Frances Hesselbein, Girl Scout Legend

Former Girl Scout CEO Frances Hesselbein passed away over the weekend at age 107. She led the movement through the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, finding ways to reach more girls and to empower them to take on a rapidly changing world.

Frances Hesselbein was a kick-ass Girl Scout.
Hesselbein in the Halston Girl Scout uniform, 1978

After hearing her speak at the 2011 National Convention, I wanted her to adopt me. She spoke with passion, with vision, and with a firm focus on how to empower women.

She urged listeners to connect with others by expecting their best intentions. She emphasized the need for respect, such as between councils and the national organization, as a prerequisite for collaboration.

Workplace blogger Sylvia LaFair made this insightful comparison just three months ago:

Cause Before Self

We can all learn deeply from women like the late Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Frances Hesselbein, C.E.O. of The Leadership Forum. There is less focus less on celebrity and more on duty and legacy.

Sylvia Lafair, CEOptions

In 2017 I sent Mrs. Hesselbein a letter asking for an interview. A few weeks passed with no reply, then my phone rang. “This is Frances Hesselbein. I would be delighted to meet with you.”

Swoon.

This post was originally published in 2017, following that visit.

************

An Afternoon Meeting

I never met Juliette Gordon Low, of course, but last week I came pretty close. I had the privilege of spending part of the day with Frances Hesselbein at her office in Manhattan. Few individuals have had as great an impact on the Girl Scout movement as this gracious lady.

Mrs. Hesselbein was the GSUSA National Executive Director from 1976 to 1990. Her first day on the job, in fact, was July 4, 1976. Today she is the director of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.

I had asked to interview her about the decision to sell Rockwood National Center in 1978. But we soon moved on to the many highlights and happier memories from her time at GSUSA.

She presided over many milestones, some more popular than others, including implementing circular management principles, introducing the Worlds to Explore program, reconfiguring the Edith Macy Center into a year-round training facility, and the introduction of the contemporary (three faces) logo. Some of her favorite memories include:

Halston Adult Uniform

Autograph and book dedication from the niece of fashion designer Halston.
Halston Catalog
Two women model sage green Girl Scout uniform designed by Halston
Halston uniform

When we met, Mrs. H (“Frances” just seems too informal!) had just returned from visiting a Halston retrospective exhibition at the Nassau County (NY) Museum of Art. The famous fashion designer had created a stylish collection of adult uniforms in 1978, and Mrs. H vividly recalled participating in that process. She also let me borrow the gorgeous exhibit catalog.

Camping and Diversity

I had submitted my resume, Rockwood book outline and synopsis, and several other documents in advance, and Mrs. H immediately noted that we both had experience as camp staff, making us both survivors of that trial by fire. She shared with me several staff photos from her time directing Camp Blue Knob in western Pennsylvania and pointed out the unusual racial diversity of the group for the early 1950s. She also had a photo from the summer 2016 camp out on the White House Lawn.

Camp Blue Knob staff photo
The diverse staff of Camp Blue Knob, circa 1952 (Hesselbein Institute)

While her Girl Scout camp was integrated in the early 1950s, much of the “outside world” lagged behind. Mrs. Hesselbein recalled that she could not eat with her African-American staff members at any restaurant in any town near the camp.

With that camp experience in mind, one of her priorities as head of GSUSA was to reach out to all girls, especially girls in historically underserved communities.  When she began at GSUSA, the organization was 95% white; fourteen years later, minority ranks had tripled.

As part of that effort, she sought to have a greater range of images in Girl Scout handbooks and other publications. She wanted any girl–of any background–to be able to find herself in a handbook. New handbooks released under supervision depicted girls of all skin tones, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all physical abilities — in other words, all girls.

White House Honors

Frances Hesselbein and President Bill Clinton
Frances Hesselbein and President Bill Clinton (Hesselbein Institute)

While Mrs. H never camped on the White House lawn — that I know of — she has been a frequent visitor. But few visits can top one in 1998, when President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. (Juliette Gordon Low was posthumously awarded the medal in 2012.) The beautiful medal and collar are prominently displayed in her office.

