The History of Our Own Badges

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 council.

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 (1958-2010)

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 actual requirements.

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.

Selection of Our Own Troop’s Badges

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 badge’!”

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.

Blank Badges Used for “Our Own” Badges

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 (2012-2014)

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 program noted:

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 archive.

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 consider it.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Favorite Pin Identified

Three years ago I shared my favorite piece of Girl Scout memorabilia. It is a sterling silver and brass brooch that I found on eBay.

 

 

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.

GSCWCF website

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!

©2018 Ann Robertson

Putting a Name to a Familiar Face

Recently I wrote about the disappointment in having to pass on an overpriced piece of local council history.

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.

Kahler Scrapbook

The first clipping, on the first page, I immediately recognized:

Kahler Gollden Eaglet

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.

Coolidge Raccoon

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.

Coolidge Autograph

The book is stuffed with more clippings, invitations, letters, and badge records.

Kahler Red Cross

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!

GS Bugle 9 issues

GS Bugle InfoThese 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.

Eliz Kahler Chapman

Dr. Elizabeth Kahler Chapman

I guess those Red Cross courses made a significant impression on Miss Kahler.

© 2018 Ann Robertson

A Pledge for Founder’s Day

JGL

Juliette Gordon Low

As any Girl Scout will tell you, October 31 is more than just Halloween. It also is the birthday of our founder. Juliette Gordon Low was born on October 31, 1860, in Savannah, Georgia.

Today the movement she began in 1912 faces a new challenge, with the recent announcement that the Boy Scouts are opening membership to girls

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.

gold patchDespite 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.

Eagle_Scout_medal_(Boy_Scouts_of_America)

The Gold Award for Boys

From now on, I will describe Eagle Scout as the “Gold Award for boys.”

Who’s with me?

©2017 Ann Robertson

Older Girl Program is History 

One discussion at the October 2017 National Council Session acknowledged the severe lack of programs for older girls in grades 6-12.

That is old news for anyone who has led a teen troop in the past decade.

When new badges were introduced for all levels in late 2011, many teen girls (or at least those in my troop) were very disappointed. The new badges were divided by age level. Cadettes (grades 6-8) are diamond-shaped. Seniors (grades 9-10) are rectangular, while Ambassadors (11-12) are weird squares with clipped corners. Previously, the teen levels had shared the same recognitions, which was great for multi-level troops.

(Confused by all of the terms tossed around for badges? Check this old post: Badges, and Try-Its, and IPs, Oh My/)

Ambassadors were especially disappointed. While Brownies, Juniors, and Seniors, each had 26 new badges, and Cadettes (the only three-year level) had 28, Ambassadors had a paltry 11. Officially, we were told that was because Ambassadors were more focused on their Gold Award than earning badges. Unofficially, I’m yet to find any Ambassador who agrees with that statement.

Junior badges 2010

Junior badge options before 2011

 

Juniors 2011

Junior badges introduced in 2011, replacing those above

 

What were teen girls to do? The answer was visible all over the teen vests and sashes worn at the Columbus convention.

Many girls earn old badges. The rectangular badges, previously known as Interest Projects, were released in 1980. They were updated in a handbook issued in 1997, 20 years ago. Go back and re-read that sentence. Girl have resorted to earning badges issued before they were born. While some hold up well, others have hilariously outdated requirements:

Learn about the options for accessing the World Wide Web. Can you use a computer through your school, library, community center, or Girl Scout center? Is one available through a computer club business or nonprofit organization?

Exploring the Net

Many vests also are full of Council’s Own badges. These recognitions (my favorite) were developed by local councils to fill gaps in the national offerings. They were to have been discontinued in 2012.

 

Vest2 labels

Only one of these 18 badges is part of the current program. Some were issued in 1980!

 

Industrious leaders haunt eBay, Facebook, and other sites, where there literally is a black market (green market?) in discontinued badges.

