Girl Scouts Answer Call to End to Social Unrest

Fifty years ago today, the Girl Scouts of the USA released this telegram:

GSUSA Kerner Telegram copy

From Leader magazine, October 1968

Copies were also sent to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Judge Otto Kerner, every member of the Kerner Commission, every member of Congress, and every Girl Scout council president.

Two months earlier, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder released a landmark study on race relations in the United States. President Lyndon B. Johnson had convened the 11-man panel of experts following riots in Newark, NJ, Detroit, MI, and 23 other cities the previous year. The violent uprisings, concentrated in African-American neighborhoods, were responsible for the deaths of 69 people in Newark and Detroit.

Known as the Kerner Report, as Judge Kerner of the US Court of Appeals chaired the panel, the report’s conclusion was concise and alarming:  The United States faced such deep social and economic division that

Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.
—Conclusion of the Kerner Commission

 

The Report called for massive investment in housing and jobs to improve living conditions for African Americans and an end to segregation in urban neighborhoods, among other recommendations.

GSUSA received many responses to the telegram, including one from Judge Kerner:

Your message of the action of the Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of the United States should be hailed by all throughout the United States. I am a great believer in using existing organizations to work on the greatest social problem the country has ever faced. I am sure that through the Girl Scouts you can reach into the economically deprived areas and give new experience and opportunity there as well as to those people outside the depressed areas by becoming acquainted with the conditions. Please extend my congratulations to the officers and the Board of Directors.

—Judge Otto Kerner

 

President Lyndon B. Johnson ignored the Kerner Report’s advice, mainly due to the cost, but the Girl Scouts paid attention.

Pages from GSL 1970-01 January (1)

Leader (Jan 1969)

At the 1969 National Council Session, GSUSA launched “Action 70,” a program to improve race relations within Girl Scouting. Within Nation’s Capital, the leaders of the Southwest Montgomery County and Mid-Eastern Washington Associations took up the challenge of fostering good relationships within the council. Mary Ann Claxton, of Southwest Montgomery County, invited Field Vice President Ethel Harvey to a discussion on “The Kerner Report and Its Implications for Girl Scouting.”

 

This discussion evolved into the Inter-Association Friendship Committee, a series of joint events between the Girl Scouts from the urban Mid-Eastern Washington and upper-middle class Southwest Montgomery County Associations spanning more than three decades. The Friendship Committee brought together troops for camping, swapping program ideas, service projects, and fun. One of the Committee’s most popular annual traditions was polishing the brass on the carousel at Glen Echo Park, once a whites-only establishment.

049_Glen_Echo

Nation’s Capital troops polishing the brass on the Glen Echo carousel (GSCNC Archives)

A half century later, the United States remains a sharply polarized society.  The Girl Scout’s persistent determination to be inclusive is still a model worthy of consideration.

For more about the 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Report, follow the link to an interview with the last surviving panel member.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Revisiting Boypower 76

The Boy Scouts plan to admit girls into their ranks. Again.

The national office of the Boy Scouts of America recently announced that girls will be able to join Cub Scout packs this fall. Under a new program category called “Scouts BSA,” girls will be able to rise through the ranks in the coming years, all the way to Eagle (in other words, the Gold Award for boys). The expansion campaign will be known as “Scout Me In.”

 

 

But while proclaiming the move as a victory for inclusion, equality, and parental convenience, Cub Scout packs will be single-sex only.  This paradox either confirms the value of single-gender group or indicates that Cub Scouts are afraid of girl cooties.

Including Some Girls

This is not the first time that the Boy Scouts have provided a participation option to girls.

 

On October 17, 1968, the Boy Scout organization launched a new membership initiative called “Boypower 76.” The ambitious program set national goals to be achieved by the US Bicentennial Celebration of 1976. Specifically, (1) Expand membership so that one of every three American boys is enrolled. That would require adding 2 million new Boy Scouts by 1976. (2) Double council budgets to a combined level of $150 million.

