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!

 

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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

 

Collect, Preserve, or Document?

I was so excited by a new item that popped up on eBay earlier this month.

Designated as volume 1, number 1, The Girl Scouts’ Rally Bulletin is the public record of the first national convention, which was held in Washington in 1915. It was compiled by Edna Colman, the local commissioner.

Tableaux 1915

In 1915 local troops put on a demonstration for convention delegates, including this representation of Justice, Liberty, and Peace.

This 32-page booklet includes highlights from troops across the country, including Washington. It also has a uniform price list (hats, $1.25; middy blouses, $1.75, etc.), and the names and addresses of troop leaders from every state.

The Nation’s Capital council archival holdings are surprisingly thin on the early history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC. While council consolidation has brought the records of many legacy councils into a central location, our historical records are scattered across multiple sites. It takes some ingenuity, detailed searching, and sometimes pure luck, to track down information about our earliest days.

The main problem is that our early history is so closely entwined with that of the national movement. The first troops in and around the District of Columbia were managed out of the Munsey Building, where Juliette Gordon Low established the first national headquarters in 1913. Records from those years are more likely to be found at the JGL Birthplace or the First Headquarters in Savannah.

 

Little House Booklet Cover

Cover of 1923 booklet about the Little House

After national headquarters moved to New York, the national Little House opened in Washington, and the local council rented one room of the house to use as its headquarters. When the Little House closed in 1945, some of its files went to New York, but others went to Rockwood, a national Girl Scout camp just across the District of Columbia—Maryland border. When Rockwood closed, its files and fixtures went everywhere … but that is another story.

 

Surprisingly, some of the best information I’ve found about our early years comes from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa. Lou Henry Hoover’s role in the first years of Girl Scouting cannot be understated, and archivists there have been very generous about scanning documents for me.

Another source, the first Girl Scout magazine, The Rally (1917-20), published a regular column about the Girl Scouts of Washington.

But back to eBay. The asking price for this booklet? Nearly $600!! Pardon while I grab the smelling salts. This was a 30-day auction, now ended, and the price was slashed several times. The final price was $299.99. It did not sell.

1915 Bulletin

At first, I was furious. This was highway robbery! Holding our history hostage for a huge ransom! Unfair!

Then I looked closer. The listing included numerous photos of various pages and ended with the statement:

Early enough, very rare and important enough to be a museum piece according to my research. I could not find another one like it. I could only find a PDF version at Girl Scouts University, Girl Scout History & Preservation. RESEARCH IT!

So I did.

GSU Pin

Girl Scout University pin

The website is still up for Girl Scout University, another promising idea that GSUSA quietly abandoned and allowed to die of neglect.

 

I downloaded a good-quality PDF that added several new pages to our history.

The thing is, even if I had an extra $300 or $600 sitting around, there is no way I could justify the cost. I see my task as documenting history, not necessarily collecting examples of everything Girl Scout. While it is important to have artifacts that can be held and experienced, we wouldn’t pass around a century-old, original report anyway. We would scan it, lock it away carefully, and work with a copy. Which is exactly what we now have. And it didn’t cost us $300.

A few days after I first saw this auction, I received a priceless donation of original documents from essentially the same time period.

I’ll share that in a few days…

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

 

Henrietta Bates Brooke: Comments

I received a stunning comment on my most recent blog post.

Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing from readers. But this particular comment made me scream, swoon, and burst into tears.

Last week I wrote about the origins of the District of Columbia Girl Scout council. I naturally mentioned the council’s organizer and first president, Henrietta Bates Brooke.

Mrs. Brooke, known as “Texas” to her friends, is a major figure in the history of all Girl Scouting. She was the national president in the 1930s and instrumental in acquiring Rockwood National Center. This mini resume appeared in the April 1983 Rockwood Rally newsletter.

But back to the comment. An “Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks” wrote, “Henrietta Brooke was my great aunt!”

Whew, almost fainted again.

So who is this mysterious Ms. Brooke-Willbanks?

One of my oldest Girl Scout friends!! We were in the same Cadette/Senior troop in Paducah, Kentucky, in the early 1980s.

 

Betty.JPG

Elizabeth and I at the legendary Centennial party during the 2011 convention.

 

Elizabeth became a professional Girl Scout, working in councils in Kentucky and Massachusetts, and is still in the non-profit world now.

We both attended the 2011 National Council session in Houston, where we had brunch with our own leaders. They just happened to be in Houston, saw all the Girl Scout signs, and tracked us down.

