Today you cannot turn on the news or surf the internet without seeing plea upon plea for face masks to protect health care workers during the Covid-19 crisis.
Groups across the country have sprung into action, sewing masks while quarantined at home. Girl Scouts are doing their part, collecting materials and sewing masks themselves. Troops across the United States are sending cases of cookies to hospitals and other health-care centers.
Girl Scouts have provided war-time service since the movement was founded in 1912. When the United States entered the World War I in 1917, girls distributed sandwiches to soldiers passing through town, raised homing pigeons destined for the front lines, and made bandages for the Red Cross.
Local Girl Scouts also jumped in to help when another mask-related emergency occurred.
The March 1918 edition of The Rally (the first Girl Scout magazine) introduced a Girl Scout War Service Award to “stimulate thoughtful direct effort that would have a distinct value to those in the war.”
To earn the award, girls had to knit two pounds of wool, make 50 jars of jam, and sell at least 10 Liberty Bonds.
The Rally also directed Girl Scouts to collect and dry fruit pits and nut shells:
A CAMPAIGN FOR PITS
Gather up the peach pits,
Olive pits as well.
Every prune and date seed
Every walnut shell.
The magazine article explained that “200 peach pits or seven pounds of nut shells produced enough carbon for one filter for a solider’s gas mask” (GS Collector’s Guide, p. 87). With the German military deploying highly toxic chlorine gas against the Allied troops, the Red Cross and other organizations launched peach pit collection drives across the country, according to The Atlantic magazine.
The Girl Scouts rose to the occasion, and three Washington, DC, Girl Scouts — all under age 13 — were declared “Peace Pit Champions.”
Hopefully we won’t have to resort to fruit as protective gear but if so, the Girl Scouts are ready.
Many troops had to cancel cookie booths due to social distancing. You can purchase cookies online and have them delivered to first responders, food banks, or yourself!
Does anyone remember the golden pins offered for adult service? There were two programs available between 1987 and 2005.
The Leadership Development Pin was introduced in 1987. A similar Volunteer Development Pin was released in 2003. Both were designed to emphasize long-time service and to be worn for many years.
Leadership Development Pin
The Leadership Development Pin featured a brown owl on a gold metal circle. Five holes had been punched at the bottom of the pin in anticipation of future attachments. Green, silver, and gold leaves could be attached as leaders accumulated credentials.
There were four steps to earning the basic, golden circle pin.
Complete one year as a troop leader or co-leader.
Complete basic leadership training.
Attend at least two meetings or events beyond the troop, such as service unit meetings, council annual meetings, or Thinking Day celebrations.
Secure camp certified and first aid trained adults for the troop.
Once the basic pin was completed, leaves could be awarded for additional training. One green leaf signified ten hours. Five green leaves could be exchanged for one silver leaf; five silvers (250 hours) merited one gold leaf.
The big problem with the “Owl Pin” was the leaves. They were tiny; no larger than a grain of rice. The main pin itself was less than an inch in diameter. Thus, by the time members accumulated silver and gold leaves, they needed reading glasses.
At least one of my leaves was possessed by demons. That’s the only explanation for the chaos that ensued the last time I tried to attach a new leaf:
Step 1: Gather pins, leaves, and jewelry tools.
Step 2: Recoil in horror as one leaf flies out of your fingers.
Step 3: Shake keyboard vigorously to remove leaf now lodged between keys. Retrieve and repeat.
Step 4: Attach leaf. Scowl as pinback snaps off, leaving a useless disc.
Fly Away, Fly Away
Like too many Girl Scout programs, the Leadership Development pin was never officially discontinued. It was last seen in the 2005 Girl Scout catalog.
Volunteer Service Award
The 2003 catalog introduced a new recognition, the Volunteer Service Award. Dubbed the “key pin,” it was even more complicated (and expensive) than the owl pin series.
The Volunteer pin continued the pin + dangles concept but focused on non-troop service. The main pin could be earned by completing one year:
On a board committee
On an appointed task group
On a service unit management team
On an association team or
As a GSUSA National Operational Volunteer.
After earning the main pin, volunteers could earn keys for additional service:
White: GS Mentoring Award
Black: GS Executive Award
Gold: GS Diversity Award
Silver: GS Community Cultivation
Copper: GS Fund Development
I could provide more detailed explanations of these categories, but typing them out would require more time than the pin was in existence. It also disappeared after 2005.
Alas, I am leafless and keyless
After the Great Leaf Debacle, I didn’t bother with the key pin. I don’t think many other volunteers did either.
Some programs never die, they just get stuck in the nooks and crannies of keyboards, junk drawers, backpacks, and couch cushions.
In the final days of World War II, the Girl Scouts of the USA dispatched six professional workers to war-torn Europe. Their official status was “on loan” to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA).
Two of the six women worked for the national organization. By far the best-known of the group, Catherine T. Hammett was a renowned expert in camping. She was joined by Katherine McCullough a GSUSA field adviser.
The other four women had been council executive directors: Eleanor Ault, (Albany, New York); Dorothy Donnell (Orange, New Jersey); Grace Hast (Lincoln, Nebraska); and Marion Sloan (Kansas City, Missouri).
Hammett became director of social services at a Greek refugee camp in Palestine. She wrote a lengthy article in the December 1944 issue of Leader, with vivid descriptions of the terrain, flora, and fauna. The author of Campcraft ABCs, Hammett also wrote about the tents, makeshift stoves, and more in the refugee camps.