New members would be recruited through two efforts: establishing troops in inner cities and retaining older boys by allowing girls to participate in the special-interest, career-focused segment of the Explorers program. In other words, girls and ghettos.

The Girl Scouts outlined this new initiative in the October 1969 Leader magazine. According  to the article, potential female Explorer participants must be:

  • registered Girl Scouts or Camp Fire Girls
  • invited to join by a post sponsor
  • in high school, unmarried [!!], and at least 14 years old

In addition,

Participants will not become members of the Boy Scouts of America and will not pay a membership fee to the Boy Scouts of America. (They may pay post dues and “pay their own way” for activities and events.)

Leader (October 1969): 55.

The national slogan for Boypower 76 was “America’s Manpower Begins with Boypower.”  What girl wouldn’t feel welcomed by that greeting?

A key difference between the 1968 announcement and those of 2017 and 2018 is that the earlier expansion news was delivered in a joint statement from the national presidents of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls.  Furthermore, the cooperation proposal originated with the Girl Scouts.

 

The_Cincinnati_Enquirer_Sun__Nov_3__1968_

Cincinnati Enquirer Sun (November 3, 1968)

 

Not everyone was pleased with including girls in 1968, prompting a Boy Scout spokesman to reassure the faithful, “We are not going to try to build girls. Our business still is boys.”  Then why add girls? According to BSA chief executive Alden Barber, it was to improve older boy retention.

Young men are interested in young women.

–Alden Barber

This statement makes girls sound like recruitment incentives, not a group worthy of program initiatives.

Membership Quotas

Councils were given strict monthly and annual membership goals to keep them on track to achieve the expansion envisioned in Boypower 76. As the girls were only Explorer “participants,” not members, presumably the main source for new members would be high-poverty pockets in both urban and rural areas.

 

The strategies mentioned in the press reeks of racism and do-goodism. A widely syndicated New York Times article from February 1970 discourages block-by-block recruiting for new Boy Scouts because it might trigger gang conflicts; a new handbook in comic book format appropriate for “youngsters with a minimum of education”; and badges that include treating rat bites.

By April 1971, girls could be full members of Explorer posts, thereby contributing to the overall membership goals.

The Controversial Collapse of Boypower

BSA canceled the Boypower program two years early, amid widespread reports of inflated membership numbers.  Articles in the New York Daily News, the Central New Jersey Home News, and many other newspapers enumerated the problems. The Chicago council was accused of selling one-month memberships for ten cents; other councils for inventing names to register. At least 13 major cities were discovered to have falsified records, involving some 30,000-40,000 “phantom” scouts.

Furthermore, only about half of the $65 million fundraising goal was met, and much of that was from long-time donors who directed their gifts to the national organization instead of the local council.

Looking Ahead

I will be watching the rollout of “Scout Me In” closely. This initiative also comes at a time of falling membership among the Boy Scouts, and I certainly prefer enrolling real children who will actually participate instead of inventing new members.

It is also important to note that the Boy Scouts are enrolling girls, not necessarily Girl Scouts. I have not seen any statement preventing girls from being members of both organizations. There have always been “bi-Scoutal” girls enrolled in both Girl Scouts and Venturing, the current incarnation of the Explorer program.

Personally, I’ll stick with Girl Scouting. I have a hard time seeing myself as a welcome, valued member of any organization whose very name fails to include me. Girls are more than just membership statistics. Girls, and especially Girl Scouts, are great!

Girls Great

© 2018, Ann Robertson

 

 

Putting Our Priorities First: Girls

For the 80th anniversary of Girl Scouting in 1992, the Girl Scouts of the USA adopted a new slogan, “The Girl Comes First in Girl Scouting.”

This clear statement of the movement’s priorities was available on patches, magnets, and pins.

 

Girls Come First

80th Anniversary slogan patch (1982)

As we face increasing challenges to our movement, I invite you to download this image and declare your priorities on social media. Post the patch!!

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

 

Picture Yourself in the Girl Scout Archives

Last Saturday was the Nation’s Capital 2018 Annual Meeting, and the Archives and History Committee arranged an exhibit.

