater New York reported a donation from the God Bless American Fund of between $50,000 and $99,000, twice the level received in 2015. (See Girl Scouts of Greater New York 2020 Annual Report.)
The Girl Scouts of the USA has long advocated inclusion and maintained a strict policy of “For All Girls.” Period. We know there is always room for one more around the campfire.
I wanted to write something profound, extolling Girl Scouts for creating generations of loyal citizens, but ideas were just not coming.
I searched through back issues of Girl Scout Leader magazine and BA-BAM. Then Destiny spoke and decreed that I must share this pageant. Because this play was not written by Girl Scout “pageant lady” Oleda Schrottky, but by a troop in my hometown, Paducah, Kentucky.
This splendid pageant teaches flag history, which early Girl Scouts had to learn for their Second-Class Test.
The cast calls for one girl in uniform; one dressed as Columbia, described as the personification of the United States; and the rest of the troop costumed as various flags.
In 1940, four members of the Norwegian royal family escaped German occupation of their homeland. Crown Princess Martha and her children: Princess Astrid, Princess Ragnhild, and Prince Harald took refuge in the United States. The struggle to recapture Norway is chronicled in the current PBS miniseries Atlantic Crossing.
Only one year earlier, Martha and her husband, Crown Prince Olav, had toured the United States, by train, traveling from Boston to California and back to Washington DC. One stop in Washington was the Girl Scout Little House.
The royal couple captured many hearts across the country, as their public appearances provided a welcome diversion from the Great Depression. Atlantic Crossing began just as their tour wrapped up.
Entire towns turned out to see the Norwegian royals, especially marching bands, flags, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and flocks of little girls in Norwegian national dress.
Smitten with the lovely princess, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited the royals to his Hyde Park home as well as at the White House.
This remarkable friendship prompted FDR to have US forces spirit Princess Martha and her three children out of Scandinavia to safety in the United States. Upon arrival, the four Norwegians stayed in New York, but they soon relocated to Washington DC.
Two Girl Scout princesses
To help her daughters make new friends, Princess Martha enrolled them in Girl Scouts.
She had learned about the Girl Scouts during her 1939 tour. Like many visiting dignitaries, Martha visited the Girl Scout Little House, where she learned about the various programs offered to girls and adult volunteers.
As she prepared to depart from the Little House, she was given a pair of guest towels, hand-woven by members of Troop 22. Kari Galbe, daughter of a Norwegian diplomat, wore her Norwegian Girl Guide uniform for the occasion.
I’ve written about the Girl Scout tie-ins to the PBS mini-series Atlantic Crossing. But wait …. that’s not the only current TV series with a Girl Scout connection.
Netflix has released a series about fashion designer Halston. Ewan McGregor plays the titular character.
The PR folks at Netflix have done a splendid job of drumming up interest in a man who died in 1990.
The New York Times, Washington Post,Esquire, The New Yorker, Variety, and other news outlets took the hint and have recently published features about Halston’s career. Much is made of his glamorous friends and wild nights at Studio 54. Liza, Liza, Liza.
As far as I can tell, one major project has been overlooked in the accompanying Halston media campaign–and I highly doubt it will be mentioned in the TV series.
Believe it or not, Halston designed uniforms for adult Girl Scouts. Girl Scout executives approached him about the project, and he agreed to do so on a pro bono basis. Normally, his fee would have been between $50,000 and $100,000.
He was enthusiastic about the Girl Scout project.
The Girl Scouts are a terrific organization and anyone who could help them should.
Bernadine Morris, “No Sequins This Time,” New York Times (May 17, 1978): C9.
Why did the Girl Scouts seek a high-end fashion brand, such as a Halston design?
This was not the first time. Earlier adult uniforms were designed by Mainbocher (left) and Stella Sloat (center). In the 1980s, Bill Blass created a wardrobe for leaders (right).
GSUSA gave its own answer in Leader Magazine:
The results debuted in May 1978.
The collection was made of sage green polyester gabardine fabric with mix and match pieces. An ivory blouse and scarf completed the look.
The design was quite similar to the brown Braniff flight attendant uniform that Halston designed one year before the Girl Scout ensemble.
Some of the headwear, however, seems out of place. The woman on the right in the Girl Scout photo is wearing a pillbox hat. That makes sense as Halston’s big break came in designing the pillbox hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore at the 1961 Presidential Inauguration.
But what IS that headgear on the left? It appears to be a visor, and indeed it is a visor. There is no good explanation for the visor. Visors are worn on tennis courts and golf greens, not in board rooms or committee meetings. The whole visor idea must have been conceived during one of Halston’s cocaine-booze-rent boy binges. Or, perhaps it came during a hangover, as it certainly is nausea-inducing.
