The WAVES at Rockwood National Camp

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.”

Four well dress girls on bicycles
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.

Stern woman in 1920s
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.

Friendly woman in house dress holding a folded American flag
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.

Durett head shot
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.

Tailored green women's suit
Adult Uniform by Mainbocher
Uniform for Navy WAVES during World War II
WAVES Uniform by Mainbocher

Girl Scout Cookie Season Approaches

Girl Scout Cookie Season Approaches

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.

Booth with Girl Scout cookie memorabilia
Booth Wide

Display Case of colorful Girl Scout cookie patch pins
Display Case
Selfie Station with Girl Scout cookie cartons and patches

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.

Cookie Quilt Close Up

Troop moms especially enjoyed searching the quilt and pointing out which patches they had earned selling cookies.

Brown monkey swings on green vines

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.

Girl in brown vest playing with barrel of monkeys game
Cookie Monkeys

Cookie sales are staggered across the United States. The Washington DC area usually begins around January 1.

Need cookies? When in doubt, try the handy Cookie Finder at https://www.girlscouts.org/en/cookies.html.

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scouts Think Pink

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 new Girl Scout Leadership Experience program, introduced in 2011, continued the focus with a Women’s Health badge for older teens. Many councils offer additional opportunities through their own patch programs, including Citrus, North Carolina Coastal Pines, Southern Nevada, and Western Pennsylvania.

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.

http://www.nccoastalpines.org/en/our-council/news/2018/girl_scouts_think_pi.html

Domestic Violence Month, Too

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.

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Mythbusters: Charmed 2 Death?

Studio 2b logo
Studio 2B logo

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.”

Charm Recall 2007 09 2
2007 Girl Scout Catalog, page 9

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.

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Here is the full press release:

Charm Accessory Recall 1

Flashback: Studio 2B or Not 2B

This morning, as I was merrily searching online for the perfect shoe storage solution, an unexpected ad image popped up on my screen.

BBB Studio 3B

Instinctively I let out a primal scream that could be heard over the construction noise in my neighborhood. Like many older Girl Scouts, I suffer from Post-Traumatic Studio 2B Disorder (PTS2BD).

But then I looked more closely and saw there was no reason to head for the doomsday bunker. The apocalypse was not at hand.

via GIPHY

This was merely a new marketing concept for Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Whew.

STUDIO 2B has not returned.

What was Studio 2B?

A failed program concept for Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts.

Um, no. Nobody loved Studio 2B.
Um, no. Nobody loved Studio 2B. That’s probably why I got this patch for a quarter.

STUDIO 2B debuted at the 2002 national convention, where the program was hailed as the solution to declining teen membership. The program addressed the problems with teen Girl Scouting that emerged from the landmark research study, “Ten Emerging Truths: New Directions for Girls 11–17.”

Researchers found that Girl Scouts wasn’t considered cool by girls 11 and older.  Girls didn’t like the terms “Cadette” and “Senior” and they certainly did not want their friends in middle school to know they were Girl Scouts. (The Ambassador age level was introduced in 2008.)

Studio 2B’s Goals

STUDIO 2B would change all of this.  It presented a “cool” and “hip” version of Girl Scouts that was to seem sophisticated and slightly mysterious.  Meeting in small groups, online, or even working on their own, members of STUDIO 2B had four “B” program goals:

Studio 2B 4B list
Studio 2B 4B list

Shouldn’t it be 4B?

Excellent question. The components of Studio 2B do not add up. That should have been a red flag. Bed, Bath, and Beyond apparently can count.

Too Many Choices

Instead of leaders, girls had advisors, preferably young women between the ages of 18 and 29 who would be “more relatable” than mom.  Instead of troops, groups could call themselves anything they wanted or chose to meet online, work on their own, or other new “pathways.”

