Girl Scouts enjoy camping, but they also need real buildings. Past and present Girl Scout properties include national offices in Savannah, Georgia; Washington DC; and New York City. They have owned camps (Macy, Rockwood, Andree Clark, National Center West); museums (Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, First Headquarters), training centers (Macy, Rockwood); and conference centers (also Macy and Rockwood). One dozen regional offices operated across the United States until the 1970s. The national organization closed National Center West (in Ten Sleep, Wyoming) in 1990 and sold the property. GSUSA sold Rockwood to residential developers in 1978, triggering a class-action lawsuit that saved one-third of the camp.
I recently discovered this wonderful vintage photo from inside the Girl Scout First Headquarters in Savannah, Georgia.
I’ve visited the First Headquarters several times, and it doesn’t feel this open and spacious. I thought it would be fun to see how the building has changed over the past 110 years.
The building today known as the First Headquarters was originally the carriage house behind Juliette Gordon Low’s marital home in Savannah (now known as the Andrew Low House). Early Savannah troops, such as the girls in the photo, held their meetings in the converted building.
Inside First Headquarters
The Savannah Girl Scout council used the upper level as offices and opened their own small museum on the main floor in 1948.
The Savannah Council outgrew the space in the 1980s and moved their offices elsewhere. The First Headquarters building was modernized and reopened as an equipment shop in 1996. After a further renovation, the building came a museum and history program center in 2003.
Today, the building is divided into three rooms–a gift shop, the museum, and a small meeting room. The upstairs is closed to the public.
The central, museum portion has not significantly changed. The windows, fireplace, and even the portrait match up perfectly.
The exterior has also evolved, reflecting the shift from one large room to three separate spaces.
Outside First Headquarters
Originally, the building had large doors on the right that allowed carriages and automobiles to exit onto Drayton Street. Pedestrians entered the building through a door facing Drayton Street.
This version of the building was immortalized in a color post card.
A replica of the First Headquarters was used as the centerpiece for a 25th anniversary celebration in Washington DC in 1937.
The model initially went to the Girl Scout Little House in Washington. When the Little House closed in 1945, this along with the Little House doll house were transferred to Rockwood, where they were discarded. The Little House model was saved from the dustbin, but not that of the Savannah building.
The garage doors were replaced with standard door and window in 1948. Another renovation in 1968 replaced the door with a window.
The contemporary photo above was taken when the main sign was temporarily removed, perhaps due to an approaching hurricane.
The has not been lost, although it has been updated.
The First Headquarters museum doesn’t get as much publicity as the nearby Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, but it is well worth the brief walk to pay a visit.
A camp song, a fundraiser, a bond connecting Macy alumni, the elusive Chartreuse Buzzard is a Girl Scout legend.
Girl Scouts of the USA faced huge budget deficits in the early 1970s, a product of slipping membership numbers and rising inflation.
In an effort to save as much money as possible, while cutting as few services as possible, GSUSA informed council presidents and directors in June 1974 that it would close the beloved Edith Macy Training Center in Briarcliff Manor, New York, for the 1975 season and possibly beyond. The sad news spread throughout the membership that summer.
The news arrived at Macy in August, during an “Innovative Training” workshop for adult volunteers. Upset and distressed by this development, students decided to take action. Led by Gloria Quinlan, Ginger Shields, and Betty Lankford McLaughlin from the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Council, the group believed that a grassroots fundraising effort might raise enough money to save Macy.
The women had just learned a new song, “Three Chartreuse Buzzards,” and unanimously agreed to bestow that name on their group.
Thus, the International Order of the Chartreuse Buzzards was born. Why “international”? Because several of the students were Canadian Girl Guides.
Patches for Macy
The group designed a brightly colored patch meant to capture the “combination of fun, friendship, and serious purpose, which have always been part of the blend that appeals to enthusiastic Girl Scouts.” Members sent a patch and a brochure to every council president. Patches were sold for $2 and, to further save expenses, buyers were asked to include self-addressed, stamped envelopes with their orders.
News of the group’s existence spread quickly. After all, no Girl Scouts worth her Thin Mints will pass up a unique patch.
IOCB members ordered 1,000 patches, and all sold out before they were delivered. The design changed slightly before the next order. The word “Macy” was added the spelling of chartreuse fixed.
