Further on First Ladies

Last week I asked why First Lady Jill Biden had not been asked to be honorary president of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

I’ve had many insightful comments that raised additional questions.


Has the whole “first lady” thing become outdated? Perhaps. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff might have something to say on gender-specific job descriptions. Would it be better to simply seek a “patron” in the White House?

Why Keep the Honorary Position?

It may be a quaint concept, but there are obvious advantages to having friends in high places. The status is unique–the first lady has no similar formal connection to Campfire, the American Heritage Girls, or other girl-centric youth organizations.

Access to the White House offers tremendous free publicity and provides unique opportunities for Girl Scouts. When the Obamas hosted the first-ever campout on the White House lawn in 2015, flattering images flew across social and traditional media. That night was a memory-of-a-lifetime event for the girls. Even the thunderstorm that sent the girls into the Old Executive Office Building was just another part of the adventure.

Girl in green vests sing campfire songs with Barack and Michelle Obama amid tents pitched on the White House lawn.


I regularly point to the fragility of institutional knowledge at Girl Scout National Headquarters. The revolving door at HQ facilitates lapses and mistakes are repeated instead of resolved. At times, press releases have been factually wrong. Not vague, not misconstrued, but downright absolutely no hesitation about it WRONG.

In fact, the 2009 announcement that Michelle Obama had accepted the honorary presidency was factually incorrect.

Press release announcing Michelle Obama as Girl Scout honorary president
blog.girlscouts.org Michelle Obama National Honorary President of Girl Scouts of the USA

NO!!!! This is sooo embarassing!

First Lady Edith Wilson became the first honorary national president in 1917. There were THREE honorary presidents–and twelve years–before Lou Henry Hoover.

Did anyone think to fact check?

CEO Roulette

First ladies serve four-year terms–possibly eight. In Girl Scout terms, that is a phenomenally long tenure.

SIX GSUSA CEOs have flown in and out of the national headquarters since 2009. It’s a wonder national staff even remember the first lady tradition.

portraits of six diverse women wearing blue blazers and green scarves

Until there is stability at the top, traditions are not the only things that will be lost.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Banner photo: First Lady Pat Nixon greets Cadette Girl Scouts at national headquarters in 1969.

Dr. Biden, Won’t You Join Us?

Starting with Edith Wilson in 1917, every first lady of the United States has accepted the invitation to be honorary national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Other youth leadership groups do not have similar status at the White House, and Mrs. Wilson’s patronage lent tremendous respectability and legitimacy to the movement, which was only five years old when she accepted the honorary position.

Smartly dressed woman in black dress and black hat walks through a corridor of uniformed Girl Scouts.
Edith Wilson visits the Girl Scout Little House (Library of Congress)

But after a century, the prestigious tradition apparently has been tossed aside.

Honorary President is not a demanding job. Typical duties include issuing a statement marking Girl Scout anniversaries, greeting invited groups at the White House, and recording a video message for delegates to national conventions. There usually is a photo call to kick off cookie season or to congratulate super sellers. Girl Scouts have help advanced a First Lady’s platform, such as literacy, healthy eating or exercise.

In return, the Girl Scouts receive tremendous free publicity, citizenship education, and access to a range of role models.

But times have changed.

The Girl Scouts had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship with Melania Trump’s White House office. Staff reached out to the White House to see if Mrs. Trump would be interested, and apparently they were told she would not. To avoid embarrassment and awkwardness, no further inquiry was made.

What about Dr. Biden? No official statement has been made regarding the honorary position. To prepare for a March 1 presentation on Girl Scouts and the White House for the National First Lady’s Library, (register here) I turned to GSUSA. Repeated requests for clarification were ignored; ultimately, I was told that no one would speak with me on the matter.

Unofficial sources, however, report that no invitation was sent to Dr. Biden. Apparently, the consensus now is that an honorary national president needs qualifications beyond simply being the wife of the president. These new qualifications, however, have not been specified, to my knowledge.

It is reasonable to want an honorary leader who is well educated, public-service oriented, and an advocate for girls and women. Being a former Girl Scout would be a bonus.

