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

Nix on Partisanship

Girl Scouts of the USA strives to create conscientious future voters who appreciate the unique qualities of the American political system.

From the founding of Girl Scouts in 1912, girls could earn badges that involved learning about their government, laws, and elections.

After women received the right to vote 100 years ago, Girl Scouts stepped in to help anyway they could. Sometimes an act as simple as holding a baby while mother goes into the voting booth can make a difference in turnout.

There are clear limits on political involvement. The Blue Book–GSUSA’s collection of bylaws, policies, and the corporate constitution–states the following:

Blue Book, 2020 edition, page 20

Individual Girl Scouts may engage in partisan political activities, but only as civilians. They cannot appear in uniform, as that would suggest the organization has endorsed a particular candidate or expressed an opinion on a public issue.

A Little Too Active

Sometimes good intentions may get out of hand, as happened during the 1960 Presidential Election.

It seems that Intermediate* Troops 670 and 702 from Bethesda, Maryland, loved to do community service projects. When their leader, Mrs. Smith heard that the Volunteers for Nixon-Lodge headquarters needed help, she immediately signed the girls up. The field trip to 1000 16th Street NW in Washington did not raise any red flags among parents, as most were Republicans themselves.

*In 1963, the Intermediate level was divided in Juniors (grades 4-6) and Cadettes (grades 7-9).

A dozen girls, in their green uniforms, yellow ties, and jaunty berets, had a blast at the campaign office. They stuffed envelopes; assembled press releases; and filled campaign kits with buttons and bumper stickers.

Vice President Nixon’s press secretary, Herbert G. Klein called the Washington Post to suggest that there was a great photo opportunity happening at campaign headquarters. A campaign staffer had tipped off Klein and said the girls might be working at the Kennedy-Johnson office another day.

A witty local reporter asked the girls whether “some people might not regard Nixon’s defeat as a community service,” the girls giggled and confidently stated, “Kennedy isn’t going to be elected.”

The girls had put in about four hours of work when a telephone rang; the caller asked for Mrs. Smith. In fact, the caller was Helaine Todd, executive director of the National* Capital Area Girl Scout Council.

*Also in 1963, the National Capital Girl Scout Council and four other councils combined to form the Nation’s Capital Girl Scout Council.

Todd was a tad upset. She informed Mrs. Smith that “Partisan political activity is absolutely against local and national Girl Scout policy. ” Todd also declared that the girls could not count the day toward service hours. (That seems a bit over the top, in my opinion.)


CanStockPhoto, Inc.

Mrs. Smith, a relatively new leader, was “flabbergasted and aghast.” She grabbed the girls and swiftly exited. At the next troop meeting, she turned the experience into a learning opportunity, explaining what she had done wrong.

Of course, Nixon lost in 1960. Much could–and has–been said about Richard Nixon. But I must give the Nixon family credit for being strong supporters of Girl Scouts–before and after their White House years.

Both Nixon daughters, Julie and Tricia, were active Girl Scouts and future First Lady Pat Nixon was their co-leader.

Mrs. Nixon greets Cadette Girl Scouts at GSUSA Headquarters (Nixon Foundation)

Mrs. Nixon greatly enjoyed her time as honorary national president of GSUSA, welcoming girls to the White House and visiting the national headquarters in New York.

Since Edith Wilson in 1917, all First Ladies have been invited to serve as honorary national president. All Most accept it graciously and participate in unique ways.

Mrs. Nixon’s affection for the Girl Scouts endured until her death.

Pat Nixon welcomes Girl Scouts to the Nixon Library, July 1990 (Nixon Foundation)

The Nixon Foundation has honored her work with a special exhibition.

Check the GSUSA Blog for information about the current honorary national president and her involvement with Girl Scouts.

Or maybe not ….

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Masks? Who Needs Masks?

Today you cannot turn on the news or surf the internet without seeing plea upon plea for face masks to protect health care workers during the Covid-19 crisis.

Groups across the country have sprung into action, sewing masks while quarantined at home. Girl Scouts are doing their part, collecting materials and sewing masks themselves. Troops across the United States are sending cases of cookies to hospitals and other health-care centers.

