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.
Let’s Put on a Show!
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.
Our three scrapbooks represent three different US troops and document their activities for about two years. There is some repetition and duplication due to multiple newspapers covering the same event.
What kind of events? The girls living in Okinawa did the same Girl Scout activities as US-based troops. They wore the same uniforms, recited the same Girl Scout Promise, and earned the same badges.
That was the purpose of having Girl Scout troops for families living abroad. Parents knew that their daughters would find a warm welcome and many new friends when they attended their first troop meeting.
Local residents from the Girl Scouts of Japan were often invited to troop meetings to share in the fun.
Twist Me and Turn Me
Courts of Award
In addition to regular Girl Scout badges, the American troops on Okinawa created their own badge for learning about Okinawa. The design was apparently used for patches as well. (I’ve also seen a Okinawa troop crest with the red Shinto gate symbol.)
That tradition has carried into modern day, with USAGSO offering badges on Okinawa’s culture and sea life. These can be ordered online.
It was a great idea. Except that the coronavirus decided to come to Washington at the same time. The festival was cancelled, the Girl Scout offices closed.
While the city offers virtual strolls among the blooming trees, we can do the same thing with the exhibit.
The exhibit draws from three scrapbooks donated by the family of long-time Girl Scout Fran Phoenix. Each album has a heavy black lacquer cover with mother-of-pearl inlay, and each belonged to a different US Girl Scout troop in Okinawa, Japan, in the late 1950s.
Those Pesky Prepositions
(This may get complicated, so grab a buddy. )
The albums were created by US Girl Scout troops in Japan. Their activities are preserved, as well as their many activities with local troops. That means we have Girl Scouts in Japan, Girl Scouts of Japan, and combinations of both.
Plus, the Girl Scouts of Okinawa is a branch of USA Girl Scouts Overseas (which has had many names over time), and Girl Scouts of the Ryukyu Islands is a division of the Girl Scouts of Japan.
Not Japanese Girl Guides?
Oh my, this is confusing. Let’s go to the exhibit signs for help. First, the American context:
Yes, Japanese Girl Scouts
Now, the Japanese side. Although their group briefly was Girl Guides, they have proudly been Girl Scouts for nearly a century.
In fact, the Japanese Girl Scout organization has a special online history exhibit marking their 100th birthday.
Got it? We’ll look at some photos and clippings from those scrapbooks in Part 2.
In the meantime, enjoy these images of our exhibit.
Usually we have to come up with ideas for our vintage exhibits at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters. But sometimes we get lucky, and a display comes together on its own.
That’s what happened last fall when we received a donation of Girl Scout dolls. People often contact us saying that they or a friend has some items they’ve held onto to for years, would we like them.
Of course, the answer is yes!
And when we had such a query about dolls, we said yes and suggested the donor drop them at a council field office. They would make their way to the archives eventually. So we knew some dolls were coming and we assumed it was perhaps four or five.
This is what arrived:
They were all in pristine condition, most even labeled with manufacturer, date, and the relevant page from the doll handbook!
We have displayed dolls in chronological before, so this time we tried thematic grouping. We staged the dolls doing typical Girl Scout things.
Proudly Wearing Their Uniforms
Whenever Girl Scouts of the USA issued a new uniform, doll uniforms were updated as well.
Girl Scout dolls, like actual Girl Scouts, come in many shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.
The first African-American Girl Scout doll was available in the mid-1940s, although she did not appear in the official equipment catalogs.
Advertising and packaging of Girl Scout doll clothes began featuring dolls with mobility challenges, although there has not been a Girl Scout doll that comes with her own wheelchair—yet!
Making New Friends!
Girl Scout friendships have always been reflected in the range of Girl Scout dolls. Dolls celebrate troop friends as well as Girl Guide friends abroad.
Girl Scout dolls love being outdoors as much as real girls do! Many dolls come with their own camping gear.
From Barbie to Beanie Babies and Build-a-Bear, popular characters and toy lines have signed up with the Girl Scouts.
Learning Their History
Many dolls have been issued to honor Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts. Whether an expensive collector’s piece or a soft, snuggly cloth friend, girls can be close to Daisy day or night.
Learning Skills; Giving Service
Sewing and gifting dolls has long been a popular service project.