Jill Biden speaks to an audience.
Dr. Jill Biden (Facebook)

First Lady Jill Biden more than fits these criteria. She can do the job–she was a regular advocate for the Girl Scouts as “Second Lady” during the Obama administration.

And if there is still question about Dr. Biden’s suitability, why not ask Vice President Kamala Harris?

We must carry forward with the legacy built by past honorary presidents.

As the self-proclaimed premier leadership organization for girls, it is time for GSUSA to stop sulking, step forward, and demonstrate the resilience that we try to instill in girls. One First Lady rejected us. Seventeen didn’t. Don’t let one person sever the ties built over a century between the Girl Scouts and the White House.

Please ask Dr. Biden to be honorary president of the Girl Scouts of the USA. I doubt she’d turn down an invitation.

Woman in vintage dress speaks from a podium with the Girl Scout logo.
Dr. Jill Biden during a 2012 event (Flickr)

She already has her own uniform.

Views expressed here are my own and may not necessarily be shared by anyone else.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Mystery of the Lou Henry Hoover Portrait

Who switched the Lou Henry Hoover portraits at Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp?

As I finalized the photos for Rescue Rockwood, my history of the national Girl Scout camp, I realized that the portrait of the former first lady and Girl Scout national president had been switched. When did that happen? Why?

The ballroom in the Manor House at Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp was dedicated in honor of Lou Henry Hoover on May 24, 1955.

(Yes, the camp had a ballroom, where else would they hang the chandeliers? That’s another story …)

The ceremony brought dozens of women to the camp in Potomac, Maryland, to enjoy a spring day with choral readings, songs, and lemonade.

Singers on terrace of large brick dwelling
Manor House with Performers
Young girl in straw hat draws curtains away from portrait of woman and her elkhound.
Little Lou and the original Rockwood portrait of her grandmother.

The room dedication culminated with Mrs. Hoover’s granddaughter, “Little Lou,” unveiling a portrait of the former first lady. The painting was based on a photograph by Barton Crandall of Palo Alto, California, and showed Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform, sitting alongside Weegie, her Norwegian elkhound.

When GSUSA sold Rockwood to residential developers in 1978, it only retained a few items, including the Hoover portrait and the chandeliers. GSUSA’s representatives repeatedly stated that the “chandelier … belonged to Mrs. Herbert Hoover.” That is simply not true. Rockwood’s original owner, Carolyn Caughey, scavenged building materials from the old British Embassy when the UK diplomats moved to newer facilities.

GSUSA also wanted the portrait of Mrs. Hoover.

Distinguished woman in vintage Girl Scout uniform.
The other Hoover portrait

I had assumed it was the original portrait with Weegie. But in photos taken in 1983, when items were being boxed to ship to New York, it’s a different portrait!! Mrs. Hoover is still wearing her uniform, but where’s Weegie?

I scoured the many boxes of materials in GSUSA’s Property: Rockwood collection. No mention.

Finding the answer took some detective work and more than a little luck.

Clue #1

During a recent research trip to the GSUSA archives, I stumbled upon several helpful clues. According to the Rockwood monthly report for May 1972, “A portrait in oils of Mrs. Herbert Hoover, which has been in storage at Headquarters, was received and hung in the Manor House over the Hoover Room fireplace.”

This monthly report was filed not with the other decades of monthly reports, but in a “Non-Federally Funded Projects: Rockwood, Quota Pathways” folder. I may write on “Quota Pathways” some day; but, for now, trust me that it has nothing to do with Lou Henry Hoover or painting. Or elkhounds, for that matter.

Clue #2

The second painting does show up on GSUSA’s archival system. The inventory entry notes that it was painted by Gleb Ilyin, and “cut down to half-length … in 1952.”

Portrait of Lou Henry Hoover by Gleb Ilyin
Painting entry in GSUSA inventory

If it had been on display at headquarters, why was it sent to Rockwood? And why was it cut down?

