Our Archives and History Committee lost one of its original members last month, Jane Toal. I never met Jane, she had gone into assisted living around the time I joined the Committee, but I heard her name often from other members.
Now that I’ve had a chance to read her obituary and read some of the tributes to her, I especially regret never making her acquaintance. Her life story is a testament to Girl Scouts and STEM programs.
Jane Nicolet was born in 1921 and grew up in Riverdale, Maryland, outside Washington. She joined a Girl Scout troop in 1931, at age 9½. She seems to have seized every opportunity that came her way: she was in the first local Senior troop, led by Lucy Knox. The troop helped prepare Rockwood National Center to receive its first campers in 1937. Lucy and other girls spent many weekends reupholstering furniture at Rockwood and sleeping on the floor of Carolyn Cottage.
Jane also was involved in the activities of the Little House, including once serving a meal to Eleanor Roosevelt.
She quickly became a regular figure at Camp May Flather, living in each of the various units and co-editing the camp newspaper, the Mountain Log.
Jane was awarded the prestigious Golden Eaglet on June 10, 1939.
She left the Washington area for college, first to Oberlin College and then to Cornell University, where she earned a master’s degree in biochemistry. Upon graduation, she took a job at Rutgers University. After a brief marriage, she led an Intermediate troop in New Jersey.
Jane returned to Washington in 1947 to accept a research position at the National Institutes of Health. She spent the next 30 years conducting structural studies of DNA and RNA.
She bought a boat in 1950 and taught herself to sail. When she heard about a Mariner Girl Scout troop forming in the area she signed on. She stayed with the Mariner program for 27 years, taking full advantage of the nearby Chesapeake Bay. She proudly wore her Mariner uniform for official events and led a Bethesda-based troop from 1964 to 1977.
Over the years, Jane kept sailing, but she did add to her outside interests. She rode with the Iron Bridge Hunt and the Howard County Hunt until her 90th birthday and was an active member of the Trail Riders of Today. She was also part of the devoted crew that maintains the historic carousel at Glen Echo park. For decades, she rallied troops that turned out to polish the brass on the carousel before it opens for the season.
It is a shame that a woman once so involved in our Council’s History programs never was able to visit our now two-year old Program Center in Frederick, Maryland. But we do have a homemade doll that she donated years ago. With bright red hair, it even looks a bit like her.
The doll is prominently displayed at the Center, a small way to keep Jane involved in Girl Scout history.
Special thank you to Julie Lineberry, whose previous profile of Jane was essential for this post.
©2017 Ann Robertson