Clara Lisetor-Lane and the Girl Scouts of America

Please, never, ever, say “Girl Scouts of America” in front of me. Just don’t.

Why? BECAUSE IT IS WRONG. It falls on my editor-ears like nails on a blackboard.

I am a proud, lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of the USA, not some rogue “Girl Scouts of America” group. If you want to be ultra correct, it is Girl Scouts of the United States of America. That is the name printed on our Congressional Charter.

Girl Scouts of America, Girl Scout History Project
Cover of Leader Magazine, October 1950

Prior to that document, the formal name was “Girl Scouts, Inc.” That name was used when the movement incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1915. That’s how it appeared on early versions of the Girl Scout Constitution and By-Laws. That’s how it appeared on letterhead.

Girl Scouts of America, Girl Scout History Project
Girl Scouts of America, Girl Scout History Project
Letterhead from 1944

Actually some letterhead from the 1940s uses “GSUSA.” Perhaps that was purchased in advance of the charter announcement?

Girl Scouts of America, Girl Scout History Project

Please, be accurate. You’d get testy too if someone constantly got your name wrong.

But there’s another, even more important reason. There really was an actual “Girl Scouts of America.”

Journalist Clara Lisetor-Lane insisted that she had created the “Girl Scouts of America” in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1910; two years before Juliette Gordon Low’s first troop in Savannah.

Lisetor-Lane seemed to prefer working on publicity rather than recruitment. Newspapers of the era report her arrival in towns to organize troops, but no membership numbers were given.

Her program would encourage housekeeping and the outdoors. But some behavior was decidedly not for her Girl Scouts:

Girl Scouts of America, Girl Scout History Project
Sacramento Star, August 11, 1911.

In June 1911, her Girl Scouts of America, a few self-described “Girl Guides” and the Camp Fire Girls merged to become “Girl Pioneers of America.” The thoroughness of that merger is unclear; reports of the component organizations continued into 1912.

Girl Scouts of America, Girl Scout History Project
Excerpt from Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1924

Lisetor-Lane eventually took up other causes. She founded “Crusaders for Decency,” group that promoted “clean literature and films.”

But she never renounced her claim to starting the Girl Scouts.

Lisetor-Lane even crashed the 1924 Girl Scout national convention and challenged Low to met with her. (She didn’t.)

Lisetor-Lane went to her grave in 1960 insisting that Juliette Gordon Low had stolen her idea.

When the Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated its 50th birthday in 1962, the story of Clara Lisetor-Lane was revived in her home town. A few former members came forward and a Des Moines Register article was picked up by other newspapers.

Although Clara certainly would have been pleased by the renewed interest in her organization, I can only imagine her horror if she had seen how it appeared in the Moline, IL, Dispatch.

Girl Scouts of America, Girl Scout History Project
Girl Scouts of America, Girl Scout History Project
Girls hang a sign at Weston Lodge

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Ann Robertson

Ann Robertson is a writer, editor and Girl Scout historian.

7 thoughts on “Clara Lisetor-Lane and the Girl Scouts of America”

  1. Wow – more facts about what happened in Girl Scouting history. I did not know about Clara Lisetor-Lane and the Girl Scouts of America until recently. It is fascinating. Thanks so much for researching this and sharing that with us. 🙂

  2. Very interesting.  I just ran across news articles about her recently while researching the history of Girl Scouts in our community.  

  3. Ann,
    I’ve got a “good” story for u. Went to the awesome GSUSA convention 2017 in my home state of Ohio.
    Had always wanted to get the expensive GS law coin set. At
    G. I. R. L, I bought the set, very much on sale…. All but coin #9.
    So after convention & BSA have now announced they r hijacking the scout name for their boys & girls. Keep this in mind as I call to GSUSA office to the shop looking for the elusive coin 9. GSUSA’s phone is answered by a guy (which was dismaying considering the BSA thing),……..BUT he answered w
    “Girl Scouts of America”, how can I
    help you?
    I then announced to him that we are
    NOT GS of Am, nor had we ever
    been, or ever will be GS of Am!
    (As a side note: did speak to the shop who had coin#9! ) However, that did little to calm the horror of some guy answering our headqtrs phone w the wrong name!

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