Clue #3

Newspaper accounts from 1930 report that the painting had been commissioned by the Girl Scouts of California (specifically Palo Alto) as a gift to the national organization. Gleb Ilyin was a well-regarded portraitist and selected because his “strong, virile style should do full justice to Mrs. Hoover’s kind of beauty.” Mrs. Hoover sat for six one-hour sessions at the White House.

Gleb Ilyin biography
Gleb Ilyin Bio
Man in artist smock stands before painting of patrician woman in a Girl Scout uniform
Lou Hoover Portrait by Gleb Ilyin

The completed portrait was enormous. At 6.5 feet x 4.5 feet, the image was larger than life. The portrait was dedicated in 1931 and hung at the national Girl Scout headquarters, at 670 Lexington Avenue, New York City.

When GSUSA moved to larger offices the following year, the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York moved into the building. GSUSA left the portrait behind, thinking Greater New York would display it. However, Greater New York thought GSUSA had taken the painting with them. Meanwhile, Lou was lost and alone, relegated to the building’s basement.

Clue #4

Seventeen years later, in 1949, a New York gossip columnist reported:

Jack Scott, owner of the Lexington Avenue Restaurant, found a 15-foot portrait of Mrs. Herbert Hoover in the basement of his place, which formerly was headquarters for the Girl Scouts of America. He’ll present the picture–which shows Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform–to the former President.

Dorothy Kilgallen, “The Voice of Broadway”


When it learned of the column, GSUSA sprang into action. National Director Constance Rittenhouse insisted that the painting was neither lost nor abandoned. Rather, GSUSA and Greater New York each thought the other had it.

By now, Mr. Scott had already delivered the painting to President Hoover’s apartment at the Waldorf Astoria, and GSUSA dispatched several people to retrieve the massive artwork.

Distinguished woman in vintage uniform standing in doorway
Lou Henry Hoover at the entrance to the Little House

While the painting had not actually doubled in size, as the column implied, GSUSA had no appropriate place to display it in its current office. Instead, the painting was sent to Washington DC and GSUSA’s Region III field office, then at the Girl Scout Little House. Since Mrs. Hoover had been instrumental in securing the facility for the Girl Scouts, it seemed appropriate.

The portrait lived in a cramped office until Region III moved to new accommodations a few blocks away. When a staff member unboxed the painting–using a BUTCHER KNIFE–she accidentally slashed the canvas.

Staff members were distraught, until they realized that repairing the knife wound provided a good opportunity to cut down the image. Artist Ilyin was consulted, and he gave them his blessing.

With a new frame, the reduced canvas was 42″ x 35″; still a large painting.

The portrait bounced around for the next few years. Other GSUSA offices and national centers were offered the picture, but none were interested. When the Region III office moved in 1960, the smaller canvas was boxed, sent from Washington to New York, and put into another basement. A dozen years later, it was shipped back to Washington, specifically to Rockwood.

The portrait took pride of place in the Hoover Room for the next 10 years. When Rockwood was sold to developers, the portrait was one of a handful of items that GSUSA wanted to keep.

Long-time Rockwood caretaker Brice Nash personally drove the chandelier and several paintings to the Macy Center, located outside New York City in 1983, but the trail goes cold then.

In 2006 the National Portrait Museum inquired about the portrait. Venerable Girl Scout historian Mary Degenhardt replied:

While many of the items at Rockwood were returned to Girl Scout National Headquarters before the sale, there is no record of what happened to this portrait. It may still be at Rockwood.

Mary Degenhardt

Obviously, the painting has been located since 2006. Hopefully Lou enjoys her current accommodations.

That’s one mystery solved, but the original portrait also appears to have vanished without a trace. Where’s Weegie?

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Lou Henry Hoover: The Foundation of Girl Scouts

Black and white portrait of Lou Henry Hoover in Girl Scout uniform
Lou Henry Hoover in uniform, ca. 1930s

Juliette Gordon Low was the founder of the Girl Scout movement, but it was Lou Henry Hoover who created the institutions that remain its foundation today.

As first lady, Mrs. Hoover was the honorary president of the Girl Scouts. But she also served two terms as the elected president of Girl Scouts, one pre-White House and one post-White House.