2018 Annual Meeting Patch

 

The exhibit theme was “Picture Yourself in the Girl Scout Archives,” and it had two parts. First, Committee members brought a current project to share. We are informally divided by specialty (uniforms, patch programs, books, publications, etc.) and this seemed a good way to demonstrate what the Committee does.

I brought some of our camera collection to decorate our display, and many girls were fascinated by them. We had to explain that these cameras did not have phones.

Second, we organized a photo booth with old uniforms. Last year we had a large exhibit of adult uniforms and people were literally lining up to have their picture made with the mannequins. We decided to build on that by having uniform pieces to try on.

 

Hats were easy to arrange.  We’d been advised by other history groups to be vigilant about hygiene since we didn’t want to accidentally spread germs or unwelcome critters. We lined each hat with a basket-style coffee filter that we changed after each wearing.

Uniforms were more challenging. Folks today are larger than people a few decades ago and some of our uniforms are tiny! We know that for fashion shows, we have to go for younger models.  Sometimes only a Daisy in kindergarten can fit into a vintage Brownie dress, and we have to use a fifth-grade Junior for one of the vintage teen uniforms.

But we’d gotten a fabulous idea from other historians: split uniforms. I saw them up close at the North Carolina Girl Scout Collector’s Show in March, and organizer Becky Byrnes offered some great advice.

 

Uniforms are split along the spine, hemmed, and ribbons or bias tape is sewn in to use as ties. Girls and adults slip the old uniform on over their clothing, much like a doctor slipping into a surgical gown. It doesn’t completely solve the size issue (tiny uniform + clothing = tight squeeze) but everyone seemed pleased with the results.

Our designated photographer reported snapping pictures of 74 groups, and many more visitors took selfies.

This experiment worked well and we plan to have more split uniforms available at our Program Centers.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Remembering Barbara Bush

Much has been written about the legacy of former First Lady Barbara Bush, who passed away on Tuesday, April 17, at age 92. Commentators have noted her unusual position as a wife of one president and the mother of another; many tributes have also mentioned her extensive commitment to literacy promotion.

While in the White House, first ladies are also invited to be honorary president of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Mrs. Bush accepted eagerly and was active in many Girl Scout events.  She even attended the 1990 National Council Session in Miami to draw attention to the Girl Scout Right to Read program.

As her neighbor, not just in the White House but also at the Vice Presidential Residence, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital had many opportunities to see and interact with her.

She spoke at the GSUSA 80th birthday celebration on March 12, 1992, held at the US Department of Agriculture atrium. Mrs. Bush helped launch a new national service project that day, “Girl Scouts Care for the Earth.”

An official photograph of the event appeared in the Summer 1992 Leader magazine:

 

Leader Summer 1992

Leader Magazine (Summer 1992): 29.

 

But our council archives have several behind-the-scenes photos from that day. It is delightful to see Mrs. Bush and her friendly, unhurried interaction with a group of very nervous Girl Scouts.

The photograph below is my favorite. I went back to the original to see if there was any additional information, such as the girl’s name and what she is giving to Mrs. Bush. Could that be a sparkly yellow pom-pom SWAP? She seems fascinated by it!

 

Barbara Bush 4

Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital Archives, March 12, 1992

 

We are fortunate that this busy first lady always made time for the Girl Scouts.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Putting a Name to a Familiar Face

Recently I wrote about the disappointment in having to pass on an overpriced piece of local council history.

But that disappointment was short-lived. Shortly after the elusive eBay auction ended, a new donation arrived in the mail. The enclosed letter from a local estate attorney explained that her client, Betty Chapman, had left behind a scrapbook that she had compiled as a Washington, DC, Girl Scout in the late 1920s. As Chapman had no immediate family, the attorney thought we might like it.

The package contained a three-ring school notebook, with newspaper clippings and other papers pasted on lined notebook paper.