Instead of handbooks, girls could choose from a collection of single-issue booklets, such as self-esteem, writing skills, running, and saving parks. The books all had hip, slangy names like “Makin’ Waves” or “Cashin’ In” and used lots of apostrophes and exclamation points.

Instead of specific requirements, girls would set their own goals and decide when they had completed a focus book.

Two Studio 2B Focus Books.
Two Studio 2B Focus Books.
img 1915
Charm bracelet

But by far the biggest flaw was … wait for it … instead of earning badges to go on sashes, girls would earn charms to go on a charm bracelet. No uniforms needed.

We Don’t Understand!

Girls and their advisors were confused. Did STUDIO 2B replace badges or was it something completely new?  Could you just flip through a focus book and declare yourself finished?

Was it required to earn the Silver and Gold Awards? An article, “Studio 2B Is Off and Running,” in the Summer 2003 Leader magazine was frustratingly vague:

Excerpt from Summer 2003 Leader magazine.
Excerpt from Summer 2003 Leader magazine.

Many volunteers assumed STUDIO 2B would be optional; one year later the Gold and Silver Award requirements were revised to make STUDIO 2B mandatory. Many leaders/advisors/hip-people-other-than-mom were not happy with the change.

Girls did not rush to sign up for STUDIO 2B. GSUSA responded with multi-page advertising spreads in Leader magazine and supplemental books, sold in the catalog, instructing councils how to implement the program. The Winter 2004 issue of Leader, for example, had 32 pages including a two-page advertising spread and an eight-page pull out guide, “Studio 2B: It’s Easy. Here’s How.” That’s over 1/4 of the issue devoted to the program. Ten of the 2004 catalog’s 48 pages were devoted to S2B.

A major complaint was cost.  Each focus booklet was initially $5.95, each charm $4.95, compared with $1.05 badges. The 2003 Leader article acknowledged the cost, suggesting girls “can request them as holiday or birthday gifts.” GSUSA took note, creating a “charm holder” in 2005 that could be pinned to a sash, slashing prices in 2006, and in 2007 creating “focus awards” — Interest Project-shaped patches with designs that resembled the charms and could be sewn onto a vest instead.

However, some charms, notably the ones required for the Silver and Gold Awards, were never offered in the cheaper patch format. One charm, On the Road, only appeared in the catalog for two years before it drove off into the sunset.

By 2009, only five charms and 12 focus patches were advertised in the catalog. None appeared in the 2010 catalog.

These charms, required for the Silver and Gold Awards, never came in more affordable patch versions.
These charms, required for the Silver and Gold Awards, never came in more affordable patch versions.

What Went Wrong?

How did we get such a misguided program? I think the answer lies in research design.  Of the 3,000 girls surveyed for “Ten Emerging Truths,” only 25 percent were actual Girl Scouts. The other 75 percent weren’t going to join just to get jewelry. And if the 25 percent who were already Girl Scouts wanted jewelry, they could make their own with the Jeweler Interest Project.

After years of neglect and decline, STUDIO 2B quietly passed away on April 13, 2012, when Girl Scouts of the USA cancelled the STUDIO_2B Trademark.

Still, I fully believe that reinstating Studio 2B or a similar program still could trigger an apocalypse.

Be prepared.

via GIPHY

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

A New Home for Washington’s Girl Scouts

A New Home for Washington’s Girl Scouts

1906 Office Opening Sign 2
Director Eleanor Durrett hangs the office sign

Eighty years ago this week, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia moved to new office space.

However, it was a short trip, from 1825 M Street NW to 1906 M Street NW, but it provided additional space for an ambitious defense training program and growing membership.

The new, colonial-style building featured knotty-pine flooring. The first floor held a reception room, board room, and a library for volunteers. Upstairs, the second floor was divided into offices for director Eleanor Durrett, three field advisors, and clerical staff.

1942 LHH Portrait 3
Lou Henry Hoover portrait watches over a council Board meeting, January 1942

The 1825 M Street location had been provided to the council by Mrs. Henry H. Flather, who now planned to sell the building which the Girl Scouts had long outgrown.

