In the late 1920s, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia were trying to raise $25,000 to build a camp of their own. For nearly a decade, summer camps had rotated among several borrowed sites.

After an unsuccessful attempt to raise funds to purchase Fort Foote in 1927, the council’s attention turned to land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains, near North River Gap, between Grindstone and Lookout Mountains.

Washington Girl Scouts need a camp

A new fund raising campaign began, asking donors to fund a specific building.  A sleeping cabin, for example, would cost $120, a latrine $100, and an infirmary for $400.

Girl Scout camp, Girl Scout History Project
Camp May Flather Fund Raising Brochure (Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.)

A fairy godmother saves the day

But the real breakthrough came in the form of a fairy godmother: Mrs. Henry H. Flather, known to her friends as “May.”

Girl Scout camp, Girl Scout History Project
Mary Rebecca Mullan Flather (GSCNC Archives)

May Flather pledged $10,000 for the camp, on the condition that the council raise matching funds.  With that sizable start, additional donations rapidly followed. Edith Macy, for example, donated $600 for the director’s cottage. Mr. Julius Rosenwald donated $2,500.

May’s donation was used to build the picturesque Stone Lodge, she also secured a bank loan to complete the lodge’s roof.

Mary Rebecca Mullan was born on May 13, 1871, in San Francisco. Her father, Captain John Mullan, built the first military road in the northwestern United States. Mullan Pass near Helena, Montana, was named in his honor.

May married prominent Washington banker Henry H. Flather in 1916. Two years later, the Flathers purchased and restored Tulip Hill, an 18th-century estate in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. (George Washington really did sleep at Tulip Hill.)  She held open houses at Tulip Hill to raise money for the Girl Scout scholarship program.

May became active in the new Girl Scout movement, becoming commissioner (president) of the Washington Council in 1926. During her two-year term, she made acquiring a permanent camp her top priority. May also loaned the council a house at 1825 M Street NW, which served as council headquarters from 1927 to 1941.

After stepping down as commissioner in May 1928, May spearheaded the efforts to provide a permanent summer camp for Washington’s Girl Scouts.

Girls and parents usually assume that Camp May Flather was named for a flower found in the area. But let’s not forget the generous woman who made the camp possible.

Girl Scout camp, Girl Scout History Project
Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

© 2015 Ann Robertson

7 responses to “Meet May Flather”

  1. Tammy Worcester Avatar
    Tammy Worcester

    Awesome Ann. Well done! Love love love the history of our beloved camp properties!

    1. Thanks, Tammy!

  2. Tammy Worcester Avatar
    Tammy Worcester

    Will you please print this in an easy read font and let’s brainstorm the best way to display this history at Camp May Flather? Laminated and on a board or something like that? Thanks! Tammy

  3. There will be a few more CMF history posts over the next week, plus the display at Conn Ave. I already took some items to CMF last month. I will gather into a scrapbook at minimum. Also working on stuff to display at Potomac Woods!

  4. […] May Flather may have been the driving force in establishing Camp May Flather, but she had influential friends who helped as well. First among these was First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. […]

  5. Hello, I can’t believe it has been 20 years since I worked as staff with my daughter at CMF…a grand summer and Girl Scout memory to say the least. I fell in love with the camp, Stone Lodge fashioned after the Great Hall and your piece made me understand why the office is called Macy(can’t wait to share this information). I was wondering if your archives has any of the camp pins? I have only seen one…but after all I am from GSCM.

  6. […] 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 […]

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