Kahler Scrapbook

The first clipping, on the first page, I immediately recognized:

Kahler Gollden Eaglet

This round-faced girl, with the slightly mischevious grin, is Elizabeth Kahler, one of Washington’s first Golden Eaglets. She appears in many of our early photos, including this one of the 1927 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Coolidge Raccoon

Elizabeth Kahler, top left, at the 1927 White House Easter Egg Roll with First Lady Grace Coolidge and Rebecca the White House Racoon.

Elizabeth has the same photo in her scrapbook, along with an autograph from the first lady. You can still see the creases from Elizabeth putting it in her uniform pocket for safekeeping.

Coolidge Autograph

The book is stuffed with more clippings, invitations, letters, and badge records.

Kahler Red Cross

Elizabeth carefully preserved her Red Cross home nurse certificate.

But perhaps the biggest find is nine issues of the Girl Scout Bugle — a publication that I did not even know existed!

GS Bugle 9 issues

GS Bugle InfoThese four-page publications from 1927 and 1928 were part of a journalism training program.  The first issue explains its purpose. I don’t know how long the program continued.

Stuffed in the envelope with the Girl Scout materials are other mementos of Elizabeth’s life, such as the programs from her college graduation. She attended the George Washington University, earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees before graduating from medical school, with distinction, in 1940.

Elizabeth married fellow physician Ervin Chapman and maintained a medical practice in Washington, DC. She passed away in 2007.

Eliz Kahler Chapman

Dr. Elizabeth Kahler Chapman

I guess those Red Cross courses made a significant impression on Miss Kahler.

© 2018 Ann Robertson

A Practical Approach to Girl Scout Archives

I have a busy week coming up, first going to the North Carolina Girl Scout Collectors’ Show, then on to Savannah, Georgia, to see my daughter, who is a junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

She is busy studying schedules and determining what classes to take this fall and the rest of her senior year. I continue to be amazed at the variety of courses and career paths offered at SCAD. They have areas of study that I never knew existed, like yacht design, sequential art, and luxury and fashion management. SCAD takes a very hands-on, applied approach to learning that equips students for creative careers.

I already have another trip to Savannah penciled in for October, this time for a Girl Scout history conference. The last such conference I attended was very conceptual–discussions and presentations on the changing role of museums in the 21st century.

IMG_2356

GS Historic Georgia partnered with SCAD to create a Preservation Patch

I have no idea what is being planned officially, but if it were me, I know what Savannah resource I would want to use wisely–SCAD. A conference planned in coordination with the school could provide tremendous hands-on learning opportunities. There are many potentially relevant programs, for example:

Accessory and Jewelry Design: Techniques for cleaning pins and metal camping equipment;  novel ideas for displays of lots of tiny objects.

CharacterDesignWrkshpAdActing and Character Development: For our living Juliette Gordon Lows.

Branded Entertainment: I don’t have any idea what this is, but how often do we hear about communicating and protecting the Girl Scout brand? Maybe we would learn!

Fashion/Fibers/Costume Design: Best techniques for preserving old fabric; how do you clean 100-year old sweat stains and rust stains?

 

SCAD-Museum_School-Visit_07_FS

Museum Studies students craft narratives about their artifacts (SCAD).

Museum Studies: Duh.

 

Photography/Film/Sound: How to archive photos, film etc. (and could someone please convert some Beta tapes that we have?)

Preservation Design: This also seems obvious.

 

Production-Design_Student-Candids_Fall-2013_MN_-272

Designing exhibit displays and props (SCAD).

Production Design: Tips on how to construct and configure exhibits and display spaces.

 

Themed Entertainment Design: to create Juliette Gordon Low World (just kidding–mostly)

Conducting a two-hour workshop on these topics would be a great experience for students, as SCAD teaches them to hone their presentation skills whenever possible. I definitely would sign up for as many as possible.

Ultimately, the conference curriculum isn’t up to me.  Maybe I’ll just browse the textbook aisle in the campus bookstore and try to learn some of these skills on my own.

©2018 Ann Robertson