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

 

Meet Minnie Hill

Wednesday began as an ordinary work day at the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland.

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Girl Scout Uniform, 1917-1919

While chatting over recent trips and eclipse plans, committee members worked to update the badge and patch collection and to continue processing the extensive donation of vintage Girl Scout and Girl Guide uniforms that we received in April. (With over 100 uniforms, it is a long, but fascinating task.)

We focused on one of the vintage suitcases that came with the collection.  (Even the suitcases are in pristine shape.) There were about a dozen bags to go through.

First, we found the tiniest khaki uniform I’ve ever seen. Skirt, jacket, even the bloomers were included. It appears home-made.

Then I heard someone yell, “Look at the badges!” One sleeve of the uniform was covered with an impressive, colorful record of hard work.

Minnie Hill Sleeve

Elusive White Felt badges: (from top left clockwise): Clerk, Civics, Matron Housekeeper, Attendance, Signaling, Dairy Maid, and Laundress (GSCNC Archives)

Yes, those are seven White Felt badges–the rarest of rare Girl Scout badges, available only from 1913 to 1918. The seven new White Felts bring our total number to — 10!

But when we turned the jacket over, we got an even bigger surprise:

Minnie Hill Pins

Minnie Hill’s Golden Eaglet, Buttercup Troop Crest, War Service Pin, and US Treasury War Service Award (GSCNC Archives)

According to a tattered paper in the suitcase, the uniform belonged to Minnie Hill.

Of course, this called for more research.

The included paper had three typed paragraphs, two faded newspaper clippings, and one ripped photo. They reported that Minnie Hill attended Central High School in Washington, DC, and was a Girl Scout in Troop 9 from 1917 to 1919.

She received her First Class badge from Mrs. Woodrow Wilson at a White House ceremony 100 years ago — on June 21, 1917.

Two years later she was back at the White House, this time to receive her Golden Eaglet from Queen Elizabeth of Belgium on October 31, 1919. The Queen, her husband, and their son were touring the United States at the time, and her participation in the ceremony had a special significance for Minnie, as Troop 9 had practiced their sewing and knitting skills by making layette sets for newborns in Belgium.

A Washington Times article about the 1919 ceremony noted that Minnie had earned 19 badges; all of which are still on her uniform sleeve.

In between those awards, Minnie was recognized for selling Liberty Bonds during World War I. The Washington Post reported that she had sold eleven war bonds for a total of $900. In addition to a medal, high sellers usually were honored with a parade. Alas, the 1918 parade was canceled due to the Spanish flu outbreak.

Sadly, our photo of Minnie is torn, crumbling, and not terribly useful. Attempts to repair it have done more harm than good:

Minnie Hill 3

I searched the electronic archives of three different Washington newspapers, but did not find the photo.

Then I had another idea. That ceremony in 1917 was well documented. In fact, it was the ceremony where two Washington scouts, Eleanor Putzki and Ruth Colman received their Golden Eagles of Merit. Could Minnie be in one of those photos?

Here is the group shot from after the Court of Awards:

 

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White House Court of Awards, June 21, 1917. That’s Ruth Colman front and center, with her sleeve full of badges and her Golden Eagle of Merit pin. (Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection)

 

Take a closer look at the young lady on the back row, far left. I think that is Minnie Hill.

History hasn’t lost her after all.

©2017 Ann Robertson

Farewell to Our Piper and Our Princess

The sudden loss of both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds this week reminded me of a moment when my teen troop visited the GSUSA museum in 2015. Staff showed them a display on the Piper Project.

“That’s Debbie Reynolds,” said the archivist, pointing to a photo. “Star of Singing in the Rain.”

Blank stares.

Portrait of Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds in her Girl Scout uniform (notice she earned the Curved Bar!)

“Aggie, from Halloweentown,” I translated.

That they understood. The Disney Channel movies are beloved by young women of a certain age. Cheers ensued.