She worked to streamline administration, professionalize staff, and better democratize relations between councils and the national headquarters. She launched the Little House program, encouraged day camping, and promoted commercial cookie sales.

I spoke on this topic for the Hoover Presidential Foundation’s “Third Thursday” talk for June 2022.

The Foundation taped the presentation, which may be accessed here or below. Enjoy!!

Two girls hang a wooden sign outside a building
Girls hang a sign at Weston Lodge

The Knickerbocker Disaster and the Girl Scout Connection

This weekend marks the centennial of Washington DC’s Knickerbocker Theater Disaster of January 28, 1922. Most Washingtonians know that it is connected with the city’s largest snowstorm. But there is also an important Girl Scout connection.

Epic Snow Storm

After a snowstorm dumped 28 inches of snow on the city, cabin fever led some residents to hike to the Knickerbocker Theatre at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. Not all staff had made it in to work that evening, but the show went on, with patrons ready to watch the silent movie Get Rich Quick, Wallingford!

Knickerbocker Theater before collapse
Knickerbocker Theatre
Knickerbocker theater after collapse
Aftermath of Collapse

Above their heads, snow had been accumulating on the building’s flat, steel-and-concrete roof for days. The combined weight was more than the roof could bear. Suddenly, the audience heard a hissing sound.  A faint cloud of white plaster dust beginning to swirl above the orchestra—or was it snow? It seemed to glimmer in the dark theater.

With a thunderous crack, the roof collapsed under the weight of the snow, falling in one giant slab. The roof had caught the front edge of the balcony and pulled it down on top of the orchestra and the patrons seated below. People sitting in the front rows of the balcony were catapulted from their seats into the rows below. The rear of the balcony remained attached to the wall, dangling ominously over the enormous pile of twisted iron and steel, concrete slabs, plaster dust, and audience. The downward force created a huge blast of air that blew open the auditorium doors and propelled some late arrivals into the lobby. The collapse lasted less than a minute.

It would take hours for rescuers to clear the debris, soldiers came from nearby bases to help. But they soon heard a clear voice calling out. It was a woman’s voice, it belonged to 26-year old Helen Hopkins, leader of Girl Scout Troop 8.

Help Arrives

Trapped under four steel girders, a stunned Helen could hear the agonized cries of the wounded and dying around her and realized that she, too was seriously injured.  Blinking in the darkness and struggling to breathe through the thick plaster dust caked on her face and trying to remain calm, Helen began to evaluate her injuries. One arm was pinned under the rubble and useless, and the other one badly swollen, but she reached out to her friend Freddie, and found his hand. She held Freddie’s hand until it grew cold as he succumbed to his injuries. The man who had been seated on her other side lay dead, as well. She saw other people lying around her, but all appeared motionless and silent. 

Helen tried to remember her first aid training. All of her girls had earned their First Aide proficiency badges. Their handbooks spelled out what to do in an emergency, starting with “Keep cool. The only way to do this effectually is to learn beforehand what to do and how to do it. Then you are not frightened and can do readily and with coolness whatever is necessary to be done.” Helen took the deepest breath should could and struggled to focus her thoughts. 

Helen believed she was in shock. She knew had to get her blood to circulate throughout her body, so she began pinching her body using her thumb and forefinger, although the two could hardly meet, her hand was so enlarged. If nothing else, the sheer pain that resulted gave her something to focus on and helped her to remain conscious. She could hardly move her head, as her long hair was caught on some piece of debris, but she was determined to live. 

Rescuers worked slowly, but Helen could hear them inside the dark theater. Gathering her remaining strength, using the loud, strong voice she’d honed on troop hikes and in the church choir, she called out to the rescuers. 

“Help!  Over here!  We need help over here!”

Helen Hopkins

But help did not arrive immediately, so Helen continued to shout. 

Finally someone answered Helen’s calls. Realizing that she had their attention, Helen began directing the rescuers to her location and that of people hidden under debris around her.  She also sang song after song, trying to cheer other survivors, urging them to hang on just a little bit longer. 