The full exhibit can be seen at the Girl Scout office at 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite M-2, Washington DC.
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
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.
7. Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries, Jessica Lacher-Feldman (2013)
Intended for repositories with far larger budgets than most Girl Scout archives, but the basic info on exhibit design will benefit any reader. Extensive illustrations and examples.
Expensive; look for used copies.
6. The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository Christina Zamon (2012)
Excellent go-to reference book. Provides clear instructions and succinct definitions for the amateur archivist. A standard work for “Intro to Archives” courses. Also expensive. Look for used copies.
Bonus Points: Clever title
5. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty (2010)
The back cover says it all: “A comprehensive handbook for
those interested in investigating the history of communities, families, local institutions,
and cultural artifacts.” Great tips on
how to plug Girl Scouts into local history.
4. Saving Stuff: How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions Don Williams (2005)
This 2005 book from the Smithsonian Institution can be difficult to
locate, but it’s worth the effort. There are few things that the book does not
cover. Need to preserve macaroni art? It’s in here. Also covers
fundamentals of storage such as light and temperature.
3. Scouting Dolls Through the Years: Identification and Value Guide Sydney Ann Sutton (2003)
Take the dolls chapter out of the Collector’s Guide and quadruple it in length and the result is this
comprehensive guide. Extensive color photos make identification quick, and the
book includes licensed dolls not necessarily available from the Girl Scout
catalog. The book was published in 2003, so the estimated values are not
Bonus Points: Published in my home town, Paducah, KY
Covers 100 years of Girl Scouting in the Washington DC area. Also includes Girl Scout basics and GSUSA events and buildings in the capital city. More than just a pictorial history, the captions provide detailed information about programs, camps, and more.
Bonus Points: Yes, I wrote it.
1. Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, 3rd edition
This book is the primary reference work for Girl Scout historians, with detailed information about uniforms, badges, publications, and more. My copy is full of comments, notes, and post-it flags. Unfortunately, the most recent edition was published in 2005. There is no 3rd edition.
Did history stop in 2005? Hardly. What has happened since 2005?
The Girl Scout Leadership Experience program, journeys, an entirely new series
of badges, troop crests, and handbooks. Two CEOs, three national presidents, five
conventions, and our 100th birthday. Realignment, anyone?
A girl born when the most recent Guide was published would now be on the brink of bridging to the Ambassador level. But wait, there’s no mention of Ambassadors in the Guide because that level was only created in 2008.
The Collector’s Guide
never hit the best-seller lists, but its value to the movement should not be
dismissed. A new volume could be subsidized, grant-funded, or perhaps live online.
Girl Scouts are supposed to use resources wisely. Hopefully
these reference works will provide some guidance for the women (and men) tasked
with preserving our past.
What’s cooking, Girl Scouts? The latest exhibit at the Nation’s Capital main office answers that question.
The easy way to create the exhibit would be to pull all relevant items from our collection. But I like to have some organization and a common theme running throughout. I decided to use this passage from the 1926 handbook:
The Girl Scout who has earned the Cooking Badge may be a great help at home if she has learned to work quickly and neatly and may get much amusement both at home and on camping parties. If the first trial of a process is not a success, the Scout should have patience to try again and again until her result is satisfactory. If she has learned to prepare a few simple dishes well she should have courage to try unfamiliar recipes which are found in any good cook book. If she is to be ready to take responsibility when it is necessary, she should be able to plan the meals in such a way that nothing is wasted and that the family is satisfied and well-nourished.
When working in the kitchen, the Scout should wear a clean, washable dress, or a washable apron which covers her dress. She should be sure that her hair is tidy, and she should remember to wash her hands before beginning work. She should try to use as few dishes as possible and not to spill or spatter. She should remember that her cooking is not finished until she has cleaned up after herself, has washed and put away the dishes, washed the dish towels and left the kitchen in order.
I divided up the quote into chunks of one or two sentences, then illustrated with pictures taken from old handbooks and vintage postcards.
Then we added a few more instructions from various handbooks and photos.
We used this opportunity to mention the Little House, a model home in Washington, DC, from 1924 to 1945, and the two tea houses once operated by the local Girl Scouts.
Finally, we included requirements for several vintage cooking badges and captions on recipe cards.
These only show the bottom half of the exhibit. To see it in person, visit the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital office, 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC.