A New Home for Washington’s Girl Scouts

1906 Office Opening Sign 2
Director Eleanor Durrett hangs the office sign

Eighty years ago this week, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia moved to new office space.

However, it was a short trip, from 1825 M Street NW to 1906 M Street NW, but it provided additional space for an ambitious defense training program and growing membership.

The new, colonial-style building featured knotty-pine flooring. The first floor held a reception room, board room, and a library for volunteers. Upstairs, the second floor was divided into offices for director Eleanor Durrett, three field advisors, and clerical staff.

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Lou Henry Hoover portrait watches over a council Board meeting, January 1942

The 1825 M Street location had been provided to the council by Mrs. Henry H. Flather, who now planned to sell the building which the Girl Scouts had long outgrown.

Known to her friends as “May,” Mrs. Flather spearheaded the efforts to provide a permanent summer camp for Washington’s Girl Scouts. She pledged $10,000 toward the camp, which opened in 1930 and was named in her honor.

Just a few years later, the Council moved to 1712 N Street NW. While there have been additional addresses over the years, Nation’s Capital has been at its 4301 Connecticut Ave NW location since 1999.

Despite the meandering path to the current location, connections to the past remain.

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Lou Henry Hoover
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Updated council sign

The same portrait of Lou Henry Hoover hangs outside Nation’s Capital’s current board room.

Plus, the same sign (with an updated paint job) is housed at the Frederick Archives and History Program Center, which celebrated its sixth anniversary this week.

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 Fran Randall

I checked my email late yesterday, after a long day of driving, and found the sad news that Fran Randall had passed away at age 93.

Fran was one of the first Girl Scouts in Frederick County, Maryland, joining in 1938. She would be a mainstay of the movement in Frederick for the next eight decades.

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The future Mrs. Randall worked at Braddock Heights day camp in 1944.

Fran wore many hats in her lifetime — chemist, journalist, historian, feminist, businesswoman, and more. But my connection to her was through Girl Scouting, and I greatly enjoyed the time spent together swapping stories about the movement, travel, and life in general.

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Fran and her brother published their own newspaper in 1942. The Randall family later became the publisher of the Frederick News-Post.

The last time I saw Fran was at the grand opening of our Archives and History Program Center in Frederick. She had made a generous contribution to the center and not even recent surgery was going to keep her away.  Frannie was especially delighted when I showed her the display case holding her former leader’s hat.

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This photo from the Girl Scout Centennial has hung in the Frederick Center since it opened in 2015 and perfectly captures Fran’s enthusiasm for Girl Scouting.

She leaves a tremendous legacy for Frederick County and the thousands of Girl Scouts active there.

Her obituary is available from the Frederick News-Post.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Picture Yourself in the Girl Scout Archives

Last Saturday was the Nation’s Capital 2018 Annual Meeting, and the Archives and History Committee arranged an exhibit.

2018 Annual Meeting Patch

 

The exhibit theme was “Picture Yourself in the Girl Scout Archives,” and it had two parts. First, Committee members brought a current project to share. We are informally divided by specialty (uniforms, patch programs, books, publications, etc.) and this seemed a good way to demonstrate what the Committee does.

I brought some of our camera collection to decorate our display, and many girls were fascinated by them. We had to explain that these cameras did not have phones.

Second, we organized a photo booth with old uniforms. Last year we had a large exhibit of adult uniforms and people were literally lining up to have their picture made with the mannequins. We decided to build on that by having uniform pieces to try on.

 

Hats were easy to arrange.  We’d been advised by other history groups to be vigilant about hygiene since we didn’t want to accidentally spread germs or unwelcome critters. We lined each hat with a basket-style coffee filter that we changed after each wearing.

Uniforms were more challenging. Folks today are larger than people a few decades ago and some of our uniforms are tiny! We know that for fashion shows, we have to go for younger models.  Sometimes only a Daisy in kindergarten can fit into a vintage Brownie dress, and we have to use a fifth-grade Junior for one of the vintage teen uniforms.

But we’d gotten a fabulous idea from other historians: split uniforms. I saw them up close at the North Carolina Girl Scout Collector’s Show in March, and organizer Becky Byrnes offered some great advice.

 

Uniforms are split along the spine, hemmed, and ribbons or bias tape is sewn in to use as ties. Girls and adults slip the old uniform on over their clothing, much like a doctor slipping into a surgical gown. It doesn’t completely solve the size issue (tiny uniform + clothing = tight squeeze) but everyone seemed pleased with the results.

Our designated photographer reported snapping pictures of 74 groups, and many more visitors took selfies.

This experiment worked well and we plan to have more split uniforms available at our Program Centers.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Realignment and the Russians, Really?

My calendar has two major anniversaries marked for October 2017.

One is the 10th anniversary of Girl Scout’s realignment program, which consolidated 312 councils into 112 “high capacity” councils. Realignment deserves its own post, but the basic idea is that GSUSA decided that large councils would be more efficient than smaller ones.

The other anniversary is the centennial of the Russian Revolution that brought the Communist Party to power. The new government dramatically redrew the map of their new country, dividing some territories and lumping others together.

