Girl Scouting came to Washington, DC, in June 1913 when Juliette Gordon Low decided her new girls’ empowerment movement needed a national headquarters. Although the headquarters moved to New York City in 1916, the Nation’s Capital Council in Washington, DC, is still actively involved in the programs. Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital chronicles the evolution of Girl Scouting in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia from 1913 to the present. Over 200 photographs will rekindle memories of making new friends, earning badges, spending summer nights outdoors, taking road trips, attending freezing inaugural parades, hiking along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and participating in enormous sing-alongs around the Washington Monument.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Historians and genealogists alike spend hours studying old photographs, hoping to add names and places to anonymous faces. We look for clues to help make an educated guess. In Girl Scouts that means looking at the uniforms and badge sashes, which usually narrow the possibilities to one decade.
Sometimes we get very lucky, and people in the mystery photos contact us.
In March 2020, the Archives and History Committee of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital installed a display about Girl Scouting in Japan. We thought the timing was perfect–the famous Washington cherry blossom trees were budding, and we had recently acquired three scrapbooks from Girl Scout troops based in Okinawa, Japan, in the 1950s.
As it happened, however, our timing was waaaay off. As we locked the last display case in the lobby of Council headquarters, executive staff emerged from a meeting and announced that the office was closing indefinitely due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Since no one could see the exhibit in person, I did several blog posts (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) that include photos and clippings from the Okinawa scrapbooks. Many came from a March 2, 1957, international festival attended by local American and Japanese troops. This is one of my favorites:
A few months later, one of these adorable hula dancers contacted me!
Cheryll Greenwood Kinsley was a member of Okinawa Troop 50 from 1956 to 1959. Recently, she was downsizing and searched online for someplace to donate her sash. She was astonished not only to find interest in her old troop, but a photo of herself!
She kindly donated her sash to Nation’s Capital as well as a furoshiki–a printed cloth used to wrap gifts. Girl Scout troops in Okinawa sold them as a fundraiser.
These items enrich the scrapbooks in our collection, giving current Girl Scouts a tangible connection to the past.
Thank you Cheryll!
PS: The Okinawa exhibit remained in place for a year, and the council offices had partly reopened by the 2021 cherry blossom season.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
Girl Scout cookie season is approaching in the Nation’s Capital, and young entrepreneurs are preparing with cookie conventions.
Several hundred girls descended on Camp Potomac Woods on a rainy Saturday in October for a Girl Scout Cookie season warm-up.
Girls rotated through six stations where they learned about goal-setting, marketing, and sale etiquette.
The Nation’s Capital Archive and History Committee had its own station where girls and leaders could learn about past local sales, vintage prizes, and Girl Guide biscuit sales.
We set up a selfie-station where girls had their picture taken in front of a quilt made with vintage cookie patches or holding (empty) cartons from long-gone flavors.
Troop moms especially enjoyed searching the quilt and pointing out which patches they had earned selling cookies.
By far the most popular attraction was a prize from the 2002 Little Brownie Bakers sale. With a monkey mascot that year, Little Brownie offered their own version of the Barrel of Monkeys game. Girls stood in line to try out this low-tech toy.
Cookie sales are staggered across the United States. The Washington DC area usually begins around January 1.
Girl Scouts add a new color to their uniforms in October: pink for breast cancer awareness.
Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low died of breast cancer in 1927. She encouraged an active, healthy lifestyle for her girls, but the word “breast” was not used in those days. In fact, Low’s physicians likely never used the term “breast Cancer” even during treatment. Low herself carried on the business of Girl Scouts and hid her worsening health as much as possible.
Breast cancer remained a taboo topic of public conversation for another 50 years. In 1974, First Lady Betty Ford shared her diagnosis and subsequent mastectomy with newspapers and magazines across the United States.
Girl Scouts of the USA slowly began to include age-appropriate information about breast health in its programming.
The 1995 handbook for Senior Girl Scouts (then grades 9-12) discussed conditions that affect women. Anorexia, bulimia, PMS, osteoporosis, and breast cancer were included in a chapter on “Health and Well-Being–Inside and Out.”
The chapter included diagrams of how to conduct monthly self-exams. The companion Leader’s Guide explained that …
Teenage women are at a critical point in their lives, both physically and emotionally. As changes occur in their bodies they may have questions that are hard to answer and might be somewhat embarrassing to ask. … For example, some girls may be reluctant or shy about discussing breast self-examination. The information and illustrations in the handbook, however, may help them to overcome their inhibitions and to realize that this is a health concern all women have.
The Guide for Cadette and Senior Girl Scout Leaders, 1995, p. 42.
A new Women’s Health badge for Cadettes and Seniors followed in 1997. The requirements included breast cancer awareness and encouraged girls to explore the technology behind mammograms.
Some Girl Scouts wanted a badge entirely devoted to breast health. Councils heard the request. The Indian Hills (NY), San Jacinto (TX), and Arizona-Cactus Pine councils developed their own teen-level badges under the Council’s Own program. GSUSA responded with a new teen badge in 2006. “In the Pink” was based on these local programs.
(There is no officially approved versions of “In the Pink” for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors.)
The North Carolina Coastal Pines Council sponsors many activities throughout Breast Cancer Awareness month. In 2018, these included:
Girls will engage in educational activities like bingo or inviting a doctor or nurse to speak to them about breast health. These activities are an engaging way to promote discussion among girls, allowing them to speak their mind and ask questions in a safe and supportive space. To further connect with the topic, girls can share what they learned with the women in their life, make crafts to display in the community to promote breast health, and interview a breast cancer survivor. After developing an understanding of the topic, girls will complete a Take Action project to benefit those with breast cancer. Examples of projects include creating mastectomy pillows to donate to a local hospital or creating chemo care kits for chemotherapy patients.
October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. In 2012 my teen Girl Scout troop combined the two issues with an unusual service project–a bra drive.
They learned that bras are the most-requested clothing item at women’s shelters. Soma Intimates seeks to fill this need by encouraging donations of new and gently used bras. The girls decided this would be a perfect service project.
Reaching out to friends and female relatives, the troop collected 175 bras. When the troop delivered them to a local Soma store, the grateful staff explained the importance of appropriate undergarments for breast health and offered bra fittings. (Arranged in advance, interested girls wore tank tops.)
This contribution was just another way for Girl Scouts to support their community.
My recent post on the unpopular Girl Scout Studio 2B program revived an old tale about the program’s signature charms being recalled due to high led content.
I’d heard the story myself and decided to investigate.
It turns out that Girl Scouts of the USA did, in fact, recall a charm in November 2007.
According the press release announcing the recall (see below), the specific issue related to the lead content of one paint color of one charm, not the metal itself. Specifically:
Current standards indicate that metal and paint objects for children under age six must be under 600ppm, and while the charm was not an age-specific activity award, GSUSA has made the recall of this accessory.
GSUSA Press Release, November 17, 2007.
The charm in question appeared in the 2007 Girl Scout Catalog, which described it as “perfect for keyrings, backpacks or totes.”
How Rumors Get Started
It is easy to see how this myth arose. Studio 2B seemed to be blamed for everything else.
The Studio 2B program began switching from charms to patches the following year, making it easy to assume they were eliminated due to their lead content–not their program content.
For all of Studio 2B’s flaws, at least it wasn’t lethal.