Federations, Charters, Dissent

Let’s talk about the administrative structure of Girl Scouting!!

Whenever I give talks about Girl Scouting, I quickly realize that the audience does not understand how councils relate to our national organization, Girl Scouts of the USA.

Let me put on my political scientist hat and explain. I’ll explain the structure first, then look at examples of recalcitrant councils of the past.

Subsidiary? No.

Girl Scouts is not a monolithic corporation. The councils are not subsidiaries of GSUSA, but independent 501(c)(3) companies governed by separate boards of directors.

Federated National Movement

The more accurate description is a federated national movement. These are:

characterized by autonomous local member organizations that share a common purpose, mission, and history and that have joined together under the auspices of a national organization that articulates this mission at the national level and provides leadership for the movement. 


Dennis R. Young, “Local Autonomy in a Franchise Age: Structural Change in National Voluntary Associations,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 18, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 104.

Federated organizations, especially multi-site nonprofits, tend to suffer from tensions between national offices and affiliates, which vary in degree and intensity but rarely vanish entirely.

If poorly managed, they suffer from uneven performance among local organizations, costly administrative duplication, and cumbersome national offices that deliver insufficient value.


Stephanie Myrie, “The Girl Scouts: Uncharted Territory,” Nonprofit Quarterly (September 21, 2007).

Charters

However, the more accurate description of the relationship between GSUSA and councils is an asymmetrical federation: power is distributed between headquarters and councils, but not equally. GSUSA holds the ultimate trump card—the council charter. Without a charter, no group can legitimately claim to be part of Girl Scouting.

The national organization, Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) grants charters to local councils, typically for three years at a time. In return, local councils become the designated, sole providers of Girl Scouting in a specific geographic area. Councils use the official name, logo and other branding elements, to participate in national product sales, and to sell the uniforms, handbooks, badges, and other insignia developed by the national office. They also may send delegates to the National Council, the main governing structure, which meets every three years.

Councils, in turn, must adhere to administrative, program, and camping standards set by GSUSA. If a council ignored the national guidelines, such as admitting boys, its charter could be revoked or renewed on a probationary, year-by-year basis.

The GSUSA “Blue Book” contains the organization’s Constitution, Bylaws, Policies, Credentials, the Criteria and Standards for an Effective GS Council, and the Congressional Charter granted in 1950.

The 2020 edition of the Blue Book states the purpose of granting a charter and the rights and obligations imposed on a chartered council:

A Girl Scout council charter is issued by the National Board of Directors of Girl Scouts of the USA to an organization exclusively devoted to the Girl Scout Movement in the United States, granting it the right to develop, manage, and maintain Girl Scouting in a specified area of jurisdiction, which is established by the National Board of Directors, and to call itself a Girl Scout council. A Girl Scout council charter is issued for no more than four years.

Council without Charters

By definition, charter revocations redraw council boundaries. The dissolved council–including its members, assets, and debts–will be absorbed by one or more neighboring councils. Action may be taken on a case-by-case basis, such as councils in financial peril, or toward dozens of councils, such as during a campaign to redraw (or realign) all council borders.

Given the profound impact of a charter revocation, they are a rare, out-of-other-options, action. It would be highly unusual for GSUSA to revoke the charter of a financially stable council, for example. Instead, they would likely be invoked for violations of national policies that could have a ripple effect across the movement.

I won’t go into further detail here about revocation versus non-renewal, as the outcome is the same. (For a deep dive, explore the Girl Scout Governance site.)

As this site explores history, let’s look at how councils resisting the Council Coverage program were disciplined.

Council Coverage

In 1945 the GSUSA board of directors authorized the “Council Coverage” program to create a seamless network of councils spanning the entire country. Existing councils could be expanded geographically or consolidated into a larger, new unit to combine human, financial, and property resources to provide better, more consistent services for girls. The consolidation program, popularly known as the “Green Umbrella” movement, lasted nearly 20 years, ending officially in 1963 with 696 councils.