Ault, Donnell, and Hast took charge of welfare needs at smaller refugee camps, reporting to Hammett. McCullough and Sloan were posted to Yugoslav refugee camps in Egypt.
While international relief organizations set up schools, hospitals, sewing rooms, the Girl Scouts organized recreation and vocational training for refugee children. In time, they laid the groundwork for establishing Girl Scout and Boy Scout programs in the region.
On September 29, 1945, Eleanor Ault and 2nd Lt. Arlene Waldhaus of the US Public Health Service were aboard a 3,330-ton British ship, the Empire Patrol, accompanying 562 Greek refugees, including 200 children, across the Mediterranean Sea.
Around noon, as Eleanor locked the recreation room, she heard a commotion on a lower deck. She rushed to the scene to see flames sprouting from the starboard side of the ship.
Instead of paraphrasing the ensuing events, I will reprint the cable that UNRAA sent to GSUSA following the incident:
Immediately [Eleanor] began directing refugees in use of fire extinguishers. Flames starred coming from starboard side. Ault was one of those who prevented panic among refugees by calming, answering questions, distributing lifebelts, helping load lifeboats. Fire spread rapidly.
Captain asked Ault to accompany refugees in lifeboat and therein take charge. Line jammed on her boat as it was lowered, pulley had to be knocked off and boat dropped into sea. At this time whole ship was blazing.
At short distance from ship she picked up old man, young man and boy. Little farther off found several more and overtook another lifeboat overloaded with survivors. She transferred some, instructed others how to bail, get out oars. …
Altogether she rescued 35 — many been clinging defective rafts. Sea was very rough, consequently there was danger capsizing. At 4:oo P.M. Aircraft Carrier Trouncer arrived near burning ship; but as darkness fell lifeboats and rafts drifted apart, Ault being steadied by refugee men at oars.
As red distress lantern in boat failed, Ault improvised flare from kapok ripped out of life preserver which she soaked in kerosene and hung on boat hook which led plane circling overhead locating position of lifeboat. At 8:oo P.M. searchlights of Afghanistan picked out lifeboat and after Ault and man and boys climbed aboard, baskets were lowered for women and children. Afghanistan was one of first to reach Port Said [Egypt]
Leader (November 1945): 11.
Of the 913 passengers, only 57 perished.
Wow. Let’s pause and take that in for a moment ….
Makes surviving cookie season pretty tame, doesn’t it?
The Girl Scouts were extremely proud of Eleanor, awarding her a citation reading “For distinguished service rendered in the saving of lives on the ill-fated “Empire Patrol.”
Born in Chicago in 1909, Eleanor graduated from De Pauw University. She became a Girl Scout professional in 1932. Following her stint with UNRRA, she moved to England, where she became one of the first participants in a US-UK trainer exchange program. During that time, she also attended the International Training Conference at Our Chalet, Switzerland.
Eleanor returned to the United States in 1947, taking a volunteer development post in Oklahoma. She eventually returned to Albany, New York, where she died in 1994.
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
The pin is engraved “Suncoast Girl Scout Council,” but the seller had no information about its origins.
A few weeks ago I received an email from Terri Costello, the special events manager for Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. Suncoast was one of the councils that merged to create West Center Florida during realignment.
Terri had recognized the pin immediately. It is presented each year to the council’s Women of Distinction. Many councils have similar programs to recognize inspiring women.
This event is held each year to honor and celebrate local women who have achieved success in their chosen fields and serve as inspiring role models for girls and other women in our local communities, each exemplifying ethical leadership and a commitment to making a difference in the lives of their fellow citizens through community service.
While the Suncoast program dates to 1992, the pin, designed by Tampa artist Karen Arch, and was introduced in 2002.
I am delighted that even though I am not a “Woman of Distinction,” Terri has given me permission to continue wearing it with pride. In fact, I think I’ll wear it today!
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 Kahler, top left, at the 1927 White House Easter Egg Roll with First Lady Grace Coolidge and Rebecca the White House Racoon.
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.
Elizabeth carefully preserved her Red Cross home nurse certificate.
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.
Dr. Elizabeth Kahler Chapman
I guess those Red Cross courses made a significant impression on Miss Kahler.
While that news was not entirely a surprise, I have been shocked by much of the media coverage. In newspapers, on television, and across the internet, I’ve seen the same question, “Why would girls want to join the Boy Scouts?” The immediate answer is almost always “so they can earn the Eagle Scout,” followed by a long ode to its amazingness.
Over and over, reporters insist that the Girl Scouts have no equivalent award. I have grown hoarse screaming at the television, GOLD AWARD, GOLD AWARD, GOLD AWARD.
Despite celebrating the centennial of the highest awards last year, public awareness still is lacking. We know the reasons, such as the penchant for renaming the highest award every 10 years or so.
But inspired by our founder and her playful spirit, I hereby pledge to change how I speak about the Gold Award. For too long, I’ve described it as “Eagle Scout for girls.” No more.
JGL was known for standing on her head, an unexpected move that livened up any dull meeting. So I am going to do a 180-turn in how I approach these prestigious awards. The Gold Award should exist on its own, it should not need to be defined in relation to another award. It is not a feminized version of a male award. It’s not an Eagle in a dress.
The Gold Award for Boys
From now on, I will describe Eagle Scout as the “Gold Award for boys.”