Further on First Ladies

Last week I asked why First Lady Jill Biden had not been asked to be honorary president of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

I’ve had many insightful comments that raised additional questions.


Has the whole “first lady” thing become outdated? Perhaps. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff might have something to say on gender-specific job descriptions. Would it be better to simply seek a “patron” in the White House?

Why Keep the Honorary Position?

It may be a quaint concept, but there are obvious advantages to having friends in high places. The status is unique–the first lady has no similar formal connection to Campfire, the American Heritage Girls, or other girl-centric youth organizations.

Access to the White House offers tremendous free publicity and provides unique opportunities for Girl Scouts. When the Obamas hosted the first-ever campout on the White House lawn in 2015, flattering images flew across social and traditional media. That night was a memory-of-a-lifetime event for the girls. Even the thunderstorm that sent the girls into the Old Executive Office Building was just another part of the adventure.

Girl in green vests sing campfire songs with Barack and Michelle Obama amid tents pitched on the White House lawn.


I regularly point to the fragility of institutional knowledge at Girl Scout National Headquarters. The revolving door at HQ facilitates lapses and mistakes are repeated instead of resolved. At times, press releases have been factually wrong. Not vague, not misconstrued, but downright absolutely no hesitation about it WRONG.

In fact, the 2009 announcement that Michelle Obama had accepted the honorary presidency was factually incorrect.

Press release announcing Michelle Obama as Girl Scout honorary president
blog.girlscouts.org Michelle Obama National Honorary President of Girl Scouts of the USA

NO!!!! This is sooo embarassing!

First Lady Edith Wilson became the first honorary national president in 1917. There were THREE honorary presidents–and twelve years–before Lou Henry Hoover.

Did anyone think to fact check?

CEO Roulette

First ladies serve four-year terms–possibly eight. In Girl Scout terms, that is a phenomenally long tenure.

SIX GSUSA CEOs have flown in and out of the national headquarters since 2009. It’s a wonder national staff even remember the first lady tradition.

portraits of six diverse women wearing blue blazers and green scarves

Until there is stability at the top, traditions are not the only things that will be lost.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Banner photo: First Lady Pat Nixon greets Cadette Girl Scouts at national headquarters in 1969.

Dr. Biden, Won’t You Join Us?

Starting with Edith Wilson in 1917, every first lady of the United States has accepted the invitation to be honorary national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Other youth leadership groups do not have similar status at the White House, and Mrs. Wilson’s patronage lent tremendous respectability and legitimacy to the movement, which was only five years old when she accepted the honorary position.

Smartly dressed woman in black dress and black hat walks through a corridor of uniformed Girl Scouts.
Edith Wilson visits the Girl Scout Little House (Library of Congress)

But after a century, the prestigious tradition apparently has been tossed aside.

Honorary President is not a demanding job. Typical duties include issuing a statement marking Girl Scout anniversaries, greeting invited groups at the White House, and recording a video message for delegates to national conventions. There usually is a photo call to kick off cookie season or to congratulate super sellers. Girl Scouts have help advanced a First Lady’s platform, such as literacy, healthy eating or exercise.

In return, the Girl Scouts receive tremendous free publicity, citizenship education, and access to a range of role models.

But times have changed.

The Girl Scouts had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship with Melania Trump’s White House office. Staff reached out to the White House to see if Mrs. Trump would be interested, and apparently they were told she would not. To avoid embarrassment and awkwardness, no further inquiry was made.

What about Dr. Biden? No official statement has been made regarding the honorary position. To prepare for a March 1 presentation on Girl Scouts and the White House for the National First Lady’s Library, (register here) I turned to GSUSA. Repeated requests for clarification were ignored; ultimately, I was told that no one would speak with me on the matter.

Unofficial sources, however, report that no invitation was sent to Dr. Biden. Apparently, the consensus now is that an honorary national president needs qualifications beyond simply being the wife of the president. These new qualifications, however, have not been specified, to my knowledge.

It is reasonable to want an honorary leader who is well educated, public-service oriented, and an advocate for girls and women. Being a former Girl Scout would be a bonus.

Jill Biden speaks to an audience.
Dr. Jill Biden (Facebook)

First Lady Jill Biden more than fits these criteria. She can do the job–she was a regular advocate for the Girl Scouts as “Second Lady” during the Obama administration.

