I wanted to write something profound, extolling Girl Scouts for creating generations of loyal citizens, but ideas were just not coming.
I searched through back issues of Girl Scout Leader magazine and BA-BAM. Then Destiny spoke and decreed that I must share this pageant. Because this play was not written by Girl Scout “pageant lady” Oleda Schrottky, but by a troop in my hometown, Paducah, Kentucky.
This splendid pageant teaches flag history, which early Girl Scouts had to learn for their Second-Class Test.
The cast calls for one girl in uniform; one dressed as Columbia, described as the personification of the United States; and the rest of the troop costumed as various flags.
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:
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.)
Camping with the Girl Scouts
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.
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.)
A Questionable Tribute to Native Americans
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.
How big is the largest US flag that you have ever seen?
Perhaps it is the one flown over the US Capitol? The famous “Star Spangled Banner” of 1814 on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History? There’s a car dealership near my House that claims to have the largest.
But for sheer size, the US Flags flown at Mount Rushmore towers over the contenders.
It’s one thing to observe an object from a distance, but to really appreciate it, you need to get up close and personal. You need to compare it to a known point of reference, such as your basic 5-foot tall, 12-year old American girl.
In 1990, a retired flag that had long flown at Mount Rushmore went on a grand tour of the United States as part of the US Interior Department’s “Take Pride in America” initiative. Nine 20×30 “Gettysburg Peace Flags” were also part of the tour. The nine had been dedicated on the Gettysburg National Battlefield in 1988.
The giant flag went into service on July 4, 1987, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the massive US landmark. When the ceremony began, this flag covered the massive face of President Abraham Lincoln. Despite high winds, the flag was majestically raised to reveal Lincoln.
The flag was used for the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the 1989 Presidential Inauguration. When its tour ended, the flag returned to South Dakota, where in 1991 it was used to cover the face of President Theodore Roosevelt, during a ceremony to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of that presidential portrait.
The exhibit arrived in the Nation’s Capital in 1990, where it would teach youth to take pride in their country, as well as its many cultural and natural resources. Local Girl Scouts were invited to participate in the largest flag ceremony of their lives, using this massive banner.
On Saturday, October 20, 1990, more than 2,500 Girl Scouts assembled at the Potomac Polo Club in Poolesville, Maryland, on the border with the District of Columbia, for the occasion.
The girls quickly realized that it would take nearly all of them to maneuver the flag into position.
The Mount Rushmore flag measures 45 feet by 90 feet and weighs 300 pounds. Girls formed two rows to begin removing the flag from its storage case. In addition to the girls holding the flag by the edges, a contingent of small Brownies and Daisies walked underneath the flag so it would not sag or touch the ground.
The Girl Scouts progressed down the length of the polo field and stopped in front of a large, telescoping crane. The girls solemnly passed the flag, hand over hand, toward an iron bar attached to the crane. Once it was firmly attached to the bar, the crane raised it into position.
The ceremony, organized by Thelma Glowacki and Stephanie Gonos, took nearly the entire day. Local Congresswoman Connie Morella spoke, calling the event a “wonderful display of woman power.” Local news anchors, the Quantico Marine Corps Band, the Coast Guard Silent Drill Team, a majorette and drum corps, among many, many others, also participated.
As the day came to an end, the flag was slowly lowered and returned to its case. The girls then formed a giant friendship circle and began to sing “Taps.” Finally, a bugle call sounded, and everyone silently left the field.
As World Thinking Day approaches, we look back at a previous experiment in international friendship with a guest post by Katherine Cartwright, a doctoral candidate in history at the College of William and Mary. She was a Girl Scout for seven years in Michigan.
On Monday, April 27, 1931, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, former First Ladies Edith Wilson and Helen Taft, the Vice President, the Ambassadors of Japan and Poland, and the ministers of Czechoslovakia and Austria crowded into Constitution Hall near the White House. The event? The “Festival of Nations” – a six-day theatrical production put on with the help of the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia. The pageant, according to the Washington Star (March 22, 1931) was intended “to promote friendship and better understanding between the youth of all nations.”
exactly the type of event I was hoping to find while conducting research for my
dissertation in the archives of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.
My name is Kat Cartwright and I am a Ph.D. candidate at the College of William and Mary. My dissertation examines how young people engaged in and shaped efforts aimed at cross-cultural understanding and internationalism from World War I through World War II and when volunteer archivist Ann Robertson handed me a 1931 scrapbook containing newspaper clippings that chronicled the Festival I knew I had struck gold.
newspapers began reporting on the Festival as early as November 1930. In
cooperation with the Department of State, four countries were chosen for the
play: Mexico and Canada, the closest neighbors of the United States; Czechoslovakia,
a nation “greatly interested in promoting friendship among nations”; and Japan
since the Festival was to correspond with the blossoming of the cherry trees, a
gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. The drama was to feature the “authentic”
culture, dancing, and singing of these four nations and end in a finale with
youth representing 50 nations.
While the initial articles in the scrapbook concentrated
on the adults organizing the production, the articles increasingly emphasized
the youths’ participation throughout that spring. These articles allow me to
incorporate the actions and voices of young people into my work.
Not only did young people, especially Girl Scouts from
troops in the Washington area, join professional singers, dancers, and actors
in the cast and serve as ushers at each performance, they also played an
important role in promoting the Festival. For example, they submitted posters
to be circulated throughout the United States, Canada, and other countries
leading up to the Festival.
About 30 Girl Scouts and Girl Guides representing at
least ten countries attended a promotional “Flying Tea” held at Hoover Airport,
now the site of the Pentagon. Nellie Veverka from Czechoslovakia got to do the
honors of christening a new airplane. Other reports scattered throughout local
papers followed additional preparations for the Festival, from the spectacular
costumes to the involvement of embassies.
With so much hype leading up to the premiere, I was sure that the Festival was going to be a hit. But, alas, the first reviews were hardly favorable. The most scathing review came from an Eleanore Wilson, who wrote in the April 28 Washington News,
Once more, we regret to report, Washington has made a daring and desperate stab at art and fallen short of the mark.
Washington News (April 28, 1931)
Others cited the duration of the play as its primary flaw and wished that it had been a silent film because the discourse took away from the music and scenes. Though we don’t know the exact reason why, even First Lady Hoover left half-way through opening night! The crew and cast quickly responded, cutting scenes here and there.
By the time more than 2,000 Girl Scouts and various other youth from the Washington area crowded into the hall for the children’s matinee on Saturday, the play had been shortened by an hour and fifteen minutes.
Many of the articles in the scrapbook suggest that the Festival
that took place in DC in 1931 was modeled on similar events held elsewhere.
That suggests many additional research paths to explore: Where did these events
take place? Were the Girl Scouts and Department of State involved? What
countries were represented in the festivals? How were young people—both from
the U.S. and abroad—active participants? I hope to explore these questions and
find more events like the “Festival of Nations” as I continue my research.
P.S. I am currently working my way through The American Girl magazine [the Girl
Scout publication, 1920–1979] and have evidence of international correspondence
between Girl Scouts in the U.S. and Girl Guides and Girl Scouts abroad. Maybe
you know of such letters collecting dust in an attic or basement? If you have
any leads, I’d love to hear from you! You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have long been fascinated by former GSUSA staff member Oleda Schrottky. But when I recently found this vintage photograph, I was in love.
Oleda Schrottky in costume (presumably), Macy Center, 1928 (Acme Newsphoto)
From 1921 to 1964, Schrottky was the Girl Scout “play lady.” She reluctantly took this position and over time crafted a one-of-a-kind job description uniquely tailored to her talents and convictions.
Why is Oleda Schrottky the coolest Girl Scout ever?
First, there is her name: Oleda Schrottky. Try saying it aloud a few times. Doesn’t it feel and sound fascinating?
From the Midwest to Massachusetts and Manhattan
Oleda Schrottky was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1894. She was a highly educated woman for the era, attending Lawrence College, the University of Minnesota, and New York University.
She established herself as a well-regarded speech and drama instructor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She frequently performed in professional productions, especially with the Provincetown Players.
She Admitted to Misunderstanding the Girl Scouts
In 1921, the Provincetown troupe debuted a new play in New York City, The Inheritors, written by Susan Glaspell and directed by Jasper Deeter. Twenty-seven Oleda memorably played the lead character’s grandmother.
Jane Deeter Rippin (GSUSA)
After one show, Jasper introduced Oleda to his sister, Jane Rippin, who had greatly enjoyed her performance on several evenings.
Oleda was later astonished when Jasper commented that his sister was the executive director of the Girl Scouts. She could not believe that the aristocratic theater patron, dressed in an evening gown and furs, could possibly be a Girl Scout. She protested:
They wear khakis; they wear black khaki stockings; they wear the most awful-looking hats; they wear great big belts; they have got stuff hanging around like ropes and knives and they march. They are always marching and they are camping, they sleep in the poison ivy, they knock trees down, they dig holes, they cook meals. They are dreadful!
