Letters from Camp #2

Today’s camper missives come from Rockwood, a national camp outside Washington DC from 1938 to 1978. These young ladies used picture postcards purchased at the Rockwood Trading Post.

 

Manor House

Rockwood Manor Postcard (GSCNC Archives)

 

Dear Aunt Elsie,

I left Wed. after lunch and should be back Friday night. While here we will see the FBI, National Archives, Bureau of Engraving and all the monuments, we will go to the Wax Museum and eat there. This is the place we are staying at and it’s as beautiful inside as it is outside.

Much love,

Barbara

October 1966

 

Weston Lodge

Weston Lodge, Rockwood National Camp (GSCNC Archives)

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

We’re having a great time. We heard about the tornado, it sounds like a bad one.

We’re going into Washington now and I can’t write very good. This is a picture of the lodge we are staying at. Well, I’ll write soon.

Nancy

April 1965

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Letters from Camp, #1

Girl Scout summer camps are in full swing by mid-July, and even in the digital age girls are encouraged to write letters home. A few lucky girls may even be asked to write about their experiences for local newspapers.

I thought I would share a few from our archives. This report appeared in the Washington Post, September 14, 1930, and I’ve added some photos from various scrapbooks.

My Summer at Camp

by Helen Sheets (age 13)

1831 Lamont Street NW

Washington, DC

Old CMF Sign

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

This summer I went to Camp May Flather for a month. It is a Girl Scout camp near Stokesville Va on the North River. We lived in log cabins that faced the river, and ate in one big mess hall. Our camp uniform was a green suit of middy and shorts.

There were two different classes going on in the morning and two in the afternoon, and we could pick one in the morning and one in the afternoon to go to, like: campcraft, handcraft, weaving, or some others.

 

Swimming lesson (GSCNC Archives)

Swimming Test (GSCNC Archives)

In swimming we were divided into three groups beginners, intermediates, and· advanced and we all went swimming in one pool but at different times.

 

CMFHorseRiding258040

Ready for an overnight trip, 1930s (GSCNC Archives)

We had horses up there three days a week that we could ride if we wanted to. I went with a group of girls up to Pioneer Camp for three days where only the girls that have passed all their camp craft tests can go We got red ties as a kind of badge to show that we had been up there.

I went with a group of girls up to Pioneer Camp for three days where only the girls that have passed all their campcraft tests can go. We got red ties as a kind of badge to show that we had been up there.

LHH Crossing Bridge

Lou Henry Hoover strides across the bridge that she donated (GSCNC Archives)

The big event of the season was the dedication ceremonies.  Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Flather and some other important people came up and we had a program in their honor. Mrs. Hoover also dedicated a bridge that she had given to the camp.

We also had a water carnival, a wedding between the old and new campers and lots of other things.

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Circus night at camp, 1938 (GSCNC Archives)

Camp was not all play though, we had to do kitchen duty about once a week and dishes about twice a week. We also had our cabins inspected every morning and they had to be just right.

We got in lots of mischief too, like powder fights, mud fights, midnight feasts, and sliding down a mountain on a clean pair of pants, and lots of other things.

In all I had a wonderful time in spite of all the scrapes I got into.

Here is a poem I wrote about The Camp:

CAMP

After all is said and done,

I had really lots of fun.

Though I got in many a scrape,

I came out of them first rate.

I hope next summer I can go,

To camp instead of Chicago.

©2017 Ann Robertson

My Afternoon with Frances Hesselbein

FH Portrait

Frances Hesselbein (Hesselbein Institute)

I never met Juliette Gordon Low, of course, but last week I came pretty close. I had the privilege of spending part of the day with Frances Hesselbein at her office in Manhattan. Few individuals have had as great an impact on the Girl Scout movement as this gracious lady.

Mrs. Hesselbein was the GSUSA National Executive Director from 1976 to 1990. Her first day on the job, in fact, was July 4, 1976. Today she is the director of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.