It must not have been popular, either. When the Nassau County (NY) Museum of Art held a Halston retrospective in 2017, finding a visor for the Girl Scout exhibit took all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men to locate.
Given the, um, colorful life of Halston depicted in the Netflix series, perhaps it is just as well that there isn’t a scene with the Girl Scouts.
Let’s talk about the administrative structure of Girl Scouting!!
Whenever I give talks about Girl Scouting, I quickly realize that the audience does not understand how councils relate to our national organization, Girl Scouts of the USA.
Let me put on my political scientist hat and explain. I’ll explain the structure first, then look at examples of recalcitrant councils of the past.
Girl Scouts is not a monolithic corporation. The councils are not subsidiaries of GSUSA, but independent 501(c)(3) companies governed by separate boards of directors.
Federated National Movement
The more accurate description is a federated national movement. These are:
characterized by autonomous local member organizations that share a common purpose, mission, and history and that have joined together under the auspices of a national organization that articulates this mission at the national level and provides leadership for the movement.
Dennis R. Young, “Local Autonomy in a Franchise Age: Structural Change in National Voluntary Associations,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 18, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 104.
Federated organizations, especially multi-site nonprofits, tend to suffer from tensions between national offices and affiliates, which vary in degree and intensity but rarely vanish entirely.
If poorly managed, they suffer from uneven performance among local organizations, costly administrative duplication, and cumbersome national offices that deliver insufficient value.
However, the more accurate description of the relationship between GSUSA and councils is an asymmetricalfederation: power is distributed between headquarters and councils, but not equally. GSUSA holds the ultimate trump card—the council charter. Without a charter, no group can legitimately claim to be part of Girl Scouting.
The national organization, Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) grants charters to local councils, typically for three years at a time. In return, local councils become the designated, sole providers of Girl Scouting in a specific geographic area. Councils use the official name, logo and other branding elements, to participate in national product sales, and to sell the uniforms, handbooks, badges, and other insignia developed by the national office. They also may send delegates to the National Council, the main governing structure, which meets every three years.
Councils, in turn, must adhere to administrative, program, and camping standards set by GSUSA. If a council ignored the national guidelines, such as admitting boys, its charter could be revoked or renewed on a probationary, year-by-year basis.
The GSUSA “Blue Book” contains the organization’s Constitution, Bylaws, Policies, Credentials, the Criteria and Standards for an Effective GS Council, and the Congressional Charter granted in 1950.
A Girl Scout council charter is issued by the National Board of Directors of Girl Scouts of the USA to an organization exclusively devoted to the Girl Scout Movement in the United States, granting it the right to develop, manage, and maintain Girl Scouting in a specified area of jurisdiction, which is established by the National Board of Directors, and to call itself a Girl Scout council. A Girl Scout council charter is issued for no more than four years.
Council without Charters
By definition, charter revocations redraw council boundaries. The dissolved council–including its members, assets, and debts–will be absorbed by one or more neighboring councils. Action may be taken on a case-by-case basis, such as councils in financial peril, or toward dozens of councils, such as during a campaign to redraw (or realign) all council borders.
Given the profound impact of a charter revocation, they are a rare, out-of-other-options, action. It would be highly unusual for GSUSA to revoke the charter of a financially stable council, for example. Instead, they would likely be invoked for violations of national policies that could have a ripple effect across the movement.
I won’t go into further detail here about revocation versus non-renewal, as the outcome is the same. (For a deep dive, explore the Girl Scout Governance site.)
As this site explores history, let’s look at how councils resisting the Council Coverage program were disciplined.
In 1945 the GSUSA board of directors authorized the “Council Coverage” program to create a seamless network of councils spanning the entire country. Existing councils could be expanded geographically or consolidated into a larger, new unit to combine human, financial, and property resources to provide better, more consistent services for girls. The consolidation program, popularly known as the “Green Umbrella” movement, lasted nearly 20 years, ending officially in 1963 with 696 councils.
While the “Green Umbrella” name suggests welcoming fellow Girl Scouts into the efficient, protective arms of professional staff, many volunteers did not see it that way. They believed they had been running their local councils just fine, thank you, and did not want a distant national organization butting in on local affairs.
To prevent GSUSA from seizing local camps and properties, some councils took extreme actions. Such as divesting
themselves of properties and transfer[ing] them into citizens’ trusteeships so that if they are forced to join in a district council, they can withdraw from National Girl Scouting and remain an organization on their own.
Council-owned property was a particular sticking point; local citizens had built and funded local camps, and they did not want to turn them over to outsiders. At least 20 councils chose to affiliate with the Camp Fire Girls instead.