(If you remember Robin Roberts opening her speech by mentioning that she had just met an adult Girl Scout on her way to brunch with her childhood leaders, that was Elizabeth.)

 

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Mini-troop reunion: Me, Mary Henry, Margaret Purcell, and Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks

 

Small world, isn’t it?

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Conventions, Co-Eds, and First Ladies

Yesterday, the International Day of the Girl, the Boy Scouts announced that girls will be able to join Cub Scouts, beginning in fall 2018. BSA will introduce a pathway for girls to earn the Eagle Scout award in 2019.

The new policy, first floated in August, is a response to falling numbers of registered Boy Scouts nationwide. Girl Scouts of the USA (note: we are NOT Girl Scouts of America or GSA) President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan weighed in on the proposed co-ed membership in a letter to Boy Scout President Randall Stephenson:

Rather than seeking to fundamentally transform BSA into a co-ed program, we believe strongly that Boy Scouts should instead take steps to ensure that they are expanding the scope of their programming to all boys, including those who BSA has historically underserved and underrepresented, such as African American and Latino boys.

GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan

On Monday, October 9, newly elected GSUSA board member Charles Garcia made his objections clear:

The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” Garcia wrote. “Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA’s senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls.

Charles Garcia, GSUSA Board Member

 

I’ve just returned from the 54th National Council Session in Columbus, OH, October 4-8, 2017. Every three years the Girl Scouts’ National Council convenes to vote on proposals that affect the entire movement, such as dues and composition of the national board of directors (Garcia was elected to the board in Columbus). While not on the official agenda, the possible Boy Scout change prompted considerable discussion between panels.

Boys have frequently participated in Girl Scout events, especially high-school-age members. Local Senior troops staying at Rockwood National Center might invite boys for an evening of (closely supervised) dancing.

17-Boys

A co-ed event at Rockwood National Center in the 1950s (GSCNC Archives).

 

In the earliest years of Scouting in Washington, DC, troops frequently held joint meetings and events. Perhaps the first assembly of all of the Girl Scout troops in Washington was on  May 23, 1914, when troops from both movements held an all-day picnic at Wildwood Boy Scout Camp in Takoma Park, MD.

 

Forty-two years ago, co-ed membership was the main issue at the Girl Scouts’ 1975 National Council Session, held in Washington, DC. The proposal came at a time of dropping membership levels across all youth organizations. Camp Fire Girls had responded by admitting boys aged 14-18 and the Boy Scouts opened Explorers (Venturing) to girls aged 14 to 21 in 1974.

Backers of co-ed membership argued that the presence of boys would help girls develop social skills that would prepare them for the workplace. Critics cited the confidence girls develop in a single-sex environment and pointed out that boys mature more slowly than girls and could not be grouped with same-age girls.

Ultimately, after two hours’ of debate, a voice vote overwhelmingly defeated the motion to admit boys. The issue has not come up for a vote since.

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First Lady Betty Ford helped open the 1975 convention in Washington, DC.

The 1975 convention is also notable for having First Lady Betty Ford participate in the opening ceremony. Since Edith Wilson in 1917, every first lady has been honorary president of the Girl Scouts. While few can appear in person at a convention, they typically send video greetings for the opening session. Melania Trump was conspicuously absent from Columbus. Instead, former first daughters Barbara Pierce Bush and Chelsea Clinton chaired panel discussions.

 

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Chelsea Clinton fields questions from the National Young Women of Distinction, Columbus OH

 

 

Brenda Akers

The insightful Brenda Akers (AP Photo)

 

Researching the debate on boy membership, I was struck by how many press reports quoted Brenda Akers, a 17-year-old Senior Girl Scout from Indiana: “If we need boys to sell the Girl Scouts, we need to re-evaluate our program.”

The Boy Scouts should take Miss Akers’ suggestion to heart.

©2017 Ann Robertson

New Look for GS History Project

With the 54th Girl Scout National Conference session convening this week in Columbus, OH, I decided to refresh the look and content of the Girl Scout History Project.

I’ve added links to my other website projects, an archive of Council’s Own badges and a new site with Cookie Patches and Prizes from the past.  In early 2018, the site will begin hosting an archive of Leader magazines, the product of a collaborative project among Girl Scout historians. (I’m hosting it temporarily; hopefully, GSUSA will take it over in the future.)

I’m excited to announce a new logo for the website, definitely the most fun part of the transformation:

GS History Project

Meet Digital Daisy!