Penn Laurel Council was formed during Council Consolidation

While the “Green Umbrella” name suggests welcoming fellow Girl Scouts into the efficient, protective arms of professional staff, many volunteers did not see it that way. They believed they had been running their local councils just fine, thank you, and did not want a distant national organization butting in on local affairs.

To prevent GSUSA from seizing local camps and properties, some councils took extreme actions. Such as divesting

themselves of properties and transfer[ing] them into citizens’ trusteeships so that if they are forced to join in a district council, they can withdraw from National Girl Scouting and remain an organization on their own.


“Girl Scout Leader Defends Councils,” Daily Herald [Chicago] (July 11, 1963): 99

Council-owned property was a particular sticking point; local citizens had built and funded local camps, and they did not want to turn them over to outsiders. At least 20 councils chose to affiliate with the Camp Fire Girls instead.

Thank you, but we’ll pass.

Even more problematic, the Council Coverage program was not optional. Dissenters could end their affiliation with the Girl Scouts, but they could not take assets with them.

The unilateral mandate was not well received, and the program was reviewed at the 1957 National Council Session. Delegates passed a motion that gave councils the right to present their concerns to the National Board of Directors before a final decision on combining councils.

We are not against council coverage as plan, but we object to the compulsion here.

Virginia Schoof, “Delegates Vote Council Plan for Scout Units,” Philadelphia Inquirer (November 15, 1957).

Among the unhappy campers, the Mount Vernon (Illinois) and Donora (Pennsylvania) Councils sought to preserve their independence through the judicial system.

Donora, Pennsylvania

Donora Council, located near Pittsburgh, served just the city of Donora. Plans were to combine it with the surrounding Allegheny County council and nearby community. Donora’s president appeared before the National Board’s Executive Committee on September 20, 1962. The Committee rejected Donora’s case and pulled its charter. The council filed suit, demanding that GSUSA explain its decision. The court ruled for GSUSA, but Donora appealed, arguing that National Board should not have delegated National Board Executive Committee to hear their objections, thus the revocation of their charter was not valid. The Supreme Court of New York rejected Donora’s complaint in December 1962. To continue in Girl Scouts, Donora’s 500 members must join the new council.

Mount Vernon, Illinois

Mount Vernon also went to New York to argue its position before the National Board. But GSUSA canceled Mount Vernon’s charter, too. The council filed suit in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Illinois, which issued an injunction that kept Mount Vernon’s charter in place until the lawsuit was settled.

The status of these two councils became an issue at the 1963 National Council session in Miami. With the injunction—and therefore its charter—in place, Mount Vernon’s delegate was admitted to the session. But Donora, whose charter had expired, was denied delegate status. A motion to seat the Donora delegate failed, 1406-1248.

Aware of the mounting tensions around Council Coverage, the president of the Scarsdale, NY, council suggested a proposal for consideration at the 1963 National Council session in Miami:

Remove the disturbing distrust of the national volunteers and staff and the general indignation that is sweeping the country over the threatening nature of the national [leadership] directives.


“Girl Scouts Anticipate Council Coverage Clash,” Oshkosh Northwestern (October 21, 1963): 9.

The question was not put on the agenda.

Two Councils Bite the Dust

Mount Vernon ultimately was granted a new charter in 1966. But their victory was short-lived. GSUSA refused to renew that charter, and Mount Vernon ultimately joined Shagbark Council in 1968, as the Council Coverage plan had originally intended.

Donora joined the Allegheny Council, which soon became the Southwestern Pennsylvania Council.

Sometimes the smallest councils make the biggest waves.

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

Princess Martha of Norway, part 3

Before Atlantic Crossing aired on PBS, I had stumbled upon the story of Crown Princess Martha of Norway while I researched the Girl Scout Little House in Washington DC.

I had searched “Little House” through the US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and a photo of her 1939 visit popped up.

When a related photo appeared on eBay, I purchased it. I usually do not waste money purchasing an overpriced reprint of an image that may be downloaded for free from the Library of Congress.