A Secret to Longevity?

Finally, as our conversation drew to a close, I brought up another topic: age. Mrs. Hesselbein is 101 — exactly twice my age.

Of course, many people remark on her extraordinary vigor. But my casual research in recent months has led me to a realization. We Greenbloods–long-term, deeply committed adult Girl Scouts–seem to be an exceptionally long-lived group of women.

That holds true for volunteers and long-time staff. I just recently learned of a former Rockwood director who has passed away in February — and wanted it known in her obituary that she lived to 99 years and seven months.  At Nation’s Capital, we lost two past council presidents in recent years — Marguerite Cyr (age 101) and Bobby Lerch (104).

Smiling woman in Coast Guard women's auxiliary uniform
Dorothy Stratton in her Coast Guard uniform

And the more I investigate, the more very senior Girl Scouts I find: Camping expert Kit Hammett (96); national board member Lillian Gilbreth (93). National presidents Henrietta Bates Brooke (89) and Grace MacNeil (92). But the record, so far, must be Executive Director Dorothy C. Stratton (1950-1960), who passed away at age 107!

I would love to see some data on the percentage of our membership over age 90 compared with the general population. That could be quite a retention incentive.

I asked Mrs. Hesselbein what she thought might be behind this possible trend. We came up with the same answer immediately — the girls.

The girls keep us young.

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

For All Girls: Native American Girl Scouts


Native American culture has long been part of youth organizations in the United States. The Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, and YMCA Indian Guides and Princesses placed a generic form of “Indian lore” at the center of their program. Uniforms and insignia were said to be derived from Indian traditions.

The Girl Scouts also embraced Native American culture, but the movement never incorporated Native motifs in its uniforms, structure, or vocabulary. Instead, emphasis was placed on developing the Native American girl. A Girl Scout troop was established at the Onondaga reservation, near Syracuse New York, as early as 1921—before the Girl Scout movement’s 10th anniversary.


Girl Scouts for Native Americans

photo of middle-aged white woman in 1930s Girl Scout uniform and hat
Henrietta Bates Brooke

Readers may recognize the name Henrietta Bates Brooke (Girl Scout national president, 1937–1939) for her key role in acquiring Rockwood national camp.

But she was also deeply interested in the welfare of Native Americans. She chaired the Washington DC chapter of the Association on American Indian Affairs. She persuaded leaders of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to establish Girl Scout troops at the various residential Indian schools across the United States. In her autobiography, Mrs. Brooke argued that “the friendships and skills of scouting might prove a valuable help in their final adjustment.”

The first residential troop was established at the Indian Boarding School in Pawnee, Oklahoma, in 1930. Six years later, 1,200 Native American girls across 17 states were registered as Girl Scouts.

Thomas Indian School NY 1934
Girl Scouts at Thomas Indian School in New York 1934

The controversial Indian Residential School Program used coercive, even violent, techniques to rid their students of their “savage ways” so they could become productive members of mainstream [that is, White] society.

What, exactly, was the “adjustment” sought by Mrs. Brooke? Many early accounts mention using Girl Scouts to help assimilation.

“The modern Indian girl is faced with the necessity of making the difficult transition from the old Indian way of living to a modified form of our own civilization.”

Leader (May 1932)

But my preliminary research suggests that the Girl Scouts may have subtly pushed back against some aspects of the residential school concept.

While remote residential schools kept their students away from local children their own age, residential Girl Scout troops often interacted with local community troops.  

“Their joint meetings with other troops of the city and invitations to participate in picnics brought a real feeling of sisterhood between them and the other Girl Scouts. They were proud of being Girl Scouts, of doing their part, and of being able to bring to other troops contributions from their own tribes.”

Leader (June 1939)

Four residential girls and their troop leader attended a White summer camp near Roswell NM in 1930. While the visitors were shy at first, they soon were teaching beading techniques to other campers.

In 1938, a Cherokee Girl Scout, Mayme Thompson, was part of a five-girl delegation selected to visit Our Chalet, the international Girl Scout/Girl Guide center in Switzerland.