Known to her friends as “May,” Mrs. Flather spearheaded the efforts to provide a permanent summer camp for Washington’s Girl Scouts. She pledged $10,000 toward the camp, which opened in 1930 and was named in her honor.

Just a few years later, the Council moved to 1712 N Street NW. While there have been additional addresses over the years, Nation’s Capital has been at its 4301 Connecticut Ave NW location since 1999.

Despite the meandering path to the current location, connections to the past remain.

LHH GSCNC Portrait
Lou Henry Hoover
IMG 4107
Updated council sign

The same portrait of Lou Henry Hoover hangs outside Nation’s Capital’s current board room.

Plus, the same sign (with an updated paint job) is housed at the Frederick Archives and History Program Center, which celebrated its sixth anniversary this week.

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Who’s That Girl Scout? Ellie Alloway

Like most Americans, Ellie Alloway will pause tomorrow to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

But tonight, September 10, Ellie will make an unprecedented contribution to the history of 9/11.

ellie computer
Girl Scout Ellie Alloway, via Fox5 tv

Tonight is the premiere of Ellie’s documentary, “Ripples: 9/11 Reflections from the North Fork, NY.” The film draws from more than 100 interviews that she conducted with survivors over the past two years.

The 9/11 documentary began as her Gold Award project, earning her the highest award available to Girl Scouts. Then it grew and grew. She hopes that one day schools might use her film when teaching about the events of 9/11.

Meet Ellie Alloway: one of the Girls the World Needs.

For more about Ellie and her project, follow these selected links:

The Suffolk Times

Fox NY (interview)

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

New Girl Scout Uniforms Are Here!! Again!!

New Girl Scout Uniforms Are Here!! Again!!

This week the Girl Scouts of the USA unveiled new uniform options for the three youngest program levels. Daisy, Brownie, and Junior Girl Scouts may start the new school and Girl Scout years with casual options and a new, softer color palette.

New Girl Scout uniforms for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors
New uniform options for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors

These are just a few of the new looks, the entire wardrobe is shown at the national Girl Scout Shop.

Traditional components, such as tunics, vests, sashes, and neckerchiefs have been refreshed as well. Headbands and matching hair scrunchies, so popular in the 1990s, have also returned.

The pieces have subtle branding so that they may be used everyday.

A new Girl Scout uniform wardrobe for girls in middle school and high school, debuted in 2020. It used a color palette of lavender, sky blue, charcoal, and green. Responding to girl feedback, the vest was redesigned with pockets.

new girl scout uniforms
New Teen Girl Scout Uniforms

Why a Uniform?

Early handbooks explained the advantages of wearing a Girl Scout uniform. First, “it gives a certain prestige in the community” because the public will recognize wearers as girls who are courteous and helpful. Second, the “uniform puts every girl on the same footing.” Uniforms made be purchased, sewn at home, or hand-me-downs, but everyone wears the same thing.

1919 Girl Scout uniform
1919

The first Girl Scout uniforms were a simple dress or coat dress, with an official tie, hat, belt, and socks. The only choice was which color tie a troop would wear. Older troops had a choice between socks and hose. Once decided, every girl was to dress in the same leg wear.

1939 Girl Scout uniforms
1939

As membership grew and new age levels were established, each phase of Girl Scouts had its own distinctive uniform: a simple dress with a tie and hat. Hats and white gloves were included as they were the norm at the time.

1966 Girl Scout uniform
Uniforms in 1966

Blouse-and-skirt options became available in the 1950s and 1960s. The new dark green skirt, shown above, was particularly popular as girls could tuck the “GS” tab into their waistband and nobody would know it was a Girl Scout garment.

“Uniform Separates” A Contradiction?