But if the photo offered for sale is an original, that’s another matter entirely. Vintage press service photos typically have a long caption that includes the date and names of the individuals. As the image is copied and widely distributed across the Internet, those details are usually lost. This is literally a rare chance to attach names to faces.

I purchased this photo, which appeared in part 1 of this series without the caption.

Atlantic Crossing omitted the Girl Scout birthday party at the Norwegian Embassy.

The caption noted that it was from a Girl Scout birthday party held at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington DC in 1945. The celebration was not part of the Atlantic Crossing retelling. End of story, right?

Hardly.

The Archives and History Committee of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital (like all councils) frequently receives donations. Old uniforms, badge sashes, and handbooks are typical, but photos, scrapbooks, and other one-of-a-kind items also appear. Sometimes the donor contacts the council office first, but others just arrive. A council staff member acknowledges receipt, then transfers it to the archives.

A few months back, I opened a large mailing envelope forwarded by staff and found several folded sheets of typewritten paper. A Post-It note was attached:

One of our leaders didn’t know what to do with these–found in her mother’s attic!

The obvious answer, of course, was to send it to the Girl Scouts.

The papers were folded around a smaller envelope, which I discovered contained photos. Specifically, 16 extremely well preserved photographs of the Norwegian Embassy event!!! The typed pages contained captions for each photo.

Nothing I’d found to date reflected the size of the event–over 400 girls attended!!

Here is a selection to enjoy:

Norwegian Ambassador Wilhelm Morgenstierne addresses the 400 girls present:

Many of the activities related to a service project helping a Norwegian Girl Guide troop that was meeting at a castle in Scotland. The Girl Scouts sent a scroll and gifts to the troop.

Sharing birthday cake with friends:

Talking to Princess Ragnhild and Prince Harald (on right, third photo)

Leaving the Embassy … with memories to tell their own children and grandchildren.

Atlantic Crossing omitted the Girl Scout birthday party at the Norwegian Embassy.

The donated photographs appear to have been professionally taken. A note on the page of captions says:

These are file pictures which could be used to help build up the feature. The Norwegian Embassy has cabled to see if they can get pictures of the troop there but don’t know when they can get the pictures or even if they have uniforms in war-weary Scotland.

The moral of this story? Don’t toss photos found in grandma’s attic!

(for the full story, see part 1 and part 2)

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

Princess Martha visits the Little House

continued from part 1

In 1940, four members of the Norwegian royal family escaped German occupation of their homeland and took refuge in the United States: Crown Princess Martha and her children: Princess Astrid, Princess Ragnhild, and Prince Harald. The struggle to recapture Norway is chronicled in the current PBS miniseries Atlantic Crossing.

Only one year earlier, Martha and her husband, Crown Prince Olav, had toured the United States, crossing the country by train, from Boston to California and back to Washington DC. The royal couple captured many hearts across the country, as their public appearances provided a welcome diversion from the Great Depression.

Entire towns turned out to see the Norwegian royals, and the local hospitality included bands, flags, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and flocks of little girls in Norwegian national dress.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Crown Prince Olav, Sara Roosevelt, Crown Princess Martha, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, PBS

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt was particularly charmed by Martha. He hosted the royals at his Hyde Park home as well as the White House.

This remarkable friendship prompted FDR to have US forces spirit Princess Martha and her three children out of Scandinavia to safety in the United States. The four Norwegians initially stayed in New York but soon relocated to Washington DC.

To help her daughters make new friends, Princess Martha enrolled them in Girl Scouts.

She had learned about the Girl Scouts during her 1939 tour. Like many visiting dignitaries, Martha visited the Girl Scout Little House on June 30 and learned about the various programs offered to girls and adult volunteers.

two teenagers in Girl Scout dresses present woven towels to a royal woman in a floral dress and pearls
Princess Martha receives guest towels at Girl Scout Little House

As she prepared to depart from the Little House, she was given a pair of guest towels, hand-woven by members of Troop 22. Kari Galbe, daughter of a Norwegian diplomat, wore her Norwegian Girl Guide uniform for the occasion.

