Remembering Barbara Bush

Much has been written about the legacy of former First Lady Barbara Bush, who passed away on Tuesday, April 17, at age 92. Commentators have noted her unusual position as a wife of one president and the mother of another; many tributes have also mentioned her extensive commitment to literacy promotion.

While in the White House, first ladies are also invited to be honorary president of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Mrs. Bush accepted eagerly and was active in many Girl Scout events.  She even attended the 1990 National Council Session in Miami to draw attention to the Girl Scout Right to Read program.

As her neighbor, not just in the White House but also at the Vice Presidential Residence, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital had many opportunities to see and interact with her.

She spoke at the GSUSA 80th birthday celebration on March 12, 1992, held at the US Department of Agriculture atrium. Mrs. Bush helped launch a new national service project that day, “Girl Scouts Care for the Earth.”

An official photograph of the event appeared in the Summer 1992 Leader magazine:

 

Leader Summer 1992

Leader Magazine (Summer 1992): 29.

 

But our council archives have several behind-the-scenes photos from that day. It is delightful to see Mrs. Bush and her friendly, unhurried interaction with a group of very nervous Girl Scouts.

The photograph below is my favorite. I went back to the original to see if there was any additional information, such as the girl’s name and what she is giving to Mrs. Bush. Could that be a sparkly yellow pom-pom SWAP? She seems fascinated by it!

 

Barbara Bush 4

Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital Archives, March 12, 1992

 

We are fortunate that this busy first lady always made time for the Girl Scouts.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Rockwood Open House

Tomorrow, January 20, 2018, Montgomery County Parks will host an open house at Rockwood Manor Park in Potomac, Maryland, from 11 am to 3 pm. Open Houses are offered several times a year for brides and other people considering the venue for an event.

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The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

Rockwood was a national Girl Scout camp from 1938 to 1978. The neighborhood was largely rural in the camp’s early years, but as new houses and neighborhoods expanded, Rockwood staff reached out to make new friends. One open house was held in 1950.

 

RW Open House

Washington Post, March 17, 1950.

 

Visitors in 1950 might have found a troop preparing meals, a family camping together, or perhaps Brownies splashing in the stream.

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While some neighbors were not pleased to discover latrines near their homes (and they are long gone!), many groups near the camp considered it an asset.  Boy Scouts, church groups, and schools all used the facilities for meetings and occasional retreats.

One of the most successful Rockwood-community partnerships began in 1959, when a group of five women from the town of  Potomac asked if they could use Rockwood’s commercial kitchen to mash potatoes for the 1,000 guests expected to attend their church’s yearly community dinner.

Kitchen

Staff working in Rockwood’s Kitchen, 1950s (GSUSA/NHPC)

The meetings of the “Potato Mashers Guild” became so popular that many of the ladies offered to be on “stand-by” to volunteer as needed at the camp. The ladies hosted birthday parties for Guild members at Rockwood and even picnicked one summer at Rockwood director Ida May Born’s beach house.

 

 

 

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Rockwood kitchen equipment abandoned in June 1983. Is that the potato peeler in the center? (Photo by Patricia Cornish)

 

Another strong relationship developed with Potomac Elementary School. Students would come to Rockwood for science lessons and nature walks, while Rockwood’s kitchen staff would pitch in at the school cafeteria if needed.

After weeks of sub-freezing temperatures here in Washington, DC, tomorrow is forecast to reach nearly 60º. Seems like an ideal day to visit Rockwood, located at 11001 MacArthur Blvd, Potomac, Maryland 20854.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Cough, Cough, Patch, Post

Things have been quiet at the Girl Scout History Project lately, other than the sound of non-stop coughing.  The flu bug pitched its icky green tent at our world headquarters last week and has steadfastly refused to take a hike.

But even if I don’t feel well enough to write a long post at the moment, at least I have qualified for a new patch!

Flu Patch

Not exactly what I’d call a “fun” patch, but there you go.

Until I’m back at my computer full time, please revisit this article from 2014 about the Girl Scouts and the influenza epidemic of 1918.

