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.
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.
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.
(Edith Blair Staton, 1916 passport photo)
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.
Top: Brownie membership pin (1920s-1930s)
Left: Great Brown Owl (leader, 1930s)
Right: Tawny Owl (assistant leader, 1930s)
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 served as 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.
©2021 Ann Robertson
2 thoughts on “From Blair House to Brown Owl”
Wow! Around at the start of Brownies, and still with us until 2001! I hope someone sat down with her and a tape recorder.
Thank you for sharing this fascinating story and Blair House and its residents.