Girl Scouts have provided war-time service since the movement was founded in 1912. When the United States entered the World War I in 1917, girls distributed sandwiches to soldiers passing through town, raised homing pigeons destined for the front lines, and made bandages for the Red Cross.

Girl Scouts dig a victory garden behind the DAR Hall in Washington, DC, 1917

Local Girl Scouts also jumped in to help when another mask-related emergency occurred.

The March 1918 edition of The Rally (the first Girl Scout magazine) introduced a Girl Scout War Service Award to “stimulate thoughtful direct effort that would have a distinct value to those in the war.”

To earn the award, girls had to knit two pounds of wool, make 50 jars of jam, and sell at least 10 Liberty Bonds. 

The Rally also directed Girl Scouts to collect and dry fruit pits and nut shells:

A CAMPAIGN FOR PITS

Gather up the peach pits,

Olive pits as well.

Every prune and date seed

Every walnut shell.

The "Peach Pit Champions of Washington, DC, collected thousands of peach pits for the war effort.  From left: Lillian Dorr, Troop 60; Helen Collier, Troop 33; Eva Tarslush, Troop 60.  (The Rally, March 1919.)
The “Peach Pit Champions of Washington, DC,” collected thousands of peach pits for the war effort. From left: Lillian Dorr, Troop 60; Helen Collier, Troop 33; Eva Tarslush, Troop 60. (The Rally, March 1919.)

The magazine article explained that “200 peach pits or seven pounds of nut shells produced enough carbon for one filter for a solider’s gas mask” (GS Collector’s Guide, p. 87).  With the German military deploying highly toxic chlorine gas against the Allied troops, the Red Cross and other organizations launched peach pit collection drives across the country, according to The Atlantic magazine.

The Girl Scouts rose to the occasion, and three Washington, DC, Girl Scouts — all under age 13 — were declared “Peace Pit Champions.”

Hopefully we won’t have to resort to fruit as protective gear but if so, the Girl Scouts are ready.

Many troops had to cancel cookie booths due to social distancing. You can purchase cookies online and have them delivered to first responders, food banks, or yourself!

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Another Day, Another Pandemic

This post was originally published in 2014, and it has been updated for the coronavirus era.

The Washington Post recently compared the influenza epidemic of 1918 to the current Ebola outbreak, but the newspaper left out the Girl Scout part of the story.

From late 1918 through early 1919, a particularly nasty strain of flu killed 50 million people worldwide and some 500,000 in the United States. Washington, DC, was particularly hard hit because the city was overflowing with federal workers (“living three or four to a room in private homes and boarding houses”) and soldiers passing through on their way to or from the World War I front.

The Girl Scouts had already mobilized to sell sandwiches, cake, and ice cream to soldiers and war workers.  One girl, Edna Schwartz, recalled making stacks and stacks of egg and ham sandwiches and setting up a stand near the Corcoran Gallery of Art at lunchtime. They put those skills to work as a new enemy attacked.

Flu Soup Kitchen
Volunteers ladle soup to children whose parents were stricken by the flu (Bettmann photo)

Invalid Cook, 1916

That’s “invalid” as somebody with a persistent disease, not something “not valid.”

(Photo from Vintage GS Museum)

When the Spanish flu brought Washington to a near-standstill in October 1918, the Girl Scouts set up a Diet Kitchen first at Central High School, then later at 1101 M Street NW.

Girls who had earned their Invalid Cook badge had mastered the art of making soup, broth, custard, gelatins, and a formidable-sounding substance labelled “kumyss” in their Handbook. Now they worked from dawn to dark cooking gallons of these very basic meals.

Volunteers delivered the hot meals to patients throughout the city. Leaders had to make a public appeal for drivers and containers to meet the demand. Some 2,180 patients were served from the high school and a total of 7,821 patients at the peak of the epidemic. Troop 60 put on a play and sang songs, charging 10 cents a head, and raised $25 for supplies.

Washington DC Central High School (later Cardoza HS) https://historicsites.dcpreservation.org/

The Diet Kitchen was such a success that Susie Root Rhodes, DC Supervisor of Playgrounds, asked the Girl Scouts to also distribute soup at playgrounds in two of Washington’s poorest neighborhoods. This meal often was the only meal, certainly the only hot meal, that many of these children received each day while their mothers worked or were ill.