And if there is still question about Dr. Biden’s suitability, why not ask Vice President Kamala Harris?

We must carry forward with the legacy built by past honorary presidents.

As the self-proclaimed premier leadership organization for girls, it is time for GSUSA to stop sulking, step forward, and demonstrate the resilience that we try to instill in girls. One First Lady rejected us. Seventeen didn’t. Don’t let one person sever the ties built over a century between the Girl Scouts and the White House.

Please ask Dr. Biden to be honorary president of the Girl Scouts of the USA. I doubt she’d turn down an invitation.

Woman in vintage dress speaks from a podium with the Girl Scout logo.
Dr. Jill Biden during a 2012 event (Flickr)

She already has her own uniform.

Views expressed here are my own and may not necessarily be shared by anyone else.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Camp Rockwood and Segregation

When did Rockwood, the national Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC, desegregate?

That’s a trick question. Rockwood Girl Scout Camp was established in 1938 to expand the principle “for all girls.”

Three uniformed girls in front of a large wooden sign with white letters
Seniors greet each other at the camp’s entrance (Marler Studio)

When owner Carolyn Caughey drew up her final will in 1935, she specifically designated the national organization (GSUSA) as her beneficiary, not the Washington DC Council (GS-DC).*

stern, elderly woman with pince nez glasses
Carolyn Caughey c. 1924 (doesn’t she look fun?)

Her lawyer believed that Mrs. Caughey had made that distinction because GS-DC still practiced segregation in the 1930s; the national organization did not. As a national property, Rockwood would be available to all Girl Scouts—regardless of their race. She wanted to be involved in transforming her country estate into a Girl Scout camp and especially wanted to include a swimming pool, as all pools in the area were White only.

Mrs. Caughey had a distinct aversion to racial discrimination, perhaps influenced by the strong abolitionist sentiments of her native Ohio. This belief is reflected in two wills written before she purchased Rockwood. First, she sought to endow two hospitals in Pennsylvania–for native-born Northerners only. A few years later, she decided her estate would be used to build “The Caughey Memorial Building” at Sibley Hospital in Washington. This facility would have been reserved for “sick volunteer soldiers of the Union Army, and their descendants.”

Washington may have been a national city, but it still held strong southern beliefs in the early twentieth century. Segregation was widespread. While it would be three decades before integrated troops formed, Girl Scouting thrived within Washington’s Black community.

black woman in early Girl Scout uniform
Virginia McGuire, early Girl Scout leader (GSCNC archives)

Members of the Council Board, including President Carol Phelps Stokes, resolved to reach out to this underserved community. Rockwood arrived while GS-DC was making its first tentative steps toward accepting African American members. In 1934, Mrs. Phelps Stokes personally asked Virginia McGuire, head of the District of Columbia NAACP, to form a Black troop in Washington. Mrs. McGuire accepted the invitation, after being assured “that the program developed would be identical in every way with that followed by all other districts.”

Washington’s Black Girl Scouts were excluded from attending the local council’s flagship Camp May Flather until 1955. A national camp close to Washington would dramatically expand the outdoor opportunities available to Black troops.

Mrs. Caughey’s attorney had advised her to include up-front funds in her will so GSUSA would not be stuck with a property it could not afford to use. She had the money (about $300,000) thanks to her successful real estate investments.

But, Mrs. Caughey also wanted to provide for her husband, if he survived her. Her solution was to distribute half of the estate upon his death and the balance 20 years later. Mr. Caughey, a sickly man in his 70s, surprised everyone by outliving his wife by 12 years.

With disbursement in the uncertain future, GSUSA brokered a cost-sharing agreement with GS-DC, whereby locals paid for initial operating expenses now, and they would be reimbursed once funds became available. GS-DC troops began using the camp in 1938 although capacity then was less than 30 girls.

When GSUSA drew up plans to expand the camp after World War II, GS-DC raised the race issue. GS-DC officials strongly opposed allowing Black troops to use Rockwood, and the issue threatened to break the cost-sharing agreement. According to GSUSA camping staff:

The Washington Council does not feel that it can accept any responsibility for Rockwood if troop camping by negro groups is allowed by National. This could be controlled in the Washington area, but negro groups from other states may apply for weekends from time to time. Washington feels that if a negro group is accepted, the camp will soon become completely colored.

