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.

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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.

 

Brownies and Blair House

Tradition holds that the president-elect spends the night before his inauguration at Blair House, the “President’s Guest House” at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

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Blair House (Carol Highsmith)

But what do you know about the Blairs?  The family produced several prominent American statesmen—and one very spunky Girl Scout leader, Edith Blair Staton.

Edith’s grandfather, Montgomery Blair (1813-1883), studied law at my alma mater, Transylvania University in Lexington, KY, and his most famous client was the fugitive slave Dred Scott. Blair moved to Washington in 1852 and became Lincoln’s Postmaster General in 1861.

The family’s “country house,” Falkland, was the earliest residence in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Today, Montgomery Blair is the namesake of one of the largest high schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

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Edith Blair Staton, 1924 passport photo

Edith arrived at Blair House on September 6, 1896, and was the last baby born at the residence. She married a young naval officer, Adolphus Staton, on July 28, 1917.

While her husband was at sea, the young bride took the helm of a Girl Scout troop. When the girls were preparing for their first camping trip and realized they had no bedrolls or other equipment, Edith went to her hope chest, stored in her attic of her parents’ home, and took her brand new wedding linen into the woods!

Edith threw herself into Girl Scouting and met founder Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah in 1922, where Daisy taught her how to stand on her head.

When Girl Scout leaders decided to adapt the British Brownie program for younger girls in the United States, Edith was recruited to help launch the program. She organized the first Brownie “Pow-Wow” for prospective leaders in November 1922. She had the perfect venue for a large meeting–Manor Country Club. Her uncle’s club was about to open and the meeting offered a good dress rehearsal opportunity for the staff.

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Logo for the First Brownie Pow-Wow in 1922 (GS Collector’s Guide)

Edith Blair Staton thus became the first Great Brown Owl, the main Brownie leader for the United States.

Edith remained active in Girl Scouting for most of her adult life. She was a member of the advisory committee for the Rockwood National Camp and was president of the District of Columbia council.

Edith passed away in 2001, at the age of 104. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Admiral Staton.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

 

Farewell to Our Piper and Our Princess

The sudden loss of both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds this week reminded me of a moment when my teen troop visited the GSUSA museum in 2015. Staff showed them a display on the Piper Project.

“That’s Debbie Reynolds,” said the archivist, pointing to a photo. “Star of Singing in the Rain.”

Blank stares.

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Debbie Reynolds in her Girl Scout uniform (notice she earned the Curved Bar!)

“Aggie, from Halloweentown,” I translated.

That they understood. The Disney Channel movies are beloved by young women of a certain age. Cheers ensued.

Girl Scouts of a slightly older vintage remember Debbie Reynolds as the face of the Piper Project. Launched at the national convention on October 25, 1966, this three-year program sought to improve retention levels among current Girl Scouts, in part by recruiting more adult volunteers. Reynolds was to shoot a color television spot and film a short movie as part of the adult recruitment effort.

Reynolds explained the role Girl Scouting played in her life in the January 1967 issue of Leader magazine:

All my life I’ve been a Girl Scout, from that day long ago when I first said, “On my honor. … Like so many of us here, I have my mother to thank for one of the finest things that ever happened to me. She was my Girl Scout leader. Today I couldn’t begin to count the many ways Girl Scouting has influenced my life. … But we all know that the true values, the real values of Scouting, have to grow on you. You have to be a Scout long enough for them to take hold and endure. First it’s the fun — the songs and games, the being together with other girls, the belonging! And most of all, the chance to try out for yourself all the adventures in self-discovery Girl Scouting has to offer.

But you and I know that the fun, the games, the adventures are only a means in Girl Scouting — a means to a most important end. These are the tools we use to help girls grow into happy and resourceful citizens …

This doesn’t happen in a day, or in a year, or maybe not even in two of three. For that reason Girl Scouting should be a special ingredient in the lives of girls — seven through seventeen. And it can … That’s why I’m a Girl Scout leader.

Reynolds carried on her family tradition by leading a troop for her daughter, Carrie Fisher. While numerous Girl Guide organizations around the world can claim a princess or two as members, only GSUSA can claim Princess Leia as one of their own.

I don’t think I can add much to Reynolds’ comment. Girl Scouting is cumulative. The longer you’re a member, the more you get out of it. Perhaps the most fitting tribute would be for today’s leaders to take a deep breath, remember the year’s best moments, and commit to another year working with girls.

You never know which of today’s Brownies will grow up to save the galaxy from evil.

©2016 Ann Robertson

Girl Scout Shoes, Part 2

When I wrote about vintage Girl Scout shoes, many readers shared their memories of various sturdy, sensible oxford shoes.

But one Girl Scout historian emerged as the supreme arbiter of Girl Scout footwear: Merana Cadorette.

Check out what’s in her closet:

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Part of Merana Cadorette’s Girl Scout shoe collection (photo courtesy Merana Cadorette).

Look at those adorable Brownie slippers!!  I am SO jealous!

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

 

Girl Scout Exhibit at Rockwood Manor

The Girl Scouts have returned to Rockwood Manor Park!

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Uniform display in Rockwood’s Manor House (photo courtesy Montgomery County, MD, Parks)

Rockwood is, of course, one of my favorite Girl Scout topics.

I am nearly done writing a book-length history of this beautiful facility, which was a national Girl Scout camp from 1938 to 1978.  Its sale to developers in 1978 triggered a class-action lawsuit filed by the Maryland Attorney General and nine individual Girl Scouts. A pre-trial settlement resulted in roughly 75% of the property going to the developers (who created a subdivision with the terrifically uncreative name of “Woodrock”) and 25% to the local parks department.

