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.
Regular readers know that I am a HUGE fan of the quirky,
obsolete Girl Scout badges known as the Council’s Own. These limited edition
badges were designed to add additional topics to the traditional Girl Scouts of
the USA badge programs or to highlight resources unique to a particular
Their limited production and often very clever designs also
have made them highly collectible. But the words “Council’s Own” have become a
catch-all phrase randomly applied to a range of unofficial badges, often to
increase their selling price.
I’ve fed my addiction by creating a digital archive of these delightful, obscure badges. Since 2014, I have accumulated the name, design, council, and requirements for over 1,500 badges: http://gscobadge.info.
Before including a badge, I have to decide whether or not it meets the definition of a Council’s Own. It can be confusing, because this name is loosely applied to four different programs.
Our Own Troop’s Badge
The Troop’s Own option was introduced in the 1958 edition of
the Intermediate Handbook. The
program offered an answer to the many troop scribes who had written to
Headquarters with suggestions for new badge topics. There were 12 steps to
creating a Troop’s Own, including receiving permission from the program
department of the troop’s council. The council approved the topic, but not the
The name of the badge indicated how it was to be earned:
The final requirements and their wording, the badge name, the design, and the actual symbols worn, must be the girls’ own work. While doing all this your leader will help you understand the meaning of badges and what different types of activity should be included.
No other girls in your troop or any other troop can use your work. Even if they choose the same subject, the must create their own requirements and design. It will truly be, “Our Own Badge!”
The topic would be inserted into the badge’s name: Our
Troop’s Own Blogging Badge. Troops were asked to submit one badge to Headquarters,
but that was for reference only.
Leaders were cautioned to step back and let the girls take
charge. “If we do these things for girls, then they must, in all honesty, call
the badge ‘Our Own Troop Leader’s
The “Our Troop’s Own” program split with the 1963 program reform. Now the gold-bordered blank badge was for Cadettes, and a new green-bordered one was introduced for Juniors. The May 1966 issue of Leader features a lengthy article about a Girl Scout troop in the Sudan that decides to create their own badge to learn more about their host country. (Sadly there is no photo of this badge!)
I’ve included some Troop’s Own in my digital archive, as
they are extremely difficult to identify. Sadly, their requirements were often
discarded when troops disbanded.
Our Own Council’s Badge (1980-2011)
The Worlds to Explore program of the 1980s added an Our Own
Council’s Badge. GSUSA described this program as:
Innovative and educationally sound projects developed by the council, to make use of special topics of interest or unusual opportunities and resources within the council or to utilize the rich opportunities provided by council camps.
These badges were developed by adults; typically council
staff. They represented the council as part of the national recognition system
and therefore should “be developed by people representing a broad spectrum of
the council,” according to 1990 GSUSA guidelines.
Most Council’s Owns focused on a specific topic, but a few were tied to a specific event, such as the 1982 World’s Fair (left) and the eruption of the Mount Saint Helen’s volcano in 1980.
The border colors indicate the year the blank badge was issued, it is not related to the colors of the five worlds. Gold borders were used for COs, green for TOs. When the Worlds program phased out, each age level had one border color for all of their badges, including Troop’s and Council’s Owns.
Make Your Own Badge
Under the Girl Scout Leadership Experience model, the Our
Own options were replaced by a Make Your Own option. The program was
discontinued after three years. Members considered the one-off, screen-printed
badges to be expensive and unattractive. Plus, they were intended to be for one
girl only, but leaders were creating them for entire troops. Guidelines for the
An important part of the Make Your
Own badge is what girls find out about their own learning styles as they
created a personalized plan to build a skill. If a girl does a badge designed
by another girl, she doesn’t have this chance to learn about herself.
Make Your Owns did not need design or requirement approval
from GSUSA, Councils, or even troop leaders. I do not track these in my digital
When a CO Isn’t a CO
Girls and leaders today are demanding badges beyond those
offered through GSUSA. Headquarters has responded with Girl’s Choice’ badges,
robotics, cybersecurity and more.