Finally, a patch of daylight shone onto Helen. After hours in the dark, she had been found. It took soldiers nearly four hours to dig her out of the rubble. Rescuers had to cut off some of her long blond hair that was tangled into the debris. 


Helen was the first trapped victim to be removed from the theater alive. Soldiers carried her out of the theater on a stretcher and across the street to the Christian Science church. Weak and confused, she called out, “Mother, it was the everlasting arms that saved me!” She was loaded into an ambulance, which sped away, rocking from side to side over snow drifts, and taken to Garfield Hospital on Florida Avenue NW. Thanks to her clear instructions, ten other survivors were located and removed to safety. 

Drawing of women trapped under rubble
Helen won $10 for her story in a 1939 Philadelphia Inquirer Contest

The soldiers “could not find words in which to praise her courage and when they attempted to tell her of their admiration, she said that she was a Girl Scout and could do no less.”

Praise for Helen

Helen’s story quickly spread throughout Washington, as newspaper readers were eager to have a happy ending to balance the sadness of the 98 lives lost and some 133 people injured. She became a celebrity, with newspapers across the country providing updates on her condition and mentioning that she was a Girl Scout leader.  First Lady Florence Harding sent Helen a large, autographed photograph of herself in her own Girl Scout uniform, with her dog Laddie Boy nearby. Mrs. Harding regularly sent bouquets to Helen while she recuperated at home. 

Girl Scouts of the USA awarded Helen the Bronze Cross, a recognitions reserved for persons displaying gallantry, resourcefulness, and personal peril while saving the lives of others.  She would be the first Girl Scout from Washington to receive the honor. 

Group photo of early Girl Scouts with khaki uniforms and hats
Helen Hopkins receives medal and flowers from Girl Scout President Lou Henry Hoover, as her troop watches.

Lou Henry Hoover, then national president of the Girl Scouts, hosted the medal ceremony at her home in Georgetown. Each local troop was allowed to send one member, and all of Helen’s troop was invited. Troop 8 assembled in the Hoover’s garden for the ceremony, dressed in freshly washed and ironed uniforms.  In addition to their leaders outstanding honor, the girls were allowed to hold their own Court of Awards ceremony at this time. Helen had recently married and was moving to Philadelphia, but the girls had a replacement– Mrs. Hoover.

Another Girl Scout Connection

Among the people following Helen’s story was her mother’s close friend, Carolyn Gangwer Caughey. Carolyn had amassed a considerable sum of money by buildings and managing apartment buildings. Impressed by the Girl Scout program, she decided to leave her entire estate to the Girl Scouts of the USA. The centerpiece of this gift was Carolyn’s country home–Rockwood.

Drawing of country house with trees
Rescue Rockwood Patch

But that’s another story, to be continued in the spring ….

For more about the Knickerbocker disaster, see the two books written by my pal, Kevin Ambrose.

Two girls hang a wooden sign outside a building
Girls hang a sign at Weston Lodge

Turkey on a Train

When the White House wanted a nice, fresh turkey for Thanksgiving dinner in 1925, they opted for delivery.

But instead of Door Dash or another nearby delivery service, President and Mrs. Coolidge turned to their home state, Vermont, and one of their favorite civic groups.

First Lady Grace Coolidge had been an enthusiastic Girl Scout since her husband was vice president. Now Honorary President of the Girl Scouts, Mrs. Coolidge tried to incorporate Girl Scouts into White House events whenever possible. The Washington organization was in the midst of a $20,000 fund drive, and a Thanksgiving-related photo call would be great for publicity.

She ordered a Vermont turkey, from a family friend in East Montpelier, and the First Lady wanted it delivered—-and cooked—-by a Girl Scout.

Thirteen-year-old Leona Baldwin was chosen for this mission, as the 20-lb turkey hailed from her family farm. Leona had never travelled beyond her hometown, so her leader, Laura Gould, accompanied her on the long train ride. They departed on November 6.

Moderately relevant photo from Alabama restaurant

After their adventure in Washington, they planned to make a stop in New York City on the way home. (The turkey did not have a round-trip ticket.)

