The WAVES at Rockwood National Camp

When the United States entered World War II, Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp joined the war effort. Washington had faced a housing shortage for years. Local officials created a Defense Housing Registry that became a model for the rest of the country. Accommodations for women were especially scarce.

In June 1942 the National Housing Agency asked former National Girl Scout President Henrietta Bates Brooke for permission to include the Manor House on the Washington, DC, Registry. “There is at present a need for rooms in and near Washington to accommodate incoming war workers,” and Uncle Sam wanted this “thirteen or fourteen room house.”

Navy waves, Girl Scout History Project
Troop 55 bicycled from Takoma Park, Maryland. Carolyn Cottage in background

It truly was a desperate request. Few rooms in the Manor House were heated, and the closest streetcar station was five miles away. Rockwood’s sole employee, Frances Hoopes, seldom had time to pick up passengers in the camp station wagon. Visiting troops usually had to hike from the streetcar stop. Local troops might pile their gear into their father’s truck and ride their bicycles to camp.

The US Navy needed quarters for its newly created WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program. Officials regarded Rockwood as ideal for women posted at the new David Taylor Model Basin, part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center; the camp was just 2.4 miles away. But that plan was abandoned when officials decided not to station WAVES at the Taylor Basin.

The Girl Scouts were willing to make rooms available, but they were bound by the conditions imposed by Carolyn Caughey, when she gifted her beloved country home to the Girl Scouts in 1936. Specifically, would such use qualify as “character building”?

Nora Huffman, Mrs. Caugheys former secretary and confidant, was enthusiastic:

The local Girl Scouts, as a bit of war service, are generously sharing the comfort of the house with the enlisted service girls now located in Washington, many of whom have been Girl Scouts. Most of these girls are from distant states and feel it is a real privilege to have the hospitality and security of a Girl Scout Home for a few days rest or a week-end relaxation, at a very nominal cost.

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Carolyn Caughey Passport Photo

Miss Huffman believed that Mrs. Caughey would want the military guests to observe her own beliefs about how women should conduct themselves in public. Mrs. Caughey fully supported women who entered the professional world, but drew the line at lipstick, nail polish, and smoking. She also was an ardent prohibitionist, known for the saying, “Put glasses to your eyes—not to your lips.”

The estate trustees endorsed the housing request, and soon military women enjoyed weekends at Rockwood’s Manor House, while Girl Scout troops used other facilities on site.

Navy waves, Girl Scout History Project
Rockwood Superintendent Florence Hoopes

Rockwood Superintendent Florence Hoopes was not thrilled with the arrangements. “Hoopsie,” as the girls called her, soon learned that hosting adult women was much more complicated than hosting Girl Scouts. She repeatedly informed national staff members that some of the women did not set appropriate examples for any troops camping at the same time.

Her main complaint was the late-night activities of the adults, so she documented their comings and goings. Her weekly reports included comments such as:

January 22, 1944:       Group of women return at 1 am; another member of group returns at 2 am

January 28, 1944:       Group of 18 women checks in at 11 pm

Eleanor Durrett intervened to defuse the situation.

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Elenor Durrett

Soon quiet hours were established for the visiting women.  Between November 1943 and June 1944, 272 WAVES and the occasional Coast Guard SPARS enjoyed weekend “rest and relaxation” retreats at Rockwood.

Readers may remember Durrett as executive director of the District of Columbia council. She resigned that position to become an officer in the WAVES. She remained with the Navy until 1958, rising to the rank of commander.

Durrett might have created one more connection between the WAVES and the Girl Scouts. The WAVES uniform was designed by Mainbocher, who designed new Girl Scout uniforms in 1948. The two uniforms are quite similar.

Navy waves, Girl Scout History Project
Adult Uniform by Mainbocher
Navy waves, Girl Scout History Project
WAVES Uniform by Mainbocher

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