Girl Scouts of a slightly older vintage remember Debbie Reynolds as the face of the Piper Project. Launched at the national convention on October 25, 1966, this three-year program sought to improve retention levels among current Girl Scouts, in part by recruiting more adult volunteers. Reynolds was to shoot a color television spot and film a short movie as part of the adult recruitment effort.

Reynolds explained the role Girl Scouting played in her life in the January 1967 issue of Leader magazine:

All my life I’ve been a Girl Scout, from that day long ago when I first said, “On my honor. … Like so many of us here, I have my mother to thank for one of the finest things that ever happened to me. She was my Girl Scout leader. Today I couldn’t begin to count the many ways Girl Scouting has influenced my life. … But we all know that the true values, the real values of Scouting, have to grow on you. You have to be a Scout long enough for them to take hold and endure. First it’s the fun — the songs and games, the being together with other girls, the belonging! And most of all, the chance to try out for yourself all the adventures in self-discovery Girl Scouting has to offer.

But you and I know that the fun, the games, the adventures are only a means in Girl Scouting — a means to a most important end. These are the tools we use to help girls grow into happy and resourceful citizens …

This doesn’t happen in a day, or in a year, or maybe not even in two of three. For that reason Girl Scouting should be a special ingredient in the lives of girls — seven through seventeen. And it can … That’s why I’m a Girl Scout leader.

Reynolds carried on her family tradition by leading a troop for her daughter, Carrie Fisher. While numerous Girl Guide organizations around the world can claim a princess or two as members, only GSUSA can claim Princess Leia as one of their own.

I don’t think I can add much to Reynolds’ comment. Girl Scouting is cumulative. The longer you’re a member, the more you get out of it. Perhaps the most fitting tribute would be for today’s leaders to take a deep breath, remember the year’s best moments, and commit to another year working with girls.

You never know which of today’s Brownies will grow up to save the galaxy from evil.

©2016 Ann Robertson

Seeking the Silver Fish

“I found a bunch of silver fish!” I recently announced to my family.

“Call the exterminator,” my husband replied.

Then, as a good Man in Green, he corrected himself. “Oh, you mean the other one.”

Indeed, this is what I found in the bargain bin at Jo-Ann Fabrics:

Fish_Beads

It’s a string of silver-colored, fish-shaped beads. Each is about 1″ in size. I thought they would be perfect additions to a Juliette Gordon Low costume or a Daisy-themed Kim’s Game.

The Silver Fish was the highest award available to Girl Guides. It could be considered the first highest award for Girl Scouts, because it was listed in the 1913 handbook, How Girls Can Help Their Country, along with the list of the 20 badges needed to earn it. But no Girl Scouts ever did. In fact, some of the “required” badges were not even available in the United States.  Instead, Daisy created a US equivalent: the Golden Eagle of Merit.

In October 1917 Girl Guides redefined the Silver Fish as an adult-only award recognizing outstanding contributions to the movement.

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Helen Storrow (Wikipedia)

Originally the award depicted a whiting with its tail in its mouth. It changed to a swimming fish on a dark blue/light blue striped ribbon in October 1917.

Today the fish is an Atlantic salmon. According to the Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, Lord Baden Powell suggested this species, “a salmon swimming up a river, overcoming every water fall, boulder, and other obstacle in order to reach a quiet place in which to spawn.”

Lady Baden Powell received a specially created golden Silver Fish in 1918.

Three Americans received the prestigious Silver Fish. Lord Baden Powell personally presented the first to JGL at the 1919 national convention in Washington, DC. Anne Hyde Choate and Helen Storrow received theirs at the 1921 national convention in Cincinnati. Choate, JGL’s goddaughter, was national president from 1920 to 1922. Storrow led the effort to build Our Chalet.

 

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Anne Hyde Choate (l) and Juliette Gordon Low wear their Silver Fish (Harris & Ewing photo)

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Anne Hyde Choate’s Silver Fish at GSUSA

Daisy was buried in her Girl Scout uniform, including her Silver Fish, at Laurel Grove cemetery in Savannah.

