Who’s That Girl Scout? Leah Burket

Seventy-five years ago, in June 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Washington, DC.  Girl Scout Leah Burket was selected to present the Queen with a bouquet of flowers as the royal couple left the White House en route to a garden party at the British Embassy.  Her Majesty was enchanted by Leah and paused the procession for a closer look at one of Leah’s badges.

Girl Scout Leah Burkett, left, tells Queen Elizabeth about one of her awards.
Girl Scout Leah Burkett, left, tells Queen Elizabeth about one of her awards.

Today, June 8, 2014, Washington Post columnist John Kelly recalled “Their majesties’ magical tour of Washington 75 years ago.” He included a version of this photo, but the print version cropped out poor Leah. That is a shame, as she was an outstanding  Girl Scout.

Queen Elizabeth asked Leah about her Book Finder badge.
Queen Elizabeth asked Leah about her Book Finder badge.

Leah was a member of Takoma Park, Maryland, Troop 51.  She was in the same troop as Jean Boyer Porter, who remained an active Girl Scout in the Washington area until her death last year.  Jean’s children generously donated her Girl Scout memorabilia to the Nation’s Capital Council, including scrapbooks and photo albums full of Troop 51’s exploits in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Girl Scout troops were to assemble at 3:45 on June 8, 1939, for the royal visit.
Girl Scout troops were to assemble at 3:45 on June 8, 1939, for the royal visit.

Leah, 15, became quite the celebrity.  She told the Evening Star newspaper that after she presented Queen Elizabeth with a bouquet of forget-me-nots, sweet peas, and lilies of the valley, the royal asked to shake her hand.

“Then she asked how many badges I had, and I said there were 15 on this uniform. She asked about one in particular. That is the book-finder badge. She told me that her daughter Elizabeth [now Queen Elizabeth II] is working for her badges.”

The photo of Leah and the royals was reproduced around the world. She recalled getting letters containing the clipping from people across the United States, as well as from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and India.  She became pen pals with several of them and learned about the hardships many people faced in war-torn Britain.

Leah put her Girl Scout leadership skills to work to organize a “Bundles for Britain” dance at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Bundles for Britain sent packages of warm clothing, first aid kits, and other items to British families. Inspired by Leah, the Silver Spring Young Men’s Democratic Club and the Indian Springs Country Club also held similar dances.

Three cheers for Leah Burket!

 

Who’s That Girl Scout? The Peach Pit Girls

One hundred years ago, the onset of World War I provided many opportunities for the new Girl Scout movement.

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.)

A December 20, 1914, Washington Post clipping reports Takoma Park Troop 5 busily knitting scarves “for the European soldiers.”

In February 1915, Juliette Gordon Low arrived in Washington from England. She met with troop leaders at the National Headquarters (the Munsey Building at 1327 E Street NW) and “gave a graphic account of the remarkable relief work being done in England by the Girl [Guides].”

WP1915 June 13
The Girl Scout organization pledges its support to President Wilson during World War I. (Washington Post, June 13, 1915)

After the United States entered the war in 1917, Girl Scouts stepped up their efforts. Girls joined Lou Henry Hoover to distribute sandwiches to soldiers passing through town, raised homing pigeons destined for the front lines, and made bandages for the Red Cross.

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.”

Well done, ladies!

God Bless the Girl Scouts

On the past two Sundays,  I have played concerts with the Montgomery Village Community Band  As usual, we ended the concerts with “God Bless America.”

What does this have to do with Girl Scouts?  Plenty!

But first, a question: How much have Irving Berlin and his family earned from the royalties on “God Bless America”?

Answer:   $0.

Written in 1917, “God Bless America” debuted on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1938.  It was an instant hit.  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. 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 in 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.

But things changed dramatically in December 2012.

The Fund was not satisfied by the council’s statement in 2012, and it refused to cut a check to the Boy Scouts. Even when the national Boy Scouts voted in May 2013 to lift the ban on gay boys as members–it still applies to leaders–the GBA Fund stood firm.

“As long as the BSA continues to maintain this discriminatory policy,” the Fund said in a statement, The God Bless America Fund will not provide financial grants to any affiliated chapters of The Boy Scouts of America. As far as I can tell, that policy remains in place.

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.

I don’t know if the Girl Scouts now receive the entire annual royalty check for “God Bless America,” but I hope to find out. For 2012, Girl Scouts of Greater New York reported a donation from the God Bless American Fund of between $75,000 and $149,999. (See Greater New York Annual Report 2012.)

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.

Taking Pot Shots at the Girl Scouts

Marijuana and the Girl Scouts?  Not words you’d normally put together, but lately the news is full of stories about Girl Scouts and pot.

The buzz comes from San Francisco, where an enterprising Girl Scout set up a cookie both outside a medical marijuana dispensary and did a booming business.  With states increasingly decriminalizing marijuana, the stage seemed set for an army of girls in green helping legal users satisfy their munchies.

But not so fast. You can’t just go out and deal cookies on any street corner.  There are rules. Most councils have a centralized booth assignment system, which secures and distributes booth locations up to two months in advance. The San Francisco Girl Scout’s booth was not approved by the Northern California Council; instead, it was her mother’s idea.  It was a rogue booth.

The Girl Scout Council of Colorado, a state that recently allowed sales of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, quashed the hopes of many potential Thin Mint dealers. The Council clarified that its policy of not allowing sales outside adult-oriented business (such as liquor stores and gun shops) applies to pot shops, too.

Here in Washington, DC, there also is a movement to decriminalize marijuana, but that is old news for the Girl Scouts.

Patch from 1972 Wider Opportunity, "Petticoats, Pot, and Politics"
Patch from 1972 Wider Opportunity, “Petticoats, Pot, and Politics”

Teen Girl Scouts already weighed in on the marijuana issue, took their views to a Republican White House, and got an endorsement from the First Family.

In 1972 the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital sponsored “Petticoats, Pot, and Politics,” a Wider Opportunity (Destination) for Senior Girl Scouts. One hundred girls aged 14-17 from across the country joined 25 girls from GSCNC for two weeks of political debate at Trinity College in Washington, DC.

The Nation’s Capital girls helped design the program, selecting current issues with particular relevance for teens.  They passed several bills, including one requiring sex education to be taught in school, but defeated a proposal to decriminalize marijuana, instead calling for possession to be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Petticoats Pot_JNixon
Leader Magazine, March 1973.

The experience ended with a reception at the White House attended by First Daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who declared that she agreed with the girls’ position on marijuana.

So, Girl Scouts on pot.  Been there, done that, didn’t inhale.

(C) 2014 Ann Robertson

Happy Presidents’ Day!!

Who doesn’t love a parade!  Girl Scout troops love marching in parades.  It’s a great way to learn about citizenship, serve the community, and have fun!

These Juniors from Arlington, VA, Troop 315 are suited up and ready for the 1990 Old Town Alexandria George Washington Birthday parade, the oldest parade in the United States honoring our first president.

Arlington, VA, Troop 315 readies for the 1990 Old Town Alexandria George Washington's Birthday Parade.
Arlington, VA, Troop 315 readies for the 1990 Old Town Alexandria George Washington’s Birthday Parade.