Donations Fly In
Macy opened for one weekend in June 1976 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The Buzzards chose that event to present a check to GSUSA for $2,200, earned from selling 8,000 patches.
In 1974, the Macy Lamp of Learning ignited a fire of learning under a dead tree. From the tree, the Chartreuse Buzzard took flight. The shadow of its wings has covered North America, Europe, Australia and other regions. This flight has spread the message of Macy Magic. The Chartreuse Buzzard RE-turns with a gift. The gift is to fuel the lamp of Macy.
The Macy Center was taken off the endangered species list in October 1977, when the GSUSA Board of Directors designated it as the movement’s primary program and training center. A massive fund drive helped GSUSA convert the Edith Macy Center into a year-round facility suitable for training, conferences, and other meetings.
That good news did not dampen enthusiasm for the patch. Sales continued by mail and at conventions, and a cookbook was produced as well.
As Macy expanded, Buzzards donations were earmarked for the Camp of Tomorrow, an experimental outdoor education area at Macy, and scholarships to attend Macy training events. By 1992 the Buzzards had raised $15,000 for Macy.
Is the Chartreuse Buzzard Extinct?
What became of the Chartreuse Buzzards? The last recorded sighting was near the Seal of Ohio Girl Scout Council office in 1992. Patch orders then were directed to council publications manager Betty Rutledge. Betty passed away in 2006, but she was very proud of the Buzzards movement and what the scrappy little group had accomplished. She also wanted GSUSA to do more than cash Buzzard checks.
Writing GSUSA President Betty Pilsbury in February 1989, Betty noted that the group was still waiting for action on GSUSA’s promise to share the Buzzard story with the entire Girl Scout family.
When such an impressive amount of money has been accumulated in $2.00 purchases, an opportunity is being ignored to comment on tangible support for a special Girl Scout place from enthusiastic grass-roots membership.
Betty Rutledge letter to GSUSA President Betty Pilsbury, February 6, 1989
GSUSA ran a two-paragraph notice in the Summer 1989 issue of Leader.
What issue topped the agenda of the 1969 National Council session?
Pants. The membership spoke, and they wanted uniforms with pants.
Responding to waves of requests from girls, GSUSA announced that it would remain a uniformed movement and update girl uniforms. The most requested item? Pants. Active girls—not to mention their mothers—did not want to sacrifice movement for modesty.
Designing uniforms is a multifaceted process. The overall design needs to be visually unifying and reflect contemporary fashion without falling for passing fads that will shorten their appeal. The cut must flatter a wide range of body types, the fabric needs to be suitable for multiple climates, and the color palette needs to enhance skin tones ranging from very fair to very dark. Decorations and trims are kept to a minimum, both to keep costs down as well as to not compete with official insignia.
First up was the smallest age group—Senior Girl Scouts. These high schoolers were still wearing the two-piece skirt suit introduced in 1960. Made out of a deep green sharkskin cotton fabric, the brightly colored uniform trim indicated the wearer’s area of concentration. Troops focused on International Friendship, for example, wore yellow ties and hat cords, Wing troops orange, and Homemaker troops turquoise. This iconic uniform, topped with an Overseas-style hat, was beloved by fans of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, but fell out of favor with the bell-bottom and suede fringe-wearing girls of the late 1960s. Girls had quickly nicknamed the suit the “Stewardess uniform,” but by now it was no longer a compliment. Besides, even the flight attendants had moved on to trendier styles. Seniors themselves had their own ideas about a uniform; they wanted pants—and mini-skirts, too.
After considering suggestions, designs, and even samples sent by girls, the National Equipment Service (NES) settled on two versions of a sleek step-in style A-line dress that buttoned up the front. For feedback, they took the uniform to the girls.
Manufacturers created samples in sizes 6 through 20 and shipped them to Rockwood National Camp and the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah. Visiting Seniors of all shapes and sizes tried on the samples and completed feedback cards. They had a definite preference for one version and one shade of green, but indicated that they wanted heavier fabric, a belt, and pants. Designers made more revisions and presented the result to the National Executive Committee for final approval. NES was still not convinced of the need for pants, but they conceded defeat on the matter.
Ultimately, the girls were rewarded with pants in the same green cotton poplin fabric, but the semi-flared legs hardly qualified as bell-bottoms. The ensemble included a soft beret made of the same fabric, a tab tie, and a formidable green leather belt that was 1.5” wide with adjustment holes running the entire length.