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

Who’s That Princess? Martha of Norway, part 1

Have you seen Atlantic Crossing, the latest drama on PBS?

It tells the story of Crown Princess Martha of Norway and her family. When Germany invaded neutral Norway in April 1940, Martha and her three children were spirited out of Norway, first to Sweden, then to the United States. Her husband, Crown Prince Olav, took refuge in London.

a woman holds her son as he waves good bye to Norway and they begin their Atlantic Crossing
Prince Harald and Crown Princess Martha, Atlantic Crossing publicity

The royal couple had toured the United States in 1939, where President Franklin Roosevelt was immediately charmed by Martha. He welcomed the Princess and her children to Washington DC in August 1940, where they remained for the duration of the war. The four returned to Norway after VE Day, arriving June 7, 1945.

While in Washington, the Princess was active in charitable work, particularly the Red Cross relief effort.

But what would she do with with her children? As far as her two daughters, the answer was enroll them in the Girl Scouts!! (Alas, no Atlantic Crossing episode mentions this fact.)

Crown Princess Martha and the Norwegian diplomatic corps developed a deep connection with the Girl Scouts during the war years. Future posts will feature details of this relationship.

Martha and her children celebrated the 33rd birthday of Girl Scouts with a reception at the Norwegian embassy in March 1945. Even Crown Prince Olav attended, during one of his overseas visits.

A group of well dressed children and adults prepare to cut a birthday cake.
Girl Scout Birthday Reception at Norwegian Embassy

The photo shows the real-life counterparts of the cast of “Atlantic Crossing”:

In front: Princess Ragnhild (age 14), Prince Harald (8), Miss Chloe Anderson (11) of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Miss Ellen MacEwen of Bethesda, Maryland.

In back: Madame Morgenstierne, Ambassador Wilhelm Morgenstierne of Norway, Crown Princess Martha, and Crown Prince Olav. Princess Astrid is not shown.

As part of the birthday celebrations, the Girl Scouts of Montgomery County, Maryland, on the border of Washington DC, and represented by Chloe and Ellen, declared that they would act as “special sisters” to the first Girl Scout troop to be reestablished in Norway after liberation.

Stay tuned…

(No, I haven’t found proof that Martha ever visited Rockwood, the national Girl Scout camp near Washington–but I’m working on it.)

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

Who’s That Girl Scout? Julian Salomon

Julian Salomon was a leading expert in camp development. Over his long career, Salomon worked with the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and the National Park Service.

In fact, Salomon wrote the book on camp development–literally.

His 1948 book, Camp Site Development, covers every possible aspect of camping facilities, from roads to sewage to waterfront. The illustrations, of actual buildings, are stunning:

Julian Salomon wearing Roundup cap

Born in 1896 and educated as a landscape architect, Salomon focused on planned parks and camping facilities. He worked for the National Park Service from 1935 to 1941. He and his family lived in the Washington DC area at that time and were active with local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. His wife had her own Brownie troop.

His best-known project during this time was a wooded retreat near Thurmont, Maryland. Readers likely will recognize the site’s current name: Camp David.

During World War II, he served with the USO, planning recreational facilities for troops. (That’s military troops, not Scout troops.)

Post-war, Salomon became a professional Girl Scout, working in the National Camping Division until retiring in 1965. His primary responsibility was to work with local camping committees, advising councils how best to acquire and develop land for permanent campsites. In this capacity, he helped the Washington Council in 1949, following a flood that devastated its Camp May Flather. He visited the camp, surveyed the wreckage, and offered advice about what to re-build and what to replace.

He photographed the damage, and a staff member snapped this marvelous photo. Salomon, seated in the washed-out remains of the Boone latrine, which had landed in the Sherando unit, nevertheless looks quite dapper in his straw hat, bowtie, and spotless white dress shirt.

Julian Salomon found the Boone latrine in the Sherando unit.

His other responsibility at GSUSA was to manage the two national camping facilities in use at that time: Edith Macy in New York, and (you knew this was coming) ROCKWOOD National Girl Scout Camp, in Potomac, Maryland. Salomon created the first master plan for Rockwood in 1946. He especially enjoyed the task as he and his wife had been among the local Girl Scouts who built the first two units (The Oaks and Tall Timbers) in the late 1930s.

Rockwood, national Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC, 1936-1978. GSUSA sold it to a residential developer, but nine local Girl Scouts filed a lawsuit to block the sale, arguing that selling violated the terms set out by the woman who donated the property. The lawsuit was settled out of court, with one-third of the camp preserved as a local park and conference center. My book on the camp should be published by the end of 2021.

When the Rockwood camp was sold, GSUSA largely locked the front gate and left. Thousands of dollars worth of equipment, office files and an entire commercial kitchen were abandoned. Many items, um…. well…. nobody else wanted them … wound up with the local Girl Scout council.

As I reorganized and refiled research materials recently, I found a gem that I had somehow overlooked. This is his hand drawn diagram for his 1946 master plan. Unfortunately, it had been folded for 60 years. I brightened the colors a wee bit in PhotoShop. (Note: Conduit Road is now MacArthur Boulevard.)

1946 Master Plan for Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp
Salomon as “White Eagle” (Yikes!)

Salomon’s caption, Rockwood National Girl Scout RESERVATION,” is hard to miss. On the Boy side of Scouting, Salomon is also known for his “celebration” of Native American culture that permeated early Boy Scout lore. He published a 400-page Book of Indian Crafts and Indian Lore, and performed a one-man show as “White Eagle.” Salomon strongly believed that his “Indian activities” helped destroy stereotypes, but today he is often criticized for cultural appropriation. His publicity photo for his performances is cringeworthy today.

But back to the Girl Scouts …

In honor of his work at Rockwood, one of the conference rooms in the main Manor House is named for him. When the new Rockwood Manor Park was dedicated in 1987, Salomon, at age 91, attended and shared some of his Rockwood recollections. He passed away five months later.

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

Dutton’s Dirty Diggers

Finding programs to keep teenagers in Girl Scouting has always been a challenge. The four Senior Roundups may be the best known of these programs, but they certainly were not the only ones.

Three years ago I was introduced to the Senior Girl Scout Archaeological Camps. Between 1947 and 1957, over 300 Seniors (high-school age) participated. The University of Utah Press has just published a history of this early STEM program. Dutton’s Dirty Diggers, by Catherine S. Fowler.

Dr. Fowler participated in several expeditions and, like many other veterans of the program, chose to pursue a career in anthropology. She uses her own diaries from the program and those of several other participants to take readers out to the dusty desert, bumping along in vehicles that blew tires several times each day.

The program offered two-week long camping caravans and archaeological excavations that introduced teenage girls to the rich cultural and scientific heritage of the American Southwest as well as new career possibilities. Unlike the Roundups, girls could participate several times, allowing them to follow the painstaking progress of the selected sites.

The star of the book is Dr. Bertha Dutton, a curator at the Museum of New Mexico who served as trip leader. The girls’ respect and affection for Dr. Dutton is evident throughout the book, and many of the girls stayed in touch with her for years.

The National Parks Service has developed classroom materials on “Bert” and the Girl Scout program.

https://www.nps.gov/teachers/classrooms/scouts-shovels-bertha-dutton.htm

GSUSA ended the program after 1957, judging the experimental program a success. Staff at GSUSA announced that it was time for local councils to sponsor similar programs. Without Dr. Dutton’s charisma and intense involvement in the curriculum, local archaeological programs failed to take hold.

The fully illustrated book is a fun read and available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

The volume is already getting positive reviews!

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

From Blair House to Brown Owl

Tradition holds that the president-elect spends the night before his inauguration at Blair House, the “President’s Guest House” at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

an ivory stone townhouse with white trim, green shutters and a US flag
Blair House (Carol Highsmith)

But what do you know about the Blairs?  The family produced several prominent American statesmen—and one very spunky Girl Scout leader, Edith Blair Staton.