I had asked to interview her about the decision to sell Rockwood National Center in 1978. But we soon moved on to the many highlights and happier memories from her time at GSUSA.

She presided over many milestones, some more popular than others, including implementing circular management principles, introducing the Worlds to Explore program, reconfiguring the Edith Macy Center into a year-round training facility, and the introduction of the contemporary (three faces) logo. Some of her favorite memories include:

Halston Uniform

Mrs. H (“Frances” just seems too informal!) had just returned from visiting a Halston retrospective exhibition at the Nassau County (NY) Museum of Art. The famous fashion designer had created a stylish collection of adult uniforms in 1978, and Mrs. H vividly recalled participating in that process. She also let me borrow the gorgeous exhibit catalog.

Camping

FH_CampBlueKuow

The diverse staff of Camp Blue Knob, circa 1952 (Hesselbein Institute)

I had submitted my resume, Rockwood book outline and synopsis, and several other documents in advance, and Mrs. H immediately noted that we both had experience as camp staff, making us both survivors of that trial by fire. She shared with me several staff photos from her time directing Camp Blue Knob in western Pennsylvania and pointed out the unusual racial diversity of the group for the early 1950s. She also had a photo from the summer 2016 camp out on the White House Lawn.

White House Honors

JAN15,1998 copy

Frances Hesselbein and President Bill Clinton (Hesselbein Institute)

While Mrs. H never camped on the White House lawn — that I know of — she has been a frequent visitor. But few visits can top one in 1998, when President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. (Juliette Gordon Low was posthumously awarded the medal in 2012.) The beautiful medal is prominently displayed in her office.

 

 

 

Diversity

While her Girl Scout camp was integrated in the early 1950s, society lagged behind. Mrs. Hesselbein recalled that she could not eat with her African-American staff members at any restaurant in any nearby town.

With that camp experience in mind, one of her priorities as head of GSUSA was to reach out to all girls, especially girls in historically underserved communities.  When she began at GSUSA, the organization was 95% white; fourteen years later, minority ranks had tripled.

As part of that effort, she sought to have a greater range of images in Girl Scout handbooks and other publications. She wanted any girl, of any background, to be able to find herself in a handbook. New handbooks depicted girls of all skin tones, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all physical abilities — in other words, all girls.

A Secret to Longevity?

Finally, as our conversation drew to a close, I brought up another topic: age. Mrs. Hesselbein is 101 — exactly twice my age.

Of course, many people remark on her extraordinary vigor. But my casual research in recent months has led me to a realization. We Girl Scouts seem to be an exceptionally long-lived group of women.

That holds true for volunteers and long-time staff. I just recently learned of a former Rockwood director who has passed away in February — and wanted it known in her obituary that she lived to 99 years and seven months.  At Nation’s Capital, we lost two past council presidents in recent years — Marguerite Cyr (101) and Bobby Lerch (104).

And the more I investigate, the more very senior Girl Scouts I find. Camping expert Kit Hammett (96); national board member Lillian Gilbreth (93). National presidents Henrietta Bates Brooke (89) and Grace MacNeil (92). But the record, so far, must be Executive Director Dorothy C. Stratton, who passed away at age 107!

 

I would love to see some data on the percentage of our membership over age 90 compared with the general population. That could be quite a retention incentive.

I asked Mrs. Hesselbein what she thought might be behind this possible trend. We came up with the same answer immediately — the girls.

The girls keep us young.

Postscript: No selfies from my visit, some memories are too precious to share. 

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Camping at Sherando Lake, 1951

This week I have been looking through boxes of scrapbooks, binders, and photo albums donated to the Nation’s Capital archives by the family of Jean Boyer Porter.

Sherando Lake Log 1951 page 3

Camping permit for Sherando Lake, VA (GSCNC Archives)

Jean joined the District of Columbia Girl Scouts in the mid-1930s and stayed active for the next 70 years. She also apparently rarely threw anything away. I’ve found kaper charts and shopping lists going back to the mid-1930s.