But the most notable feature was the dress’s hemline—or, rather, the lack of one. After endless debates among focus groups and survey responses, GSUSA gave up trying to settle on the appropriate length. The dress was sold unhemmed, with a hang-tag reading: “The Official GS Uniform with the Unofficial Hemline.” If girls wanted mini-skirted uniforms, Headquarters seemed to say, let parents deal with the matter. Many Senior Girl Scouts were accustomed to sewing their own clothes and turned the new dress into a short tunic to be worn over the new pants. Just how many ditched the pants once out their front door is unknown.
And to really be mod, GSUSA created a line of hippy, crunchy-granola inspired casual pieces at the same time. Can’t you just imagine Marcia Brady or Laurie Partridge in these funky frocks?
Nope, me either. And if you look closely at the 1973 image showing the new uniforms, that spiffy green cape is marked “SALE,” although it doesn’t come through well in the picture. Guess these duds were a dud.
The other age levels received new uniforms in 1973. Instead of a single dress, Brownies, Juniors, and Cadettes each had their choice of five or six mix-and-match pieces, that included jumpers, pants, shorts, cotton blouses, and hideous polyester double-knit turtleneck bodysuits that were hot, itchy, had a stiff plastic zipper that grabbed your hair, and featured a snap crotch that perpetually pinched your privates.
Catalog descriptions of the new clothing reflected the lingo of the time, emphasizing choice, individuality, and liberation:
New space-age materials meant less wrinkling and less ironing.
The new styles included several pieces for each age level, creating another point of consistency.
Each level had a tie that snapped together. No more arguments about how to tie a neckerchief or which way the ends should point. The polyester, turtleneck bodysuit was high fashion at the time, not to mention indestructible and UNCOMFORTABLE. Can clothing cause PTSD? Because if so, these bodysuits would have.
The new Cadette uniform included the very first vest, instead of a badge sash. They were made from dark green felt, and some people mistakenly think they were homemade.
This week a new collection of uniform pieces debuted. So far, they are targeted toward the older age levels.
Hopefully GSUSA will never repeat the snap-zip-bodysuit debacle of the 1970s.
Girl Scout National President, poet, and suffragist Birdsall Otis Edey penned the following message to Girl Scouts for 1925:
Mrs. Edey (and was there EVER a better name than “Birdsall Otis Edey”) is referring to the Girl Scout headquarters at 670 Lexington Avenue in New York City. Funds for the building came in part from the “buy-a-brick” campaign associated with “Dorothy,” the yellow brick girl.
A future post will profile the marvelous Mrs. Edey.
Happy New Year from the Girl Scout History Project!!
Last week my daughter graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design. (Summa Cum Laude in scriptwriting, I know you want to ask.)
When she opted for SCAD, I knew we wouldn’t get to see her very often, as the SCAD campus is some 600 miles away.
But I’m glad we made the effort to visit this beautiful city. My husband and I became regulars at a Hampton Inn near SCAD, and only partly because of their free waffles.
Over time we walked around the historic district enough times that we no longer need a map.
As we drove over the Savannah River and into South Carolina and back to Maryland, it was easy to review what I’d learned these past years. Most are connected to Girl Scouts, which began in Savannah in 1912.
1. I was already familiar with the bridge when the Girl Scouts of Georgia lobbied (unsuccessfully) in 2017 to have it named for founder Juliette Gordon Low.
2. My daughter had the coolest college job ever, as a docent at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. I learned a lot from her about how to bring former residents “alive” in a house museum. After all, tours are just another form of script.
3. I was lucky to have a peek behind the curtain to see Birthplace operations, including the renovated library.
4. I learned more about museum strategies to humanize artifacts. Instead of just showing a uniform, add details about who wore it and what she did while wearing it.
5. I had a fancy dinner in the Birthplace dining room with two of JGL’s great-nieces. They were just as warm and friendly as you’d expect.
6. I learned that shrimp and grits are nature’s most perfect food.
8. I participated in a GSUSA Task Force on the future of the Birthplace.
9. I didn’t spend nearly enough time at the Girl Scout First Headquarters museum. I don’t remember how many rounds of phone tag the director and I had, but we seldom connected.
10. I learned that if you stand on a street corner and yell “It’s Girl Scouts of the USA” every time a tour guide says that JGL founded the “Girl Scouts of America,” tourists think you’re just a weird Girl Scout vigilante and ignore you.