I do NOT have any Council’s Owns for sale, but I do have a website that archives the images and requirements. Please assume that these badges are discontinued and do not call council shops asking about them. (I wish that instead of sending me snippy emails about people calling to purchase them, councils would take the hint and reissue them or create a similar patch program.)

Some troops make their own badges, once known as Troop’s Own, which used to be a first step in creating a Council’s Own. I created five programs for my troop and day camp units, but the patches are large and intended for the back of the vest.

Another option can be found on Facebook, where individuals and private groups such as “Artistry to Stitch About” have recreated some popular old Council’s Owns badges as well as writing some programs of their own. While the latter are made in the same shapes as official badges from GSUSA, technically they should be considered patches and go on the back of sashes and vests because they have not been approved by a council. However, that message doesn’t always reach the girl or parent doing the sewing.

Instead of launching into debates about official and unofficial, front or back, we should focus on the real issue: current badge offerings are insufficient.  While the annual “girls’ choice” badges are a great idea, they have not satisfied leaders’ and girls’ appetites for badges.

Take a look at this vest I saw in Columbus. (I went through the Hall of Experiences asking girls if I could photograph their vests.) There are 32 badges total:

  • 9 Interest Projects from the 1997-2011 series (retired)
  • 14 Council’s Owns (retired)
  • 5 Troop’s Owns
  • 4 Artistry to Stitch About

That summarizes the situation about the number of badges available. Without sales figures, I cannot gauge popularity. But this informal survey certainly suggests that current offerings are inadequate. I’ve seen Brownies and Juniors with older badges, too, but nowhere near as many as teens.

It’s time to stop talking about the need for programs designed for older girls and start actually creating them.

Don’t even get me started on the merits of colorful, embroidered badges versus dull, soulless silk-screened badges. Gag, barf, spit.

©2017 Ann Robertson

The Original Girl Scout Ambassadors

IMG_4517

Ambassador Program Patches

Who were the first Girl Scout Ambassadors?  If you said 11th and 12th graders, you’d be wrong.

 

While GSUSA did introduce the Ambassador program level in 2008, the name “Ambassador” was first used in 1975.

GSUSA introduced the first Ambassador program as part of a larger project to improve retention. Estimating that one out of every four families moves each year, this program encouraged girls who moved to a new town to join Girl Scouting in their new neighborhood. Instead of being the “new girl,” the traveling Girl Scout became a more prestigious-sounding “Ambassador for Scouting.”

To be an Ambassador, a girl must be helped to recognize that one of the most important things in the mission of Scouting is to be aware of the different customs and values of different groups in her community. That was one of the ideas Juliette Gordon Low had when she started the Girl Scout movement back in 1912. She hoped then, and we hope now, that Scouting will make girls more sensitive to differences in the way of life in our communities and our nation.

Leader Magazine (October 1975): 18.

The patch requirements had two parts.  First, the arriving girl would share something about her former community, such as a popular tradition or celebration, with her new troop.

Second, the girls welcoming her would then share a similar tradition or event celebrated in her new community. Together, they would prepare a report on these differences and send it to the former troop. Members of the new troop would then be eligible for the Ambassador Aide patch.

download

Maybe a Girl Scout moving van would help us track members who move to new towns! (Van from Girl Scouts of River Valleys)

Leaders could request an Ambassador Program application form from their council. Girls entered their current and new address on the form and send it to GSUSA. New York would forward it to the appropriate council, which would invite the Ambassador girl to a new troop.

When introducing the new program, Leader magazine encouraged troop leaders to focus on the many holiday traditions celebrated in December and January.  Sample questions showed a deliberate effort at multiculturalism and inclusion:

  • On what day is Christmas celebrated? On what or days is Chanukah celebrated? Does the celebration begin some time in December, as it might in families with a Dutch or Belgian or Scandinavian background? Does it continue until January 6th, as it does in many families whose ancestors came from Italy or Mexico? And on what day to the children exchange gifts? When is the Chinese New Year?
  • Where do all the different customs connected with the holidays (lighted trees, mistletoe, reindeer, lighted candles, fireworks, dragons, and tribal dance) come from? Do all families everywhere observe the same customs? Why do some of them observe them differently?
  • What about different kinds of special foods prepared during the holidays?

