Sofia Chang GSUSA CEO. February 1, 2022-January 27, 2023
© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian
Sofia Chang GSUSA CEO. February 1, 2022-January 27, 2023
© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian
The Girl Scouts of the USA turns 110 years old on March 12, 2022.
In the 1930s, individual Girl Scout troops began to group together as councils or associations.
Adults worried over how to keep older girls engaged, and GSUSA responded with innovative programming.
High school girls now had their very own membership pin, whose design inspired the Gold Award pin. The successful Mariner program would lead to other challenging programs for Senior Girl Scouts, including wing, horseback, and hospital aide.
The entire organization also began to incorporate civil-defense activities, which would come in handy in the 1940s.
The Girl Scouts of the USA turns 110 years old on March 12, 2022.
In the 1920s, Girl Scouts changed to silver-green uniforms, adapted the British Brownie program, and awarded Golden Eaglet pins to outstanding high-school girls.
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.
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.”
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 despite its critics, 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.”
Originally the royalty 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 have used the funds to provide programs in low-income neighborhoods of New York City.
According to the Chicago Tribune (November 7, 2001), the song generated about $200,00 per year, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Royalties swelled to $800,000 for 2001. 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. 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. (Boy Scouts ended this restriction in 2015.)
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. I cannot pin-point the resumption date as the council’s website has dead links for all annual reports between 2014 and 2017.
For 2018, the Greater New York Boy Scouts received a donation of at least $100,000.
The Fund has never had a problem with the Girl Scouts. For 2020, Girl Scouts of Greater New York reported a donation from the God Bless American Fund of between $50,000 and $99,000, twice the level received in 2015. (See Girl Scouts of Greater New York 2020 Annual Report.)
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.
©2021 Ann Robertson
How big is the largest US flag that you have ever seen?
Perhaps it is the one flown over the US Capitol? The famous “Star Spangled Banner” of 1814 on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History? There’s a car dealership near my House that claims to have the largest.
But for sheer size, the US Flags flown at Mount Rushmore towers over the contenders.
It’s one thing to observe an object from a distance, but to really appreciate it, you need to get up close and personal. You need to compare it to a known point of reference, such as your basic 5-foot tall, 12-year old American girl.
In 1990, a retired flag that had long flown at Mount Rushmore went on a grand tour of the United States as part of the US Interior Department’s “Take Pride in America” initiative. Nine 20×30 “Gettysburg Peace Flags” were also part of the tour. The nine had been dedicated on the Gettysburg National Battlefield in 1988.
The giant flag went into service on July 4, 1987, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the massive US landmark. When the ceremony began, this flag covered the massive face of President Abraham Lincoln. Despite high winds, the flag was majestically raised to reveal Lincoln.
The flag was used for the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the 1989 Presidential Inauguration. When its tour ended, the flag returned to South Dakota, where in 1991 it was used to cover the face of President Theodore Roosevelt, during a ceremony to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of that presidential portrait.
The exhibit arrived in the Nation’s Capital in 1990, where it would teach youth to take pride in their country, as well as its many cultural and natural resources. Local Girl Scouts were invited to participate in the largest flag ceremony of their lives, using this massive banner.
On Saturday, October 20, 1990, more than 2,500 Girl Scouts assembled at the Potomac Polo Club in Poolesville, Maryland, on the border with the District of Columbia, for the occasion.
The girls quickly realized that it would take nearly all of them to maneuver the flag into position.
The Mount Rushmore flag measures 45 feet by 90 feet and weighs 300 pounds. Girls formed two rows to begin removing the flag from its storage case. In addition to the girls holding the flag by the edges, a contingent of small Brownies and Daisies walked underneath the flag so it would not sag or touch the ground.
The Girl Scouts progressed down the length of the polo field and stopped in front of a large, telescoping crane. The girls solemnly passed the flag, hand over hand, toward an iron bar attached to the crane. Once it was firmly attached to the bar, the crane raised it into position.
The ceremony, organized by Thelma Glowacki and Stephanie Gonos, took nearly the entire day. Local Congresswoman Connie Morella spoke, calling the event a “wonderful display of woman power.” Local news anchors, the Quantico Marine Corps Band, the Coast Guard Silent Drill Team, a majorette and drum corps, among many, many others, also participated.
As the day came to an end, the flag was slowly lowered and returned to its case. The girls then formed a giant friendship circle and began to sing “Taps.” Finally, a bugle call sounded, and everyone silently left the field.
An emotional, patriotic day was done.
The first Girl Scout troops were often an unusual combination of social classes.
The women who organized troops in a city could be described as “clubwomen.” They were upper-class matrons interested in social causes that could improve their communities.
Their backgrounds resembled that of Juliette Gordon Low, who brought Girl Scouting to the United States. To grow the movement, JGL reached out to her friends and boarding school chums and prodded them to start troops in their communities.
These women handled the administrative and financial needs, but many considered themselves too old to lead a troop. Instead, they turned to their daughters: young women who had recently `graduated from college and sought meaningful work, at least until they married. Their participation also gave the new movement a stamp of respectability that would help recruit more members.
Daughters were also nearer the age of the girls, who mostly were teenagers in the early years.
Troop captains (as leaders were originally called) had to be at least 21 years old and a 1921 survey found that most were under 25 years old.
Martha Bowers exemplified the use of Girl Scouting to bridge extreme economic and social divides in Washington, DC.
