Masks? Who Needs Masks?

Today you cannot turn on the news or surf the internet without seeing plea upon plea for face masks to protect health care workers during the Covid-19 crisis.

Groups across the country have sprung into action, sewing masks while quarantined at home. Girl Scouts are doing their part, collecting materials and sewing masks themselves. Troops across the United States are sending cases of cookies to hospitals and other health-care centers.

Girl Scouts have provided war-time service since the movement was founded in 1912. When the United States entered the World War I in 1917, girls distributed sandwiches to soldiers passing through town, raised homing pigeons destined for the front lines, and made bandages for the Red Cross.

Girl Scouts dig a victory garden behind the DAR Hall in Washington, DC, 1917

Local Girl Scouts also jumped in to help when another mask-related emergency occurred.

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 "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.)

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.”

Hopefully we won’t have to resort to fruit as protective gear but if so, the Girl Scouts are ready.

Many troops had to cancel cookie booths due to social distancing. You can purchase cookies online and have them delivered to first responders, food banks, or yourself!

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scout Cookies, 1957

Girl Scout Cookies, 1957

It’s Girl Scout Cookie time in the Nation’s Capital, as well as around the country.

Troops will still deliver in person, like these girls from Fairfax County Virginia in 1957, or they can arrange to mail them to you.

Fairfax Virginia Girl Scouts hit the road to deliver cookies in 1957 (GSCNC archives)

Can’t wait that long? Enter your Zip code on the Girl Scouts of the USA website to locate a booth near you!

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scout EXPO 2019

The 2019 GSCNC Expo is History!

Green bordered patch reading Expo 2019, Girl Scouts Nation's Capital

The Saturday, November 16, 2019 event was truly one for the record books.

9,000 girls explored the Dulles Expo Center in three-hour blocks. There was singing, archery, tent-pitching relays, robotics, book signings, and, of course, history.

The Archives and History Committee ran a booth with history-themed games. Linda Paulson taught girls how to play “Name that Cookie,” answer council history questions, and match new badges with their vintage counterparts. Girls received a “vintage” patch prize from our surplus. Most were excited to realize that the patch was older than the girl!

History-themed games

The booth also had a collection of Girl Scout dolls and displays about founder Juliette Gordon Low. Our own Susan “Daisy” Ducey posed for photos with girls all day.

Girl Scouts met their “founder,” Juliette Gordon Low (photo by Lisa Jackson)

But the Council History team didn’t settle for just one little old booth. No, not us! We also provided international uniforms on mannequins for another booth.

We proudly watched Archives Program Aide Vivian moderate a presentation.

Archives Program Aide Vivian (left) hosted one discussion session (GSCNC)

We welcomed our own special guest, Margaret Seiler, who told stories about her Great Aunt Daisy. Her presentation helped younger Girl Scouts understand that Juliette Gordon Low was a real person, not just a character in a book.

Last, but hardly least, we organized three vintage uniform fashion shows, one show per session. Ginger Holinka fitted girl (and a few adult) models on the spot, while Julie Lineberry emceed the show. Members of the audience gave special applause for “their” childhood uniforms and came away understanding how uniforms changed in response to fashion trends, war-time shortages, new fabrics, and the need for girls to move, move, move.  

The Committee owes a deep debt to Lisa Jackson and Dena McGuiggan Baez, leaders who found replacement uniform models when others dropped out at the last minute. They saved the show!!

The last Council Expo was held in 2006. Many people have asked why it took so long to organize another. After Saturday’s experience, I know I will need at least 13 years to recover. But maybe I’ll pencil another one in on my calendar, just to save the date.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Out with the Old and in with the New, part 1

Exhibits, that is. That probably isn’t the best headline for a history blog!

The Archives and History Committee recently changed the exhibit at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters.

After two months on exhibit, we dismantled “Badges and Biscuits.” This theme covered Girl Guide badges and product sales. It also coincided with our cookie sale and World Thinking Day (February 22).

Girl Guide Badges

The badges date to the late 1950s and early 1960s. They had originally been presented to the former Rockwood national Girl Scout camp by visiting Girl Guides. When that facility closed in 1978, GSUSA left them behind, and they made their way into our council’s collection.

I discovered them wrapped in paper and shoved in a box a few years ago, and I have been looking for an opportunity to share them.

Unfortunately, the foreign badges had been affixed to lengths of burlap with some sort of space-age polymer. I used heat, alcohol, acetone, a jackhammer, and sticks of dynamite to remove them. (OK, not the last two, but I was seriously contemplating it.)

After nearly a week, I had them all removed. I remounted them on 12″x12″ scrapbook paper so that they could fit into frames for display now and stored into scrapbook-sized envelopes after.

I was delighted with the results:

Girl Guide Biscuits

We filled one display case with the Girl Guide badges, the other was devoted to Girl Guide cookie sales. We also had some Girl Guide cookie patches to tie the theme together.

I learned a lot from Girl Guide websites and historians. I stuck largely to English-language sources, so the examples are drawn from a small number of countries.

UK and Ireland

Nope, not in the UK

British Girl Guides do not sell cookies. The Girl Guiding historians I contacted seemed quite proud of this fact.

In contrast, Irish Girl Guides only began selling packets of chocolate chip biscuits in fall 2017. Officials introduced the new program to help “change the imbalance of the number of women in decision-making position across the various sectors of society such as businesses, companies, and boardrooms around Ireland.”

Canada

Canadian Girl Guides have two categories of cookies (sandwich and mint). One is sold in the fall; the other in the spring.

They also have an impressive cookie badge curriculum that includes lessons on the history of their cookie sales and samples of vintage posters, cookie boxes, and other memorabilia.

Canadian Girl Guides

Australia and New Zealand

Australian Girl Guides have sold cookies for decades, but they are limited to one weekend across the entire country. Think of one mega booth sale.

Australian Girl Guide Cookies

Girl Guides in New Zealand kicked off their first biscuit sale in 1957, which grew to selling 28 million boxes per year. But March 2019 marked the last national Girl Guide biscuit sale in New Zealand. The organization plans to seek new fundraising programs for the future as biscuit sales provided one-third of its budget.

Vintage New Zealand Girl Guide poster

Keep following the Girl Scout History Project to see our latest installation!

©2019 Ann Robertson

Narwhals, Leopards, and Cookies, Oh My!

The 2019 season is nearing its end, with a heated contest for the Narwhals and Clouded Leopards.

Am I talking about NCAA basketball? The Super Bowl, World Series, or some national team mascot showdown?

No, it’s time to wrap up Girl Scout cookie season for 2019.

Each cookie baker has an annual theme with a mascot that shows up in promotional materials, cookie patches, and other incentives that girls earn for selling various amounts of cookies.

This year it was the ABC Narwhals against Little Brownie Bakers’ Clouded Leopard.

ABC Narwhal
Little Brownie Baker’s Clouded Leopard

Each baker has a motivational theme associated with its yearly sale (Inspire, Imagine, Innovate! and Go for Bold!), but you need a mascot to use for a cute plush incentive. (Although I do wonder about that horn on the narwhal, seems more hazardous than cuddly.)

The mascots even have names!

Nellie Narwhal has an identity crisis. Some councils call her “Sparkles”

Tradition of Prizes

Cookie incentives are almost as old as cookie sales themselves, but most councils originally applied cookie profits to summer camp fees. Some councils offered patches or charms to sellers. I still remember the goal I set for my first cookie sale–enough to attend day camp free. The pride of “earning it yourself” is behind all incentive programs.

Cookie prizes from the 1960s (author’s collection)

When Girl Scouts of the USA consolidated the cookie program into a handful of national bakers in the 1970s, the companies introduced annual themes and mascots. Burry-LU’s animal series is perhaps the best known, not just for its bright colors and easily recognizable design, but for a few “what were they thinking?” selections.

My poster “wall of shame,” according to my family

Prize Proliferation

The number of patches has grown exponentially since the 1990s, as councils, bakers, and some third-party vendors have jumped on the bandwagon with offerings related to the annual theme.

Visually similar patches with absolutely nothing to do with cookies, such as early registration, have been added to create a yearly set of patches.

Compare, for example, 1972 with 2015-16.

Cookie patches from 1972 (Cookie Crumbs)
Cookie patches from 2015-2016 (Cookie Crumbs)
and they keep coming!! (Cookie Crumbs)

And there are patches for adults, too!

Girls’ Choice

The patches and other prizes are fun and appealing to many Girl Scouts. Many consumers may not realize that the girls have a say in the marketing program as well.

In most councils, older Girl Scouts (middle school and high school age) can opt out of the incentive program in return for a higher profit per box. This is especially appealing for girls and troops saving up over several years for a big trip. After all, a girl can use only so many sparkly pens. (Opt-out girls usually still receive some patches.)

Girls also have a say in selecting the mascot for the next cookie season. Some councils allow all girls to vote, others may use a more limited random sample, but the principle of girl-led carries through.

Little Brownie Bakers ballot for 2018-2019. Are Macaws and Frogs really “furry”?
Cookie mascot options for 2019-2020 from ABC Bakers

For more on cookie patches and prizes over the years, see Cookie Crumbs, my web archive.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Thin Mints and Nutella?

News this week that Girl Scout cookie supplier Little Brownie Bakers has been sold to an Italian company proved to be no April Fool’s joke.

Girl Scout cookies from Little Brownie Bakers

In a deal valued at $1.3 billion, Ferrero Group purchased select properties from Kellogg, including Little Brownie, Keebler, and Famous Amos.

