God Bless America and the Girl Scouts

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

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

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

A Gift to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Greater New York City

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

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

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

Boy Scout Royalties Withheld

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless the Girl Scouts, indeed.

©2021 Ann Robertson

Halston Designs for the Girl Scouts

Halston Designs for the Girl Scouts

I’ve written about the Girl Scout tie-ins to the PBS mini-series Atlantic Crossing. But wait …. that’s not the only current TV series with a Girl Scout connection.

Netflix has released a series about fashion designer Halston. Ewan McGregor plays the titular character.

The PR folks at Netflix have done a splendid job of drumming up interest in a man who died in 1990.

portrait of Roy Halston
Halston, 1978

The New York Times, Washington Post, Esquire, The New Yorker, Variety, and other news outlets took the hint and have recently published features about Halston’s career. Much is made of his glamorous friends and wild nights at Studio 54. Liza, Liza, Liza.

As far as I can tell, one major project has been overlooked in the accompanying Halston media campaign–and I highly doubt it will be mentioned in the TV series.

Believe it or not, Halston designed uniforms for adult Girl Scouts. Girl Scout executives approached him about the project, and he agreed to do so on a pro bono basis. Normally, his fee would have been between $50,000 and $100,000.

He was enthusiastic about the Girl Scout project.

The Girl Scouts are a terrific organization and anyone who could help them should.

Bernadine Morris, “No Sequins This Time,” New York Times (May 17, 1978): C9.

Young Roy Halston Frowick was an Eagle Scout himself.

Why did the Girl Scouts seek a high-end fashion brand, such as a Halston design?

This was not the first time. Earlier adult uniforms were designed by Mainbocher (left) and Stella Sloat (center). In the 1980s, Bill Blass created a wardrobe for leaders (right).

GSUSA gave its own answer in Leader Magazine:

Why? Because you wanted a uniform that was high-fashion, but not too “way out”–a uniform for today’s woman. Involved. Efficient. Alive!

Leader, May/June 1978.

The results debuted in May 1978.

The collection was made of sage green polyester gabardine fabric with mix and match pieces. An ivory blouse and scarf completed the look.

Braniff airlines flight attendant uniform by Halston
Braniff uniform by Halston

The design was quite similar to the brown Braniff flight attendant uniform that Halston designed one year before the Girl Scout ensemble.

Some of the headwear, however, seems out of place. The woman on the right in the Girl Scout photo is wearing a pillbox hat. That makes sense as Halston’s big break came in designing the pillbox hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore at the 1961 Presidential Inauguration.

But what IS that headgear on the left? It appears to be a visor, and indeed it is a visor. There is no good explanation for the visor. Visors are worn on tennis courts and golf greens, not in board rooms or committee meetings. The whole visor idea must have been conceived during one of Halston’s cocaine-booze-rent boy binges. Or, perhaps it came during a hangover, as it certainly is nausea-inducing.

Adult Girl Scouts model the Halston pillbox hat and visor
Look at those hats!

It must not have been popular, either. When the Nassau County (NY) Museum of Art held a Halston retrospective in 2017, finding a visor for the Girl Scout exhibit took all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men to locate.

Given the, um, colorful life of Halston depicted in the Netflix series, perhaps it is just as well that there isn’t a scene with the Girl Scouts.

©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

Put the Boy Back in Scouting

This week Girl Scouts of the USA filed a trademark lawsuit against the Boy Scouts.

Specifically, GSUSA objects to the other organization’s new name, Scouts BSA. Members would be known as “Scouts.” The Boy Scouts embraced this new name following its 2017 decision to admit girls to its ranks.

GSUSA argues that the gender-neutral “Scouts BSA” is confusing. The public might mistakenly believe that the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have merged into a new organization or that the Girl Scouts no longer exist.