But there are still patches available that claim to be a Council’s
Own. My archive is intended to document official badges and to help Girl Scouts
identify unusual badges. I include a list of known “Not-COs” because future
Girl Scouts may be curious about a badge seen on many sashes but does not
appear in an official handbook or catalog.
I approach this not as the “badge police,” but as an
historian seeking accuracy.
Many pseudo-COs are described as remakes of discontinued Council’s
Owns. While providers may redesign the badge, they often recycle requirements
developed by other people, presumably without permission or payment. That is
little different than putting a new dust jacket on an old book and claiming to
be the author.
Similarly, badges developed by individuals are not official,
no matter what shape they are. The name “Council’s Own” indicates that its
content is council approved. It guarantees that these badges reflect the movement’s
high standards and offer substantive, age-appropriate activities.
There Should Be a
Patch for That
There are many quality, but unofficial, programs out there,
but let’s use correct terminology. These should be patch programs, because they
are not Council’s Own badges. Many councils now offer “Council’s Own Patch
Programs,” a phrase that just offers more confusion.
Instead of sending me terse, desist messages about the
“flood” of telephone calls from leaders seeking to purchase discontinued Council’s
Own badges, perhaps councils should take the hint that there is a demand for quality
recognitions on these topics. Yes, they could MAKE MONEY by turning these old
badges into patch programs.
Some councils have made this change. Many more should
7. Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries, Jessica Lacher-Feldman (2013)
Intended for repositories with far larger budgets than most Girl Scout archives, but the basic info on exhibit design will benefit any reader. Extensive illustrations and examples.
Expensive; look for used copies.
6. The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository Christina Zamon (2012)
Excellent go-to reference book. Provides clear instructions and succinct definitions for the amateur archivist. A standard work for “Intro to Archives” courses. Also expensive. Look for used copies.
Bonus Points: Clever title
5. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty (2010)
The back cover says it all: “A comprehensive handbook for
those interested in investigating the history of communities, families, local institutions,
and cultural artifacts.” Great tips on
how to plug Girl Scouts into local history.
4. Saving Stuff: How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions Don Williams (2005)
This 2005 book from the Smithsonian Institution can be difficult to
locate, but it’s worth the effort. There are few things that the book does not
cover. Need to preserve macaroni art? It’s in here. Also covers
fundamentals of storage such as light and temperature.
3. Scouting Dolls Through the Years: Identification and Value Guide Sydney Ann Sutton (2003)
Take the dolls chapter out of the Collector’s Guide and quadruple it in length and the result is this
comprehensive guide. Extensive color photos make identification quick, and the
book includes licensed dolls not necessarily available from the Girl Scout
catalog. The book was published in 2003, so the estimated values are not
Bonus Points: Published in my home town, Paducah, KY
Covers 100 years of Girl Scouting in the Washington DC area. Also includes Girl Scout basics and GSUSA events and buildings in the capital city. More than just a pictorial history, the captions provide detailed information about programs, camps, and more.
Bonus Points: Yes, I wrote it.
1. Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, 3rd edition
This book is the primary reference work for Girl Scout historians, with detailed information about uniforms, badges, publications, and more. My copy is full of comments, notes, and post-it flags. Unfortunately, the most recent edition was published in 2005. There is no 3rd edition.
Did history stop in 2005? Hardly. What has happened since 2005?
The Girl Scout Leadership Experience program, journeys, an entirely new series
of badges, troop crests, and handbooks. Two CEOs, three national presidents, five
conventions, and our 100th birthday. Realignment, anyone?
A girl born when the most recent Guide was published would now be on the brink of bridging to the Ambassador level. But wait, there’s no mention of Ambassadors in the Guide because that level was only created in 2008.
The Collector’s Guide
never hit the best-seller lists, but its value to the movement should not be
dismissed. A new volume could be subsidized, grant-funded, or perhaps live online.
Girl Scouts are supposed to use resources wisely. Hopefully
these reference works will provide some guidance for the women (and men) tasked
with preserving our past.
