The Festival of Nations, 1931

As World Thinking Day approaches, we look back at a previous experiment in international friendship with a guest post by Katherine Cartwright, a doctoral candidate in history at the College of William and Mary. She was a Girl Scout for seven years in Michigan.

On Monday, April 27, 1931, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, former First Ladies Edith Wilson and Helen Taft, the Vice President, the Ambassadors of Japan and Poland, and the ministers of Czechoslovakia and Austria crowded into Constitution Hall near the White House. The event? The “Festival of Nations” – a six-day theatrical production put on with the help of the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia. The pageant, according to the Washington Star (March 22, 1931) was intended “to promote friendship and better understanding between the youth of all nations.”

Festival of Nations Program
Festival of Nations Program (GSCNC Archives)

This was exactly the type of event I was hoping to find while conducting research for my dissertation in the archives of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.

My name is Kat Cartwright and I am a Ph.D. candidate at the College of William and Mary. My dissertation examines how young people engaged in and shaped efforts aimed at cross-cultural understanding and internationalism from World War I through World War II and when volunteer archivist Ann Robertson handed me a 1931 scrapbook containing newspaper clippings that chronicled the Festival I knew I had struck gold.

Local newspapers began reporting on the Festival as early as November 1930. In cooperation with the Department of State, four countries were chosen for the play: Mexico and Canada, the closest neighbors of the United States; Czechoslovakia, a nation “greatly interested in promoting friendship among nations”; and Japan since the Festival was to correspond with the blossoming of the cherry trees, a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. The drama was to feature the “authentic” culture, dancing, and singing of these four nations and end in a finale with youth representing 50 nations.

Washington Times (February 18, 1931)

While the initial articles in the scrapbook concentrated on the adults organizing the production, the articles increasingly emphasized the youths’ participation throughout that spring. These articles allow me to incorporate the actions and voices of young people into my work.

Not only did young people, especially Girl Scouts from troops in the Washington area, join professional singers, dancers, and actors in the cast and serve as ushers at each performance, they also played an important role in promoting the Festival. For example, they submitted posters to be circulated throughout the United States, Canada, and other countries leading up to the Festival.

Selected costumes featured in the Sunday Star (April 19, 1931)
Winning poster designs. Washington Times (April 20, 1931).

About 30 Girl Scouts and Girl Guides representing at least ten countries attended a promotional “Flying Tea” held at Hoover Airport, now the site of the Pentagon. Nellie Veverka from Czechoslovakia got to do the honors of christening a new airplane. Other reports scattered throughout local papers followed additional preparations for the Festival, from the spectacular costumes to the involvement of embassies.

Washington Times (April 20, 1931)

With so much hype leading up to the premiere, I was sure that the Festival was going to be a hit. But, alas, the first reviews were hardly favorable. The most scathing review came from an Eleanore Wilson, who wrote in the April 28 Washington News,

Once more, we regret to report, Washington has made a daring and desperate stab at art and fallen short of the mark.

Washington News (April 28, 1931)

Others cited the duration of the play as its primary flaw and wished that it had been a silent film because the discourse took away from the music and scenes. Though we don’t know the exact reason why, even First Lady Hoover left half-way through opening night! The crew and cast quickly responded, cutting scenes here and there.

By the time more than 2,000 Girl Scouts and various other youth from the Washington area crowded into the hall for the children’s matinee on Saturday, the play had been shortened by an hour and fifteen minutes.

Many of the articles in the scrapbook suggest that the Festival that took place in DC in 1931 was modeled on similar events held elsewhere. That suggests many additional research paths to explore: Where did these events take place? Were the Girl Scouts and Department of State involved? What countries were represented in the festivals? How were young people—both from the U.S. and abroad—active participants? I hope to explore these questions and find more events like the “Festival of Nations” as I continue my research.

© 2019 Katherine Cartwright

P.S. I am currently working my way through The American Girl magazine [the Girl Scout publication, 1920–1979] and have evidence of international correspondence between Girl Scouts in the U.S. and Girl Guides and Girl Scouts abroad. Maybe you know of such letters collecting dust in an attic or basement? If you have any leads, I’d love to hear from you! You can contact me at kscartwright@email.wm.edu.

Winter with the Girl Scouts

With record low temperatures across the country, I’m sure you are all wondering what Girl Scouts do in the winter. Admit it. 

That simple question is the theme of the current Archives and History Committee display at the main office of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital at 4301 Connecticut Ave NW in Washington, DC.

The answer? Lots!

Play Outside

Keep Toasty Warm

Girl Scouts have long had many options for frosty fashions. And if they have nothing in their closet, they will knit something themselves!

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Girl Scout winter wear

Go Camping!

