The Original Girl Scout Ambassadors

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Ambassador Program Patches

Who were the first Girl Scout Ambassadors?  If you said 11th and 12th graders, you’d be wrong.

 

While GSUSA did introduce the Ambassador program level in 2008, the name “Ambassador” was first used in 1975.

GSUSA introduced the first Ambassador program as part of a larger project to improve retention. Estimating that one out of every four families moves each year, this program encouraged girls who moved to a new town to join Girl Scouting in their new neighborhood. Instead of being the “new girl,” the traveling Girl Scout became a more prestigious-sounding “Ambassador for Scouting.”

To be an Ambassador, a girl must be helped to recognize that one of the most important things in the mission of Scouting is to be aware of the different customs and values of different groups in her community. That was one of the ideas Juliette Gordon Low had when she started the Girl Scout movement back in 1912. She hoped then, and we hope now, that Scouting will make girls more sensitive to differences in the way of life in our communities and our nation.

Leader Magazine (October 1975): 18.

The patch requirements had two parts.  First, the arriving girl would share something about her former community, such as a popular tradition or celebration, with her new troop.

Second, the girls welcoming her would then share a similar tradition or event celebrated in her new community. Together, they would prepare a report on these differences and send it to the former troop. Members of the new troop would then be eligible for the Ambassador Aide patch.

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Maybe a Girl Scout moving van would help us track members who move to new towns! (Van from Girl Scouts of River Valleys)

Leaders could request an Ambassador Program application form from their council. Girls entered their current and new address on the form and send it to GSUSA. New York would forward it to the appropriate council, which would invite the Ambassador girl to a new troop.

When introducing the new program, Leader magazine encouraged troop leaders to focus on the many holiday traditions celebrated in December and January.  Sample questions showed a deliberate effort at multiculturalism and inclusion:

  • On what day is Christmas celebrated? On what or days is Chanukah celebrated? Does the celebration begin some time in December, as it might in families with a Dutch or Belgian or Scandinavian background? Does it continue until January 6th, as it does in many families whose ancestors came from Italy or Mexico? And on what day to the children exchange gifts? When is the Chinese New Year?
  • Where do all the different customs connected with the holidays (lighted trees, mistletoe, reindeer, lighted candles, fireworks, dragons, and tribal dance) come from? Do all families everywhere observe the same customs? Why do some of them observe them differently?
  • What about different kinds of special foods prepared during the holidays?

The yellow ribbon patches were intended for the back of the badge sash and cost one dime each.

This first version of the Ambassador program lasted until 1979. A similar program, with a booklet and button pinback, was offered in 1985-1986.

The foundations of these programs are still valid in the second century of Girl Scouting. We need to improve retention, and we need to encourage tolerance and diversity to truly “make the world a better place.”

As Juliette said over 100 years ago, “To put yourselves in another’s place requires real imagination but by doing so, each Girl Scout will be able to live among others happily.”

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

 

 

My Afternoon with Frances Hesselbein

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Frances Hesselbein (Hesselbein Institute)

I never met Juliette Gordon Low, of course, but last week I came pretty close. I had the privilege of spending part of the day with Frances Hesselbein at her office in Manhattan. Few individuals have had as great an impact on the Girl Scout movement as this gracious lady.

Mrs. Hesselbein was the GSUSA National Executive Director from 1976 to 1990. Her first day on the job, in fact, was July 4, 1976. Today she is the director of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.

I had asked to interview her about the decision to sell Rockwood National Center in 1978. But we soon moved on to the many highlights and happier memories from her time at GSUSA.

She presided over many milestones, some more popular than others, including implementing circular management principles, introducing the Worlds to Explore program, reconfiguring the Edith Macy Center into a year-round training facility, and the introduction of the contemporary (three faces) logo. Some of her favorite memories include:

Halston Uniform

Mrs. H (“Frances” just seems too informal!) had just returned from visiting a Halston retrospective exhibition at the Nassau County (NY) Museum of Art. The famous fashion designer had created a stylish collection of adult uniforms in 1978, and Mrs. H vividly recalled participating in that process. She also let me borrow the gorgeous exhibit catalog.

Camping

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The diverse staff of Camp Blue Knob, circa 1952 (Hesselbein Institute)

I had submitted my resume, Rockwood book outline and synopsis, and several other documents in advance, and Mrs. H immediately noted that we both had experience as camp staff, making us both survivors of that trial by fire. She shared with me several staff photos from her time directing Camp Blue Knob in western Pennsylvania and pointed out the unusual racial diversity of the group for the early 1950s. She also had a photo from the summer 2016 camp out on the White House Lawn.

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Frances Hesselbein and President Bill Clinton (Hesselbein Institute)

While Mrs. H never camped on the White House lawn — that I know of — she has been a frequent visitor. But few visits can top one in 1998, when President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. (Juliette Gordon Low was posthumously awarded the medal in 2012.) The beautiful medal is prominently displayed in her office.