My daughter recently mentioned that visitors on her tours at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace are often surprised when Erin says, “She was about my size.”
That comparison surprised me, too. Erin and I are only 5 feet tall, and even then we really have to stretch on our tippy toes. “Hold on,” I replied. “I think I’ve seen her height.”
Less than a minute later, I texted her a copy of Low’s 1919 passport application, which states her height at 5 feet, 4.5 inches.
“OK,” Erin conceded. “But that’s still pretty small.”
“You’re not going to comment on my just happening to have JGL’s passport application sitting around?”
“No, mom.” She replied. “I’ve learned to expect that.”
I had found the passport records earlier on Ancestry.com. It is fun to see Daisy’s handwritten comments, description of her own appearance, and to read the reasons given for her travel abroad. The passport photos are great, as well.
The documents have been bound into hardback volumes, and some text is not fully visible.
Her 1915 application gave her destinations as England, Italy, and Egypt, and she requested that the document be delivered to her parents’ home on Oglethorpe Street.
She renewed her passport in 1916, and her brother’s statement served in place of a birth certificate. The file also includes a letter noting that her landlord in London, Lady Coghlan, was upset to discover that Daisy had used parafin oil lamps and left at least one sink stopped up.
By 1918 Daisy had misplaced her passport and urgently needed a new one. She included a letter from Boy Scout founder Lord Baden-Powell explaining the reason for her travel.
In 1919 she explained that she needed to renew her passport for six months to attend an international scouting conference. She handwrote that her travels would include Switzerland, and another letter from Lord Baden-Powell confirmed the international meeting.
1919 2 3
1919 6 7
The last passport on file was for 1923. This trip included Egypt. She also indicates that her previous passport had been canceled.
Unfortunately, the photo for the 1923 document is almost illegible. Likely the product of poor quality microfiche.
I always enjoy looking at original documents, especially ones with personal details such as eye color, face shape, and height.
Now I have yet another reason to look up to Daisy Low.
Last Saturday was the Nation’s Capital 2018 Annual Meeting, and the Archives and History Committee arranged an exhibit.
The exhibit theme was “Picture Yourself in the Girl Scout Archives,” and it had two parts. First, Committee members brought a current project to share. We are informally divided by specialty (uniforms, patch programs, books, publications, etc.) and this seemed a good way to demonstrate what the Committee does.
I brought some of our camera collection to decorate our display, and many girls were fascinated by them. We had to explain that these cameras did not have phones.
Second, we organized a photo booth with old uniforms. Last yearwe had a large exhibit of adult uniforms and people were literally lining up to have their picture made with the mannequins. We decided to build on that by having uniform pieces to try on.
annabelle and lexi perry cropped
Hats were easy to arrange. We’d been advised by other history groups to be vigilant about hygiene since we didn’t want to accidentally spread germs or unwelcome critters. We lined each hat with a basket-style coffee filter that we changed after each wearing.
Uniforms were more challenging. Folks today are larger than people a few decades ago and some of our uniforms are tiny! We know that for fashion shows, we have to go for younger models. Sometimes only a Daisy in kindergarten can fit into a vintage Brownie dress, and we have to use a fifth-grade Junior for one of the vintage teen uniforms.
But we’d gotten a fabulous idea from other historians: split uniforms. I saw them up close at the North Carolina Girl Scout Collector’s Show in March, and organizer Becky Byrnes offered some great advice.
nc junior front
nc junior back
Uniforms are split along the spine, hemmed, and ribbons or bias tape is sewn in to use as ties. Girls and adults slip the old uniform on over their clothing, much like a doctor slipping into a surgical gown. It doesn’t completely solve the size issue (tiny uniform + clothing = tight squeeze) but everyone seemed pleased with the results.
Our designated photographer reported snapping pictures of 74 groups, and many more visitors took selfies.
This experiment worked well and we plan to have more split uniforms available at our Program Centers.