No account of the trip clarifies whether the turkey traveled with a ticket, in a crate, or in a roasting pan.

Upon arrival, Leona and Mrs. Gould were whisked away from Union Station and taken to the Girl Scout Little House at 1750 New York Avenue NW.

The Little House was a recent gift from the Better Homes of America and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. It was modeled after the house that inspired the “Home Sweet Home” song and contained a working kitchen, furnished dining room, living rooms, bedrooms, and bathroom.

Leona inspected the kitchen and was no doubt relieved to learn that a team of 19 local girls would be there to assist. Newspaper reports of the time do not mention where Leona, Mrs. Gould, or the turkey spent the evening.

The next morning, Leona and Mrs. Gould went to the Tivioli Theater, which was holding a benefit performance of the comedy “Cold Turkey” for the Girl Scouts. Leona met Mrs. Coolidge, for the first time.

After the film ended, the dignitaries moved on for dinner. In addition to the Coolidges, the guest list included Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover, who had secured the building for the Girl Scouts; May Flather, head of Girl Scouts in Washington, DC; J.S. Storrow, national president of the Boy Scouts; and Dean Sarah Arnold, national president of the Girl Scouts.

President and Mrs. Coolidge arrive at the Little House, November 7, 1925
National Photo/Library of Congress

The girls gathered in the dining room and, once everyone was seated, began to serve.

Leona’s glistening turkey rested on a sideboard. When she passed the platter to the President, “Silent Cal” commented, “Thank you. It looks very good.”

Aside from Leona, the other girls were local. Lucille Weber and Margaret Strong, for example, were hostesses. Marian Bates, of Troop 42, was in charge of circulating the cream and sugar, while Phyllis Adelman, also from Troop 42, had celery and carrot duty. Everyone was nervous.

Marian and I bumped each other, spilling cream on the President’s coat. We cleaned it off as best we could and Grace Coolidge was so kind. … Cal ignored the whole thing!

Recollections of Phyllis Adelman Larson, GSCNC Archives.

Newspaper accounts of this most memorable dinner focus exclusively on Leona, using extremely outdated language that makes the dinner seem like an installment of the “Perils of Pauline.”

Leona collapsed after the luncheon was over. The honor and excitement had been too great. A little heart had beaten too wildly and had signaled to a set of taut nerves that it was time for reaction. Hysteria, the price of Leona’s glory, ensued.

Solicitous Scout leaders gathered around the little Vermont girl, and after much nursing and petting and drying of tears, brought her back to emotional stability.

Washington Post (November 8, 1925): 1.

And what of the other 19 girls?

They hardly were standing by taking selfies. In fact, given the limited capacity of the Little House, THEY were probably the ones giving aid.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Patch from Making Friends

Two girls hang a wooden sign outside a building
Girls hang a sign at Weston Lodge

Nix on Partisanship

Girl Scouts of the USA strives to create conscientious future voters who appreciate the unique qualities of the American political system.

From the founding of Girl Scouts in 1912, girls could earn badges that involved learning about their government, laws, and elections.

After women received the right to vote 100 years ago, Girl Scouts stepped in to help anyway they could. Sometimes an act as simple as holding a baby while mother goes into the voting booth can make a difference in turnout.

There are clear limits on political involvement. The Blue Book–GSUSA’s collection of bylaws, policies, and the corporate constitution–states the following:

Blue Book, 2020 edition, page 20

Individual Girl Scouts may engage in partisan political activities, but only as civilians. They cannot appear in uniform, as that would suggest the organization has endorsed a particular candidate or expressed an opinion on a public issue.

A Little Too Active

Sometimes good intentions may get out of hand, as happened during the 1960 Presidential Election.

It seems that Intermediate* Troops 670 and 702 from Bethesda, Maryland, loved to do community service projects. When their leader, Mrs. Smith heard that the Volunteers for Nixon-Lodge headquarters needed help, she immediately signed the girls up. The field trip to 1000 16th Street NW in Washington did not raise any red flags among parents, as most were Republicans themselves.

*In 1963, the Intermediate level was divided in Juniors (grades 4-6) and Cadettes (grades 7-9).

A dozen girls, in their green uniforms, yellow ties, and jaunty berets, had a blast at the campaign office. They stuffed envelopes; assembled press releases; and filled campaign kits with buttons and bumper stickers.

Vice President Nixon’s press secretary, Herbert G. Klein called the Washington Post to suggest that there was a great photo opportunity happening at campaign headquarters. A campaign staffer had tipped off Klein and said the girls might be working at the Kennedy-Johnson office another day.

A witty local reporter asked the girls whether “some people might not regard Nixon’s defeat as a community service,” the girls giggled and confidently stated, “Kennedy isn’t going to be elected.”

The girls had put in about four hours of work when a telephone rang; the caller asked for Mrs. Smith. In fact, the caller was Helaine Todd, executive director of the National* Capital Area Girl Scout Council.

*Also in 1963, the National Capital Girl Scout Council and four other councils combined to form the Nation’s Capital Girl Scout Council.

Todd was a tad upset. She informed Mrs. Smith that “Partisan political activity is absolutely against local and national Girl Scout policy. ” Todd also declared that the girls could not count the day toward service hours. (That seems a bit over the top, in my opinion.)

CanStockPhoto, Inc.

Mrs. Smith, a relatively new leader, was “flabbergasted and aghast.” She grabbed the girls and swiftly exited. At the next troop meeting, she turned the experience into a learning opportunity, explaining what she had done wrong.

Of course, Nixon lost in 1960. Much could–and has–been said about Richard Nixon. But I must give the Nixon family credit for being strong supporters of Girl Scouts–before and after their White House years.

Both Nixon daughters, Julie and Tricia, were active Girl Scouts and future First Lady Pat Nixon was their co-leader.

Mrs. Nixon greets Cadette Girl Scouts at GSUSA Headquarters (Nixon Foundation)

Mrs. Nixon greatly enjoyed her time as honorary national president of GSUSA, welcoming girls to the White House and visiting the national headquarters in New York.

Since Edith Wilson in 1917, all First Ladies have been invited to serve as honorary national president. All Most accept it graciously and participate in unique ways.

Mrs. Nixon’s affection for the Girl Scouts endured until her death.

Pat Nixon welcomes Girl Scouts to the Nixon Library, July 1990 (Nixon Foundation)

The Nixon Foundation has honored her work with a special exhibition.

Check the GSUSA Blog for information about the current honorary national president and her involvement with Girl Scouts.

Or maybe not ….

Two girls hang a wooden sign outside a building
Girls hang a sign at Weston Lodge

Letters from Camp May Flather, #3

As summer camp winds down for the season, it is time to reflect on the experience. Girls’ letters home often provide insights and anecdotes about camp life.

Lois Milstead (right) attended Camp May Flather in its first summer. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital has run May Flather as its flagship camp since 1930. A temporary camp operated nearby in 1929, and Lois attended that as well.

Her letter appeared in the Washington Post on September 7, 1930.

Young woman in white sweater

My Camping Trip

I have just returned. from a four weeks’ stay at the Washington Camp, May Flather, situated in the mountains near Harrisonburg. Va., to which I also attended last summer. This camp is for Girl Scouts.

Although I am not yet a Girl Scout, I enjoy the ways of their life. I hope to become one in the very near future.

The whole four weeks to me were but an enjoyable time. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute while there. I am fond of all kinds of athletics and sports and camp life naturally appeals to me. I play golf and tennis a lot at home, and although I had neither of these sports at camp, there were many interesting pastimes to fully make up for the lack of them.

I will give a brief outline of our daily routine. Revielle, breakfast (just before breakfast we have flag raising), kapers (that is little tasks from each cabin), inspection, classes (forestry, camp craft), swimming, court of honor, dinner, rest hour, classes (handcraft, nature), retreat, supper, camp fire, taps.

I took many overnight hikes and one three-day hike. These were loads of fun.

While at camp this year, I met many of the: girls with whom I was acquainted last year.