What do these two events have in common? For one thing, they are both part of my office wall decor:

(Kookie Kong looks pretty afraid of the First Soviet Airplane.)

The other common thread is that they are both examples of externally imposed new state formation.

NO, wait, come back!!!  Let me rephrase.

They are the political equivalent of a shotgun marriage. These events threw people together whether they wanted to or not.

Whether councils or countries, they faced similar issues: Where do we draw our borders? What do we call ourselves? What does our new flag/logo/patch look like? What if we don’t like our new neighbors? Do we have to pay their debts? What do we do with people who don’t want to merge?

Suddenly the comparison doesn’t seem quite so crazy, does it?

We do a lot more than sell cookies.

Academic research is about making such unexpected connections. If the examples come from a largely unknown source, that’s even better.

Across the United States, Girl Scout councils are sitting on piles of largely unknown sources. We need to get the word out that researchers should come see what we have. We need to leverage our historical assets for academic research. Doing that requires matching theories with data, a process that often requires travel and field research. I’m very fortunate because I’ve found a way to cover both bases: I can use Girl Scout data in my academic research.

I’m not a professional Girl Scout historian, just a very busy volunteer. In my day job, I am a political scientist who specializes in secessionist movements and new state formation. Most of my work deals with the former communist world, such as the collapse of the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. Those countries experienced the opposite of realignment; they were taken apart instead of thrown together; think divorce instead of marriage.  I’m (supposedly) trained to see possible patterns and then find evidence to prove or disprove the pattern.

I know the political scientist/Girl Scout historian combination is about as rare as a genuine Golden Eagle of Merit–or perhaps a Chartreuse Buzzard. But working in this direction doesn’t require a PhD.  Instead, it needs a new mindset. It means looking beyond the uniforms and badges to see what girls and women were doing in your community. You—we—can provide local examples of national issues that researchers can plug into their models and theories.

Young girls in colonial costumes learn how to weave.
Researchers need examples of local history (GSCNC Archives).

Letters and fund-raising campaigns can become examples of philanthropy, women’s empowerment, or marketing. Camp and troop policies reflect social trends. We recently found meeting minutes that debate whether or not to integrate resident camps. I knew the date of integration; I didn’t know that some committee members tried to reverse the decision the following year.

Troop activities can reveal trends in girls’ development and interests. Citizenship programs demonstrate efforts to prepare future voters when the voting age was lowered to 18. Popular history accounts would be enriched by knowing how the American Bicentennial was celebrated in your community.

Men spray chemicals to combat white pine blister rust.
Girl Scouts helped track the spread of this fungus (USDA).

In the 1920s campers in Washington were examined before and after weeks in the woods to provide scientific “evidence” of the health benefits of the out of doors. Similarly, girls attending Camp May Flather were tasked with combing the forest for signs of white pine blister rust, a dangerous fungus. We don’t have the data, but we know the agency that conducted the studies and can point researchers in that direction.

Such quirky stories are hiding in the newspaper clippings and troop scrapbooks in our collections. How can we make them available to researchers anxiously searching for new sources to study?

I’ve had the pleasure of hosting several graduate students in our archives. They were investigating topics such as the national Girl Scout Little House, first ladies, family biographies, representation of minorities, and more. They have all gone away with valuable primary data sources, not to mention a patch and the occasional box of cookies!

©2017 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Who’s That Girl Scout? Jane Nicolet Toal

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Jane Toal in her Mariner uniform.

Our Archives and History Committee lost one of its original members last month, Jane Toal.  I never met Jane, she had gone into assisted living around the time I joined the Committee, but I heard her name often from other members.

Now that I’ve had a chance to read her obituary and read some of the tributes to her, I especially regret never making her acquaintance. Her life story is a testament to Girl Scouts and STEM programs.

Jane Nicolet was born in 1921 and grew up in Riverdale, Maryland, outside Washington. She joined a Girl Scout troop in 1931, at age 9½. She seems to have seized every opportunity that came her way: she was in the first local Senior troop, led by Lucy Knox. The troop helped prepare Rockwood National Center to receive its first campers in 1937. Lucy and other girls spent many weekends reupholstering furniture at Rockwood and sleeping on the floor of Carolyn Cottage.

Jane also was involved in the activities of the Little House, including once serving a meal to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Little House Lunch
Eleanor Roosevelt (second from right) enjoys a “15 cent lunch” in the Little House dining room, 1933 (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

 

She quickly became a regular figure at Camp May Flather, living in each of the various units and co-editing the camp newspaper, the Mountain Log.

Jane Nicolet Toal Golden Eaglet Original copy
Washington Post, June 11, 1939.

Jane was awarded the prestigious Golden Eaglet on June 10, 1939.

 

She left the Washington area for college, first to Oberlin College and then to Cornell University, where she earned a master’s degree in biochemistry. Upon graduation, she took a job at Rutgers University. After a brief marriage, she led an Intermediate troop in New Jersey.

Jane returned to Washington in 1947 to accept a research position at the National Institutes of Health.  She spent the next 30 years conducting structural studies of DNA and RNA.