National’s response was swift: “The facilities of the camp are open to any Girl Scout group in the country provided such group has sufficiently trained leaders and applies for reservations a month in advance.” Case closed.

Rockwood became a highly popular destination for all troops. It averaged 15,000 visitors per year, and reservations had to be booked up to two years in advance.

The camp welcomed girls from across the United States, and was especially popular with troops from segregated areas. A troop of 12th graders from Charlottesville, Virginia, for example, came to Rockwood because they wanted one camping experience before they graduated, and their own council refused to let them use any council campsite.

Trainers from GS-DC frequently scheduled classes at Rockwood so that adult volunteers from nearby councils could attend. As long as segregation was still practiced in the region, interracial groups could not camp together overnight. 

Before it was sold in 1978, Rockwood was a gathering place for all Girl Scouts. Making new friends was as important as seeing the White House.

At a time when few families could afford international travel, and most Americans could go their entire lives without meeting a “foreigner,” Rockwood expanded their world. A troop from a bleak Pennsylvania coal mining town could meet “a real live Girl Guide from England,” who spent the day sightseeing with them. They might meet girls with physical challenges and discover that a wheelchair was no barrier to making smores.

Rockwood was a place where a White troop from Louisiana could invite a Black troop from Ohio to an evening campfire program and discover they knew the same songs and stories.

It was an atmosphere where friendship and sisterhood transcended differences.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

*During the 1930s, the Washington DC council saw most surrounding counties establish their own councils to better serve local communities. Only Montgomery County Maryland–where Rockwood was located–stayed with the Washington organization. In 1963, Washington and the surrounding councils reunited, forming a new council: Nation’s Capital. “GS-DC” is a shorthand for the various versions of the Washington DC council.

Mystery of the Lou Henry Hoover Portrait

Who switched the Lou Henry Hoover portraits at Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp?

As I finalized the photos for Rescue Rockwood, my history of the national Girl Scout camp, I realized that the portrait of the former first lady and Girl Scout national president had been switched. When did that happen? Why?

The ballroom in the Manor House at Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp was dedicated in honor of Lou Henry Hoover on May 24, 1955.

(Yes, the camp had a ballroom, where else would they hang the chandeliers? That’s another story …)

The ceremony brought dozens of women to the camp in Potomac, Maryland, to enjoy a spring day with choral readings, songs, and lemonade.

Singers on terrace of large brick dwelling
Manor House with Performers
Young girl in straw hat draws curtains away from portrait of woman and her elkhound.
Little Lou and the original Rockwood portrait of her grandmother.

The room dedication culminated with Mrs. Hoover’s granddaughter, “Little Lou,” unveiling a portrait of the former first lady. The painting was based on a photograph by Barton Crandall of Palo Alto, California, and showed Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform, sitting alongside Weegie, her Norwegian elkhound.

When GSUSA sold Rockwood to residential developers in 1978, it only retained a few items, including the Hoover portrait and the chandeliers. GSUSA’s representatives repeatedly stated that the “chandelier … belonged to Mrs. Herbert Hoover.” That is simply not true. Rockwood’s original owner, Carolyn Caughey, scavenged building materials from the old British Embassy when the UK diplomats moved to newer facilities.

GSUSA also wanted the portrait of Mrs. Hoover.

Distinguished woman in vintage Girl Scout uniform.
The other Hoover portrait

I had assumed it was the original portrait with Weegie. But in photos taken in 1983, when items were being boxed to ship to New York, it’s a different portrait!! Mrs. Hoover is still wearing her uniform, but where’s Weegie?

I scoured the many boxes of materials in GSUSA’s Property: Rockwood collection. No mention.

Finding the answer took some detective work and more than a little luck.

Clue #1

During a recent research trip to the GSUSA archives, I stumbled upon several helpful clues. According to the Rockwood monthly report for May 1972, “A portrait in oils of Mrs. Herbert Hoover, which has been in storage at Headquarters, was received and hung in the Manor House over the Hoover Room fireplace.”

This monthly report was filed not with the other decades of monthly reports, but in a “Non-Federally Funded Projects: Rockwood, Quota Pathways” folder. I may write on “Quota Pathways” some day; but, for now, trust me that it has nothing to do with Lou Henry Hoover or painting. Or elkhounds, for that matter.

