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The Girl Scouts and Pearl Harbor

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Oahu Office Sign, Girl Scouts of Hawaii

When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended, 80 years ago today, all of Oahu sprang into action, including the Girl Scouts.

Although Hawaii did not become a US state until 1959, Girl Scout troops were organized on Oahu in 1917, later expanding to other islands and consolidating into one council (briefly called the Girl Scout Council of the Pacific) in 1963. Hawaii, therefore, is the second-oldest council west of the Mississippi River.

Queen Liliuokalani personally sponsored the first two troops on Oahu and presented them with her own silk flag in 1917.

The Hawaiian troops were a combination of local girls and daughters of US servicemen stationed in the islands. Some girls wore the regular khaki uniform, but the troops had their own special uniforms made of white, tropical weight fabric.

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Hawaii Large Group of Girl Scouts
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Early Hawaiian Girl Scout, 1917

The council’s main office was at Pearl City, Oahu, and it purchased land for Camp Haleopua (“House of Flowers”) in 1926.

Camp Haleopua, attractively located on the windward side of the Pearl City Peninsula, is without doubt the only Girl Scout Camp with the fleet of the United States Navy in the front yard (as it were). All Summer, the battle­ships, destroyers and submarine chasers presented an interesting picture during the day and at night, the “floating city” was a mass of light. Blackouts on the ships were also fascinating to watch and the “talkies” [movies] could be plainly heard in camp.

Camp Haleopua Director’s Report, June 15-July 31, 1941

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Camp Haleopua letterhead

Camp Haleopua was busy in summer 1941, with 174 girls participating in one of four week-long sessions. Nation’s Capital has a seven-page report by the camp director, who described a successful season with “sold out” sessions, a new tent unit, and no serious illnesses or accidents. (Because so many military families retire to the Washington area, Nation’s Capital occasionally receives documents related to distant Girl Scout troops.)

Camp Director Edna Reese planned to leave Hawaii before summer 1942, so she left careful instructions and suggestions for her successor. Fate had other plans.

The Japanese attack ended around noon. Local Girl Scout officials were told to vacate their Pearl City office ASAP because the US Navy had commandeered the building for its use.

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Pearl Harbor Showing Girl Scout office in Pearl City

Oahu Council President Margaret Fritschi ignored her husband’s insistence that she stay safe at home and drove to the office herself. Barbara Fritschi Dew remembers her mother returned hours later with the council’s treasured silk Hawaiian flag, presented by Queen Liliuokalani. They stored the flag until the war ended.

Girl Scouts of all ages took on tasks that would free up adults for demanding roles. The girls were not centrally deployed, they arrived on their own. They went to schools and other locations and asked how they could help. Girls washed linens, moved furniture and scrubbed floors at the Kaimuki Intermediate School, for example, so that rooms could be turned into hospitals, operating rooms, and refugee housing.

The Oahu Girl Scouts had been preparing for war for over a year.

All Senior troops … had been trained in first aid, mass feeding, care of young children, assistance in evacuation of civilians from danger zones, and organizing messenger service to outlying plantations and communities.

Leader (February 1942): 4.

During the first week after the attack, Girl Scouts worked in four-hour shifts feeding volunteers at an emergency kitchen set up at Central Union. They hand washed all of the dishes used by hundreds of hungry people.

Brownies entertained young children while their parents registered with officials. High-school age Seniors typed, filed, and performed other clerical work. All ages baked cookies (500 per week) for hospital patients and decorated hospital trays. They made quilts for wounded servicemen and pillows to cradle broken bones. Reflecting on the Girl Scouts’ wartime service decades later, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser noted that girls kept home air raid shelters neat and well stocked and even played patients for first aid training and bomb drills.

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Shutterstock #89849179

The Great Scouts’ greatest contribution addressed the critical need for glass bottles for local blood banks. The girls collected nearly 3,000 bottles from homes and businesses, removed the labels, washed and sterilized them.

Mrs. E.E. Black, elected council president in January 1942, immediately explained the role of Girl Scouts in wartime:

Girl Scouts [should] assume Red Cross responsibility in their neighborhoods. Our job is to keep up morale of those with whom we come in contact. I am very certain that girls 13, 14, and 15 are just as clever with their fingers as many women.

Honolulu Advertiser (January 16, 1942): 2.

When the Girl Scouts of Oahu celebrated the 30th anniversary of the movement in March 1942, the Honolulu Advertiser paid tribute to their work:

The Girl Scout motto, “Be Prepared” was ably demonstrated shortly after December 7 by troops and individual Girl Scouts and leaders.

Honolulu Advertiser (March 14, 1942): 6.

The Hawaii Council website contains many rich history resources. Most of the photos used here came from the site.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

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Ann Robertson

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

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