 

Flu Soup Kitchen

Volunteers serve soup during influenza epidemic of 1918 (Bettmann)

 

Hopefully, it will be another 100 years before another epidemic.

Stay healthy, everyone!

©2018 Ann Robertson

Realignment and the Russians, Really?

My calendar has two major anniversaries marked for October 2017.

One is the 10th anniversary of Girl Scout’s realignment program, which consolidated 312 councils into 112 “high capacity” councils. Realignment deserves its own post, but the basic idea is that GSUSA decided that large councils would be more efficient than smaller ones.

The other anniversary is the centennial of the Russian Revolution that brought the Communist Party to power. The new government dramatically redrew the map of their new country, dividing some territories and lumping others together.

What do these two events have in common? For one thing, they are both part of my office wall decor:

(Kookie Kong looks pretty afraid of the First Soviet Airplane.)

The other common thread is that they are both examples of externally imposed new state formation.

NO, wait, come back!!!  Let me rephrase.

They are the political equivalent of a shotgun marriage. These events threw people together whether they wanted to or not.

Whether councils or countries, they faced similar issues: Where do we draw our borders? What do we call ourselves? What does our new flag/logo/patch look like? What if we don’t like our new neighbors? Do we have to pay their debts? What do we do with people who don’t want to merge?

Suddenly the comparison doesn’t seem quite so crazy, does it?

Academic research is about making such unexpected connections. If the examples come from a largely unknown source, that’s even better.

Across the United States, Girl Scout councils are sitting on piles of largely unknown sources. We need to get the word out that researchers should come see what we have. We need to leverage our historical assets for academic research. Doing that requires matching theories with data, a process that often requires travel and field research. I’m very fortunate because I’ve found a way to cover both bases: I can use Girl Scout data in my academic research.

I’m not a professional Girl Scout historian, just a very busy volunteer. In my day job, I am a political scientist who specializes in secessionist movements and new state formation. Most of my work deals with the former communist world, such as the collapse of the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. Those countries experienced the opposite of realignment; they were taken apart instead of thrown together; think divorce instead of marriage.  I’m (supposedly) trained to see possible patterns and then find evidence to prove or disprove the pattern.

I know the political scientist/Girl Scout historian combination is about as rare as a genuine Golden Eagle of Merit–or perhaps a Chartreuse Buzzard. But working in this direction doesn’t require a PhD.  Instead, it needs a new mindset. It means looking beyond the uniforms and badges to see what girls and women were doing in your community. You—we—can provide local examples of national issues.

It means looking beyond the uniforms and badges to document what girls and women were doing in your community. You can provide local examples of national issues that researchers can plug into their models and theories.

Letters and fund-raising campaigns can become examples of philanthropy, women’s empowerment, or marketing. Camp and troop policies reflect social trends. We recently found meeting minutes that debate whether or not to integrate resident camps. I knew the date of integration; I didn’t know that some committee members tried to reverse the decision the following year.

 

MAR09AR12

Researchers need examples of local history (GSCNC Archives).

Troop activities can reveal trends in girls’ development and interests. Citizenship programs demonstrate efforts to prepare future voters when the voting age was lowered to 18. Popular history accounts would be enriched by knowing how the American Bicentennial was celebrated in your community.

Blister Rust

Girl Scouts helped track the spread of this fungus (USDA).

In the 1920s campers in Washington were examined before and after weeks in the woods to provide scientific “evidence” of the health benefits of the out of doors. Similarly, girls attending Camp May Flather were tasked with combing the forest for signs of white pine blister rust, a dangerous fungus. We don’t have the data, but we know the agency that conducted the studies and can point researchers in that direction.

Such quirky stories are hiding in the newspaper clippings and the troop scrapbooks in our collections. How can we make them available to researchers anxiously searching for new sources to study?

I’ve had the pleasure of hosting several graduate students in our archives. They were investigating topics such as the national Girl Scout Little House, first ladies, family biographies, representation of minorities, and more. They have all gone away with valuable primary data sources, not to mention a patch and the occasional box of cookies!

©2017 Ann Robertson