But that disappointment was short-lived. Shortly after the elusive eBay auction ended, a new donation arrived in the mail. The enclosed letter from a local estate attorney explained that her client, Betty Chapman, had left behind a scrapbook that she had compiled as a Washington, DC, Girl Scout in the late 1920s. As Chapman had no immediate family, the attorney thought we might like it.
The package contained a three-ring school notebook, with newspaper clippings and other papers pasted on lined notebook paper.
The first clipping, on the first page, I immediately recognized:
This round-faced girl, with the slightly mischevious grin, is Elizabeth Kahler, one of Washington’s first Golden Eaglets. She appears in many of our early photos, including this one of the 1927 White House Easter Egg Roll.
Elizabeth has the same photo in her scrapbook, along with an autograph from the first lady. You can still see the creases from Elizabeth putting it in her uniform pocket for safekeeping.
The book is stuffed with more clippings, invitations, letters, and badge records.
But perhaps the biggest find is nine issues of the Girl Scout Bugle — a publication that I did not even know existed!
These four-page publications from 1927 and 1928 were part of a journalism training program. The first issue explains its purpose. I don’t know how long the program continued.
Stuffed in the envelope with the Girl Scout materials are other mementos of Elizabeth’s life, such as the programs from her college graduation. She attended the George Washington University, earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees before graduating from medical school, with distinction, in 1940.
Elizabeth married fellow physician Ervin Chapman and maintained a medical practice in Washington, DC. She passed away in 2007.
I guess those Red Cross courses made a significant impression on Miss Kahler.
I have a busy week coming up, first going to the North Carolina Girl Scout Collectors’ Show, then on to Savannah, Georgia, to see my daughter, who is a junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).
She is busy studying schedules and determining what classes to take this fall and the rest of her senior year. I continue to be amazed at the variety of courses and career paths offered at SCAD. They have areas of study that I never knew existed, like yacht design, sequential art, and luxury and fashion management. SCAD takes a very hands-on, applied approach to learning that equips students for creative careers.
I already have another trip to Savannah penciled in for October, this time for a Girl Scout history conference. The last such conference I attended was very conceptual–discussions and presentations on the changing role of museums in the 21st century.
I have no idea what is being planned officially, but if it were me, I know what Savannah resource I would want to use wisely–SCAD. A conference planned in coordination with the school could provide tremendous hands-on learning opportunities. There are many potentially relevant programs, for example:
Accessory and Jewelry Design: Techniques for cleaning pins and metal camping equipment; novel ideas for displays of lots of tiny objects.
Acting and Character Development: For our living Juliette Gordon Lows.
Branded Entertainment: I don’t have any idea what this is, but how often do we hear about communicating and protecting the Girl Scout brand? Maybe we would learn!
Fashion/Fibers/Costume Design: Best techniques for preserving old fabric; how do you clean 100-year old sweat stains and rust stains?
Museum Studies: Duh.
Photography/Film/Sound: How to archive photos, film etc. (and could someone please convert some Beta tapes that we have?)
Preservation Design: This also seems obvious.
Production Design: Tips on how to construct and configure exhibits and display spaces.
Themed Entertainment Design: to create Juliette Gordon Low World (just kidding–mostly)
Conducting a two-hour workshop on these topics would be a great experience for students, as SCAD teaches them to hone their presentation skills whenever possible. I definitely would sign up for as many as possible.
Ultimately, the conference curriculum isn’t up to me. Maybe I’ll just browse the textbook aisle in the campus bookstore and try to learn some of these skills on my own.
I was so excited by a new item that popped up on eBay earlier this month.
Designated as volume 1, number 1, The Girl Scouts’ Rally Bulletin is the public record of the first national convention, which was held in Washington in 1915. It was compiled by Edna Colman, the local commissioner.
This 32-page booklet includes highlights from troops across the country, including Washington. It also has a uniform price list (hats, $1.25; middy blouses, $1.75, etc.), and the names and addresses of troop leaders from every state.
The Nation’s Capital council archival holdings are surprisingly thin on the early history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC. While council consolidation has brought the records of many legacy councils into a central location, our historical records are scattered across multiple sites. It takes some ingenuity, detailed searching, and sometimes pure luck, to track down information about our earliest days.
