Sometimes the best treasures are found in the most unexpected places. Specifically, the Virginia Commonwealth University archives in Richmond, Virginia.
I recently discovered that VCU has the archives of the Richmond Girl Scout Council and its successor, the Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Two names jumped out of the collection’s extensive finding aid: Louise Dawe and Ruth Robertson McGuire.
I recognized Dawe’s name immediately from the 1953 campaign to purchase the childhood home of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts. She also sent a letter opposing the sale of Rockwood National Girl Scout Center.
Browsing the index, I learned that McGuire had helped establish Girl Scouting in Richmond, and the finding aid entries suggested that she knew Low personally. Plus, she was Ruth ROBERTSON McGuire. Could this be a long-lost relative? Hob-nobbing around with Daisy herself? Get out!
Since Richmond is only about 150 miles from my house and my calendar was unexpectedly free, I decided to spent a few days in Richmond.
The collection is held VCU’s Cabell Library and available by appointment. The Girl Scout materials are stored on-site, but researchers are asked to provide an advance list of materials to retrieve. I had six boxes waiting for me when I arrived.
Windfall or White Elephant?
I knew of Dawe because of her key role in acquiring the Gordon house for the Girl Scouts of the USA.
In 1952, the Savannah Girl Scout Council notified GSUSA that Low’s childhood home was in jeopardy. Both the house and the surrounding neighborhood in Savannah, Georgia, had become shabby, and a few members of the Gordon family thought it should simply be torn down. The local council could not afford to purchase it, perhaps the national organization could?
This was going to be a tough sell.
While V. Everitt Macy had included a $100,000 endowment to run a new training center named for his late wife, neither the Little House nor Rockwood National Camp came with the immediate cash needed for renovations, staff, and other operating expenses.
GSUSA had only accepted the Little House and Rockwood property gifts after former national presidents Lou Henry Hoover and Henrietta Bates Brooke stepped in to cover upfront costs.
In the future, however, national Girl Scout representatives vowed to not accept any future gifts of property that did not include operating funds.
“For a number of years we have been obliged to adopt an unwritten policy that we could not even accept property unless there were an endowment fund for general maintenance and upkeep.”National Executive Director Constance Rittenhouse (1935-1950)
This resolve was tested in 1943, when the Colonial Dames of America offered to sell their national headquarters to GSUSA. Known as the Andrew Low House, the house had been Daisy’s marital home in Savannah, and the first troop meeting was in its carriage house. GSUSA politely declined.
Thanks, But We’ll Pass–Again
While her Gordon cousins considered selling the family home, Eleanor Wayne Macpherson insisted that it be preserved as a shrine to her Aunt Daisy. She approached national Executive Director Dorothy Stratton about purchasing the Gordon home. Her reply was swift: “No.”
Forget about operating funds–this was no gift. The Girl Scouts would have to purchase the property then embark on extensive renovations. Plus, in the early 1950s, GSUSA was already heavily fundraising to acquire a new national headquarters building in Manhattan.
Undaunted, Macpherson contacted Anne Hyde Choate about the situation. Choate, Daisy’s goddaughter and successor as national president in 1920, agreed on the need to preserve the house.
Not So Fast
With GSUSA executives opposed the purchase, Choate decided to bypass the national staff and officers. Instead, she put the fate of the Gordon home in the hands of volunteers.
She attended the March 1952 meeting of the National Board of Directors. Addressing the volunteers who comprised the board, she proposed creating a committee to study the implications of purchasing the Gordon home.
Board members agreed they should not dismiss the offer outright. The motion passed, and an “Ad Hoc Committee to Consider Purchase of the Gordon House.” Choate nominated Louise Dawe, a former National Board member from Richmond, Virginia, to head the committee. Members were instructed to prepare a detailed report on the implications of purchasing the house and present it at the October 1952 National Board meeting.
Not surprisingly, given its name, the Ad Hoc Committee to Consider Purchase of the Gordon House recommended purchasing the house. They believed it would be a “unifying symbol in Girl Scouting, a preservation of a part of our American Heritage as well as Girl Scout tradition.” Dawe presented the Committee’s extensive report at the National Board of Directors meeting in October, which approved purchasing the Gordon house, 32–24.
Minutes later, Dawe wired the news to McGuire in Richmond.
Her telegram is part of the VCU collection. Suprise!
It’s not often you see the moment history was made.
Alas, Not a Match
I’ll write about other discoveries in the future. However, **spoiler alert** Ruth Robertson McGuire doesn’t seem to be a long-lost relative, but her story is more engaging than I anticipated.
© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian