The Festival of Nations, 1931

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.”

Festival of Nations Program
Festival of Nations Program (GSCNC Archives)

This was 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.

Local 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.

Washington Times (February 18, 1931)

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.

Selected costumes featured in the Sunday Star (April 19, 1931)
Winning poster designs. Washington Times (April 20, 1931).

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.

Washington Times (April 20, 1931)

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.

© 2019 Katherine Cartwright

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 kscartwright@email.wm.edu.

Who’s That Girl Scout? Oleda Schrottky

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

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

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.

Everybodys_Affair

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.

Schrottky Bundles

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.

©2018 Ann Robertson

When a Girl Scout Passes Away

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.

Funeral 002

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.”

Last_Friendship

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.

©2018 Ann Robertson