The 1970s brought the concept of separates to each age level, with many options and combinations possible. Instead of troops using a consistent, uniform, look, the 1973 catalog encouraged girls to express their individuality:

Cadette Girl Scout Uniform separates

NEW UNIFORM LIBERATES CADETTES

Here’s a new Cadette GS Uniform that lets you be you. Whatever you’re doing, whatever your pursuit, there’s an outfit just for you. Six separates mix and match into over 15 different looks. Choose one or all six to suit your tastes, reflect your lifestyle, keep up with your busy life. Whichever you choose, you’re official. For today’s liberated you, official never looked so good. (1973 Catalog)

New fabrics, colors, and designs came along in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, and all of these collections continued to offer multiple options. At times the options were overwhelming.

The evolution of the Brownie uniform demonstrates these changes.

Evolution of Brownie Uniform, 1927-today

  • GSB 1 1
  • GSB 2 doll 1
  • GSB 3 1
  • Brownie 1956 1
  • GSB 5 sketch 1
  • GSB 6 1
  • 1974 02
  • Brownie July 1988 GSB 8 copy
  • 1993 02
  • Brownie JCP 2000 GSB 9B 1
  • GSB 10A Catalog
  • GSB 11 Catalog
  • Brownie shorthand
  • Brownie Activity
  • 2021 Brownie Look 1

The Minimalist “Un-Uniform”

Uniforms all but disappeared in the 2008 catalog. Official, Girl Scout-produced uniform components were reduced to just a sash or vest, worn with any white top and khaki bottom. “Uniformity” now meant standardized across all age levels.

As of October 2008, an official sash or vest worn with white shirt and khaki pants is required when girls participate in ceremonies or officially represent the Girl Scout Movement.

Girl Scout Catalog, 2008-2009, p.8

Girl Scout officials believed most girls would already have white shirts and khaki pants, perhaps as part of a school uniform, and would not need to purchase additional items.

2008 Girl Scout uniform for Cadettes and Seniors

Although any white shirt was acceptable, new Girl Scout uniform white shirts and bandanas were available for purchase.

GSUSA also introduced a new line of “official casual” uniforms in a separate fall 2008 catalog.

Some old-timers believed the movement had finally caved to the demands of the many members, especially teens. Many of these girls believed they would absolutely and totally DIE if their friends knew they were Girl Scouts.

The un-uniform decision had two consequences. First, uniforms were one of the few dedicated revenue streams at the National level. Revenue from merchandise sales, according to annual reports, dropped from $45.7 million in 2006 to $20.7 million in 2011.

Second, many Girl Scouts disappeared from public view. It became difficult to recruit new members for this phantom organization.

The generic uniform design also contradicted the first strategic priority adopted at the 2005 National Council Session.

Transform the Girl Scout image with a compelling brand that resonates with girls of all ages and cultures, that makes girls feel proud and excited to join.

Leader (Winter 2005): 11.

The change to minimal uniforms evidently was not popular with all of the membership. The more traditional Brownie and Daisy uniforms reappeared in the 2010 Girl Scout uniform catalog.

The pendulum swung in the other direction following the 100th birthday celebrations in 2012.

Options expanded with two new uniform shirts: the “shorthand” polo in 2013 and an “activity shirt” in 2017. The activity shirt touted its moisture-wicking fabric, acting as a successor to the long-retired camp uniform. New coordinating neckerchiefs, slides, and hats completed the look.

New Girl Scout uniform options for Juniors
Junior Shorthand and Activity shirts
Adult casual uniform optios
Adult Shorthand shirt

Volunteers had their own shorthand shirt, neckerchief, and slide.

Consider Vintage

If the latest designs leave you underwhelmed, you and your troop can always go retro. Girl Scout shops have the shorthand and activity shirts on clearance.

Another option is to go vintage. It is perfectly acceptable to wear a uniform from the past, although you should pick one style, not mix-and-match decades. Check thrift shops, family attics, and your local Girl Scout historians.