Mrs. Hoover visited the camp while I was there. Mrs. Cheatham and Mrs. Flather also came with her. They spent two days and a night with us. They were present for the formal dedication of the new camp site. Mrs. Hoover dedicated a picturesque little bridge and Mrs. Flather, for whom the camp is named, donated much toward it.

Six women wearing vintage drop-waist dresses and smart hats
VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH’s former secretary) GSCNC Archives
Middle-aged woman in white blouse and shorts
Dorothy Greene, Camp May Flather director, 1930 (GSCNC archives).

Miss Dorothy Greene, the director of our camp, has done much to the bettering of it, making the girls feel at home, and they are trying to live up to the high standards and morals which she has set for them. I had lots of fun at camp, but I was rather glad when the time came to go home, for I missed my mother and daddy.

Lois A. Milstead (age 12), Dahlgren, Va.

Girls in vintage outdoor gear prepare to go hiking
Girls prepare for a hike at Camp May Flather, 1930s (GSCNC Archives).

I don’t know if Lois ever joined the Girl Scouts. She graduated from the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1938.

Lois worked on the school newspaper, the Commercial Echoes. She married George Goodwin, a reporter, two years later and moved to Georgia.

©2019 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Little House in the Nation’s Capital

Note: This entry was originally published on March 10, 2014, but somehow it was accidentally deleted.

No, it’s not a newly discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder book.   The Little House in Washington, DC, was the first in a series of model homes used by Girl Scouts across the country.  Sadly, the Washington Little House is long gone and one current Little House in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, is about to close.

Built behind the White House in Washington, DC, for the second Better Homes Demonstration Week in June 1923, the Little House was a fully working home, with a modern kitchen, breakfast nook, three bedrooms, and a nursery. Between June 4 and June 10, 2,500–3,500 people visited the house each day. After the exhibition, the Better Homes in America and General Federation of Women’s Clubs donated it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center. It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.

Moving the Little House to New York Avenue
Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 for the Little House to be moved from its exhibition site to its new location at 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone.

Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 to relocate the Little House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone, as Hoover watched.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Little House was THE place to go on Saturdays. There was always some badge activity to try or new skill to learn, and the First Lady, as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, might decide to drop by. After all, the White House was just around the corner.

These girls look a bit tired after preparing a luncheon for First Lady Grace Coolidge (in white).
These girls are preparing lunch while their guest of honor, Eleanor Roosevelt, observes.
A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

The Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia rented a room in the northwest corner of the second floor as its headquarters until it outgrew the facility in 1928. The Little House was used continuously for trainings and demonstrations of the domestic arts from June 1923 to April 1945. The building was used as a branch of Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, for the next decade then given to the landowners in May 1955. The Little House was torn down in the early 1970s. There is a commemorative plaque in the lobby of the office building that currently sits at the site. Update: We now have the plaque at our Frederick Archives and Program Center.

dollhouse version of the Little House has been on display at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

For more about the original Little House, see the pamphlet, “Girl Scouts Keep House in Washington.”

POSTSCRIPT: All of the photos used here are from the Harris and Ewing collection and may be downloaded FREE OF CHARGE from the Library of Congress.  You don’t need to buy the overpriced copies offered on eBay!!

©2014 Ann Robertson

Remembering George H.W. Bush

A few months ago, I wrote about former First Lady Barbara Bush and her involvement in the Girl Scouts.

Although not an honorary national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA, President George H.W. Bush was also a great supporter of the Girl Scouts.

Troops touring the White House from 1989 to 1992 often received a special greeting from the president himself.

He kept the tradition up when his son became president, especially with groups that came to watch a White House tee-ball game.

Nation’s Capital Girl Scout Troop 2722 hoped to see the country’s leader when they cheered on a White House tee-ball game on June 3, 2001, but they were surprised to see two President Bushes! The elder Bush graciously posed for photos.

Girl Scout Troop 2722 met President George H.W. Bush on June 3, 2001 (GSCNC Archives).


Tributes to President George H.W. Bush consistently cite his kindness and decency, attributes that align with the Girl Scout mission of making the world a better place.

©2018 Ann Robertson