She bought a boat in 1950 and taught herself to sail. When she heard about a Mariner Girl Scout troop forming in the area she signed on. She stayed with the Mariner program for 27 years, taking full advantage of the nearby Chesapeake Bay.  She proudly wore her Mariner uniform for official events and led a Bethesda-based troop from 1964 to 1977.

Over the years, Jane kept sailing, but she did add to her outside interests. She rode with the Iron Bridge Hunt and the Howard County Hunt until her 90th birthday and was an active member of the Trail Riders of Today.  She was also part of the devoted crew that maintains the historic carousel at Glen Echo park. For decades, she rallied troops that turned out to polish the brass on the carousel before it opens for the season.

Glen Echo
Jane organizes Girl Scouts polishing the Glen Echo Carousel, 2008 (photo courtesy of Jennifer Manguera)

 

 

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Jane Toal’s homemade Mariner doll.

It is a shame that a woman once so involved in our Council’s History programs never was able to visit our now two-year old Program Center in Frederick, Maryland.  But we do have a homemade doll that she donated years ago. With bright red hair, it even looks a bit like her.

The doll is prominently displayed at the Center, a small way to keep Jane involved in Girl Scout history.

 

Special thank you to Julie Lineberry, whose previous profile of Jane was essential for this post.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Cookie Switch?

No, it’s not a new flavor or a blind taste test. It’s a delightful cookie incentive from Little Brownie Bakers in 1994:

IMG_4077 The switchplate matches the Volunteer patch from that year:

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That makes me think that it was an incentive for Volunteers. But who knows, there may be girls out there who love switchplates.

This exciting new addition to the Nation’s Capital archival collection is on display (and in use!) at our Frederick Archives and History Program Center.

This is one artifact that you can definitely touch!

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Don’t Buy Cookies from an Aardvark

I found this treasure in one of our cookie boxes at the GSCNC Archives & History Program Center in Frederick, MD. (An archival box of cookie sale materials, not a box of actual cookies, although I could use one right now…)

It is a letter-size sheet of paper, folded and printed as a booklet, that tells the story of Girl Scout cookies:

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(GSCNC Archives)

aardvark-tale-1
(GSCNC Archives)

aardvark-tale-2
(GSCNC Archives)

The back cover, in tiny print, reads “J. Moore, 51-4 GSCNC.” I assume that this is the work of Jean Moore, who was once an active member of Nation’s Council (and a plaintiff in the Rockwood case).

I suspect there’s a good story behind this delightful tale.

If it has made you half as hungry as it’s made me, try out the Girl Scout Cookie Locator to find cookies close to your location. Look for the girls in green, blue, brown, or khaki, and beware any aardvarks.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Open House a Success

On Sunday, June 26, the Nation’s Capital Archives & History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland, opened its doors to the public.

The Center’s grand opening was September 19, 2015, and programs are held there for troops on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday each month. Otherwise, the all-volunteer-operated center is open by appointment only.

We are re-evaluating hours and program opportunities for the 2016-2017 Girl Scout year and hope to have more drop-in days. We are also planning a few training classes for adult volunteers.

I was especially happy to finally meet fellow Girl Scout Historian Sandy Dent in person. She’s with the Central Maryland council, and we’ve been Facebook friends for years.  Most of the photos here are hers. (Thanks Sandy!)

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One guest–and now a new committee member–had several questions about former camps. She also shared memories of wading at camps in the 1960s. That reminded me of one of the most treasured items in our collection, the Murray Camp Scroll. Naturally, I had to pull it out.

The scroll is the 1960 Camp Committee report, but rendered in a truly unique fashion. The scroll is about 80 feet long and was donated by the family of Ann Murray, a former Camp Committee chair. Isn’t it amazing?

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Archives and History Committee members LOVE to share our collection. If you haven’t been able to schedule a visit yet, contact me (ann@robertsonwriting.com), we’ll try to work something out.

An Affordable Mannequin Solution: Update

Update: March 17, 2017

Stand covers are now available in white, too!

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IKEA’s Napen Clothes Stand

Girl Scout historians know how challenging it can be to display vintage uniforms.

Commercial mannequins can be expensive and usually are several sizes too large for the dainty uniforms of old.

Dressmaker forms can work for adult uniforms, but are difficult to find in child sizes.

 

I found a fantastic, very affordable solution at…..IKEA.  Yes, the assemble-it-yourself Swedish furniture store! Who knew?

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IKEA mannequins in use at our Archives and History Program Center.

The NÄPEN mannequins are sold in IKEA’s children’s department for the budding fashionista.

They are sold in two parts: the stand and a cover. You could use the stand without a cover, but the covers give the torso more definition. The stands are light enough to take with you for programs, but heavy enough not to tip over.  Total price is $19.99.

Here are the details:

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Napen stand (402.379.15) , $14.99.

The stand is metal and plastic and the height adjusts from 30″ to 50″.

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Napen cover (503.065.26) , $5.00

The cloth and wire cover comes in either lilac or turquoise. There is no size difference.

If you don’t have an IKEA near you, consider ordering from the website. You can get an entire troop for $100.

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©2016, Ann Robertson