I deliberately decided not to visit the Andrew Low House or Laurel Grove cemetery. I’m saving them as the reason to return in the future.
These four years in Savannah were unforgettable. And yes, I got the patch. All of them!
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.
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.
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.
A dollhouse versionof the Little House has been on display at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
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!!
Both the Little House and Rockwood were generous, but
unanticipated, gifts reluctantly accepted by the national Girl Scout
headquarters (GSUSA). National’s reticence related to the costs associated with
these surprise bequests.
Imagine that I give all readers a new car. (Emphasis on imagine.) The prize sounds like a windfall at first, but your excitement dims when you realize that you must suddenly come up with cash to pay taxes on the gift, registration fees, insurance, and even gasoline.
After accepting Rockwood, GSUSA vowed to never again accept
such a gift without an accompanying endowment.
Indeed, when the Girl Scouts had the opportunity to purchase the Andrew Low Housein 1943, Daisy’s marital home in Savannah, they declined for this very reason—the total cost would be much higher than just the purchase price.
Nine years later, the Savannah Council called again. An
historic property was about to come on the market. The council could not afford
it, so representatives contacted the national headquarters. This time the
property in question was a Regency mansion on the corner of Bull and Oglethorpe
Streets; the Gordon family home and Daisy’s birthplace.
Both the house and the neighborhood had deteriorated over
time, and some Gordon descendants wanted to raze the house and sell the land.
Savannah’s commercial district was expanding, and the Gordon corner lot would
be attractive to business developers.
Daisy’s niece Eleanor Wayne Macpherson was appalled at the
idea of tearing down the house. It held wonderful memories from her childhood.
Losing it, she lamented, “would be a tragedy, because, over and above its
historic value, it is associated with everything I hold dear.”
Macpherson launched a three-pronged strategy to save the
Persuading the Family
The house was owned and managed by an informal trust set up among
Daisy and her siblings. The six children had received equal ownership shares
upon the death of their parents. These shares were subsequently further divided
and sold or swapped among descendants.
Macpherson knew that the trustee, her nephew, favored
demolition, so she began quietly acquiring house shares from distant relatives
so that she would gain a majority and be able to block moves toward demolition.
GSUSA: “No Thanks”
Macpherson approached national Executive Director Dorothy
Stratton about purchasing the home. The reply was a swift “No.”
Macpherson was not completely surprised by this refusal. In
fact, she had already contacted Anne Hyde Choate about the situation. Choate,
Daisy’s goddaughter who had succeeded Low as national president in 1920, agreed
on the need to preserve the house.
Choate advised Macpherson to not condemn national leaders
for their veto, as “One cannot blame those overburdened people for wanting to
avoid more responsibility.”
Rally the Troops
Choate encouraged Macpherson to persevere. Specifically, it
was time to rally the membership behind this cause.
Somehow we must get into our Nat. Hdqrs’ mind the idea that one of their chief functions is to encourage local or other Girl Scout groups to take responsibility and carry out their own good ideas, — in fact, to treat their experienced members as grownup people!
–Anne Hyde Choate
She encouraged Macpherson to contact Louise Dawe, an influential Girl Scout in Richmond, Virginia, and the women began assembling an informal panel of volunteers to save the Birthplace.
The Board Bends
When the national Board of Directors met in October 1952,
Choate formally proposed creating a committee to study the implications of
purchasing the Gordon home. Board members agreed they should not to dismiss the
issue outright. The motion passed, and an “Ad Hoc Committee to Consider
Purchase of the Birthplace” was created from Choate’s list of proposed
committee members. She reported to Dawe that the motion had passed “definitely
against” the advice and wishes of top GSUSA officials.
The Ad Hoc Committee visited Savannah in February to inspect
the Birthplace and offered their preliminary impressions to the Board in March.
At that point, the Board expanded the committee, creating subcommittees to
focus on finance as well as restoration, operations, maintenance, and program.
The latter subcommittee was to include representatives from Savannah.
The national Board also instructed headquarters to pay $500 for an option to purchase the house for $65,000. This would prevent the building from being razed or sold to another buyer until after the October Board meeting, when the Dawe report would be presented.
The Committee worked at a frantic pace throughout the summer
of 1953 to assess the financial implications of purchasing and restoring the
Gordon home. They looked at a range of expenses and consider what programming
could be offered at the house.