Edith’s grandfather, Montgomery Blair (1813-1883), studied law at my alma mater, Transylvania University in Lexington, KY, and his most famous client was the fugitive slave Dred Scott. Blair moved to Washington in 1852 and became Lincoln’s Postmaster General in 1861.

The family’s “country house,” Falkland, was the earliest residence in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Today, Montgomery Blair is the namesake of one of the largest high schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

black and white headshot of a white woman

Edith arrived at Blair House on September 6, 1896, and was the last baby born at the residence. She married a young naval officer, Adolphus Staton, on July 28, 1917.

(Edith Blair Staton, 1916 passport photo)

While her husband was at sea, the young bride took the helm of a Girl Scout troop. When the girls were preparing for their first camping trip and realized they had no bedrolls or other equipment, Edith went to her hope chest, stored in her attic of her parents’ home, and took her brand new wedding linen into the woods!

Edith threw herself into Girl Scouting and met founder Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah in 1922, where Daisy taught her how to stand on her head.

gold circle pin with a Brownie elf and two enameled brown owl pins

When Girl Scout leaders decided to adapt the British Brownie program for younger girls in the United States, Edith was recruited to help launch the program. She organized the first Brownie “Pow-Wow” for prospective leaders in November 1922. She had the perfect venue for a large meeting–Manor Country Club. Her uncle’s club was about to open and the meeting offered a good dress rehearsal opportunity for the staff.

Top: Brownie membership pin (1920s-1930s)

Left: Great Brown Owl (leader, 1930s)

Right: Tawny Owl (assistant leader, 1930s)

Edith Blair Staton thus became the first Great Brown Owl, the main Brownie leader for the United States.

Edith remained active in Girl Scouting for most of her adult life. She was a member of the advisory committee for the Rockwood National Camp and served as president of the District of Columbia council.

Edith passed away in 2001, at the age of 104. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Admiral Staton.

©2021 Ann Robertson

Snowy Days at Camp

Snow has begun to fall here in Washington, DC. It’s the first of the season and forecast to be “significant,” which in our Nation’s Capital means about two inches.

Of course, it is still 2020, which means anything could happen, such as rabid polar bears floating downward from the heavens.

This makes today the perfect time to bring out one of my favorite entries in the “what’s the worst that can happen?” file.

Once upon a time, a troop of Intermediate Girl Scouts went to Camp Potomac Woods for a cozy weekend trip. It was February (February 1958, to be precise) and bound to be cold, but the hardy girls were staying in a lodge, not tents, and they would have an oil furnace to keep everyone toasty.

The girls of Troop 163 hauled their gear and rations to the lodge Friday night, made dinner and turned in for bed, after copious cups of cocoa, of course.

Saturday morning, everyone was up early. The absolute, best thing that can happen on a camping trip was right outside the lodge. SNOW!

SNOW!!!

BEST. TRIP. EVER.!!

The girls had a blast. They had dressed for February and spent the day outside. They made snow balls and snow Scouts. After dinner, the leaders sent them off to bed, but nobody could sleep. There was SNOW outside!

Each girl had brought a cup on a string as a standard part of their mess kits. Not only could these fine implements be used for cocoa, they could be silently tossed out a window and drug back in … full of snow … for an indoor snowball fight! Little sleeping was done that night.

Before the sun was up on Sunday the girls were praying that they would be snowed in another day.

But that was going to be a problem, as they’d only brought food for a two-night stay.

Mrs. Steeger and Mrs. Smith, the leaders, conferred with the camp’s resident caretaker. After several phone calls, they learned that the road to the camp, located in Lucketts, Virginia, was impassible.

What to do?

Relax, these are GIRL SCOUTS were are talking about. A group trained to be level-headed and resourceful.

They did what anyone would do in similar circumstances.

They called the US Army.

Helicopter pilots W.C. Hampton and Raymond Bowers flew in from Ft. Belvoir, alighting in a field partly cleared by the caretaker.