Anne Hyde Choate’s Silver Fish was donated to GSUSA. Earlier this year, it was on display in the lobby of the 17th floor of national headquarters, 420 Fifth Avenue in New York.

Today Storrow’s fish lives at the Cedar Hill Museum in Massachusetts. 

Thank you to the Cedar Hill staff and volunteers who confirmed the location!

©2016 Ann Robertson

Applying for the Golden Eaglet

Applying for the Golden Eaglet

What did it take to earn a Golden Eaglet, Girl Scouting’s highest honor from 1918 to 1939?

Golden Eaglet

Golden Eaglet Pin

The requirements were revised several times, but the 1920 Handbook had essentially two:

Earn 21 proficiency badges. Girls chose 15 from a list of 17 badges; the other six were their choice. (One required badge was Laundress!)

Earn the Medal of Merit (1922-1926) or a Letter of Commendation (1926-1931). These awards were meant to attest to a girl’s attitude and character, highly subjective requirements indeed.

Instead of searching various musty handbooks, let’s look at an actual application from Virginia Hammerley of Washington, DC:

Eaglet Application 1

Eaglet Application-2

Eaglet Application-3

Letter of Commendation

Unlike today’s Gold Award, there was no time-defined project to conduct.

Applications were then submitted to the National Standards Committee for review. Virginia received her Golden Eaglet in May 1930. (Second from left)

Hammerley Clipping

Although more than 10,000 girls were awarded the Golden Eaglet, quite a few were turned down. That led to complaints about the rather fuzzy requirements. How could strangers in New York City fairly evaluate the character of girls in California or anywhere in between?

According to the Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, “There were constant complaints about applications that were questioned or refused by [the Standards] Committee.” (That NEVER happens with today’s Gold Award process.)

The Girl Scout Program Study completed in 1937 recommended that the Golden Eaglet be discontinued, due to “the restrictions it imposes on the girls and the trouble it engenders in the communities.”

©2016 Ann Robertson, Gold Awardee 1983

UPDATE: Lunch with Anna, FORMER CEO

UPDATE: Anna Maria Chávez has resigned as GSUSA CEO, effective June 30. 


Yesterday I had lunch with GSUSA CEO Anna Maria Chávez at the National Press Club. It was just Anna, me, and 400 or so of our closest friends. There were also about a dozen CEOs of various Girl Scout councils, former GSUSA CEO Marsha Evans, and many many past and present Girl Scouts.

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I forgot my camera yesterday, so this 2013 photo of Chavez and I will have to do. (I’m on the left)

It was a typical Washington lunch presentation, with a berry, walnut and goat cheese salad; a breaded chicken breast, fresh vegetables, and a light, 20-minute speech.

What did Chávez have to say?

First, to answer members’ frequent question, Chávez wore a fitted navy skirt suit. It definitely qualified as “business attire” and thus as official uniform. She was also wearing an official Girl Scout scarf and pins. She specifically commented that she was wearing her newly received Catholic St. Elizabeth Ann Seton  medal.

Second, Chávez did not dwell on the Gold Award. It was mentioned, certainly, several times, but it was not the focus of the presentation. (She did not even ask Gold Award recipients present to stand.) Instead, the overall theme was reasons to “invest” in girls and Girl Scouting.

Third, Chávez acknowledged the previous day’s tragedy in Orlando, Florida, where over 100 patrons were shot at a gay nightclub. Several times she emphasized that “inclusion is in our DNA,” suggesting that Girl Scouts could be a positive force in expanding tolerance.

Fourth, when asked about plans for the future, Chávez twice mentioned that she is expecting a “call to the ministry.”

The entire presentation is available online.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Meet Golden Eaglet Farley Massey

Golden Eaglet

Golden Eaglet pin

At age 92, Ruth Farley Massey is perhaps the last Golden Eaglet in the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital family.

Farley recently participated in a council documentary marking the centennial of the Gold Award. Her segment starts at 0:32 and she returns at the end of the six-minute video.

Enjoy!