Exploring the First Girl Scout Headquarters in Savannah

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

First HQ Interior 1928
First Headquarters Interior, 1920s

The Savannah Girl Scout council used the upper level as offices and opened their own small museum on the main floor in 1948.

Girl Scouts seated around formal tea table
Savannah Girl Scouts Launch 1936 Cookie Sale (First HQ photo)

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.

First Headquarers Museum in 2015
First Headquarters Museum in 2015 (photo by Ann Robertson)

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.

Front of two-story stucco building with vintage Girl Scouts on sidewalk.
First Headquarters Building, 1920 (GS Historic Georgia)

This version of the building was immortalized in a color post card.

Sketch of two-story stucco building with vintage Girl Scouts on sidewalk.
First Headquarters Postcard

A replica of the First Headquarters was used as the centerpiece for a 25th anniversary celebration in Washington DC in 1937.

1937 GSUSA Party in DC cropped
Model of the First Headquarters in 1937 (Harris & Ewing photo)

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.

Rockwood Trivia: The gentleman in the photo above is John W. Caughey, widower of Carolyn Caughey, who built Rockwood.

The garage doors were replaced with standard door and window in 1948. Another renovation in 1968 replaced the door with a window.

GSFHQ Modern
First Headquarters Building today (GS Historic Georgia)

The contemporary photo above was taken when the main sign was temporarily removed, perhaps due to an approaching hurricane.

Juliette Gordon Low and a dozen Girl Scouts stand under a sign reading "First Headquarters."
Juliette Gordon Low joins a troop outside Girl Scout headquarters in Savannah (GSUSA photo)

The has not been lost, although it has been updated.

Trip Advisor
Trip Advisor

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.

You might even find Daisy there herself.

For more architectural history about the Girl Scouts and Savannah, see the National Parks Service application to create the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Four Years in Savannah

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.

Husband (left) and daughter at commencement

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.

7. And yes, Leopold’s ice cream really is that good.

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.

Farewell to the Birthplace!!
(and, yes, passing tourists stared)

These four years in Savannah were unforgettable. And yes, I got the patch. All of them!

A sample of my many Savannah patches

©2019 Ann Robertson

Daisy and Her Travel Documents

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.

1915-Description
Daisy describes herself as 5 ft, 4.5 inches tall.

1916 Photo
Passport Photo, 1915, 1916

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

106 Years and Counting

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.

 

IMG_1313
Girl Scout First Headquarters in Savannah, Georgia

 

Here’s to the women willing to break the mold, challenge tradition, and shape the future.  And here’s to life’s second acts!!

Leaders Born Women

Happy Birthday, Girl Scouts!!

©2018 Ann Robertson