The troop was too large to all fit, so the pilots made two runs, taking all of 15 minutes each.

Troop 163 Evacuates Camp Potomac Woods (GSCNC Archives)

Safe on the ground, they posed for photos with their rescuers, before heading home.

You know they had a great story to tell their friends at school.

Safe on the ground with their rescuers (GSCNC Archives)

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

Turkey on a Train

When the White House wanted a nice, fresh turkey for Thanksgiving dinner in 1925, they opted for delivery.

But instead of Door Dash or another nearby delivery service, President and Mrs. Coolidge turned to their home state, Vermont, and one of their favorite civic groups.

First Lady Grace Coolidge had been an enthusiastic Girl Scout since her husband was vice president. Now Honorary President of the Girl Scouts, Mrs. Coolidge tried to incorporate Girl Scouts into White House events whenever possible. The Washington organization was in the midst of a $20,000 fund drive, and a Thanksgiving-related photo call would be great for publicity.

She ordered a Vermont turkey, from a family friend in East Montpelier, and the First Lady wanted it delivered—-and cooked—-by a Girl Scout.

Thirteen-year-old Leona Baldwin was chosen for this mission, as the 20-lb turkey hailed from her family farm. Leona had never travelled beyond her hometown, so her leader, Laura Gould, accompanied her on the long train ride. They departed on November 6.

Moderately relevant photo from Alabama restaurant

After their adventure in Washington, they planned to make a stop in New York City on the way home. (The turkey did not have a round-trip ticket.)

No account of the trip clarifies whether the turkey traveled with a ticket, in a crate, or in a roasting pan.

Upon arrival, Leona and Mrs. Gould were whisked away from Union Station and taken to the Girl Scout Little House at 1750 New York Avenue NW.

The Little House was a recent gift from the Better Homes of America and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. It was modeled after the house that inspired the “Home Sweet Home” song and contained a working kitchen, furnished dining room, living rooms, bedrooms, and bathroom.

Leona inspected the kitchen and was no doubt relieved to learn that a team of 19 local girls would be there to assist. Newspaper reports of the time do not mention where Leona, Mrs. Gould, or the turkey spent the evening.

The next morning, Leona and Mrs. Gould went to the Tivioli Theater, which was holding a benefit performance of the comedy “Cold Turkey” for the Girl Scouts. Leona met Mrs. Coolidge, for the first time.

After the film ended, the dignitaries moved on for dinner. In addition to the Coolidges, the guest list included Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover, who had secured the building for the Girl Scouts; May Flather, head of Girl Scouts in Washington, DC; J.S. Storrow, national president of the Boy Scouts; and Dean Sarah Arnold, national president of the Girl Scouts.

President and Mrs. Coolidge arrive at the Little House, November 7, 1925
National Photo/Library of Congress

The girls gathered in the dining room and, once everyone was seated, began to serve.

Leona’s glistening turkey rested on a sideboard. When she passed the platter to the President, “Silent Cal” commented, “Thank you. It looks very good.”

Aside from Leona, the other girls were local. Lucille Weber and Margaret Strong, for example, were hostesses. Marian Bates, of Troop 42, was in charge of circulating the cream and sugar, while Phyllis Adelman, also from Troop 42, had celery and carrot duty. Everyone was nervous.

Marian and I bumped each other, spilling cream on the President’s coat. We cleaned it off as best we could and Grace Coolidge was so kind. … Cal ignored the whole thing!

Recollections of Phyllis Adelman Larson, GSCNC Archives.

Newspaper accounts of this most memorable dinner focus exclusively on Leona, using extremely outdated language that makes the dinner seem like an installment of the “Perils of Pauline.”

Leona collapsed after the luncheon was over. The honor and excitement had been too great. A little heart had beaten too wildly and had signaled to a set of taut nerves that it was time for reaction. Hysteria, the price of Leona’s glory, ensued.

Solicitous Scout leaders gathered around the little Vermont girl, and after much nursing and petting and drying of tears, brought her back to emotional stability.