 

Sherando Lake Log 1951 page 4

Grocery list for trip (GSCNC Archives)


My favorite (so far) is this trip to Sherando Lake in Virginia, August 4-12, 1951. Troop scribe Nancy Brown documented this weekend:

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Fortunately the written account explains that the Senior Girl Scouts found a group of Boy Scouts camping nearby. Guess that’s not Girl Scouts swimming topless in the Sunday August 5 picture!

 

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Who’s That Girl Scout? Virginia Hammerley

VH2-Portrait

Virginia “Ginger” Hammerley, ca. 1932

Virginia Hammerley is one of the most important women in the early years of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.

“Ginger” wasn’t one of Juliette Gordon Low’s debutante friends. She wasn’t a wealthy socialite who could donate buildings with a single check.  She didn’t organize troops in poor neighborhoods.

She was simply a Girl Scout; a teen-age girl who loved her sister scouts and the activities they did together. But she preserved her memories in a series of scrapbooks that provide some of the most extensive documentation of Girl Scout troop life during the Great Depression.

About 10 years ago, a relative of Ginger’s contacted Nation’s Capital. They had five of her scrapbooks; would we like them?  You bet we did!

These five albums are chock full of newspaper clippings, photos, holiday cards, invitations to friends’ weddings, and souvenirs of all kinds.

She was an active troop member, taking part in events held around Washington (click images to enlarge):

 

Earning her Golden Eaglet award:

Visiting the Little House, attending a national convention, and buying a brick for a new national headquarters building:

Ginger was one of the first campers at Camp May Flather when it opened in 1930, attended regular camp reunions, and became a counselor herself.

 

Like any teen-ager, she also saved holiday cards, celebrity photos and more:

Born in 1913, Virginia Hammerley was the only child of Charles and Mabel Hammerley. She grew up at 1819 Ingleside Terrace, NW, Washington, DC.

After graduating from McKinley Technical High School, she took a job with the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia, but she apparently was let go in 1941.

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Hammerley ObitI did a little research to find out what became of Ginger and was so sad to discover that she did not live happily ever after.

After the Girl Scouts, she took a clerical post with the Department of Agriculture.

Her father passed away in 1935 and Ginger and her mother moved. first to Iowa Avenue NW, then into an apartment together at 721 Fern Place NW. Mabel died in 1953.

Two years later, on the night of October 17, 1955, Ginger locked her front door, engaged the night chain, picked up a pistol, and took her own life.

I can only imagine what circumstances led to that fateful night in 1955. After spending so much time reading and handling hundreds of items that she carefully clipped, pasted, and preserved, it feels like losing a dear friend.

Ginger likely had no idea that her memories and mementos would still be around decades later, treasured records used by Girl Scouts and historians. Just this summer a graduate student spent days viewing scanned copies of the scrapbooks for a research project.

Virginia Hammerley may be gone, but she is hardly forgotten.

VH2-2

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Laundry Day with the Girl Scouts

It’s laundry day at the Robertson household. No, I’m not going to tackle that teeming basket of ironing, I’m going to look at Girl Scout laundry badges!

The first handbook, How Girls Can Help Their Country included the Laundress badge. Girls had to:

laundress 1917

Laundress, 1917

  1. Know how to wash and iron a garment, clear starch, and how to do up a blouse.

  2. Press a skirt and coat.

  3. Know how to use soap and starch, how to soften hard water, and how to use a wringer.

 

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After 1938, laundry-related skills were incorporated into other badges, such as Housekeeper. Intermediate Girl Scouts of the 1940s had to learn how to remove a variety of stains (milk, coffee, ink, rust, etc.) and :

 

Assist in a weekly laundering by gathering and assorting the clothes and linens, by washing and ironing some articles with your mother’s permission, and by assorting and putting away the clean laundry.

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Since the 1980s, badges involving clothing have focused more on design and cost than care and cleaning.

One thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find in my Rockwood research is how nice campers managed to look, especially while touring Washington, DC. Whether in a tent or lodge, girls managed to keep their white uniform blouses clean and crisp.