Models at a vintage Girl Scout uniform fashion show
Scenes from the Nation’s Capital Girl Scout EXPO, November 2019

After all, once a uniform, always a uniform.

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

God Bless America and the Girl Scouts

Today musicians across the country will play both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” Over the years, many people have called for making “God Bless America” our national anthem. Among other arguments, it is a much easier song to sing.

I happen to agree, but I have an ulterior motive. I want the royalties.

Written in 1917, “God Bless America” debuted on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1938.  It was an instant hit.  Irving Berlin’s lyrics captured his love of the United States, the country that had welcomed his family when they fled Russia in 1893.  He decided to use the royalties from this song to invest in the country’s future, especially its youth.

A Gift to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts

Cover of book God Bless America
Sheryl Kaskowitz, God Bless America (2013)

In July 1940 Berlin set up the God Bless America Fund and instructed its trustees to equally distribute all royalties to two all-American organizations: the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America (Note: We are NOT the Girl Scouts of America).

Berlin sat on the board of directors of the Boy Scouts and his wife on the board of the Girl Scouts.  The Fund’s trustees explained the selection of beneficiaries: “It was felt that the completely nonsectarian work of the Boy and Girl Scouts was calculated to best promote unity of mind and patriotism, two sentiments that are inherent in the song itself.”

At the time, right-wing fringe groups attacked the Girl Scouts for accepting Berlin’s gift. Noting that the composer was Jewish, they denounced the song as being part of a Jewish conspiracy to replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Historian  Sheryl Kaskowitz reprints excerpts from some of these startling letters, including one that claimed the Girl Scouts had accepted $15,000 from Berlin as part of the conspiracy. “Millions of Christian Americans resent certain forces using a great Patriotic organization such as yours to further their own selfish interests, and further the lid is about to be blown right off this slimy trick.”

The Girl Scouts persevered despite its critics, and ten years later, in 1950, Fund president Herbert Bayard Swope cited the movement as “a leading factor in the fight to end race, color, and religious discrimination in the United States.”

Focus on Greater New York City

Originally the royalty funds were distributed to councils across the country, but since the 1990s the fund has focused on the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York and the Greater New York Councils: Boy Scouts of America. Both organizations have used the funds to provide programs in low-income neighborhoods of New York City.

According to a 1996 article in Billboard, other patriotic Berlin songs have been added to the Fund’s catalog, including “This Is the Army” and “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.”  The bulk of the royalties still comes from “God Bless.”

According to the Chicago Tribune (November 7, 2001), the song generated about $200,00 per year, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Royalties swelled to $800,000 for 2001.  By 2011 some $10 million had been distributed to both organizations.

Boy Scout Royalties Withheld

However, Fund trustees became increasingly uncomfortable with the Boy Scouts’ official policy of discrimination against homosexual members. Fund publications began to stress that royalties went to the Greater New York Council, not the national organization.  Each year the Greater New York Council had to assure the Fund of its non-discrimination policy. (Boy Scouts ended this restriction in 2015.)

The Fund was not satisfied by the council’s statement in 2012, and it refused to cut a check to the Boy Scouts for several years. However, eventually the Fund was satisfied and donations resumed. I cannot pin-point the resumption date as the council’s website has dead links for all annual reports between 2014 and 2017.

For 2018, the Greater New York Boy Scouts received a donation of at least $100,000.

Uncle Sam greets a Girl Scout in 1917.
Uncle Sam greets a Girl Scout in 1917

The Fund has never had a problem with the Girl Scouts. For 2020, Girl Scouts of Greater New York reported a donation from the God Bless American Fund of between $50,000 and $99,000, twice the level received in 2015. (See Girl Scouts of Greater New York 2020 Annual Report.)

The Girl Scouts of the USA has long advocated inclusion and maintained a strict policy of “For All Girls.” Period.  We know there is always room for one more around the campfire.

God Bless the Girl Scouts, indeed.

©2021 Ann Robertson