Not Just Another Expense
Volunteers spent the summer trying to convert key leaders to
National President Olivia Layton sent Dawe a list of other
properties that had recently been offered to and refused by GSUSA, trying to
establish that a precedent existed for such matters. Dawe, for her part,
insisted that none of these cases were relevant because “none of them belonged
to the Girl Scout history nor offered a reason for the girls’ participation in
the project.” Furthermore, she cited bankers and real estate experts who
believed the property would be “not alone a sentimental or emotional [purchase]
… [but] a very good investment.”
Dawe went on to compare the Girl Scouts to the United
Nations as both sought “to build the defenses of peace in the minds and hearts
of children.” Just as the UN complex has a small chapel dedicated to the
founder, she thought the Gordon house could provide a similar focal point for
Girl Scouts. “It might offer that sense of the beginning of an idea and the
continuity of its great purpose.” Office locations might change, but the house
would remain a fixed anchor.
Layton took note of Dawe’s lofty ideals, but plainly stated that finding a new national headquarters building and developing Camp Macy should take precedence over buying an old home in Savannah. Dawe acknowledged these priorities, but
“With the house, it is now or never. … Is that also true of headquarters, and of Macy?”
The Committee’s findings were assembled into an extensive
report, which Dawe presented at the October meeting of the national Board of
Directors. In a nail-biting vote, the board approved the purchase, 32–24.
The Ad Hoc Committee to Consider the Purchase was dissolved
and a new “Special Committee on the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace” created. This
new group included members of the initial committee, as well as individuals
representing Savannah, and Girl Scout Region VI, among others.
Macpherson was also a part of this original committee.
Although I have seen no provision requiring a Gordon family member to be on
such an advisory group, typically someone has. That is true for the latest
incarnation, as well.
As the Birthplace continues to evolve, let us remember that volunteers can have a lasting impact on key decisions determining the direction of our movement.
My daughter recently mentioned that visitors on her tours at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace are often surprised when Erin says, “She was about my size.”
That comparison surprised me, too. Erin and I are only 5 feet tall, and even then we really have to stretch on our tippy toes. “Hold on,” I replied. “I think I’ve seen her height.”
Less than a minute later, I texted her a copy of Low’s 1919 passport application, which states her height at 5 feet, 4.5 inches.
“OK,” Erin conceded. “But that’s still pretty small.”
“You’re not going to comment on my just happening to have JGL’s passport application sitting around?”
“No, mom.” She replied. “I’ve learned to expect that.”
I had found the passport records earlier on Ancestry.com. It is fun to see Daisy’s handwritten comments, description of her own appearance, and to read the reasons given for her travel abroad. The passport photos are great, as well.
The documents have been bound into hardback volumes, and some text is not fully visible.
Her 1915 application gave her destinations as England, Italy, and Egypt, and she requested that the document be delivered to her parents’ home on Oglethorpe Street.
She renewed her passport in 1916, and her brother’s statement served in place of a birth certificate. The file also includes a letter noting that her landlord in London, Lady Coghlan, was upset to discover that Daisy had used parafin oil lamps and left at least one sink stopped up.
By 1918 Daisy had misplaced her passport and urgently needed a new one. She included a letter from Boy Scout founder Lord Baden-Powell explaining the reason for her travel.
In 1919 she explained that she needed to renew her passport for six months to attend an international scouting conference. She handwrote that her travels would include Switzerland, and another letter from Lord Baden-Powell confirmed the international meeting.
1919 2 3
1919 6 7
The last passport on file was for 1923. This trip included Egypt. She also indicates that her previous passport had been canceled.
Unfortunately, the photo for the 1923 document is almost illegible. Likely the product of poor quality microfiche.
I always enjoy looking at original documents, especially ones with personal details such as eye color, face shape, and height.
Now I have yet another reason to look up to Daisy Low.
One hundred and six years ago today, a 51-year old widow reinvented herself by inventing the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Juliette Gordon Low invited 18 girls to the first Girl Scout meeting on March 12, 1912, in the carriage house of her home in Savannah, Georgia.
Today that building, known as the First Headquarters, welcomes girls (everyone, actually) from around the world who want to learn more about this woman and her life-changing movement. I look forward to being there next week.
Here’s to the women willing to break the mold, challenge tradition, and shape the future. And here’s to life’s second acts!!