Why the Girl Scouts Should March in Trump’s Parade

The official lineup for the 2017 Inaugural Parade has been announced, and the backlash has begun. I was not surprised that the Girl Scouts are being criticized for participating, but I am very alarmed at the calls to boycott Girl Scout cookie sales.

I, too, was disappointed with the presidential election results, but I still think the Girl Scouts should participate for six reasons:

Because We Serve Our Country

We are a non-partisan organization that promotes civic education.  According to the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital: “The event is a symbol of our democracy and the peaceful transition of power. This year, the Presidential Inaugural Committee offered the opportunity for 75 Girl Scouts to march in the parade.”  

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Girl Scout greeters at the 2013 Inauguration (GSCNC Archives)

Because We Respect Authority

The Girl Scout Law also instructs us to respect authority. That means to respect the office, if not the office holder.

Because We Teach Resilience

With elections, one side loses. Deal with it. We need to teach girls to lose with grace. If they don’t like the outcome, get up and do something about it.  Don’t go home and pout.

Because We Keep Our Commitments

We should march because we made a commitment to march—a commitment to the Inaugural Committee and a commitment to the girls who applied and were selected. There are much fewer opportunities for Girl Scouts this year. While for past Inaugurations Girl Scouts were posted at metro stations and other locations to provide information and directions, this year they were only invited to participate in the parade.

Because It Was a Struggle to Participate

Girl Scouts have marched in Inaugural Parades since 1917, but it was a major struggle to win that privilege. Parade organizers didn’t think delicate young girls could stand the physical demands of marching, and we actually had to audition in advance.

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Finally,

Because the best defense against a powerful misogynist is to raise a generation of strong, confident young women.

Watch out. We are coming.

And one more thing…

Has anybody else noticed that the Women’s March on Washington logo looks familiar?

 

©2017 Ann Robertson. All opinions are mine alone.

 

Girl Scout Exhibit at Rockwood Manor

The Girl Scouts have returned to Rockwood Manor Park!

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Uniform display in Rockwood’s Manor House (photo courtesy Montgomery County, MD, Parks)

Rockwood is, of course, one of my favorite Girl Scout topics.

I am nearly done writing a book-length history of this beautiful facility, which was a national Girl Scout camp from 1938 to 1978.  Its sale to developers in 1978 triggered a class-action lawsuit filed by the Maryland Attorney General and nine individual Girl Scouts. A pre-trial settlement resulted in roughly 75% of the property going to the developers (who created a subdivision with the terrifically uncreative name of “Woodrock”) and 25% to the local parks department.

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The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

While the settlement also called for the creation of a Girl Scout room filled with memorabilia and nature resources, the room’s prime location in the Manor House meant that it was gradually converted into a small office and storage area.

But out of the blue, I was contacted a few months ago by Jamie Kuhns, senior historian for the Montgomery County Parks. A uniform had recently been donated to her office, and she was in charge of creating a Girl Scout-themed display for the Manor House, Rockwood’s main building. Would I be interested in collaborating?

YES!!!!!!!!!!

(That’s actually my family’s reaction; they are SO glad I have someone else to talk Rockwood with.)

I met with Jamie, who told me the uniform had been donated by Barbara Lages. I reviewed the display text, answered questions about various people, buildings, and events; provided a photo or two; and replaced the missing yellow tie for the uniform.

Jamie also had several pictures she wanted to incorporate into the display.  I immediately recognized two of the photos, as they include Bobby Lerch, the beloved former president of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. Both images show Bobby investing  her granddaughter, also named Barbara, as a Brownie around 1964. Troop leader Jessie Bradley Lerch also took part in the investiture.

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GSCNC President Bobby Lerch, left, invests her granddaughter Barbara as a Brownie, c. 1964 (GSCNC archives)

Bobby remained an active Girl Scout until her death at age 104. She also wrote the Foreword to my book on the history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.

The display case was dedicated in late November 2016. Next, I look forward to consulting with Jamie as she creates new signage around the grounds of Rockwood.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Girl Scouts in the Panama Canal Zone

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Panama Canal Museum, Univ. of Florida

 

On the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, I’d like to share one of the more obscure collections in the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital archives: a history of Girl Scouting in the Panama Canal Zone.

Panama Canal Zone?

As part of the 1903 treaty allowing the United States to build the Panama Canal, the government of Panama ceded control over a 10 mile-wide strip of land alongside the canal. Washington used the land to house the workers who built and operated the canal. There was always a strong military presence in the zone.

Perhaps the most famous “Zonian” is former presidential candidate, John McCain (R-AZ). Senator McCain was born at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station hospital there on August 29, 1936.

A 1977 treaty abolished the Canal Zone effective October 1, 1979. A joint US-Panamanian commission administered the region as it was gradually turned over to local control over the next 20 years.

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Panama Canal Zone (Norton Anthology of American Literature)

Lillian Mountford: Global Girl Scout

Our Panama Canal Zone connection is Lillian Mountford. An Army wife, Lillian worked with troops in San Francisco, Hawaii, Long Island, and Fort Monroe, Virginia. She was commissioner (president) of the Girl Scouts of the Canal Zone, Pacific Side.  The Mountfords retired to Arlington, Virginia in 1945.