The Girl Scouts organized residential summer camps for troops based at the residential schools, beginning in Oklahoma in 1933. This was a new option. The residential schools did not allow students to return home during summers; instead, they were sent away to be farm hands and housekeepers, with their “wages” generating income for the schools.

Reports about these camps suggest that their methods differed from the regimented life at school. Instead of large dormitories, groups of five girls lived in screened cabins, and each day they could select from a range of camp programs. Swimming was particularly popular as few residential schools had swimming pools.

The campers were also allowed to speak their native language, with staff prepared to award Interpreter badges to the girls who helped them communicate with the camp’s Cherokee neighbors.

“Until only recently the speaking of Indian languages has been discouraged in the schools. As a result many of the girls cannot speak the dialect of their tribe. Those of the campers who could, undertook to teach salutations and other short expressions to their fellow tribesmen, to girls from other tribes, and to white staff members.”  

Leader (August/September 1934)

Teaching Girl Scouts about Native Americans

The Girl Scouts offered resources for all girls to learn about Native Americans. Two issues of Leader magazine (May 1932 and August/September 1934) devoted to “American Indian Girl Scouts” sold out completely.  The magazine also offered lists of helpful books written and published by other organizations. While Leader suggested troops learn about Indian designs and plant “Indian gardens,” Indian-themed activities were largely confined to camps. 

One suggested manual, Indian and Camp Handicraft, was noted for its

Yellow and red book cover with Indian symbols

“simplified instructions for constructing 30 projects of special interest to boys and girls at camp. It includes such articles as an Indian wigwam, peace pipes, ceremonial bow and arrows, moccasins, snowshoes, treasure chests, hollow-log birdhouses, each historically authentic and reduced to the abilities and equipment limitations of the average camp.”

three Girl Scout badges with colorful Native American designs
Wood (1938-1963); renamed Indian Lore (1963-1980); Native Peoples of the USA (1980-1994); and American Indian Lore (1987-1997)

Girl Scouts of the USA has offered badges on Native American culture in the past. During the Council’s Own badge era, many councils offered badges focused on native populations in their area.

Collection of Native American themed Girl Scout badges
Collection of Native American themed Council’s Own badges

Cultural Appropriation?

The Girl Scouts have not faced the backlash over cultural appropriation that the Boy Scouts, Campfire, and YMCA have. These organizations have taken steps to tone down their Native American references, with varying degrees of success.

The YMCA voted to retool their Indian Guide and Indian Princess programs into “Adventure Guides” in 2003. The Camp Fire Girls, now simply Campfire, also toned down its claimed cultural references.

Indian headdress on Boy Scout badge
BSA Indian Lore Badge

Boy Scouts have modified portions of their especially offensive Order of the Arrow honors program, but Native American groups say they have not gone far enough. Boy Scouts still offer an Indian Lore badge.

1500x650 gsah header nahm
Native American Heritage Patch

Girl Scouts of the USA has a Native American heritage patch program for November, as do several councils.

Future Research

This post is merely an introduction to a fascinating and under-studied topic: Girl Scouts and the Indian Residential Schools. I look forward to probing deeper and broader—what about Boy Scout troops at the schools? What about troops on reservations? Were summer camps always segregated? How did programming change after the residential school system was abolished? Did Girl Guides have a similar program in Canada?

So many questions!!

The Madeleine Albright Girl Scout Badge

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright inspired a new Girl Scout badge issued in 2000.

Many tributes to Dr. Albright, who passed away on March 23, 2022, have mentioned that she had been a Girl Scout in Czechoslovakia before coming to the United States after World War II. She stayed involved with the organization as an adult, especially while her daughters were school-aged.

Wait … Girl Scout or Girl Guide?

Girl Scout is correct, according to the official history of the movement in Czechoslovakia:

History of Girl Scouts in  Czechoslovakia
WAGGGS.org

A Sister to Every Girl Scout

Madeleine Albright consults atlas as Girl Scouts watch

In August 1999, Dr. Albright welcomed a group from the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and the GSUSA headquarters to her office at the State Department to talk about ways that the Girl Scout program promotes international understanding.