According to the complaint (Case 1:18-cv-10287):

BSA does not have the right under either federal or New York law to use terms like SCOUTS or SCOUTING by themselves in connection with services offered to girls, or to rebrand itself as “the Scouts” and thereby falsely communicate to the American public that it is now the organization exclusively associated with leadership development services offered under that mark to girls.  Such misconduct will not only cause confusion among the public, damage the goodwill of GSUSA’s GIRL SCOUTS trademarks, and erode its core brand identity, but it will also marginalize the GIRL SCOUTS Movement by causing the public to believe that GSUSA’s extraordinarily successful services are not true or official “Scouting” programs, but niche services with limited utility and appeal.

The Boy Scouts have long clouded the waters by appropriating “scouting” for its online identity. The organization’s URL is http://www.scouting.org, not http://www.boyscouts.org. (Girl Scouts use http://www.girlscouts.org.)

What is a Trademark?

Trademarks are names. Trademark infringement is a form of identity theft. If you discovered someone using your name, you’d tell them to knock it off too.

According to the website Market Business News:
Trademark

A trademark is a sign or symbol we can use to distinguish our business’ goods or services from those of other enterprises. It is a symbol, word or words legally registered or established by long-term use as representing a company or its product.
Market Business News

Here We Go Again

Girl Scouts of the USA is 106 years old. It has had name disputes with the Boy Scouts for at least 105 years.

For years, BSA Chief James E. West repeatedly threatened to sue the Girl Scouts because our use of the term “sissified” and “trivialized” the word “scout.”  In 1924 he even had a lawsuit drawn up, but never filed it.

I recently discovered another identity crisis in the minutes of the January 1978 GSUSA Board of Directors meeting:

“Reports have been received from councils about the use of this term which is confusing to local committees. No meeting has been arranged as yet with the Boy Scout President. The United Way has been inadvertently promoting Scouting/USA and has been made aware of the problem and our position. The Board will be kept informed of any further developments.”

GSUSA Board of Directors meeting minutes, January 1978

Boy_Scouts_of_America_Scouting_USA_1972-1987In 1977, the Boy Scouts rebranded themselves as “Scouting/USA.” Officials explained that the word “boy” offended minority troops and girls in Explorer posts. They also regarded Scouting/USA as an umbrella term that would encompass Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Explorers. That very same argument has been offered to justify the current Scouts BSA label.

The result was confusion, as indicated by the Board Minutes. The Girl Scouts objected, and the new name faded into obscurity.

Hopefully, this latest round will be settled quickly and amicably as well.

More on Intellectual Property

Trademarks, like copyright and patent, are all forms of intellectual property. Juliette Gordon Low was awarded two patents herself, one for the membership pin and one for a freestanding trash can.

JGL_Patents

To help teach girls about these concepts, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and the US Patent and Trademark Office teamed up in 2012 to create a patch program.

Troops in Nation’s Capital can borrow a program kit to earn the patch. The USPTO
also has information about the program available online.

 

©2018 Ann Robertson

Revisiting Boypower 76

The Boy Scouts plan to admit girls into their ranks. Again.

The national office of the Boy Scouts of America recently announced that girls will be able to join Cub Scout packs this fall. Under a new program category called “Scouts BSA,” girls will be able to rise through the ranks in the coming years, all the way to Eagle (in other words, the Gold Award for boys). The expansion campaign will be known as “Scout Me In.”

 

 

But while proclaiming the move as a victory for inclusion, equality, and parental convenience, Cub Scout packs will be single-sex only.  This paradox either confirms the value of single-gender group or indicates that Cub Scouts are afraid of girl cooties.

Including Some Girls

This is not the first time that the Boy Scouts have provided a participation option to girls.

 

On October 17, 1968, the Boy Scout organization launched a new membership initiative called “Boypower 76.” The ambitious program set national goals to be achieved by the US Bicentennial Celebration of 1976. Specifically, (1) Expand membership so that one of every three American boys is enrolled. That would require adding 2 million new Boy Scouts by 1976. (2) Double council budgets to a combined level of $150 million.