Thank you, but we’ll pass.
Even more problematic, the Council Coverage program was not optional. Dissenters could end their affiliation with the Girl Scouts, but they could not take assets with them.
The unilateral mandate was not well received, and the program was reviewed at the 1957 National Council Session. Delegates passed a motion that gave councils the right to present their concerns to the National Board of Directors before a final decision on combining councils.
We are not against council coverage as plan, but we object to the compulsion here.
Virginia Schoof, “Delegates Vote Council Plan for Scout Units,” Philadelphia Inquirer (November 15, 1957).
Among the unhappy campers, the Mount Vernon (Illinois) and Donora (Pennsylvania) Councils sought to preserve their independence through the judicial system.
Donora Council, located near Pittsburgh, served just the city of Donora. Plans were to combine it with the surrounding Allegheny County council and nearby community. Donora’s president appeared before the National Board’s Executive Committee on September 20, 1962. The Committee rejected Donora’s case and pulled its charter. The council filed suit, demanding that GSUSA explain its decision. The court ruled for GSUSA, but Donora appealed, arguing that National Board should not have delegated National Board Executive Committee to hear their objections, thus the revocation of their charter was not valid. The Supreme Court of New York rejected Donora’s complaint in December 1962. To continue in Girl Scouts, Donora’s 500 members must join the new council.
Mount Vernon, Illinois
Mount Vernon also went to New York to argue its position before the National Board. But GSUSA canceled Mount Vernon’s charter, too. The council filed suit in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Illinois, which issued an injunction that kept Mount Vernon’s charter in place until the lawsuit was settled.
The status of these two councils became an issue at the 1963 National Council session in Miami. With the injunction—and therefore its charter—in place, Mount Vernon’s delegate was admitted to the session. But Donora, whose charter had expired, was denied delegate status. A motion to seat the Donora delegate failed, 1406-1248.
Aware of the mounting tensions around Council Coverage, the president of the Scarsdale, NY, council suggested a proposal for consideration at the 1963 National Council session in Miami:
Remove the disturbing distrust of the national volunteers and staff and the general indignation that is sweeping the country over the threatening nature of the national [leadership] directives.
Mount Vernon ultimately was granted a new charter in 1966. But their victory was short-lived. GSUSA refused to renew that charter, and Mount Vernon ultimately joined Shagbark Council in 1968, as the Council Coverage plan had originally intended.
Donora joined the Allegheny Council, which soon became the Southwestern Pennsylvania Council.
Sometimes the smallest councils make the biggest waves.
When a related photo appeared on eBay, I purchased it. I usually do not waste money purchasing an overpriced reprint of an image that may be downloaded for free from the Library of Congress.
But if the photo offered for sale is an original, that’s another matter entirely. Vintage press service photos typically have a long caption that includes the date and names of the individuals. As the image is copied and widely distributed across the Internet, those details are usually lost. This is literally a rare chance to attach names to faces.
I purchased this photo, which appeared in part 1 of this series without the caption.
The caption noted that it was from a Girl Scout birthday party held at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington DC in 1945. The celebration was not part of the Atlantic Crossing retelling. End of story, right?
The Archives and History Committee of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital (like all councils) frequently receives donations. Old uniforms, badge sashes, and handbooks are typical, but photos, scrapbooks, and other one-of-a-kind items also appear. Sometimes the donor contacts the council office first, but others just arrive. A council staff member acknowledges receipt, then transfers it to the archives.
A few months back, I opened a large mailing envelope forwarded by staff and found several folded sheets of typewritten paper. A Post-It note was attached:
The obvious answer, of course, was to send it to the Girl Scouts.
The papers were folded around a smaller envelope, which I discovered contained photos. Specifically, 16 extremely well preserved photographs of the Norwegian Embassy event!!! The typed pages contained captions for each photo.
Nothing I’d found to date reflected the size of the event–over 400 girls attended!!
Here is a selection to enjoy:
Norwegian Ambassador Wilhelm Morgenstierne addresses the 400 girls present:
Many of the activities related to a service project helping a Norwegian Girl Guide troop that was meeting at a castle in Scotland. The Girl Scouts sent a scroll and gifts to the troop.
Sharing birthday cake with friends:
Talking to Princess Ragnhild and Prince Harald (on right, third photo)
Leaving the Embassy … with memories to tell their own children and grandchildren.
The donated photographs appear to have been professionally taken. A note on the page of captions says:
These are file pictures which could be used to help build up the feature. The Norwegian Embassy has cabled to see if they can get pictures of the troop there but don’t know when they can get the pictures or even if they have uniforms in war-weary Scotland.
The moral of this story? Don’t toss photos found in grandma’s attic!