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The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

While the settlement also called for the creation of a Girl Scout room filled with memorabilia and nature resources, the room’s prime location in the Manor House meant that it was gradually converted into a small office and storage area.

But out of the blue, I was contacted a few months ago by Jamie Kuhns, senior historian for the Montgomery County Parks. A uniform had recently been donated to her office, and she was in charge of creating a Girl Scout-themed display for the Manor House, Rockwood’s main building. Would I be interested in collaborating?

YES!!!!!!!!!!

(That’s actually my family’s reaction; they are SO glad I have someone else to talk Rockwood with.)

I met with Jamie and discovered that I knew the uniform’s previous owner, Barbara Lerch, granddaughter of Bobby Lerch, the beloved former president of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. Bobby remained an active Girl Scout until her death at age 104. She also wrote the Foreword to my book on the history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.

I reviewed the display text, answered questions about various people, buildings, and events; provided a photo or two; and replaced the missing yellow tie for Barbara’s uniform.  I quickly recognized one photo, which shows Bobby investing Barbara as a Brownie around 1964.

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GSCNC President Bobby Lerch, left, invests her granddaughter Barbara as a Brownie, c. 1964 (GSCNC archives)

The display case was dedicated in late November 2016. Next, I look forward to consulting with Jamie as she creates new signage around the grounds of Rockwood.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Shoes? Girl Scouts Had Shoes?

Here is another quirky eBay find that wound up in the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center: a sign advertising Girl Scout shoes.

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Get your Official Girl Scout Shoes!! (GSCNC Archives)

Shoes?  Girl Scouts had shoes?

Yes siree, we did. And we’re talking about some very sturdy, very sensible footwear.

In 1921 the national Girl Scout leadership signed an agreement that allowed outside vendors to produce and sell “official” Girl Scout shoes. Each pair sold raised 25 cents for the national organization. Most shoes featured a Trefoil on the sole.

The shoes were available through the National Equipment Service catalog and through the hundreds of stores across the country authorized to sell Girl Scout uniforms, books, and other equipment.

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From Girl Scout Collector’s Guide. Note the address; GSUSA today is located at 420 Fifth Avenue, New York City. 

Several equally practical designs appeared in the annual catalog over the decades, including green rain boots and canvas sneakers. Some were for “official” wear with uniforms, other were intended for casual outfits. None would make Carrie Bradshaw or any other shoe aficionado swoon.

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Alas, none appeared in the catalog after the mid-1960s.

For more pictures of Girl Scout shoes (even shoe boxes!) stroll over to the Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum.

©2016 Ann Robertson

Girl Scouts in the Panama Canal Zone

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Panama Canal Museum, Univ. of Florida

 

On the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, I’d like to share one of the more obscure collections in the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital archives: a history of Girl Scouting in the Panama Canal Zone.

Panama Canal Zone?

As part of the 1903 treaty allowing the United States to build the Panama Canal, the government of Panama ceded control over a 10 mile-wide strip of land alongside the canal. Washington used the land to house the workers who built and operated the canal. There was always a strong military presence in the zone.

Perhaps the most famous “Zonian” is former presidential candidate, John McCain (R-AZ). Senator McCain was born at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station hospital there on August 29, 1936.

A 1977 treaty abolished the Canal Zone effective October 1, 1979. A joint US-Panamanian commission administered the region as it was gradually turned over to local control over the next 20 years.

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Panama Canal Zone (Norton Anthology of American Literature)

Lillian Mountford: Global Girl Scout

Our Panama Canal Zone connection is Lillian Mountford. An Army wife, Lillian worked with troops in San Francisco, Hawaii, Long Island, and Fort Monroe, Virginia. She was commissioner (president) of the Girl Scouts of the Canal Zone, Pacific Side.  The Mountfords retired to Arlington, Virginia in 1945.

Because of her frequent travels, Lillian became a passionate advocate for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and its efforts to promote international friendship. While living in Arlington, Virginia, for example, she took charge of numerous Thinking Day events and encouraged donations to the Juliette Low World Friendship Fund.  Today, Mountford Lodge at Camp Potomac Woods is named in her memory.

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Lillian Mountford (right) sponsored a Juliette Low Rally in 1945 at Lubber Run Park in Arlington, Virginia (GSCNC Archives).

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Girl Scouts React to Pearl Harbor Attack

Lillian’s Girl Scout papers are held at the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland. They provide a fascinating glimpse at life on a military base following the Pearl Harbor Attack. Lillian was especially concerned about the situation in Honolulu, as her husband had recently been posted there.

Upon receiving news of the attack, Lillian offered the immediate support of the Girl Scouts.  Troops began immediate first aid training.

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Girl Scouting in the Canal Zone

Girl Scouts in the Canal Zone were organized into two councils: Atlantic Side and Pacific Side. Their numbers decreased somewhat when most families, including Lillian, evacuated after Pearl Harbor, but they still numbered an impressive 545 girls in March 1942. Specifically, 23 troops (including two Mariners), distributed as eight on the Atlantic Side and 15 on the Pacific Side. They met in seven “Little Houses,” located in Ancon, Quarry Heights, Corozal, Pedro Miguel, Gamboa, Fort Davis, and Cristobal.

We have a delightful collection of letters, newspaper clippings, newsletters, meeting agendas and photographs from the brief time that Lillian Mountford was in the Canal Zone. They confirm the value of Girl Scouting in empowering girls in stressful situations and fostering friendships when far from home.

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©2016 Ann Robertson