Image from The Economy Administration Cook Book, 1913

Mrs. Rhodes credited the Girl Scouts with saving the lives of people too poor to afford doctors and preventing malnourished children from succumbing to influenza.

Is it a coincidence that the latest virus arrived at the same time as Girl Scout cookies? Girls Scouts to the rescue again!

DISCLAIMER: There is no scientific proof that Girl Scout cookies prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But they don’t hurt, either…

©2014, 2020 Ann Robertson

Who’s That Girl Scout? Eleanor Ault

In the final days of World War II, the Girl Scouts of the USA dispatched six professional workers to war-torn Europe. Their official status was “on loan” to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA).

Girl Scout worker Eleanor Ault

Two of the six women worked for the national organization. By far the best-known of the group, Catherine T. Hammett was a renowned expert in camping. She was joined by Katherine McCullough a GSUSA field adviser.

The other four women had been council executive directors: Eleanor Ault, (Albany, New York); Dorothy Donnell (Orange, New Jersey); Grace Hast (Lincoln, Nebraska); and Marion Sloan (Kansas City, Missouri).

Hammett became director of social services at a Greek refugee camp in Palestine. She wrote a lengthy article in the December 1944 issue of Leader, with vivid descriptions of the terrain, flora, and fauna. The author of Campcraft ABCs, Hammett also wrote about the tents, makeshift stoves, and more in the refugee camps.

Six Girl Scout professionals working with the UNRRA program. (Leader Magazine)

Ault, Donnell, and Hast took charge of welfare needs at smaller refugee camps, reporting to Hammett. McCullough and Sloan were posted to Yugoslav refugee camps in Egypt.

While international relief organizations set up schools, hospitals, sewing rooms, the Girl Scouts organized recreation and vocational training for refugee children. In time, they laid the groundwork for establishing Girl Scout and Boy Scout programs in the region.

On September 29, 1945, Eleanor Ault and 2nd Lt. Arlene Waldhaus of the US Public Health Service were aboard a 3,330-ton British ship, the Empire Patrol, accompanying 562 Greek refugees, including 200 children, across the Mediterranean Sea.

Around noon, as Eleanor locked the recreation room, she heard a commotion on a lower deck. She rushed to the scene to see flames sprouting from the starboard side of the ship.

The Empire Patrol begins to burn (http://www.empirepatrol.com)

Instead of paraphrasing the ensuing events, I will reprint the cable that UNRAA sent to GSUSA following the incident:

Immediately [Eleanor] began directing refugees in use of fire extinguishers. Flames starred coming from starboard side. Ault was one of those who prevented panic among refugees by calming, answering questions, distributing lifebelts, helping load lifeboats. Fire spread rapidly.

Captain asked Ault to accompany refugees in lifeboat and therein take charge. Line jammed on her boat as it was lowered, pulley had to be knocked off and boat dropped into sea. At this time whole ship was blazing.

At short distance from ship she picked up old man, young man and boy. Little farther off found several more and overtook another lifeboat overloaded with survivors. She transferred some, instructed others how to bail, get out oars. …

Altogether she rescued 35 — many been clinging defective rafts. Sea was very rough, consequently there was danger capsizing. At 4:oo P.M. Aircraft Carrier Trouncer arrived near burning ship; but as darkness fell lifeboats and rafts drifted apart, Ault being steadied by refugee men at oars.

As red distress lantern in boat failed, Ault improvised flare from kapok ripped out of life preserver which she soaked in kerosene and hung on boat hook which led plane circling overhead locating position of lifeboat. At 8:oo P.M. searchlights of Afghanistan picked out lifeboat and after Ault and man and boys climbed aboard, baskets were lowered for women and children. Afghanistan was one of first to reach Port Said [Egypt]

Leader (November 1945): 11.

Of the 913 passengers, only 57 perished.

Empire Patrol passengers scramble to safety (http://www.empirepatrol.com)

Wow. Let’s pause and take that in for a moment ….

Makes surviving cookie season pretty tame, doesn’t it?

The Girl Scouts were extremely proud of Eleanor, awarding her a citation reading “For distinguished service rendered in the saving of lives on the ill-fated “Empire Patrol.”