Personally, I’ll stick with lodge camping in the winter, but some hardy souls will still pitch their tents in the snow.

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Winter camping (2002 GSCNC Calendar)

And let’s not forget the brave troop that was rescued by helicopter from Camp Potomac Woods after a surprise snowstorm in 1958. Here they are after arriving at Ft. Belvoir.

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Earn a Badge

There have always been badges appropriate for winter time.

 

March in a Parade

Holiday parades, Martin Luther King Day parades, Presidents’ Day parades, Girl Scouts take part whenever asked. And every four years, there is a presidential inauguration to take part in.

Enjoy Tasty Treats

Bake cookies, decorate gingerbread, sip cocoa, or try a cookie-flavored coffee pod and creamer.

Sell Cookies!

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will distract us from a cookie booth.

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My daughter’s last cookie booth, March 2015. We froze our cookies off.

But the absolute best part of the exhibit? New lights.

Finally, everyone can see the treasures on display!

©2019 Ann Robertson

Rolling Down the Street

Last week, the oldest synagogue in Washington, DC, was seen rolling through the streets of the Nation’s Capital.

This wasn’t cheap entertainment provided during the federal government furlough–well, actually it WAS free and entertaining. The journey was a major step in the development of a new Capital Jewish Museum, whose design will incorporate the 1879 building. A decent-sized crowd gathered to watch the wheeled building migrate from near the Supreme Court to 3rd Street NW.

(Photos from UPI, but WordPerfect’s new editor is fighting me.)

In fact, this was the third relocation for the Adas Israel synagogue.

Rendering of new Capital Jewish Museum
Architectural rendering of new museum (Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington)

This motorized procession reminds me of a similar excursion made by the Girl Scout Little House in 1924. But that move was accomplished with actual horsepower, not heavy equipment.

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 offered it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center.

The Girl Scouts were reluctant to accept. While it would wonderfully fit in with the Girl Scout program, accepting the gift would require a considerable investment. There were no funds for utilities, staff, insurance, and other operating costs. Most important, there were no funds available to relocate the building.

The clock began ticking on the fate of the model home. The exhibit permit had expired on June 15, 1923.

Lou Henry Hoover immediately saw the value in accepting the house and began working to persuade the Girl Scouts to accept. As national president of the organization, she began a barrage of letters and telegrams to national board members that lasted all summer. On September 20, the national board voted to decline the proposed gift.

But Hoover refused to let the issue drop. She even offered to personally pay any deficit that might accrue in the first two years of operation.

Hoover offered several arguments to sway the reluctant board members. My favorite one sought to dispel the Girl Scouts’ image at the time, of being more interested in hiking than homemaking:

Considering the opposition we have had to meet in many quarters, particularly with the Camp Fire Girls and the Boy Scouts on this very matter of our home making propensities, or the lack of them, I feel that we must accept this, our justification, if possible.

–Lou Henry Hoover, October 1, 1923

Meanwhile, Colonel C.O. Sherrill, superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, was continually pleading for someone to get the house off of government property.

Mrs. Hoover asked the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, to handle the concerned colonel. His reassurances helped little, as an increasingly desperate Sherrill offered his own solutions, including opening a Tea Room in the building to feed the many government workers situated in nearby offices.

Ultimately, Mrs. Hoover grew tired of the back-and-forth and took matters into her own hands. She contacted Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, of the Phillips Art Collection, who agreed to loan a plot of land that they owned at 1750 New York Ave. NW. The new home for the Little House would be two blocks southwest of the White House and across the street from the famous Octagon House.

Loading the Little House on rails (Harris & Ewing).
Moving the Little House from its exhibition site to 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House.
Moving the Little House from its exhibition site to 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House (Harris & Ewing).

Hoover wanted her financial contribution to be anonymous, so she arranged for Henrietta Bates Brooke to sign the moving contract, as member of the National Executive Board. Edward G. McGill of Cumberland, Maryland, oversaw a crew of men who hoisted the house onto rails and pulled it to the new site. McGill charged $3,000 for transporting the house. Hoover also paid for a basement, utility connections, and landscaping, for a total cost of $12,000.

Preparing the Little House for travel (Acme Photo)

Much to the relief of Colonel Sherrill, the Little House arrived at its new home in March 1924—nine months after the original exhibition. First Lady Grace Coolidge helped re-dedicate the building in a ceremony on March 25, as a beaming Mrs. Hoover watched.

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.

Cover of promotional brochure advertising products in the Little House (GSUSA archives)
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These girls are preparing lunch while their guest of honor, Eleanor Roosevelt, observes.

It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.