Clue #2

The second painting does show up on GSUSA’s archival system. The inventory entry notes that it was painted by Gleb Ilyin, and “cut down to half-length … in 1952.”

Portrait of Lou Henry Hoover by Gleb Ilyin
Painting entry in GSUSA inventory

If it had been on display at headquarters, why was it sent to Rockwood? And why was it cut down?

Clue #3

Newspaper accounts from 1930 report that the painting had been commissioned by the Girl Scouts of California (specifically Palo Alto) as a gift to the national organization. Gleb Ilyin was a well-regarded portraitist and selected because his “strong, virile style should do full justice to Mrs. Hoover’s kind of beauty.” Mrs. Hoover sat for six one-hour sessions at the White House.

Gleb Ilyin biography
Gleb Ilyin Bio
Man in artist smock stands before painting of patrician woman in a Girl Scout uniform
Lou Hoover Portrait by Gleb Ilyin

The completed portrait was enormous. At 6.5 feet x 4.5 feet, the image was larger than life. The portrait was dedicated in 1931 and hung at the national Girl Scout headquarters, at 670 Lexington Avenue, New York City.

When GSUSA moved to larger offices the following year, the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York moved into the building. GSUSA left the portrait behind, thinking Greater New York would display it. However, Greater New York thought GSUSA had taken the painting with them. Meanwhile, Lou was lost and alone, relegated to the building’s basement.

Clue #4

Seventeen years later, in 1949, a New York gossip columnist reported:

Jack Scott, owner of the Lexington Avenue Restaurant, found a 15-foot portrait of Mrs. Herbert Hoover in the basement of his place, which formerly was headquarters for the Girl Scouts of America. He’ll present the picture–which shows Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform–to the former President.

Dorothy Kilgallen, “The Voice of Broadway”


When it learned of the column, GSUSA sprang into action. National Director Constance Rittenhouse insisted that the painting was neither lost nor abandoned. Rather, GSUSA and Greater New York each thought the other had it.

By now, Mr. Scott had already delivered the painting to President Hoover’s apartment at the Waldorf Astoria, and GSUSA dispatched several people to retrieve the massive artwork.

Distinguished woman in vintage uniform standing in doorway
Lou Henry Hoover at the entrance to the Little House

While the painting had not actually doubled in size, as the column implied, GSUSA had no appropriate place to display it in its current office. Instead, the painting was sent to Washington DC and GSUSA’s Region III field office, then at the Girl Scout Little House. Since Mrs. Hoover had been instrumental in securing the facility for the Girl Scouts, it seemed appropriate.

The portrait lived in a cramped office until Region III moved to new accommodations a few blocks away. When a staff member unboxed the painting–using a BUTCHER KNIFE–she accidentally slashed the canvas.

Staff members were distraught, until they realized that repairing the knife wound provided a good opportunity to cut down the image. Artist Ilyin was consulted, and he gave them his blessing.

With a new frame, the reduced canvas was 42″ x 35″; still a large painting.

The portrait bounced around for the next few years. Other GSUSA offices and national centers were offered the picture, but none were interested. When the Region III office moved in 1960, the smaller canvas was boxed, sent from Washington to New York, and put into another basement. A dozen years later, it was shipped back to Washington, specifically to Rockwood.

The portrait took pride of place in the Hoover Room for the next 10 years. When Rockwood was sold to developers, the portrait was one of a handful of items that GSUSA wanted to keep.

Long-time Rockwood caretaker Brice Nash personally drove the chandelier and several paintings to the Macy Center, located outside New York City in 1983, but the trail goes cold then.

In 2006 the National Portrait Museum inquired about the portrait. Venerable Girl Scout historian Mary Degenhardt replied:

While many of the items at Rockwood were returned to Girl Scout National Headquarters before the sale, there is no record of what happened to this portrait. It may still be at Rockwood.

Mary Degenhardt

Obviously, the painting has been located since 2006. Hopefully Lou enjoys her current accommodations.

That’s one mystery solved, but the original portrait also appears to have vanished without a trace. Where’s Weegie?

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

2023 Girl Scout Convention Preview #1

Convention Hammerly badge 1
Name tag from 1930s convention

The 56th Girl Scout National Convention is just six months away–July 18-20. Delegates, alternates, and visitors should use the time to prepare.