Leader (Winter 1985)
Obviously, she eventually changed her mind.
She Forged Her Own Path
Jane Deeter Rippin sought to hire professionals in the fine arts to train troop leaders in drama, music, and more. She offered Oleda a salary of $150 per month “and a lot of opposition.”
As promised, many volunteers and staff resisted the new initiative, but Oleda stood firm and eventually gained respect and her programs were praised. She originally meant to stay just a year, but 12 months rapidly turned into 40 years.
Play written by Oleda Schrottky
As Secretary of Plays and Pageants, Oleda wrote scripts, guidebooks, and ceremonies, and she travelled across the country helping adults and girls perform.
Her training courses included lessons on set construction, costume design, and the importance of understanding a play’s context. She published guides for Scout’s Own ceremonies, “Simple Dramatics for Girl Scout Troop Meetings,” and plays such as “Lend a Hand,” “Milestones: A Girl Scout Pageant in Seven Episodes Based on the Life of Juliette Low,” and “A Pot of Red Geraniums: A Christmas Play in Two Acts.”
While she insisted that any number of girls, even a handful, were sufficient for a dramatics program, Oleda preferred to stage her own pageants on a grand scale.
The photo above was taken during a dramatics course for leaders given at the Edith Macy Training School in 1928. All 150 students participated in “Nottingham Fair,” a pageant based on the Robin Hood story.
Oleda became an in-demand speaker across the United States. Her presentations were noted for their insight, humor, and ability to mobilize civic clubs and parent-teacher groups to support youth recreation and community theater.
She Helped Dedicate Rockwood
Oleda organized the dedication of Rockwood National Camp in 1952, combining it with a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Girl Scouting. She wrote a new pageant for the event and found a unique way to include thousands of Girl Scouts in a ceremony held at a relatively small venue.
Councils across the country were encouraged to hold their own community-wide campfire ceremony over the summer, make a bundle from the remains of the fire, attach a special message, and send it to Rockwood. No detail was left to chance:
These bundles of sticks should not exceed 12” in length; each piece of wood approximately one inch in diameter. We experimented and the simplest way is to make a cloth bag, of unbleached muslin or light-weight duck, with a draw string, then use mailing tape.
Twenty-nine bundles arrived in time for the dedication.
Oleda Schrottky examines bundles of sticks mailed to Rockwood National Camp (GSUSA archives)
She Retired from Work, But Not from Her Mission
Oleda officially retired from GSUSA in 1957. But she continued to work with young women and maintained a busy schedule as a guest speaker.
Too many of our children today just sit and want to be entertained. They must learn that they themselves have resources for entertaining.
–Oleda Schrottky, 1964
She passed away in August 1969, after giving presentations as recently as that May. She also had a speaking engagement booked for November 1969.
She Believed in the Importance of the Liberal Arts
I wonder how Oleda would fare in today’s Girl Scouting. We supposedly are fighting against a public image of preferring crafts over camping. Increasingly, Girl Scouting is focusing on developing skills in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math.
These are undoubtedly valuable skills, especially in the 21st century.
But as a social scientist married to an architect and with a daughter in art school, I cannot ignore the value of non-STEM topics as well.
I hope we can find a balance that includes all of these subjects.
Otherwise, maybe I’ll have to wear my own floaty Maid Marian dress to the next Maker Fair.
There are no words to adequately acknowledge the tragedy suffered by our Girl Scout family this weekend. In Wisconsin, a pickup truck plowed into a Junior troop gathering trash on a roadside, killing three girls and an adult and seriously wounding another girl.
How can we possibly comment on this loss? How do Girl Scouts grieve?
My first thought was to share part of some traditional Girl Scout song, but none seemed quite right.
I also remembered an odd set of photos from the Nation’s Capital archives. It seems to be a Girl Scout honor guard at a funeral in the 1920s.
Girl Scouts carry the casket of a friend, circa 1920 (GSCNC Archives).
But then I thought of something else. Something much simpler, a ritual that a 9 or 10-year old’s troop mates would understand.
It is a ceremony known as “Our Last Friendship Circle.”
UPDATE: This ceremony was created by Mary Burdett of the Western Ohio legacy council.
Please share. This tradition should not be stored away in the depths of an archive.