Washington Post (November 8, 1925): 1.

And what of the other 19 girls?

They hardly were standing by taking selfies. In fact, given the limited capacity of the Little House, THEY were probably the ones giving aid.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Patch from Making Friends

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

Nix on Partisanship

Girl Scouts of the USA strives to create conscientious future voters who appreciate the unique qualities of the American political system.

From the founding of Girl Scouts in 1912, girls could earn badges that involved learning about their government, laws, and elections.

After women received the right to vote 100 years ago, Girl Scouts stepped in to help anyway they could. Sometimes an act as simple as holding a baby while mother goes into the voting booth can make a difference in turnout.

There are clear limits on political involvement. The Blue Book–GSUSA’s collection of bylaws, policies, and the corporate constitution–states the following:

Blue Book, 2020 edition, page 20

Individual Girl Scouts may engage in partisan political activities, but only as civilians. They cannot appear in uniform, as that would suggest the organization has endorsed a particular candidate or expressed an opinion on a public issue.

A Little Too Active

Sometimes good intentions may get out of hand, as happened during the 1960 Presidential Election.

It seems that Intermediate* Troops 670 and 702 from Bethesda, Maryland, loved to do community service projects. When their leader, Mrs. Smith heard that the Volunteers for Nixon-Lodge headquarters needed help, she immediately signed the girls up. The field trip to 1000 16th Street NW in Washington did not raise any red flags among parents, as most were Republicans themselves.

*In 1963, the Intermediate level was divided in Juniors (grades 4-6) and Cadettes (grades 7-9).

A dozen girls, in their green uniforms, yellow ties, and jaunty berets, had a blast at the campaign office. They stuffed envelopes; assembled press releases; and filled campaign kits with buttons and bumper stickers.

Vice President Nixon’s press secretary, Herbert G. Klein called the Washington Post to suggest that there was a great photo opportunity happening at campaign headquarters. A campaign staffer had tipped off Klein and said the girls might be working at the Kennedy-Johnson office another day.

A witty local reporter asked the girls whether “some people might not regard Nixon’s defeat as a community service,” the girls giggled and confidently stated, “Kennedy isn’t going to be elected.”

The girls had put in about four hours of work when a telephone rang; the caller asked for Mrs. Smith. In fact, the caller was Helaine Todd, executive director of the National* Capital Area Girl Scout Council.

*Also in 1963, the National Capital Girl Scout Council and four other councils combined to form the Nation’s Capital Girl Scout Council.

Todd was a tad upset. She informed Mrs. Smith that “Partisan political activity is absolutely against local and national Girl Scout policy. ” Todd also declared that the girls could not count the day toward service hours. (That seems a bit over the top, in my opinion.)


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Mrs. Smith, a relatively new leader, was “flabbergasted and aghast.” She grabbed the girls and swiftly exited. At the next troop meeting, she turned the experience into a learning opportunity, explaining what she had done wrong.

Of course, Nixon lost in 1960. Much could–and has–been said about Richard Nixon. But I must give the Nixon family credit for being strong supporters of Girl Scouts–before and after their White House years.

Both Nixon daughters, Julie and Tricia, were active Girl Scouts and future First Lady Pat Nixon was their co-leader.

Mrs. Nixon greets Cadette Girl Scouts at GSUSA Headquarters (Nixon Foundation)

Mrs. Nixon greatly enjoyed her time as honorary national president of GSUSA, welcoming girls to the White House and visiting the national headquarters in New York.

Since Edith Wilson in 1917, all First Ladies have been invited to serve as honorary national president. All Most accept it graciously and participate in unique ways.

Mrs. Nixon’s affection for the Girl Scouts endured until her death.

Pat Nixon welcomes Girl Scouts to the Nixon Library, July 1990 (Nixon Foundation)

The Nixon Foundation has honored her work with a special exhibition.

Check the GSUSA Blog for information about the current honorary national president and her involvement with Girl Scouts.

Or maybe not ….

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