Starting with the 2017 convention in Columbus, Ohio, there have been two distinct components to the convention–business and pleasure. The National Council Session is one half of the convention, the other is one big Girl Scout party.

What Happens at a National Council Session?

The National Council is the primary governing body of Girl Scouts of the USA. Only the Council can amend the Girl Scout Constitution. With representatives elected from each council, it resembles a congress or parliament. The size of the council determines the number of delegates, but the total cannot exceed 1,500 delegates. There were 1,058 voting members at the 2017 session.

Cover from GSUSA Stewardship Report 2022 1
Cover from GSUSA Stewardship Report 2022

Every three years the Girl Scouts’ National Council convenes to vote on proposals that affect the entire movement, such as dues, and elect members of the national board of directors. (For a detailed look on governance, hop over to the Unofficial Girl Scout Governance resource page.) National officers report on membership levels (the Stewardship Report), budgets, and announce new programs and other initiatives.

2020 Circle Patch copy 1
Rare patch from virtual convention

Councils draft and circulate proposals to be placed on the agenda. In other words, councils believe the topics should be open to discussion by representatives of the membership.

Any proposal endorsed by at least 15 percent of councils (17) goes to the National Board of Directors, which selects what proposals are presented to the National Council.

(Almost) On the Agenda

Five of the ten proposals up for consideration this year are summarized below.

Which ones do you believe are worthy of debate?

Revise wording of the Girl Scout Promise and Law, changing “will try to” into simply “will.” Endorsed by 32 councils.

Clearly state the Movement’s anti-racism stance by adding words to the GS Constitution: “Girl Scouts advances diversity, pluralism, and anti-racism in our Movement and in the communities in which we live.”

Allow councils … to exercise their responsibility to make operational and financial decisions that are in the best interest of their members and their unique jurisdictions. Endorsed by 27 councils.

Allocate delegates according to council membership levels on September 30 of the year prior to the National Council Session. Endorsed by 21 councils.

Reserve three seats on the GSUSA Board of Directors for council executives. Endorsed by 33 councils.

Roy Poole

So it’s up to me, huh? Well, I’ll tell you, in all my years, I never seen, heard, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yes, I’m for debating anything! 

Stephen Hopkins, delegate from Rhode Island, on considering independence (from 1776)

Roy Poole as Stephen Hopkins

Once the GSUSA Board of Directors determines the final slate, the final agenda will be announced.

Stay Tuned

Upcoming posts will examine the final agenda, key voted from past conventions, and the fun happening between business sessions.

Note: Opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Frances Hesselbein, Girl Scout Legend

Former Girl Scout CEO Frances Hesselbein passed away over the weekend at age 107. She led the movement through the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, finding ways to reach more girls and to empower them to take on a rapidly changing world.

Frances Hesselbein was a kick-ass Girl Scout.
Hesselbein in the Halston Girl Scout uniform, 1978

After hearing her speak at the 2011 National Convention, I wanted her to adopt me. She spoke with passion, with vision, and with a firm focus on how to empower women.

She urged listeners to connect with others by expecting their best intentions. She emphasized the need for respect, such as between councils and the national organization, as a prerequisite for collaboration.

Workplace blogger Sylvia LaFair made this insightful comparison just three months ago:

Cause Before Self

We can all learn deeply from women like the late Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Frances Hesselbein, C.E.O. of The Leadership Forum. There is less focus less on celebrity and more on duty and legacy.

Sylvia Lafair, CEOptions

In 2017 I sent Mrs. Hesselbein a letter asking for an interview. A few weeks passed with no reply, then my phone rang. “This is Frances Hesselbein. I would be delighted to meet with you.”


This post was originally published in 2017, following that visit.


An Afternoon Meeting

I never met Juliette Gordon Low, of course, but last week I came pretty close. I had the privilege of spending part of the day with Frances Hesselbein at her office in Manhattan. Few individuals have had as great an impact on the Girl Scout movement as this gracious lady.

Mrs. Hesselbein was the GSUSA National Executive Director from 1976 to 1990. Her first day on the job, in fact, was July 4, 1976. Today she is the director of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.

I had asked to interview her about the decision to sell Rockwood National Center in 1978. But we soon moved on to the many highlights and happier memories from her time at GSUSA.