Martha, age 25, was the daughter of Lloyd Bowers, the former U.S. solicitor general. She had attended the Rosemary Hall School in Connecticut, studied at Bryn Mawr and the Sorbonne, and made her society debut in the 1909-1910 season.
The sudden death of her father in late 1910 left her extremely wealthy.
Martha’s travels, wardrobe and activities were avidly followed in leading newspapers.
In 1914, when the GS national headquarters was in Washington, DC., JGL appointed ten prominent women, including Martha, to a new Advisory Board.
Martha was also instructed to form a troop at Noel Settlement House, which provided community and recreational services to some of Washington’s poorest residents. The staff was particularly proud of their dance program.
The object of this social organization is to keep the boys and girls away from the vicious dance halls, of which there are many in the northeast, and to keep them off the streets.Washington Herald (December 17, 1911).
Located at 1243 H Street NE, Noel House already had several Boy Scout troops. Those had been organized by Mrs. Richard Wainwright, who chaired the new Girl Scout Advisory Board.
Troop 4, “White Rose” was very active, participating in several city events that spring and summer. They held a May Festival at Rosedale park, dancing in simple white dresses and carrying garlands of pink roses.
But the most exciting thing to happen to Troop 4 was the marriage of their leader to Robert Taft, son of President William Howard Taft. She was part of a group of wealthy young women who were all marrying around the same time.
The October 14, 1914, ceremony took place at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House. It was undoubtedly a highlight of the 1914 social season.
Observers were especially anxious to see her dress.
The girls of Troop 4 were also invited to the wedding. Eight of them sat in the balcony, beaming in their crisp khaki uniforms.
Forty years later, one of those girls sent a letter to the local Girl Scouts, still vividly remembering the wedding and the troop’s excitement.
Martha stayed active in local Girl Scouting, but not as a troop leader. She explained the value of Girl Scouting in a 1918 issue of The Rally, an early GS magazine:
Martha and her husband divided their time between Washington and Cincinnati, as her husband was elected a US Senator and, later, governor of Ohio. They had four sons, but she never lost her love for Girl Scouts, evidently.
As a child, her namesake granddaughter was known to introduce herself as follows:
My name is Martha Bowers Taft. My great-grandfather was President of the United States, my grandfather was a United States Senator, my daddy is Ambassador to Ireland, and I am a Brownie.https://ivanmisner.com/tag/martha-bowers-taft/
As Washington’s cherry blossoms fade and scatter in the wind, it is time to wrap up our time-traveling trip to Okinawa in the 1950s.
(Need a refresh? Return to Part 1 or Part 2 of this series.)
The Japanese Girl Scouts in Okinawa shared many of their traditions with their American friends, such as the song “Sakura” and the Festival of the Dolls. Did you know “Rock, Paper, Scissors” is related to a Japanese game called Jan Ken Pon?
The Americans were introduced to furoshiki—traditional, colorful fabric used to wrap packages and to gather small items. They are the original reusable totes, popular long before plastic bags. The Girl Scouts of Okinawa sold furoshiki as a fundraiser in the 1960s. Several are draped throughout the council exhibit.
All of the Girl Scouts of Okinawa came together for an International Folk Festival on March 2, 1957. Each troop performed a traditional dance from around the world.
The festival was well-reported by island newspapers.
What a delightful trip this has been!
Many Girl Scout troops spend several years working toward a “Big Trip.”
Often it is to one of the World Centers, located in London, Switzerland, Mexico, and India. Perhaps the destination is New York City, Washington DC, or Savannah, Georgia.
The Trip guides badgework, fundraising, camping and field trips that gradually build skills and cooperative behavior.
For the troop leaders, excitement is tempered by anxiety. How do you take twenty or so girls to the other side of the country; or the world?
(Plus, Girl Scout regulations specify that you must bring home the same number of girls that departed with you. Same number, I suppose you could swap some girls. Or at least threaten to.)
But relax, other volunteers and staff members will help you prepare the girls and yourself. At one time, trip plans had to be approved by the local Girl Scout council.
The Big Trip will make memories that last a lifetime, most of them good!
So, in a belated nod to Leader Appreciation Day, here is 1955 poem composed by a New York leader who took 64 seventh graders on a three-day trip to Washington, DC. And she survived!
Washington when Spring is here, to some may seem to be
A gay time, a play time, a time that’s fancy free.
With the blossoms and the buildings and the beauty of the city
To wander o’er and ponder o’er; and it really seems a pity
Or so you’d think, to have to steer wherever you may go
A gaggle of, or straggle of, Girl Scouts both fast and slow.
How very wrong such thoughts would be, the girls add to the fun,
But have no doubts, 64 Girl Scouts can keep you on the run.
They lose their buddies, sing strange songs and roam far and near
And history is a mystery to most of them I fear.
They stroll around Mount Vernon, while you revel in it too,
The FBI stands way high in their list of things to view.
Memorials and monuments and museums, where they see
Two-headed babies, gems of rubies – strange things you will agree.
But those they rank as equal to the homes of famous men,
Or the Capitol. They lap it all up – want to go again.
But see these green-clad forms stand still when the Guard is changing o’er
Way, that’s a sound of girls you’re proud of, now and evermore.
And though they give you headaches, if you’re honest, you must say
You’re glad you went, not sad you went, and you loved just every day.
The 2019 GSCNC Expo is History!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy Birthday, Girl Scouts!!
© 2019 Ann Robertson