The main problem is that our early history is so closely entwined with that of the national movement. The first troops in and around the District of Columbia were managed out of the Munsey Building, where Juliette Gordon Low established the first national headquarters in 1913. Records from those years are more likely to be found at the JGL Birthplace or the First Headquarters in Savannah.
After national headquarters moved to New York, the national Little House opened in Washington, and the local council rented one room of the house to use as its headquarters. When the Little House closed in 1945, some of its files went to New York, but others went to Rockwood, a national Girl Scout camp just across the District of Columbia—Maryland border. When Rockwood closed, its files and fixtures went everywhere … but that is another story.
Surprisingly, some of the best information I’ve found about our early years comes from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa. Lou Henry Hoover’s role in the first years of Girl Scouting cannot be understated, and archivists there have been very generous about scanning documents for me.
Another source, the first Girl Scout magazine, The Rally (1917-20), published a regular column about the Girl Scouts of Washington.
pages from washington scouting news
pages from whos who in washington
But back to eBay. The asking price for this booklet? Nearly $600!! Pardon while I grab the smelling salts. This was a 30-day auction, now ended, and the price was slashed several times. The final price was $299.99. It did not sell.
At first, I was furious. This was highway robbery! Holding our history hostage for a huge ransom! Unfair!
Then I looked closer. The listing included numerous photos of various pages and ended with the statement:
Early enough, very rare and important enough to be a museum piece according to my research. I could not find another one like it. I could only find a PDF version at Girl Scouts University, Girl Scout History & Preservation. RESEARCH IT!
So I did.
The website is still up for Girl Scout University, another promising idea that GSUSA quietly abandoned and allowed to die of neglect.
I downloaded a good-quality PDF that added several new pages to our history.
The thing is, even if I had an extra $300 or $600 sitting around, there is no way I could justify the cost. I see my task as documenting history, not necessarily collecting examples of everything Girl Scout. While it is important to have artifacts that can be held and experienced, we wouldn’t pass around a century-old, original report anyway. We would scan it, lock it away carefully, and work with a copy. Which is exactly what we now have. And it didn’t cost us $300.
A few days after I first saw this auction, I received a priceless donation of original documents from essentially the same time period.
My calendar has two major anniversaries marked for October 2017.
One is the 10th anniversary of Girl Scout’s realignment program, which consolidated 312 councils into 112 “high capacity” councils. Realignment deserves its own post, but the basic idea is that GSUSA decided that large councils would be more efficient than smaller ones.
The other anniversary is the centennial of the Russian Revolution that brought the Communist Party to power. The new government dramatically redrew the map of their new country, dividing some territories and lumping others together.
What do these two events have in common? For one thing, they are both part of my office wall decor:
first soviet airplane
king kong cookie
(Kookie Kong looks pretty afraid of the First Soviet Airplane.)
The other common thread is that they are both examples of externally imposed new state formation.
NO, wait, come back!!! Let me rephrase.
They are the political equivalent of a shotgun marriage. These events threw people together whether they wanted to or not.
Whether councils or countries, they faced similar issues: Where do we draw our borders? What do we call ourselves? What does our new flag/logo/patch look like? What if we don’t like our new neighbors? Do we have to pay their debts? What do we do with people who don’t want to merge?
Suddenly the comparison doesn’t seem quite so crazy, does it?
Academic research is about making such unexpected connections. If the examples come from a largely unknown source, that’s even better.
Across the United States, Girl Scout councils are sitting on piles of largely unknown sources. We need to get the word out that researchers should come see what we have. We need to leverage our historical assets for academic research. Doing that requires matching theories with data, a process that often requires travel and field research. I’m very fortunate because I’ve found a way to cover both bases: I can use Girl Scout data in my academic research.
I’m not a professional Girl Scout historian, just a very busy volunteer. In my day job, I am a political scientist who specializes in secessionist movements and new state formation. Most of my work deals with the former communist world, such as the collapse of the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. Those countries experienced the opposite of realignment; they were taken apart instead of thrown together; think divorce instead of marriage. I’m (supposedly) trained to see possible patterns and then find evidence to prove or disprove the pattern.