Because of her frequent travels, Lillian became a passionate advocate for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and its efforts to promote international friendship. While living in Arlington, Virginia, for example, she took charge of numerous Thinking Day events and encouraged donations to the Juliette Low World Friendship Fund.  Today, Mountford Lodge at Camp Potomac Woods is named in her memory.

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Lillian Mountford (right) sponsored a Juliette Low Rally in 1945 at Lubber Run Park in Arlington, Virginia (GSCNC Archives).

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Girl Scouts React to Pearl Harbor Attack

Lillian’s Girl Scout papers are held at the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland. They provide a fascinating glimpse at life on a military base following the Pearl Harbor Attack. Lillian was especially concerned about the situation in Honolulu, as her husband had recently been posted there.

Upon receiving news of the attack, Lillian offered the immediate support of the Girl Scouts.  Troops began immediate first aid training.

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Girl Scouting in the Canal Zone

Girl Scouts in the Canal Zone were organized into two councils: Atlantic Side and Pacific Side. Their numbers decreased somewhat when most families, including Lillian, evacuated after Pearl Harbor, but they still numbered an impressive 545 girls in March 1942. Specifically, 23 troops (including two Mariners), distributed as eight on the Atlantic Side and 15 on the Pacific Side. They met in seven “Little Houses,” located in Ancon, Quarry Heights, Corozal, Pedro Miguel, Gamboa, Fort Davis, and Cristobal.

We have a delightful collection of letters, newspaper clippings, newsletters, meeting agendas and photographs from the brief time that Lillian Mountford was in the Canal Zone. They confirm the value of Girl Scouting in empowering girls in stressful situations and fostering friendships when far from home.

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©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Vintage Patriotic Girl Scout Pin

I recently found an interesting Girl Scout pin on eBay, and it turns out to be perfect for marking  Veteran’s Day.

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The Tri-Color pin was described as a way to “add your country’s colors to your trefoil.” It was intended for the collar or lapel and was not considered official insignia.

The 2″ pin first appeared in the Girl Scout catalog in 1944 and sold for 35 cents.

Made out of enameled aluminum, the Tri-Color pin was discontinued in 1948.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

A Girl Scout in the White House?

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Girl Scouts is a non-partisan organization that promotes patriotism and citizenship education. While we cannot appear in uniform at partisan events or endorse candidates, we absolutely encourage girls and their parents to take an active part in election campaigns.

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Mary Rafter, women’s rights crusader and leader of first Girl Scout Troop in Washington DC

When Girl Scouting was founded in 1912, women in the United States did not even have the right to vote. Many of the early Girl Scout leaders were active in the suffrage movement, including Mary Rafter, leader of the first troop established in Washington, DC, in December 1913.

The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, and Girl Scouts stationed themselves outside polling places to watch children while their mothers cast their first ballots.

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A Girl Scout babysits while the infant’s mother casts her ballot (GSUSA).

Over the years, the Girl Scout program has offered many proficiency badges that promote citizenship, as well as patch programs to learn more about the election process.

Perhaps that emphasis has contributed to the impressive number of former Girl Scouts involved in governance today. Former Attorney General Janet Reno, who passed away yesterday, was a lifetime Girl Scout.

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Whatever happens in this election, the Girl Scouts will have a friend in the White House. Every First Lady since Edith Wilson has been honorary national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

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First Lady Florence Harding wears her uniform on the White House portico (GSCNC Archives)

 

First Lady Florence Harding (1921-1924) was a huge fan of the movement, telling visitors, “What I wish is that I were your age and could start life over again as a Girl Scout.”

©2016 Ann Robertson

Flying the Flag for 9/11

As we mark the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, take a moment to look at your right shoulder. Specifically, look at the flag waving atop your uniform sash or vest.

The US flag was not part of the official Girl Scout uniform until after 9/11. Even today, the flag technically is optional, although most girls wear it.

The straight flag was introduced in the 2002 catalog, although no girl pictured in the catalog was wearing one. The wavy flag was introduced in 2008.

 

GSUSA also introduced three new badges that emphasized flag etiquette, history, and patriotism: Wave the Flag for Brownies, United We Stand for Juniors, and American Patriotism for Cadettes and Seniors.

As troops form and begin meeting this fall, take the opportunity to explain the importance of that small flag on her shoulder.

©2016 Ann Robertson

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.

Sheryl Kaskowitz's book from Oxford University Press, is available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon, among others.

Sheryl Kaskowitz’s book from Oxford University Press.

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.”

Originally the 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 used the funds to provide programs in low-income neighborhoods.

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, 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.”

Annual income to the two organizations has ranged around  $100,000-$200,000 in recent years. 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.”

Royalties swelled to $800,000 for 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  By 2011 some $10 million had been distributed to both organizations.

However, Fund trustees became increasingly uncomfortable with the Boy Scouts’ official policy of discrimination against homosexual members, upheld in a 2000 Supreme Court ruling. 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.

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. For 2015, the New York Boy Scouts received a donation of between $50,000 and $100,000.