She presided over many milestones, some more popular than others, including implementing circular management principles, introducing the Worlds to Explore program, reconfiguring the Edith Macy Center into a year-round training facility, and the introduction of the contemporary (three faces) logo. Some of her favorite memories include:

Halston Adult Uniform

Autograph and book dedication from the niece of fashion designer Halston.
Halston Catalog
Two women model sage green Girl Scout uniform designed by Halston
Halston uniform

When we met, Mrs. H (“Frances” just seems too informal!) had just returned from visiting a Halston retrospective exhibition at the Nassau County (NY) Museum of Art. The famous fashion designer had created a stylish collection of adult uniforms in 1978, and Mrs. H vividly recalled participating in that process. She also let me borrow the gorgeous exhibit catalog.

Camping and Diversity

I had submitted my resume, Rockwood book outline and synopsis, and several other documents in advance, and Mrs. H immediately noted that we both had experience as camp staff, making us both survivors of that trial by fire. She shared with me several staff photos from her time directing Camp Blue Knob in western Pennsylvania and pointed out the unusual racial diversity of the group for the early 1950s. She also had a photo from the summer 2016 camp out on the White House Lawn.

Camp Blue Knob staff photo
The diverse staff of Camp Blue Knob, circa 1952 (Hesselbein Institute)

While her Girl Scout camp was integrated in the early 1950s, much of the “outside world” lagged behind. Mrs. Hesselbein recalled that she could not eat with her African-American staff members at any restaurant in any town near the camp.

With that camp experience in mind, one of her priorities as head of GSUSA was to reach out to all girls, especially girls in historically underserved communities.  When she began at GSUSA, the organization was 95% white; fourteen years later, minority ranks had tripled.

As part of that effort, she sought to have a greater range of images in Girl Scout handbooks and other publications. She wanted any girl–of any background–to be able to find herself in a handbook. New handbooks released under supervision depicted girls of all skin tones, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all physical abilities — in other words, all girls.

White House Honors

Frances Hesselbein and President Bill Clinton
Frances Hesselbein and President Bill Clinton (Hesselbein Institute)

While Mrs. H never camped on the White House lawn — that I know of — she has been a frequent visitor. But few visits can top one in 1998, when President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. (Juliette Gordon Low was posthumously awarded the medal in 2012.) The beautiful medal and collar are prominently displayed in her office.

A Secret to Longevity?

Finally, as our conversation drew to a close, I brought up another topic: age. Mrs. Hesselbein is 101 — exactly twice my age.

Of course, many people remark on her extraordinary vigor. But my casual research in recent months has led me to a realization. We Greenbloods–long-term, deeply committed adult Girl Scouts–seem to be an exceptionally long-lived group of women.

That holds true for volunteers and long-time staff. I just recently learned of a former Rockwood director who has passed away in February — and wanted it known in her obituary that she lived to 99 years and seven months.  At Nation’s Capital, we lost two past council presidents in recent years — Marguerite Cyr (age 101) and Bobby Lerch (104).

Smiling woman in Coast Guard women's auxiliary uniform
Dorothy Stratton in her Coast Guard uniform

And the more I investigate, the more very senior Girl Scouts I find: Camping expert Kit Hammett (96); national board member Lillian Gilbreth (93). National presidents Henrietta Bates Brooke (89) and Grace MacNeil (92). But the record, so far, must be Executive Director Dorothy C. Stratton (1950-1960), who passed away at age 107!

I would love to see some data on the percentage of our membership over age 90 compared with the general population. That could be quite a retention incentive.

I asked Mrs. Hesselbein what she thought might be behind this possible trend. We came up with the same answer immediately — the girls.

The girls keep us young.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Girl Scout Beauty Rest Tips

Wondering how to get the fresh-faced look of a Girl Scout? The 1963 Cadette Handbook offers a recommended routine.

1963 Cadette 110 111
1963 Cadette Handbook, pp. 110-111

That regimen inspired the latest history display at the main offices of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.

This was a truly collaborative project, as fellow Girl Scout historians Merana Cadorette (Florida) and Carol and Ernie Altvater (Colorado) loaned several sets of vintage PJs that are the perfect finishing touches.