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.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Who’s That Girl Scout? Oleda Schrottky

I have long been fascinated by former GSUSA staff member Oleda Schrottky. But when I recently found this vintage photograph, I was in love.

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Oleda Schrottky in costume (presumably), Macy Center, 1928 (Acme Newsphoto)

From 1921 to 1964, Schrottky was the Girl Scout “play lady.” She reluctantly took this position and over time crafted a one-of-a-kind job description uniquely tailored to her talents and convictions.

Why is Oleda Schrottky the coolest Girl Scout ever?

First, there is her name: Oleda Schrottky. Try saying it aloud a few times. Doesn’t it feel and sound fascinating?

From the Midwest to Massachusetts and Manhattan

Oleda Schrottky was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1894. She was a highly educated woman for the era, attending Lawrence College, the University of Minnesota, and New York University.

She established herself as a well-regarded speech and drama instructor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She frequently performed in professional productions, especially with the Provincetown Players.

She Admitted to Misunderstanding the Girl Scouts

In 1921, the Provincetown troupe debuted a new play in New York City, The Inheritors, written by Susan Glaspell and directed by Jasper Deeter. Twenty-seven Oleda memorably played the lead character’s grandmother.

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Jane Deeter Rippin (GSUSA)

After one show, Jasper introduced Oleda to his sister, Jane Rippin, who had greatly enjoyed her performance on several evenings.

Oleda was later astonished when Jasper commented that his sister was the executive director of the Girl Scouts. She could not believe that the aristocratic theater patron, dressed in an evening gown and furs, could possibly be a Girl Scout. She protested:

 

 

 

They wear khakis; they wear black khaki stockings; they wear the most awful-looking hats; they wear great big belts; they have got stuff hanging around like ropes and knives and they march. They are always marching and they are camping, they sleep in the poison ivy, they knock trees down, they dig holes, they cook meals. They are dreadful!

Leader (Winter 1985)

Obviously, she eventually changed her mind.

She Forged Her Own Path

Jane Deeter Rippin sought to hire professionals in the fine arts to train troop leaders in drama, music, and more. She offered Oleda a salary of $150 per month “and a lot of opposition.”

As promised, many volunteers and staff resisted the new initiative, but Oleda stood firm and eventually gained respect and her programs were praised. She originally meant to stay just a year, but 12 months rapidly turned into 40 years.

Everybodys_Affair

Play written by Oleda Schrottky

As Secretary of Plays and Pageants, Oleda wrote scripts, guidebooks, and ceremonies, and she travelled across the country helping adults and girls perform.

Her training courses included lessons on set construction, costume design, and the importance of understanding a play’s context. She published guides for Scout’s Own ceremonies, “Simple Dramatics for Girl Scout Troop Meetings,” and plays such as “Lend a Hand,” “Milestones: A Girl Scout Pageant in Seven Episodes Based on the Life of Juliette Low,” and “A Pot of Red Geraniums: A Christmas Play in Two Acts.”

While she insisted that any number of girls, even a handful, were sufficient for a dramatics program, Oleda preferred to stage her own pageants on a grand scale.

The photo above was taken during a dramatics course for leaders given at the Edith Macy Training School in 1928. All 150 students participated in “Nottingham Fair,” a pageant based on the Robin Hood story.

Oleda became an in-demand speaker across the United States. Her presentations were noted for their insight, humor, and ability to mobilize civic clubs and parent-teacher groups to support youth recreation and community theater.

She Helped Dedicate Rockwood

Oleda organized the dedication of Rockwood National Camp in 1952, combining it with a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Girl Scouting. She wrote a new pageant for the event and found a unique way to include thousands of Girl Scouts in a ceremony held at a relatively small venue.

Councils across the country were encouraged to hold their own community-wide campfire ceremony over the summer, make a bundle from the remains of the fire, attach a special message, and send it to Rockwood. No detail was left to chance:

These bundles of sticks should not exceed 12” in length; each piece of wood approximately one inch in diameter. We experimented and the simplest way is to make a cloth bag, of unbleached muslin or light-weight duck, with a draw string, then use mailing tape.

Twenty-nine bundles arrived in time for the dedication.

Schrottky Bundles

Oleda Schrottky examines bundles of sticks mailed to Rockwood National Camp (GSUSA archives)

She Retired from Work, But Not from Her Mission

Oleda officially retired from GSUSA in 1957. But she continued to work with young women and maintained a busy schedule as a guest speaker.

Too many of our children today just sit and want to be entertained. They must learn that they themselves have resources for entertaining.

–Oleda Schrottky, 1964

She passed away in August 1969, after giving presentations as recently as that May. She also had a speaking engagement booked for November 1969.