 

Girl Scouts representing Justice, Liberty, and Peace strike a pose during a June 19, 1915, rally at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

Girl Scouts representing Justice, Liberty, and Peace strike a pose during a June 19, 1915, rally at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The Fund has never had a problem with the Girl Scouts. For 2015, Girl Scouts of Greater New York reported a donation from the God Bless American Fund of between $25,000 and $49,999. (See Greater New York Annual Report 2015.)

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.

©2016 Ann Robertson

UPDATE: Lunch with Anna, FORMER CEO

UPDATE: Anna Maria Chávez has resigned as GSUSA CEO, effective June 30. 


Yesterday I had lunch with GSUSA CEO Anna Maria Chávez at the National Press Club. It was just Anna, me, and 400 or so of our closest friends. There were also about a dozen CEOs of various Girl Scout councils, former GSUSA CEO Marsha Evans, and many many past and present Girl Scouts.

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I forgot my camera yesterday, so this 2013 photo of Chavez and I will have to do. (I’m on the left)

It was a typical Washington lunch presentation, with a berry, walnut and goat cheese salad; a breaded chicken breast, fresh vegetables, and a light, 20-minute speech.

What did Chávez have to say?

First, to answer members’ frequent question, Chávez wore a fitted navy skirt suit. It definitely qualified as “business attire” and thus as official uniform. She was also wearing an official Girl Scout scarf and pins. She specifically commented that she was wearing her newly received Catholic St. Elizabeth Ann Seton  medal.

Second, Chávez did not dwell on the Gold Award. It was mentioned, certainly, several times, but it was not the focus of the presentation. (She did not even ask Gold Award recipients present to stand.) Instead, the overall theme was reasons to “invest” in girls and Girl Scouting.

Third, Chávez acknowledged the previous day’s tragedy in Orlando, Florida, where over 100 patrons were shot at a gay nightclub. Several times she emphasized that “inclusion is in our DNA,” suggesting that Girl Scouts could be a positive force in expanding tolerance.

Fourth, when asked about plans for the future, Chávez twice mentioned that she is expecting a “call to the ministry.”

The entire presentation is available online.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Shining Light on the Civil War

Last Saturday I was a guest of honor at the 27th annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination.

For the past 27 years, the first Saturday in December is a huge event at the National Park in Sharpsburg, Maryland, about an hour’s drive from my house.

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Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and other volunteers spent all day installing 23,110 luminaries (candles in paper bags full of sand) to commemorate the 23,110 soldiers killed, wounded, or reported missing in the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.

The ceremony started promptly at 3:45 pm and featured distinguished speakers, a bagpiper, a color guard from the Army’s Old Guard unit, a choir, vocal soloists, and a bugle choir.

 

I was seated with Congressman John Delaney, former Congressman Roscoe G. Bartlett, Jr., and the wonderful Georgene Charles, founder and organizer of the Illumination.

I was particularly moved by Bartlett’s comments. He emphasized that all soldiers are remembered equally at the Illumination. Casualties are not broken into Union versus Confederacy, but rather have been united by their sacrifice. Noting the country’s current toxic political atmosphere, he held up the unifying aspects of the Illumination ceremony as a model for today’s leaders.

I had been asked to speak about the Girl Scouts and the Civil War. Since the movement began nearly a half-century later, I anticipated a very short presentation. But as I researched the topic, one very clear connection emerged.

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Nellie & William Gordon, Jr., Daisy’s parents.

Juliette Gordon Low was born on October 31, 1860; the Civil War began in April 1861. Her father immediately volunteered and left Savannah. Meanwhile her mother faced the added burden of being a Chicagoan living in the deep south. Her husband, brothers, and uncle were fighting on opposite sides, and her neighbors questioned her loyalty.

Daisy did not see her father again until she was three. She grew up knowing the hardships, stress, and anguish that affects a family when the father goes off to war. She also understood the heavy burden that falls on women at war, both mentally and physically.

That, I think is the connection between the Girl Scouts and the Civil War. The movement was only a few years old when the United States entered World War I, but Daisy knew immediately what role her girls could play. She made sure that Girl Scouts had the cooking, homemaking, and first aid skills that would allow them to keep the home fires burning, as men went to war and women went into the fields and factories. She dispatched her girls to ease the burden and worries of mothers and wives.

Back at the Antietam Battlefield, the sun was beginning to set and  the distinguished guests lit the first luminaries. (I almost lit a few bags instead of candles, it was harder than you’d imagine!)

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Slowly, volunteers lit the luminaries across the battlefield. As the sky darkened, the candles began to flicker brighter, until the entire park was aglow.

The ceremony ended with a 21 Gun Salute from The Old Guard and bugles sounding an echo version of Taps.  Everyone returned to their cars and joined a slow procession through the park.

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Photo from Hagerstown Magazine (better than any I took!)

 

Girl Scouts have been a part of this tradition since its inception. I think Juliette Gordon Low would agree that it is an excellent form of citizenship training. The scope of the conflict becomes much more tangible through the luminary installation rather than a paragraph in a textbook.

©2015 Ann Robertson