“Digital Daisy” was designed by an Illustration major from the Savannah College of Art and Design, which gives the image an extra dose of Girl Scout history.

I’d hoped to have patches made to use as SWAPs at the convention, but time ran out. I do have some stickers and business cards.

IMG_4647

Look for the Daisy tote bag!

I’m still not convinced “Digital Daisy” is the best nickname, so suggestions are welcome!

(And yes, I secured permission from GSUSA to use “GS” in the image.)

©2017 Ann Robertson

Archives at Annual Meeting

Saturday, April 8, was the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. The Archives & History Committee always creates a display for the event.

This year we featured vintage adult uniforms and uniform kits. As usual, I visited with so many people that I forgot to take many pictures, but here are a few:

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Vintage adult Girl Scout uniforms.

IMG_3787The uniform display was so popular that we had people lining up to take photos with them!

Troops can check out vintage uniform kits for meetings or events. Each kit is a suitcase containing about seven uniforms and handbooks. We have all-age samplers, as well as Brownie, Junior, and Teen kits. We will be adding an adult kit soon.

IMG_3785

Uniform Program Kits

We were delighted to receive an enormous new donation just a few days before the Annual Meeting.  Not only did the donation include many adult uniforms in near-pristine condition, there also were nearly 50 international uniforms from the 1950s.

They came from the family of Janet McIntyre of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Janet had been an active Girl Scout leader beginning in the 1950s. Like many leaders, she accumulated many, many, GS materials over the years, and troops could borrow items, such as these vintage uniforms, for meetings and ceremonies. Janet passed away in June 2015 (age 94). Her children discovered the uniforms as they prepared to sell the house and contacted the council to inquire about donating.

We brought a few of the international uniforms to display at the Annual Meeting as well. This Brownie dress from the Philippines may be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. The hand-embroidered badges are sewn on the waistband. (See next post.)

Committee members also wore vintage uniforms. I picked the Stella Sloat dress from 1968. I think we should bring back gloves.

Council members can check out vintage uniforms to wear for the National Conference Session this October. Contact me if you are interested.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Farewell to Our Piper and Our Princess

The sudden loss of both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds this week reminded me of a moment when my teen troop visited the GSUSA museum in 2015. Staff showed them a display on the Piper Project.

“That’s Debbie Reynolds,” said the archivist, pointing to a photo. “Star of Singing in the Rain.”

Blank stares.

Portrait of Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds in her Girl Scout uniform (notice she earned the Curved Bar!)

“Aggie, from Halloweentown,” I translated.

That they understood. The Disney Channel movies are beloved by young women of a certain age. Cheers ensued.

Girl Scouts of a slightly older vintage remember Debbie Reynolds as the face of the Piper Project. Launched at the national convention on October 25, 1966, this three-year program sought to improve retention levels among current Girl Scouts, in part by recruiting more adult volunteers. Reynolds was to shoot a color television spot and film a short movie as part of the adult recruitment effort.

Reynolds explained the role Girl Scouting played in her life in the January 1967 issue of Leader magazine:

All my life I’ve been a Girl Scout, from that day long ago when I first said, “On my honor. … Like so many of us here, I have my mother to thank for one of the finest things that ever happened to me. She was my Girl Scout leader. Today I couldn’t begin to count the many ways Girl Scouting has influenced my life. … But we all know that the true values, the real values of Scouting, have to grow on you. You have to be a Scout long enough for them to take hold and endure. First it’s the fun — the songs and games, the being together with other girls, the belonging! And most of all, the chance to try out for yourself all the adventures in self-discovery Girl Scouting has to offer.

But you and I know that the fun, the games, the adventures are only a means in Girl Scouting — a means to a most important end. These are the tools we use to help girls grow into happy and resourceful citizens …

This doesn’t happen in a day, or in a year, or maybe not even in two of three. For that reason Girl Scouting should be a special ingredient in the lives of girls — seven through seventeen. And it can … That’s why I’m a Girl Scout leader.

Reynolds carried on her family tradition by leading a troop for her daughter, Carrie Fisher. While numerous Girl Guide organizations around the world can claim a princess or two as members, only GSUSA can claim Princess Leia as one of their own.

I don’t think I can add much to Reynolds’ comment. Girl Scouting is cumulative. The longer you’re a member, the more you get out of it. Perhaps the most fitting tribute would be for today’s leaders to take a deep breath, remember the year’s best moments, and commit to another year working with girls.

You never know which of today’s Brownies will grow up to save the galaxy from evil.

©2016 Ann Robertson