I know the political scientist/Girl Scout historian combination is about as rare as a genuine Golden Eagle of Merit–or perhaps a Chartreuse Buzzard. But working in this direction doesn’t require a PhD. Instead, it needs a new mindset. It means looking beyond the uniforms and badges to see what girls and women were doing in your community. You—we—can provide local examples of national issues.
It means looking beyond the uniforms and badges to document what girls and women were doing in your community. You can provide local examples of national issues that researchers can plug into their models and theories.
Letters and fund-raising campaigns can become examples of philanthropy, women’s empowerment, or marketing. Camp and troop policies reflect social trends. We recently found meeting minutes that debate whether or not to integrate resident camps. I knew the date of integration; I didn’t know that some committee members tried to reverse the decision the following year.
Troop activities can reveal trends in girls’ development and interests. Citizenship programs demonstrate efforts to prepare future voters when the voting age was lowered to 18. Popular history accounts would be enriched by knowing how the American Bicentennial was celebrated in your community.
In the 1920s campers in Washington were examined before and after weeks in the woods to provide scientific “evidence” of the health benefits of the out of doors. Similarly, girls attending Camp May Flather were tasked with combing the forest for signs of white pine blister rust, a dangerous fungus. We don’t have the data, but we know the agency that conducted the studies and can point researchers in that direction.
Such quirky stories are hiding in the newspaper clippings and the troop scrapbooks in our collections. How can we make them available to researchers anxiously searching for new sources to study?
I’ve had the pleasure of hosting several graduate students in our archives. They were investigating topics such as the national Girl Scout Little House, first ladies, family biographies, representation of minorities, and more. They have all gone away with valuable primary data sources, not to mention a patch and the occasional box of cookies!
I knew it would be fun to share Minnie Hill’s uniform with everyone. Writing that post became even more exciting as I discovered details about her life. What I didn’t expect, was how many readers would join the search for more about Minnie.
Readers jumped into Ancestry.com, Newspapers.com, and more. Different facts were posted on different platforms, so I’ll gather them together here.
First, readers asked about the uniform’s provenance. They came from the family of Janet McIntyre of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Janet had been an active Girl Scout leader beginning in the 1950s. Like many leaders, she accumulated many, many, GS materials over the years, and troops could borrow items, such as these vintage uniforms, for meetings and ceremonies. Janet passed away in June 2015 (age 94). Her children discovered the uniforms as they prepared to sell the house and contacted the council to inquire about donating. They aren’t sure where or when their mother acquired this uniform–one of many.
Minnie Mosher Hill was born September 30, 1903, and died August 25, 1988. She never married and lived first with her mother, and later with a sister, Eleanor. After attending college, she initially worked as a secretary in a Washington law firm. She then spent 20 years working at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.
Her obituary shows Minnie’s interest in history and genealogy. She was an active member of the Colonial Dames Society, serving as regional chairman and on the national board.
Several readers fired up PhotoShop to try to digitally repair our one confirmed image. Not only is the original torn, it is partly stuck to a plastic cover, which makes it difficult to get a clear image to work with. The brownish version is from Mel Squiers, the reddish one from Merena Cadorette.
minnie hill 4
minnie hill 3
But the prize for the best contribution goes to Stan Myles, from my own Service Unit. Several people had suggested looking for Minnie in old copies of the Central High School yearbook, but I haven’t had time to go to the DC Public School Archives.
Stan took the search a step further and discovered that, like his own daughter, Minnie is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park. He sent this page from Minnie’s senior yearbook:
I had hoped to take a picture of Stan with Minnie’s uniform at our council’s Back to Troop kickoff last weekend, but I decided against displaying the uniform when I couldn’t arrange appropriate security for it. (The hotel wouldn’t let me build a moat.)
This photo will have to do.
Thank you to everyone who helped tell Minnie’s story!!
Minnie is buried in Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery.