I have had the good fortune to make two trips to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah in the past month. In between, I decided to learn more about the history of the building. How did it become a Girl Scout National Center?
Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, purchased the home from the Gordon family in 1953. The Birthplace became the third national Girl Scout center, joining Camp Edith Macy in New York and Rockwood outside of Washington, DC. The Savannah home would become
a unique center for Girl Scouting in this country — a place where ideas for new troop activities can be tried out, where there will be records of the past and plans for the future of Girl Scouting where girls from all over the world may come together to find friendship and inspiration.
–Lilly Macintosh, chair of Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Committee in 1954
The GSUSA Board of Directors advanced the purchase price ($500,000), intending to launch a national fundraising campaign to pay for the building and its renovation.
Girls were asked to contribute pennies equal to the cost of an ice cream cone.
However, the campaign did not go as smoothly as hoped. Only $88,450 had been raised by late 1954; $100,000 was needed before restoration could begin.
To date, contributions to the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace fund have been very slow. As a report will be made at the regional conference of Girl Scouts in October, it is asked that any adult or troop wishing to make a contribution to this fund do so as soon as possible.
—Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman (October 5, 1954): 18.
Other indications of trouble were sprinkled throughout local news columns on Girl Scout activities, such as “the local quota of $105 for the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace restoration” and “each troop be contacted and made acquainted with the plan of contributing one dollar or more for restoration.”
If the Girl Scouts were to meet their target grand opening in 1956, they needed a new strategy. So they turned to a time-tested fundraiser: baked goods.
One year earlier, Helen Duprey Bullock, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, had begun adapting “classic” cake recipes for Dromedary Heritage Series cake mixes. Not only were the recipes based on family traditions from historic American homes, but a portion of the profits went to restore the related home. Dromedary was a division of the National Biscuit Company
The company’s first mix, First Lady Martha Washington’s “Great Cake,” was a flop (perhaps because it required 40 eggs), but her gingerbread recipe was a hit.
Soon Bullock created mixes for James Monroe’s white cake,Thomas Jefferson’s pound cake, Mary Todd Lincoln’s yellow cake, and Theodore Roosevelt’s devil’s food cake, among others.
For Juliette Gordon Low, she created an angel food cake mix. Thankfully, the required 13 egg whites came with the mix.
The result, according to advertisements, was
Angel Food light as a moonbeam, fluffy as a summer cloud, white and moist as a fresh snowfall. And with a delicate crust and flavor all its own.
Dromedary kicked off the deal with a $500 token payment. Going forward, the company would pay royalties of three-fourths of one cent per case of angel food cake mix. They anticipated selling six million cases per year and pledged an advertising campaign worth $1 million.
I haven’t found the total amount raised, but the cake mix strategy was evidently a recipe for success. The beautifully restored Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low re-opened in 1956.
©2017 Ann Robertson
3 thoughts on “Buying the Birthplace”
Hi Ann. If you can get your hands on the interview I did with my mother for an issue of the Leader magazine about 8 or 10 years ago (“My Aunt Daisy, Juliette Gordon Low”), she told stories about growing up at the Birthplace and her Aunt Daisy. She also told me that it was her cousin Eleanor Wayne’s idea to sell the house to GSUSA when my grandmother wanted to move out and no other family members were prepared to take on the house. When Mom and Cousin Eleanor and my grandmother attended a luncheon at the house after the purchase, Mom said that the Scouts talked about how wonderful it was that they could purchase the house with the help of the girls. But no one mentioned Cousin Eleanor! Finally Mom said she jumped up and said, “I’d like you all to recognize my cousin Eleanor Wayne–it was her idea for our family to sell you the house!” And so they did.
I’ll check on the Leader article the next time I’m at our history center. Sorry you couldn’t make it to the recent meeting, but I hope people came away feeling they have been heard. Communication isn’t always this organization’s strong point.
I hope we will meet at a future Task Force meeting in Savannah or NYC! We’ll see.