In August 1999, Dr. Albright welcomed a group from the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and the GSUSA headquarters to her office at the State Department to talk about ways that the Girl Scout program promotes international understanding.

The Winter 2000 issue of Leader magazine included an interview with Dr. Albright and an extensive article about the importance of context and cross-cultural understanding to build world citizens.

Fun Fact: All three female US Secretaries of State (Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hilary Clinton) are former Girl Scouts.

The article also announced a new badge for Junior Girl Scouts: Global Awareness. Developed by USA Girl Scouts Overseas, the requirements ask girls to learn about other countries and how they get along with each other.

Global Awareness Badge 2
Global Awareness Badge 2

Multicultural Awareness

The Global Awareness badge is also remarkable for its design. Take a look at the poster image of the badge above. See the skin tone of the arms? Not very multicultural.

Round badge with green border and background arms holding globe
Global Awareness Badges

The badge was recalled and reissued without using any skin tone in the design. The “white arms” version never appeared in the Girl Scout catalog. Now that’s being diplomatic.

Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 1970s

Action 70 Patch
Action 70 Patch

Girl Scouts adapted to the rapid changes that transformed US society in the 1970s.

At the 1969 National Council Session, Girl Scouts of the USA committed to creating a membership body rich with religious, racial, ethnic and economic diversity. The first step toward achieving that goal was reaching out to groups that were underrepresented in Girl Scouts.

New Outreach

Staff created specialized recruitment brochures, tailored to Black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian communities. One initiative created a tracking and referral system to keep migrant workers in troops as they follow seasonal work throughout the year.

The Girl Scouts also focused on specific issues, such as pollution, civil rights, and hunger. Teens focused on the US government system when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971.

History by Decade 1970s
History by Decade 1970s

New Program

From Dreams to Reality Patch
From Dreams to Reality Patch

World to Explore replaced the 1963 program model, with five broad categories. The Dreams to Reality program expanded career exploration activities for all age levels.

But in my opinion, two words summarize Girl Scouts in the 1970s: Rockwood and Pants.

(I’m forgoing an opportunity to riff on Rockwood because I want to talk about PANTS.)

New Uniform

The hottest topic at that 1969 meeting in Seattle was uniforms. 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. The 1973 Girl Scout catalog announced the arrival of PANTS, one option in a new, mix-and-match wardrobe.

Pants are now a permanent staple of the Girl Scout wardrobe. Now, I like pants as much as anybody, but I remain confused about the “uniform separates” idea. Personal choice and expression are fabulous, but “uniform” means identical, right?

definition of uniform
Uniform Definition
JumboShrimp
JumboShrimp

Isn’t the phrase “uniform separates” an oxymoron?

Sigh. On to the 1980s.

Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 1950s

Pages from GSL 1950 10 October
National Volunteer Mary H.S. Hayes with Congressional Charter (Leader October 1950)

The Girl Scouts received a Congressional charter in 1950 and a new name. “Girl Scouts of the United States of America” replaced the “Girl Scouts, Inc.” that had been used since 1915.

Girl Scouting thrived in the 1950s as the post-war Baby Boom meant millions of girls wanting to join. Membership grew from 630,000 in 1940 to 1 million in 1950.

Increasing demand for opportunities led to new programs. GSUSA launched the Green Umbrella campaign to consolidate councils, bring lone troops into the council structure, and streamline program delivery. Officials emphasized the new opportunities that would result, such as additional camp properties and better collaboration among Senior Girl Scout troops.

Three girls in Girl Scout uniforms huddle under a green umbrella
Green Umbrella program patch

GSUSA developed new, narrowly focused programs that would make teen girls want to stay in Girl Scouts, especially the Senior Roundups. (Problems with retaining older girls? Some things never change.)

GSUSA responded to the enormous social changes that accompanied the emerging Cold War and defense buildup. One initiative focused on my hometown, Paducah, Kentucky, and the massive influx of families (and daughters) to work at a new plutonium processing facility.