Born in Chicago in 1909, Eleanor graduated from De Pauw University. She became a Girl Scout professional in 1932. Following her stint with UNRRA, she moved to England, where she became one of the first participants in a US-UK trainer exchange program. During that time, she also attended the International Training Conference at Our Chalet, Switzerland.

Eleanor returned to the United States in 1947, taking a volunteer development post in Oklahoma. She eventually returned to Albany, New York, where she died in 1994.

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Winter with the Girl Scouts

With record low temperatures across the country, I’m sure you are all wondering what Girl Scouts do in the winter. Admit it. 

That simple question is the theme of the current Archives and History Committee display at the main office of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital at 4301 Connecticut Ave NW in Washington, DC.

The answer? Lots!

Play Outside

Keep Toasty Warm

Girl Scouts have long had many options for frosty fashions. And if they have nothing in their closet, they will knit something themselves!

img_0119

Girl Scout winter wear

Go Camping!

Personally, I’ll stick with lodge camping in the winter, but some hardy souls will still pitch their tents in the snow.

winter camping

Winter camping (2002 GSCNC Calendar)

And let’s not forget the brave troop that was rescued by helicopter from Camp Potomac Woods after a surprise snowstorm in 1958. Here they are after arriving at Ft. Belvoir.

dec06ar19

 

Earn a Badge

There have always been badges appropriate for winter time.

 

March in a Parade

Holiday parades, Martin Luther King Day parades, Presidents’ Day parades, Girl Scouts take part whenever asked. And every four years, there is a presidential inauguration to take part in.

Enjoy Tasty Treats

Bake cookies, decorate gingerbread, sip cocoa, or try a cookie-flavored coffee pod and creamer.

Sell Cookies!

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will distract us from a cookie booth.

Erins_Last_Booth

My daughter’s last cookie booth, March 2015. We froze our cookies off.

But the absolute best part of the exhibit? New lights.

Finally, everyone can see the treasures on display!

©2019 Ann Robertson

Remembering George H.W. Bush

A few months ago, I wrote about former First Lady Barbara Bush and her involvement in the Girl Scouts.

Although not an honorary national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA, President George H.W. Bush was also a great supporter of the Girl Scouts.

Troops touring the White House from 1989 to 1992 often received a special greeting from the president himself.

He kept the tradition up when his son became president, especially with groups that came to watch a White House tee-ball game.

Nation’s Capital Girl Scout Troop 2722 hoped to see the country’s leader when they cheered on a White House tee-ball game on June 3, 2001, but they were surprised to see two President Bushes! The elder Bush graciously posed for photos.

APR09AR04

Girl Scout Troop 2722 met President George H.W. Bush on June 3, 2001 (GSCNC Archives).

APR09AR03

Tributes to President George H.W. Bush consistently cite his kindness and decency, attributes that align with the Girl Scout mission of making the world a better place.

©2018 Ann Robertson

Remembering World War I

Just off the National Mall in Washington, DC, lies a little-known war memorial, one with an even more obscure Girl Scout connection.

Resembling a Greek temple, the District of Columbia World War Memorial honors the 499 DC residents who died in World War I. With its open-air design and widely spaced Doric columns, the memorial could easily be used as a bandstand.

In fact, it was located at the site of a former bandstand, and legendary conductor John Phillip Sousa led the Marine Band’s performance for the dedication.

WWI Memorial dedication

Dedication of memorial on November 11, 1931 (World War I Memorial Inventory Project)

640px-District_of_Columbia_War_Memorial,_July_2017_(close_up)

The restored monument today (MusikAnimal via Wikimedia Commons)

While some Girl Scouts likely took part in the dedication of the memorial, there is one strong link between it and the young women’s leadership group.

The award-winning memorial was designed by Frederick H. Brooke, whose wife, Henrietta “Texas” Bates Brooke, helped found the first Girl Scout council in Washington, DC, in 1917.

Mr. Brooke seems to have been a bit camera-shy.  This is the only photograph of him that  I have found. It was taken in 1928 at the groundbreaking for the current British Embassy in Washington, another of his projects. Could that be his wife next to him? If only she had worn her Girl Scout uniform to the embassy event!

The memorial is located on Independence Avenue NW, between 17th and 23rd Streets. It underwent extensive restoration in 2011.

©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