The yellow ribbon patches were intended for the back of the badge sash and cost one dime each.

This first version of the Ambassador program lasted until 1979. A similar program, with a booklet and button pinback, was offered in 1985-1986.

The foundations of these programs are still valid in the second century of Girl Scouting. We need to improve retention, and we need to encourage tolerance and diversity to truly “make the world a better place.”

As Juliette said over 100 years ago, “To put yourselves in another’s place requires real imagination but by doing so, each Girl Scout will be able to live among others happily.”

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

 

 

Meet Minnie Hill

Wednesday began as an ordinary work day at the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland.

GS-1B

Girl Scout Uniform, 1917-1919

While chatting over recent trips and eclipse plans, committee members worked to update the badge and patch collection and to continue processing the extensive donation of vintage Girl Scout and Girl Guide uniforms that we received in April. (With over 100 uniforms, it is a long, but fascinating task.)

We focused on one of the vintage suitcases that came with the collection.  (Even the suitcases are in pristine shape.) There were about a dozen bags to go through.

First, we found the tiniest khaki uniform I’ve ever seen. Skirt, jacket, even the bloomers were included. It appears home-made.

Then I heard someone yell, “Look at the badges!” One sleeve of the uniform was covered with an impressive, colorful record of hard work.

Minnie Hill Sleeve

Elusive White Felt badges: (from top left clockwise): Clerk, Civics, Matron Housekeeper, Attendance, Signaling, Dairy Maid, and Laundress (GSCNC Archives)

Yes, those are seven White Felt badges–the rarest of rare Girl Scout badges, available only from 1913 to 1918. The seven new White Felts bring our total number to — 10!

But when we turned the jacket over, we got an even bigger surprise:

Minnie Hill Pins

Minnie Hill’s Golden Eaglet, Buttercup Troop Crest, War Service Pin, and US Treasury War Service Award (GSCNC Archives)

According to a tattered paper in the suitcase, the uniform belonged to Minnie Hill.

Of course, this called for more research.

The included paper had three typed paragraphs, two faded newspaper clippings, and one ripped photo. They reported that Minnie Hill attended Central High School in Washington, DC, and was a Girl Scout in Troop 9 from 1917 to 1919.

She received her First Class badge from Mrs. Woodrow Wilson at a White House ceremony 100 years ago — on June 21, 1917.

Two years later she was back at the White House, this time to receive her Golden Eaglet from Queen Elizabeth of Belgium on October 31, 1919. The Queen, her husband, and their son were touring the United States at the time, and her participation in the ceremony had a special significance for Minnie, as Troop 9 had practiced their sewing and knitting skills by making layette sets for newborns in Belgium.

A Washington Times article about the 1919 ceremony noted that Minnie had earned 19 badges; all of which are still on her uniform sleeve.

In between those awards, Minnie was recognized for selling Liberty Bonds during World War I. The Washington Post reported that she had sold eleven war bonds for a total of $900. In addition to a medal, high sellers usually were honored with a parade. Alas, the 1918 parade was canceled due to the Spanish flu outbreak.

Sadly, our photo of Minnie is torn, crumbling, and not terribly useful. Attempts to repair it have done more harm than good:

Minnie Hill 3

I searched the electronic archives of three different Washington newspapers, but did not find the photo.

Then I had another idea. That ceremony in 1917 was well documented. In fact, it was the ceremony where two Washington scouts, Eleanor Putzki and Ruth Colman received their Golden Eagles of Merit. Could Minnie be in one of those photos?

Here is the group shot from after the Court of Awards:

 

10606v

White House Court of Awards, June 21, 1917. That’s Ruth Colman front and center, with her sleeve full of badges and her Golden Eagle of Merit pin. (Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection)

 

Take a closer look at the young lady on the back row, far left. I think that is Minnie Hill.

History hasn’t lost her after all.

©2017 Ann Robertson