Only six weeks left until March 12, 2022, the 110th birthday of the Girl Scouts of the USA!
In the 1940s, World War II defined activities across the United States, including the Girl Scouts. Most councils had already introduced a civil-defense component into their programs so girls were ready to help out on the home front. Within hours of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Girl Scouts of Hawaii rallied to clear debris and offer a range of support services.
The February 1942 issue of Leader magazine was devoted to the war effort. Each age group had a role to perform–and often they could earn a badge in the process.
High-school age Girl Scouts could join the Senior Service Scouts program and perform war-related service, such as airplane spotting.
The Traveling Women’s History Museum has a delightful 10-minute video about Girl Scouts in World War II. The museum began as a Girl Scout Gold Award project by Rachael McCullough of the Girl Scout Council of Eastern Pennsylvania. (The link above is to a Facebook page, scroll down for the video.)
Her video would make a great troop or service unit meeting topic!
When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended, 80 years ago today, all of Oahu sprang into action, including the Girl Scouts.
Although Hawaii did not become a US state until 1959, Girl Scout troops were organized on Oahu in 1917, later expanding to other islands and consolidating into one council (briefly called the Girl Scout Council of the Pacific) in 1963. Hawaii, therefore, is the second-oldest council west of the Mississippi River.
Queen Liliuokalani personally sponsored the first two troops on Oahu and presented them with her own silk flag in 1917.
The Hawaiian troops were a combination of local girls and daughters of US servicemen stationed in the islands. Some girls wore the regular khaki uniform, but the troops had their own special uniforms made of white, tropical weight fabric.
The council’s main office was at Pearl City, Oahu, and it purchased land for Camp Haleopua (“House of Flowers”) in 1926.
Camp Haleopua, attractively located on the windward side of the Pearl City Peninsula, is without doubt the only Girl Scout Camp with the fleet of the United States Navy in the front yard (as it were). All Summer, the battleships, destroyers and submarine chasers presented an interesting picture during the day and at night, the “floating city” was a mass of light. Blackouts on the ships were also fascinating to watch and the “talkies” [movies] could be plainly heard in camp.
Camp Haleopua Director’s Report, June 15-July 31, 1941
Camp Haleopua was busy in summer 1941, with 174 girls participating in one of four week-long sessions. Nation’s Capital has a seven-page report by the camp director, who described a successful season with “sold out” sessions, a new tent unit, and no serious illnesses or accidents. (Because so many military families retire to the Washington area, Nation’s Capital occasionally receives documents related to distant Girl Scout troops.)
Camp Director Edna Reese planned to leave Hawaii before summer 1942, so she left careful instructions and suggestions for her successor. Fate had other plans.
The Japanese attack ended around noon. Local Girl Scout officials were told to vacate their Pearl City office ASAP because the US Navy had commandeered the building for its use.
Oahu Council President Margaret Fritschi ignored her husband’s insistence that she stay safe at home and drove to the office herself. Barbara Fritschi Dew remembers her mother returned hours later with the council’s treasured silk Hawaiian flag, presented by Queen Liliuokalani. They stored the flag until the war ended.
Girl Scouts of all ages took on tasks that would free up adults for demanding roles. The girls were not centrally deployed, they arrived on their own. They went to schools and other locations and asked how they could help. Girls washed linens, moved furniture and scrubbed floors at the Kaimuki Intermediate School, for example, so that rooms could be turned into hospitals, operating rooms, and refugee housing.
The Oahu Girl Scouts had been preparing for war for over a year.
All Senior troops … had been trained in first aid, mass feeding, care of young children, assistance in evacuation of civilians from danger zones, and organizing messenger service to outlying plantations and communities.
Leader (February 1942): 4.
During the first week after the attack, Girl Scouts worked in four-hour shifts feeding volunteers at an emergency kitchen set up at Central Union. They hand washed all of the dishes used by hundreds of hungry people.
Brownies entertained young children while their parents registered with officials. High-school age Seniors typed, filed, and performed other clerical work. All ages baked cookies (500 per week) for hospital patients and decorated hospital trays. They made quilts for wounded servicemen and pillows to cradle broken bones. Reflecting on the Girl Scouts’ wartime service decades later, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser noted that girls kept home air raid shelters neat and well stocked and even played patients for first aid training and bomb drills.