New members would be recruited through two efforts: establishing troops in inner cities and retaining older boys by allowing girls to participate in the special-interest, career-focused segment of the Explorers program. In other words, girls and ghettos.

The Girl Scouts outlined this new initiative in the October 1969 Leader magazine. According  to the article, potential female Explorer participants must be:

  • registered Girl Scouts or Camp Fire Girls
  • invited to join by a post sponsor
  • in high school, unmarried [!!], and at least 14 years old

In addition,

Participants will not become members of the Boy Scouts of America and will not pay a membership fee to the Boy Scouts of America. (They may pay post dues and “pay their own way” for activities and events.)

Leader (October 1969): 55.

The national slogan for Boypower 76 was “America’s Manpower Begins with Boypower.”  What girl wouldn’t feel welcomed by that greeting?

A key difference between the 1968 announcement and those of 2017 and 2018 is that the earlier expansion news was delivered in a joint statement from the national presidents of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls.  Furthermore, the cooperation proposal originated with the Girl Scouts.

 

The_Cincinnati_Enquirer_Sun__Nov_3__1968_

Cincinnati Enquirer Sun (November 3, 1968)

 

Not everyone was pleased with including girls in 1968, prompting a Boy Scout spokesman to reassure the faithful, “We are not going to try to build girls. Our business still is boys.”  Then why add girls? According to BSA chief executive Alden Barber, it was to improve older boy retention.

Young men are interested in young women.

–Alden Barber

This statement makes girls sound like recruitment incentives, not a group worthy of program initiatives.

Membership Quotas

Councils were given strict monthly and annual membership goals to keep them on track to achieve the expansion envisioned in Boypower 76. As the girls were only Explorer “participants,” not members, presumably the main source for new members would be high-poverty pockets in both urban and rural areas.

 

The strategies mentioned in the press reeks of racism and do-goodism. A widely syndicated New York Times article from February 1970 discourages block-by-block recruiting for new Boy Scouts because it might trigger gang conflicts; a new handbook in comic book format appropriate for “youngsters with a minimum of education”; and badges that include treating rat bites.

By April 1971, girls could be full members of Explorer posts, thereby contributing to the overall membership goals.

The Controversial Collapse of Boypower

BSA canceled the Boypower program two years early, amid widespread reports of inflated membership numbers.  Articles in the New York Daily News, the Central New Jersey Home News, and many other newspapers enumerated the problems. The Chicago council was accused of selling one-month memberships for ten cents; other councils for inventing names to register. At least 13 major cities were discovered to have falsified records, involving some 30,000-40,000 “phantom” scouts.

Furthermore, only about half of the $65 million fundraising goal was met, and much of that was from long-time donors who directed their gifts to the national organization instead of the local council.

Looking Ahead

I will be watching the rollout of “Scout Me In” closely. This initiative also comes at a time of falling membership among the Boy Scouts, and I certainly prefer enrolling real children who will actually participate instead of inventing new members.

It is also important to note that the Boy Scouts are enrolling girls, not necessarily Girl Scouts. I have not seen any statement preventing girls from being members of both organizations. There have always been “bi-Scoutal” girls enrolled in both Girl Scouts and Venturing, the current incarnation of the Explorer program.

Personally, I’ll stick with Girl Scouting. I have a hard time seeing myself as a welcome, valued member of any organization whose very name fails to include me. Girls are more than just membership statistics. Girls, and especially Girl Scouts, are great!

Girls Great

© 2018, Ann Robertson

 

 

Putting Our Priorities First: Girls

For the 80th anniversary of Girl Scouting in 1992, the Girl Scouts of the USA adopted a new slogan, “The Girl Comes First in Girl Scouting.”

This clear statement of the movement’s priorities was available on patches, magnets, and pins.

 

Girls Come First

80th Anniversary slogan patch (1982)

As we face increasing challenges to our movement, I invite you to download this image and declare your priorities on social media. Post the patch!!

©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