She Believed in the Importance of the Liberal Arts

I wonder how Oleda would fare in today’s Girl Scouting. We supposedly are fighting against a public image of preferring crafts over camping. Increasingly, Girl Scouting is focusing on developing skills in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math.

These are undoubtedly valuable skills, especially in the 21st century.

But as a social scientist married to an architect and with a daughter in art school, I cannot ignore the value of non-STEM topics as well.

I hope we can find a balance that includes all of these subjects.

Otherwise, maybe I’ll have to wear my own floaty Maid Marian dress to the next Maker Fair.

©2018 Ann Robertson

Girl Scouts Bring History to Life at Riley’s Lockhouse

DEC06AR20Nestled inside a quiet bend of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal near Seneca, Maryland, Riley’s Lockhouse offers Girl Scouts a unique opportunity to learn about daily life in the 1870s and museum careers.

On weekends in the fall and spring, Girl Scouts dress in authentic period clothing and share the history of the Riley home to visitors of all ages. They serve as docents, demonstrating daily chores from the 1870s, including washing clothes, making butter, singing, playing games, sewing quilt squares, and making corn husk dolls.

 

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Welcome to Riley’s Lockhouse! (GSCNC Archives)

The C&O Canal was in use from 1831 to 1924, with 1871 its peak year. It ran from the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, to Cumberland, Maryland; 185 miles. Barges navigating the canal used a series of 74 locks to adjust to the changing depth; from sea level in Georgetown to 605 feet in Cumberland. Riley’s is located at lock 24. Today, the canal’s towpath is popular with cyclists, joggers, and history buffs.

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Approaching the lockhouse (Echo Reardanz)

In October 1975, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital launched the Riley’s Lockhouse History Program through a special permit from the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Searching for a special way to mark the US bicentennial, Cadette Troop 2032 of Bethesda, Maryland, devised a project to demonstrate how families lived in the 1870s.

 

In 2007 the Riley’s Lockhouse Program received the national Take Pride in America award from the US Department of the Interior. The program also won the 2007 George B. Hartzog, Jr., award for outstanding volunteer youth group in the local National Capital Region.

Over 40 years later, the program remains popular. Girl Scout troops still change into period costumes and give tours on Saturdays and Sundays in the spring and fall.

Leaders of troops interested in participating in the lockhouse experience need to take a half-day training course so that they can learn appropriate skills and teach them to their troop. Training classes are offered in both the fall and spring.

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Veteran C&O volunteer and Girl Scout Joan Paull trains leaders in 19th century life (Echo Reardanz)

The program is open to all Girl Scouts, not just troops registered with Nation’s Capital. Many of the photos featured here were taken by Echo Reardanz, a volunteer from the Girl Scout Council of Central Maryland who frequently brings troops to the lockhouse.

For more information about the program, contact programaa@gscnc.org.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Remembering George H.W. Bush

A few months ago, I wrote about former First Lady Barbara Bush and her involvement in the Girl Scouts.

Although not an honorary national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA, President George H.W. Bush was also a great supporter of the Girl Scouts.

Troops touring the White House from 1989 to 1992 often received a special greeting from the president himself.

He kept the tradition up when his son became president, especially with groups that came to watch a White House tee-ball game.

Nation’s Capital Girl Scout Troop 2722 hoped to see the country’s leader when they cheered on a White House tee-ball game on June 3, 2001, but they were surprised to see two President Bushes! The elder Bush graciously posed for photos.

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Girl Scout Troop 2722 met President George H.W. Bush on June 3, 2001 (GSCNC Archives).

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Tributes to President George H.W. Bush consistently cite his kindness and decency, attributes that align with the Girl Scout mission of making the world a better place.

©2018 Ann Robertson

Favorite Pin Identified

Three years ago I shared my favorite piece of Girl Scout memorabilia. It is a sterling silver and brass brooch that I found on eBay.

 

 

The pin is engraved “Suncoast Girl Scout Council,” but the seller had no information about its origins.

A few weeks ago I received an email from Terri Costello, the special events manager for Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. Suncoast was one of the councils that merged to create West Center Florida during realignment.

Terri had recognized the pin immediately. It is presented each year to the council’s Women of Distinction. Many councils have similar programs to recognize inspiring women.

This event is held each year to honor and celebrate local women who have achieved success in their chosen fields and serve as inspiring role models for girls and other women in our local communities, each exemplifying ethical leadership and a commitment to making a difference in the lives of their fellow citizens through community service.

GSCWCF website

While the Suncoast program dates to 1992, the pin, designed by Tampa artist Karen Arch,  and was introduced in 2002.

I am delighted that even though I am not a “Woman of Distinction,” Terri has given me permission to continue wearing it with pride. In fact, I think I’ll wear it today!

©2018 Ann Robertson