The Great Scouts’ greatest contribution addressed the critical need for glass bottles for local blood banks. The girls collected nearly 3,000 bottles from homes and businesses, removed the labels, washed and sterilized them.
Mrs. E.E. Black, elected council president in January 1942, immediately explained the role of Girl Scouts in wartime:
Girl Scouts [should] assume Red Cross responsibility in their neighborhoods. Our job is to keep up morale of those with whom we come in contact. I am very certain that girls 13, 14, and 15 are just as clever with their fingers as many women.
Honolulu Advertiser (January 16, 1942): 2.
When the Girl Scouts of Oahu celebrated the 30th anniversary of the movement in March 1942, the Honolulu Advertiser paid tribute to their work:
The Girl Scout motto, “Be Prepared” was ably demonstrated shortly after December 7 by troops and individual Girl Scouts and leaders.
Honolulu Advertiser (March 14, 1942): 6.
The Hawaii Council website contains many rich history resources. Most of the photos used here came from the site.
When the United States entered World War II, Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp joined the war effort. Washington had faced a housing shortage for years. Local officials created a Defense Housing Registry that became a model for the rest of the country. Accommodations for women were especially scarce.
In June 1942 the National Housing Agency asked former National Girl Scout President Henrietta Bates Brooke for permission to include the Manor House on the Washington, DC, Registry. “There is at present a need for rooms in and near Washington to accommodate incoming war workers,” and Uncle Sam wanted this “thirteen or fourteen room house.”
It truly was a desperate request. Few rooms in the Manor House were heated, and the closest streetcar station was five miles away. Rockwood’s sole employee, Frances Hoopes, seldom had time to pick up passengers in the camp station wagon. Visiting troops usually had to hike from the streetcar stop. Local troops might pile their gear into their father’s truck and ride their bicycles to camp.
The US Navy needed quarters for its newly created WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program. Officials regarded Rockwood as ideal for women posted at the new David Taylor Model Basin, part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center; the camp was just 2.4 miles away. But that plan was abandoned when officials decided not to station WAVES at the Taylor Basin.
The Girl Scouts were willing to make rooms available, but they were bound by the conditions imposed by Carolyn Caughey, when she gifted her beloved country home to the Girl Scouts in 1936. Specifically, would such use qualify as “character building”?
Nora Huffman, Mrs. Caugheys former secretary and confidant, was enthusiastic:
The local Girl Scouts, as a bit of war service, are generously sharing the comfort of the house with the enlisted service girls now located in Washington, many of whom have been Girl Scouts. Most of these girls are from distant states and feel it is a real privilege to have the hospitality and security of a Girl Scout Home for a few days rest or a week-end relaxation, at a very nominal cost.
Miss Huffman believed that Mrs. Caughey would want the military guests to observe her own beliefs about how women should conduct themselves in public. Mrs. Caughey fully supported women who entered the professional world, but drew the line at lipstick, nail polish, and smoking. She also was an ardent prohibitionist, known for the saying, “Put glasses to your eyes—not to your lips.”
The estate trustees endorsed the housing request, and soon military women enjoyed weekends at Rockwood’s Manor House, while Girl Scout troops used other facilities on site.
Rockwood Superintendent Florence Hoopes was not thrilled with the arrangements. “Hoopsie,” as the girls called her, soon learned that hosting adult women was much more complicated than hosting Girl Scouts. She repeatedly informed national staff members that some of the women did not set appropriate examples for any troops camping at the same time.
Her main complaint was the late-night activities of the adults, so she documented their comings and goings. Her weekly reports included comments such as:
January 22, 1944: Group of women return at 1 am; another member of group returns at 2 am
January 28, 1944: Group of 18 women checks in at 11 pm
Soon quiet hours were established for the visiting women. Between November 1943 and June 1944, 272 WAVES and the occasional Coast Guard SPARS enjoyed weekend “rest and relaxation” retreats at Rockwood.
Readers may remember Durrett as executive director of the District of Columbia council. She resigned that position to become an officer in the WAVES. She remained with the Navy until 1958, rising to the rank of commander.
Durrett might have created one more connection between the WAVES and the Girl Scouts. The WAVES uniform was designed by Mainbocher, who designed new Girl Scout uniforms in 1948. The two uniforms are quite similar.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.)
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 greatly enjoyed her time as honorary national president of GSUSA, welcoming girls to the White House and visiting the national headquarters in New York.
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.
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 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!
This post wasoriginally 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.
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.
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.
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…
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.