Ironing

Girl Scouts ironing at Skyview Lodge, Rockwood (NHPC)

 

 

Personally, I really like this laundry spoof badge I found on Etsy.  Who knows what all those laundry symbols mean? laundry badge

If anyone would like to do my ironing, I’ll gladly buy one for you!

©2016 Ann Robertson

If I Were CEO of GSUSA

With the search underway for a new Chief Executive Officer at GSUSA, I started thinking about what I would do if I were CEO.

1. Relocate Headquarters

Earlier this year GSUSA announced its intention to sell part of its suite of floors at 420 Fifth Avenue in New York. Why not sell all of it? Let’s relocate to a less expensive, more centralized city, how about Chicago or Memphis or Kansas City? Personally I vote for bringing HQ back to Washington DC.

In addition to corporate offices, archives, and an expanded museum, let’s include a conference center and hostel facilities for traveling troops. Girl Scouting promotes active citizenship, which is enhanced when girls tour the Nation’s Capital and see how our government works. The Rockwood National Program Center served a similar purpose for decades but today still suffers from a lack of public transit options. A better model might be that of the National 4-H Conference Center. Nice, affordable space near public transit.

2. Return to a Skills-based Program

4 levels cover

The October 1963 issue of Leader magazine highlighted new handbooks for all levels.

Girls learn by doing activities, not by reading about them. They like challenges and stretching themselves. Let’s dump the Journeys and emphasize learning by doing with a rich range of badges. Put them all in ONE handbook, available in print and online. As Miss Frizzle always says in the Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” (Wouldn’t Miss Frizz make a great troop leader?) She had great field trips and knew the importance of getting outside.

 

3. Invest in Staff Stability

Girl Scout councils have become pass-through workplaces. Few staff stay as long as two years, regarding the jobs as temporary stages in their careers. But younger doesn’t necessarily mean better in terms of employees; it simply means cheaper. How do we get them to put down roots? We could ask new hires to make a two-year commitment. We could also recruit from another demographic—current volunteers. Would empty-nesters, long-time volunteers whose troops have graduated, be interested? They are already  familiar with the program, so they would have less of a learning curve. We can’t build strong relationships and continuity with fleeting partners.

4. Promote a Culture of Collaboration

The various components of our movement must commit to improving communication, treating others with respect, and not going off to pout in our tents. This is OUR movement. It is up to us to find ways to perpetuate it.

APR23AR07The old recipe for Brownie Stew applies in the conference room as well as the campsite: everyone brings something to the table—new ideas, hard-earned experience, and enthusiasm, to name a few. Just because an adult wasn’t a member as girl doesn’t mean they can’t contribute today.

We must eliminate the fear of being expelled or fired that intimidates leaders and staff into silence.

Staff must learn to value the contribution of volunteers—that means recognizing the hours they serve as well as the dollars they give. Both forms of contribution are equally vital to the future of our movement.

National, council, staff, volunteer, girl—we’re all part of the same big troop.

5. Promote Girl Scout Pride

The Girl Scout uniform is a symbol of an internationally respected organization devoted to the development of girls. Wearing your uniform identifies you as a member of Girl Scouts of the USA and of a worldwide movement rich in tradition. It shows Girl Scout pride and provides for recognition and visibility. (“The Girl Scout Uniform,” Leader Magazine Fall 2003).

TakomaParkUnifThe best way to improve our visibility is to, duh, BE VISIBLE. Part of that means wearing a uniform. The public won’t know what we’re doing if they don’t realize who we are. This includes staff, perhaps just one or two days a week, but we’re all in this together. Plus, uniforms are one segment of merchandise whose profits go to GSUSA. Is it a coincidence that the budget deficits swelled when uniforms were all but eliminated?

Getting off my soapbox now. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the members or staff of my council, my family, or even my cats.

GSUSA Executive Search Team: Interested? You know where to find me.

©2016 Ann Robertson