 

 

 

Diversity

While her Girl Scout camp was integrated in the early 1950s, society lagged behind. Mrs. Hesselbein recalled that she could not eat with her African-American staff members at any restaurant in any nearby town.

With that camp experience in mind, one of her priorities as head of GSUSA was to reach out to all girls, especially girls in historically underserved communities.  When she began at GSUSA, the organization was 95% white; fourteen years later, minority ranks had tripled.

As part of that effort, she sought to have a greater range of images in Girl Scout handbooks and other publications. She wanted any girl, of any background, to be able to find herself in a handbook. New handbooks depicted girls of all skin tones, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all physical abilities — in other words, all girls.

A Secret to Longevity?

Finally, as our conversation drew to a close, I brought up another topic: age. Mrs. Hesselbein is 101 — exactly twice my age.

Of course, many people remark on her extraordinary vigor. But my casual research in recent months has led me to a realization. We Girl Scouts seem to be an exceptionally long-lived group of women.

That holds true for volunteers and long-time staff. I just recently learned of a former Rockwood director who has passed away in February — and wanted it known in her obituary that she lived to 99 years and seven months.  At Nation’s Capital, we lost two past council presidents in recent years — Marguerite Cyr (101) and Bobby Lerch (104).

And the more I investigate, the more very senior Girl Scouts I find. Camping expert Kit Hammett (96); national board member Lillian Gilbreth (93). National presidents Henrietta Bates Brooke (89) and Grace MacNeil (92). But the record, so far, must be Executive Director Dorothy C. Stratton, who passed away at age 107!

 

I would love to see some data on the percentage of our membership over age 90 compared with the general population. That could be quite a retention incentive.

I asked Mrs. Hesselbein what she thought might be behind this possible trend. We came up with the same answer immediately — the girls.

The girls keep us young.

Postscript: No selfies from my visit, some memories are too precious to share. 

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Egg Rolling with the Girl Scouts

The White House Easter Egg Roll has been a Washington, DC, tradition since 1878. While the event skipped a few years, local Girl Scouts have been an Egg Roll fixture since the 1920s.

Local troops remember meeting First Lady Grace Coolidge’s pet raccoon, Rebecca, in 1927.

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First Lady Grace Coolidge shows Rebecca the raccoon to Girl Scouts in 1927 (Library of Congress, National Photo Company) UPDATE: The girl on the far left is Elizabeth Kahler, whose Girl Scout scrapbook was subsequently donated to Nation’s Capital.

In 1928, their duties were spelled out in a letter from Captain (leader) Adah Bagby. Three years earlier, Grace Coolidge had replaced White House police officers with Girl Scouts and assigned them to locate “lost parents.”

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Easter plans for Girl Scouts in 1928 (GSCNC Archives)

Also in 1928, Mrs. Coolidge noticed the rose troop crest on the girls’ uniform and gave each girl a rose from the Rose Garden.

The Girl Scouts performed a May Pole dance during the 1929 Easter Egg Roll, much to the delight of First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

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The dancing Girl Scouts must have been a hit. They performed a square dance during the rainy 1931 event.

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Hoe Down on the South Lawn! (GSCNC archives).

In recent decades, Girl Scouts have returned to their child-wrangling role.

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Photo call for a Junior troop, late 1970s (GSCNC archives)

Has your troop ever worked at the Easter Egg Roll? We need some newer photos!

©2017 Ann Robertson

Back to the Birthplace

Last weekend, I finally visited the renovated library at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia. I had not toured the house since the library’s controversial redo in April 2015.

Based on the criticism I’d read, I expected to step into a high-tech Apple Store, with rows of gleaming iPads, computer monitors, and glaring fluorescent lights. The reality was quite different.

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez (right) discusses the theory behind the new library (photo by Mark Bowles)

I watched a Cadette troop swarm into the room and head straight for the activity table in the middle of the room. Most of them passed right over the iPads—that’s something they see every day. What they really liked was the stereopticons. Everyone had to try out the “vintage virtual reality glasses.”

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The stereopticons were extremely popular (photo by Mark Bowles)

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez, front view (I forgot to take her picture!)

 

I spent over an hour in the library with Lisa Junkin Lopez, the executive director of the Birthplace. She arrived in November 2015, shortly after the new library was unveiled and instituted several modifications in response to a range of feedback. We had an excellent discussion about the purpose of various museum features.

Honor the Past, Serve the Future

The interactive table is the focus of the library and provides hands-on activities that allow girls to physically connect with the past. After a series of “do not touch” displays in other rooms, the girls welcome the change. The activities are grouped around the themes of Poems, Songs, Speeches, and Storytelling.

 

The exhibit has also been designed for maximum accessibility. Girls can feel Braille letters, for example. Girls are encouraged to compose poetry about their Girl Scout experiences, and they can leave their own mark on history by adding their favorite book to the memory journal. At one point, they could use a beautiful blue vintage typewriter to record their thoughts, but it was so popular that the machine would jam and congest the room. As the last stop on the tour, the library also offers a transition between past and present.