L IMG 6429 1
Left Case
R IMG 6424
Right Case
  • 1 Good Night Title
  • 2 1946 1955 Pajamas
  • 3 1946
  • 4 1955
  • 5 Every Morning
  • 6 Blanket Bear Books
  • 7 1981 Slumber Bag
  • 8 Waking Up
  • 9 Waking Up Shelf
  • 10 Good Night 4x65 1
  • 11 Good Night 4x66 1
  • 12 Good Night Letter Landscape6
  • 13 Good Night Letter Landscape2
  • 14 Shoes
  • 15 Health
  • 16 Girl in Mirror
  • 17 Pajama pair
  • 18 Pajama pair
  • 19 1969 Pajamas
  • 20 Cookie Text
  • 21 Cookie PJs
  • 22 End

Who’s That Girl Scout? Samantha Smith

Girl Scout Samantha Smith made national headlines in November 1982, but not for selling cookies.

That month was one of the lowest points in Cold War history. Leonid Brezhnev, who had led the Soviet Union since 1964, died on November 10. US-USSR negotiations about nuclear weapons had stalled, partly because of Brezhnev’s physical and mental decline.

Time magazine cover November 22 1982 with portraits of old Soviet leaders
Time Cover November 22 1982

The USSR political system did not have a line of succession, and observers were unsure who would lead the USSR now. Would he ease or inflame the Cold War? After two days, former KGB chief Yuri Andropov emerged victorious. A former spymaster seemed unlikely to pursue peace.

(End of the Soviet leadership lesson.)

In Maine, a fifth-grader named Samantha Smith saw newspaper and magazine headlines about Andropov and the arms race. Samantha, a Junior Girl Scout, decided to take action. She wrote a letter to the new Soviet leader.

Dear Mr. Andropov,

My name is Samantha Smith. I am 10 years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like it if you would. Why do you want to conquer the world or at least our country? God made the world for us to share and take care of. Not to fight over or have one group of people own it all. Please lets do what he wanted and have everybody be happy too.

Samantha Smith

The letter did arrive in Moscow. The leading Soviet newspaper, Pravda, published it, as part of an article on concerned citizens.

After five several months without a direct answer, Samantha wrote to the USSR Ambassador to the United States. Had Andropov received her letter?

A reply from the Kremlin arrived in April 1983.

Samantha with letter from Andropov
Samantha with letter from Andropov

Andropov’s Reply

He reassured Samantha that his country did not want war.

Yes, Samantha, we in the Soviet Union are trying to do everything so that there will not be war on Earth. This is what every Soviet man wants. This is what the great founder of our state, Vladimir Lenin, taught us. …

We want peace — there is something that we are occupied with: growing wheat, building and inventing, writing books and flying into space. We want peace for ourselves and for all peoples of the planet. For our children and for you, Samantha.

Andropov invited Samantha to visit the USSR.

You will find out about our country, meet with your contemporaries… and see for yourself: in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples. 


Samantha and her parents spent two weeks there in July 1983. They visited Lenin’s tomb, watched the Bolshoi Ballet, and she spent three days at Artek, a summer camp for children of her own age.

Two Weeks in the USSR

She did not, however, meet Andropov. Scholars now know that Andropov spent most of his 15-month term undergoing dialysis, slowly succumbing to kidney failure.

Samantha quickly became a media darling in both countries, although cynics said she was being used as a a propaganda tool.

After her trip, Samantha was interviewed by reporters, civic groups, even talk-show host Johnny Carson. Her poise before a camera led her to be cast as Robert Wagner’s daughter in “Lime Street,” a new US television series filming in London.

Tragedy and Legacy

Her father accompanied her on trips to London for the show. They were on their way home when their airplane crashed in August 1985. There were no survivors. Samantha was 13.

Jane Smith established the Samantha Smith Foundation to continue her daughter’s efforts to promote friendship between youth in the United States and Soviet Union. The foundation grew largely dormant after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Samantha Smith Soviet 
postage stamp
Samantha Smith Stamp

Jane was also the keynote speaker for Kennebec Girl Scout Council’s celebration of the 75th birthday of Girl Scouts. After her presentation, Jane unveiled a new USSR postage stamp created in her daughter’s honor.

While Samantha’s story has faded in the United States, she remains extraordinarily popular in Russia.

By the late 1980s, each child growing up in the Soviet Union would know her name and her charming smile. Indeed, to this day, Samantha Smith remains a name that is widely recognized by ordinary Russians born during the Soviet period and has not left the realm of politics.