I found out from a Wall Street Journal reporter who called me for background on the history of Girl Scout cookie sales. Although I was surprised by the news, I’m not alarmed. Flavors, food trends, and bakers have come and gone for years, but Girl Scout cookies aren’t going away.

The Pooh Tree at Camp Potomac Woods

Despite the Keebler connection, Girl Scout cookies have never been made by elves in hollow trees. Besides, our hollow trees are full of girls.

Girl Scouts in Oklahoma began selling homemade cookies in 1917. Their popularity led other troops to fire up their ovens. As the volume of cookie sales increased, in 1934 Girl Scouts in Philadelphia turned to Keebler-Wyl, a commercial baker, to produce shortbread cookies.

From Many Bakers to Two

Other councils followed the Philly girls’ lead and negotiated contracts with regional companies. Volume and demand increased exponentially, until there were 29 authorized bakers by 1948. Another 14 were added in the 1960s.

All bakers made the signature shortbread cookie, and by the 1960s many had introduced mint and sandwich cookies. Most bakers also offered one or two of their own flavors.

As part of a brand standardization effort, the national Girl Scout organization limited production to four bakers starting in 1978. GSUSA provided graphics and program information, although the individual bakers picked their own annual theme, usually with a cute animal mascot.

By the early 1990s, the number of bakers had narrowed to two: Little Brownie Bakers, based in Louisville, and ABC Bakers of Richmond, Virginia. (Who bakes for you? Click here.)

I never made it to the bakery, but I got a patch 30 years later.

(Disclosure: As a born-and-raised Kentucky girl, I’ve always been partial to Little Brownie. When my Cadette troop visited Louisville years ago, we wanted to arrange a tour. I couldn’t find “Little Brownie” in the phone book so I called information. The operator thought it was a prank call and hung up on me.)

While the bakers have changed over the years, the basic recipes have not. Hopefully that will continue to be the case with Ferrero.

Other Foreign Connections

I can’t imagine Ferrero moving production overseas as it would prohibitively drive up shipping costs. But even if they did, it would not be the first time that some Girl Scout cookies were not made in the USA.

In 1984, sharp-eyed consumers noticed “Made in Belgium” written on boxes of Kookaburras. Representatives from the baker, Burry-LU, explained that that they were still testing the flavor. Because US-based factories did not have the proper equipment, this one flavor was temporarily being made in Belgium. It the cookie made the cut, Burry-LU would need to fork over $2 million for new production equipment.

Source: Mental Floss (March 4, 2016)

And if anyone wants to get very picky, ABC Bakers is a subsidiary of the Toronto-based Weston Foods.

Change is the Secret Ingredient

What makes Girl Scout cookies so popular? It is a combination of tradition, quality, adorable vendors, and flexibility.

Each baker is required to offer four traditional cookies (Mint, Samoa, Trefoil, Tagalong) plus up to four more flavors. Over the years, these elective varieties have often reflected changing tastes and dietary concerns. Past offerings have been low-fat, crunchy granola, gluten free, 100-calorie packets, and even crackers, such as the Golden Yangles of the 1980s.

Source: Mental Floss (March 4, 2016)

Perhaps it is easier to justify scarfing down a box of Thin Mints if you balance them out with such healthier options.

That’s a Lot of Cookies

Simply stated, the Girl Scout cookie jar is too big to loose. With total revenue from both bakers estimated at $800 million annually, including Little Brownie Bakers undoubtedly sweetened the deal for Ferrero.

I don’t see a need to begin hoarding Girl Scout cookies–not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Instead, I see the new owners as offering some tantalizing opportunities.

Two words: Nutella cookies. I’m just saying…

For more cookie history fun, see Cookie Crumbs, my online archive of cookie prizes past and present.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Flying with Girl Scout Cookies

This poster hangs on a wall at our Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland. Bright yellow and 28×22″, it always attracts comments.

However, we didn’t know the story behind the picture. We found it in the back of a closet, in a ratty old frame held together with Scotch tape.

Based on the uniforms and the fact that it says “70th Anniversary,” the image is obviously from the early 1980s, presumably 1982.

But the mystery was solved thanks to an old Nation’s Capital newsletter. For Girl Scout Week 1982, Delta Airlines replaced their normal peanut snacks with packets of Trefoil shortbread cookies. Delta bought and distributed 800,000 cookies March 7-13, 1982.

This was the second time an airline joined the national cookie sales. In 1981 United made what was then the largest corporate cookie purchase in history. United included a packet of two Trefoils on every meal tray.

The success of the United program encouraged Delta to participate. Delta went one step further, having their own company artist, Brad Diggers, commemorate Girl Scouts’ 70th birthday with a special painting.

Limited editions of the painting were presented to 15 Girl Scout councils served by Delta. Nation’s Capital has print number 10 of 34.

Close-up of artist’s signature

Happy Birthday, Girl Scouts!!

© 2019 Ann Robertson