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This desk once held a vintage typewriter, a technology that proved too popular to remain on display  (photo by Mark Bowles)

Community Service

The library is now stocked with books by and about women, which builds on the Gordon family’s love of reading and learning. Troops are encouraged to bring contributions for the library, and returning girls often search the shelves for “their” books. Surplus books will be donated to Loop It Up, a local literacy charity.

There are also traditional Girl Scout handbooks and fictional stories on view, but these are for display only. It might be nice to have scanned excerpts of the older books available to browse on the iPads.

For All Girls

While the Birthplace is one of the holiest shrines of Girl Scouting, it also is one of the best-known house museums among the many restored mansions in historic Savannah. It is also the only house museum that has an elevator, making the upper floors accessible to visitors with physical disabilities.

Lisa explained that the Birthplace has an opportunity to expand on Juliette Gordon Low’s principle of inclusion. It can serve as a model and resource for other historic house museums seeking to improve the accessibility of their facilities without compromising their historical integrity. That seems like an outreach effort worth pursuing.

The Girls’ House

Overall, I did not find the new library as horrific as often portrayed. I’d feared isolated girls with earbuds roaming about, following a pre-recorded tour.

Instead, I was delighted to watch girls eagerly experience both the old and the new technology. We need to use the tools and technology available to help modern girls connect with the past. I’m sure I’m not the only Girl Scout historian who has referred to semaphore as “vintage texting.” That translates into something the girls understand, something more appealing than waving an old rag on a stick.

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Girl Scouts has long embraced technology. These campers from the 1920s are using “vintage GPS systems,” also known as a compass (GSCNC Archives).

I also don’t think the redesign of the library has damaged the historical integrity of the building. The rooms have not been structurally modified, just the contents changed. Any house museum will have to make compromises to meet modern building codes. I’m fairly sure the gift shop and public restrooms were not part of the original layout either, but I don’t hear complaints about those.

I find that when girls connect with Girl Scout history, when they discover their place in this venerable movement, they come away with a deeper appreciation of Girl Scouting. That’s what I saw happening in the Birthplace library, and I have no problem using the occasional iPad to help that process along.

©2017 Ann Robertson

Who’s That Girl Scout? The Yellow Brick Girl

She’s the fresh-faced young lady in a khaki pork-pie hat beaming in a vintage Girl Scout poster.

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Her friendly face is also captured on a vintage pin-back button.

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But who is this famous Girl Scout?

Sadly, this model Girl Scout has no name.  She is the creation of popular artist and illustrator Lester Ralph (1877-1927).

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Lester Ralph specialized in paintings of women and their pets. 

The watercolor painting was first used on a poster for Girl Scout week in 1919.  It was used for a variety of publicity purposes, but she is best known as the face of the 1924 “Buy a Brick” campaign.

As the Girl Scouts entered its second decade, the national headquarters had outgrown its space at 189 Lexington Avenue in New York City. Perhaps another factor in the decision to move was the neighborhood. In May 1922, thieves broke into the offices and stole nearly $10,000 worth of Girl Scout pins, watches, and uniforms. According to the New York Times, the robbers dropped their loot when “they were frightened off by a shooting in the neighborhood caused by other criminals working at cross purposes.”

In any case, by 1924 the organization was trying to raise $500,000 for a new building at 670 Lexington Avenue.

The national fund drive was chaired by popular mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, who came up with the notion to sell “parts” of the new building. One brick cost $10, walls were slightly higher. Donors received the small button as an acknowledgement of their generosity.

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Mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, in the light-colored dress, had a Girl Scout honor guard greet guests when she gave a large tea at her Washington, DC, home on November 12, 1924 (Library of Congress photo)

The building campaign overlapped with the Girl Scouts’ acquisition of the model Little House in Washington, DC, causing considerable confusion on several fronts. Unaware that the Girl Scouts had already approached the Rockefeller Foundation for a donation toward the new headquarters, the regular operating budget, and American Girl magazine, Lida Hafford, director of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, contacted the very same foundation about funding a permanent home for the Little House.

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National Director Jane Deeter Rippin shares her concerns with national president Lou Henry Hoover (GSUSA, NHPC Little House Collection)

Even the Girl Scouts national board of directors became befuddled over the matter, with some thinking the national headquarters was returning to Washington, DC, specifically to the Little House.

National President Lou Henry Hoover eventually came to the rescue. With a flurry of telegrams she clarified who was moving where, and she even put up her own money to physically tow the Little House to a permanent site just west of the White House.

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Little House on rails for its trip from the National Mall to 1750 New York Avenue NW (GSCNC archives)

Throughout the administrative ordeal, our yellow brick Girl Scout never lost her confident smile, never slumped her shoulders in despair. Her image was repurposed for additional posters before being retired in 1928, following the death of the artist.

I think it is time this girl has a name, and I propose that from here on she be known as:

Dorothy, the yellow brick Girl Scout.

If we could just make ruby slippers part of the Girl Scout shoe collection…..

©2017, Ann Robertson

 

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