Matthias Neumann, “Children Diplomacy During the Late Cold War.”

The Artek camp remains in use, with a monument and an annual Samantha Smith session.

Camp photos from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Soviet Art/USSR Culture

Girl Scouts Vote on Marijuana

(Updated on February 13, 2023)

From today’s Washington Post:

WP GS Pot Cartoon
WP GS Pot Cartoon

Today, voters in five states will determine whether or not to decriminalize marijuana use by adults age 21 and older. To date, 37 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws. /

The legalization trend has had unintended effects on the Girl Scouts, especially Girl Scout cookies.

Girl Scouts and Marijuana?

Not words you often see in close proximity.

Hand-drawn marijuana leaf on green circle of fabric
A curious Troop’s Own badge from my collection

The Girl Scout cookie program is not a fundraiser, in official Girl Scout materials, but a way to foster entrepreneurialism in young women. Ahead of sales, troops set sales goals, apply for cookie booths (usually assigned by lottery), and create their own decorations, slogans, and signs.

As legal marijuana dispensaries opened across the country, a few Girl Scouts did their research and saw an untapped market.

In 2014, a San Francisco Girl Scout set up a cookie both outside a medical marijuana dispensary and did a booming business. Pre-Covid, a Chicago troop used a similar location. Last year, the pot and cookies combo came from Walled Lake, Michigan. Weekend cookie booths outside the Greenhouse of Walled Lake establishment sold more than 1,000 boxes.

When these news stories began to circulate, GSUSA stepped in. They had no problem with the booth locations. But selling products bearing the Girl Scout name was another matter.

We Don’t Like Those Girl Scout Cookies

For many years, “Girl Scout Cookie” has been a popular strain of marijuana. So long as the botanical remained banned, Girl Scout officials chose to ignore the trademark infringement. Any legal action to prevent use of the name would only give publicity to the offending product.

But with legalization, the issue had to be addressed. The increased access to marijuana “edibles” crossed a line. Baked goods are Girl Scout turf. GSUSA released the following statement in 2017: 

We were recently made aware of local dispensaries using the Girl Scouts trademarked name, or a variation of our trademarked name, to sell their products. In January, dispensaries in California were issued a cease and desist letter from Girl Scouts of the USA for trademark infringement and have removed the product in violation from their shelves. “Girl Scout Cookies” is a registered trademark dating back to 1936. Our famous cookies are known the world over for their delicious flavor and we do not want the public to be confused by unauthorized products in the marketplace.

Medical Marijuana Inc.

Representatives of the marijuana industry were not alarmed by the cease-and-desist letters. “We knew it was coming,” admitted the executive director of the Magnolia Oakland dispensary.

We come from the grow room, not business college. There’s a learning curve to business practices and we are becoming more sophisticated lately, but it’s something people should’ve known, there’s no excuse.

Debby Goldsberry, Executive Director, Magnolia Oakland Dispensary

This isn’t the first time the Girl Scouts took action regarding marijuana.

Girl Scouts Vote Not to Decriminalize Marijuana

When the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution, enacted in 1971, lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18, the Girl Scout program offered initiatives that would help girls to become informed voters. One initiative convened fifty years ago.

Red, white, and blue patch showing the female symbol, American flag, and a smoking pipe.
Petticoats, Pot, Politics Patch

In 1972 the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital sponsored “Petticoats, Pot, and Politics,” a Wider Opportunity (Destination) for Senior Girl Scouts. One hundred girls aged 14-17 from across the country joined 25 girls from Nation’s Capital for two weeks of political debate at Trinity College in Washington, DC.

The local delegates helped design the program, selecting current issues with particular relevance for teens.  They passed several bills, including one requiring sex education to be taught in school, but defeated a proposal to decriminalize marijuana, instead calling for possession to be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Uniformed Girl Scouts meet president's daughter.
Conference chair Beaulah “Boo” Law meets Julie Nixon Eisenhower (Leader Magazine, March 1973).
Teen age Girl Scout reading booklet on "The American Woman"
From Leader Magazine, March 1973

The experience ended with a reception at the White House attended by First Daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who declared that she agreed with the girls’ position on marijuana.

Girl Scouts–at the forefront of change.