There were some councils, mainly in the south, that still practiced segregation. But by the 1950s, many began to reconsider their policies and could no longer reconcile segregation with “For All Girls.”

History by Decade 1950s
History by Decade 1950s

in 1955, the Girl Scouts of Washington DC and Montgomery County, Maryland*, desegregated their flagship outdoor property, Camp May Flather, located in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia.

Camp May Flather’s desegregation came one year after the US Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision. It would take another four years before Virginia began to desegregate its public school system.

*The current Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital did not exist before 1963. Instead, the Washington area was dotted with smaller councils, with (almost) each county having its own.

God Bless America and the Girl Scouts

Today musicians across the country will play both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” Over the years, many people have called for making “God Bless America” our national anthem. Among other arguments, it is a much easier song to sing.

I happen to agree, but I have an ulterior motive. I want the royalties.

Written in 1917, “God Bless America” debuted on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1938.  It was an instant hit.  Irving Berlin’s lyrics captured his love of the United States, the country that had welcomed his family when they fled Russia in 1893.  He decided to use the royalties from this song to invest in the country’s future, especially its youth.

A Gift to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts

Cover of book God Bless America
Sheryl Kaskowitz, God Bless America (2013)

In July 1940 Berlin set up the God Bless America Fund and instructed its trustees to equally distribute all royalties to two all-American organizations: the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America (Note: We are NOT the Girl Scouts of America).

Berlin sat on the board of directors of the Boy Scouts and his wife on the board of the Girl Scouts.  The Fund’s trustees explained the selection of beneficiaries: “It was felt that the completely nonsectarian work of the Boy and Girl Scouts was calculated to best promote unity of mind and patriotism, two sentiments that are inherent in the song itself.”

At the time, right-wing fringe groups attacked the Girl Scouts for accepting Berlin’s gift. Noting that the composer was Jewish, they denounced the song as being part of a Jewish conspiracy to replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Historian  Sheryl Kaskowitz reprints excerpts from some of these startling letters, including one that claimed the Girl Scouts had accepted $15,000 from Berlin as part of the conspiracy. “Millions of Christian Americans resent certain forces using a great Patriotic organization such as yours to further their own selfish interests, and further the lid is about to be blown right off this slimy trick.”

The Girl Scouts persevered despite its critics, and ten years later, in 1950, Fund president Herbert Bayard Swope cited the movement as “a leading factor in the fight to end race, color, and religious discrimination in the United States.”

Focus on Greater New York City

Originally the royalty funds were distributed to councils across the country, but since the 1990s the fund has focused on the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York and the Greater New York Councils: Boy Scouts of America. Both organizations have used the funds to provide programs in low-income neighborhoods of New York City.

According to a 1996 article in Billboard, other patriotic Berlin songs have been added to the Fund’s catalog, including “This Is the Army” and “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.”  The bulk of the royalties still comes from “God Bless.”

According to the Chicago Tribune (November 7, 2001), the song generated about $200,00 per year, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Royalties swelled to $800,000 for 2001.  By 2011 some $10 million had been distributed to both organizations.

Boy Scout Royalties Withheld

However, Fund trustees became increasingly uncomfortable with the Boy Scouts’ official policy of discrimination against homosexual members. Fund publications began to stress that royalties went to the Greater New York Council, not the national organization.  Each year the Greater New York Council had to assure the Fund of its non-discrimination policy. (Boy Scouts ended this restriction in 2015.)

The Fund was not satisfied by the council’s statement in 2012, and it refused to cut a check to the Boy Scouts for several years. However, eventually the Fund was satisfied and donations resumed. I cannot pin-point the resumption date as the council’s website has dead links for all annual reports between 2014 and 2017.

For 2018, the Greater New York Boy Scouts received a donation of at least $100,000.

Uncle Sam greets a Girl Scout in 1917.
Uncle Sam greets a Girl Scout in 1917

The Fund has never had a problem with the Girl Scouts. For 2020, Girl Scouts of Greater New York reported a donation from the God Bless American Fund of between $50,000 and $99,000, twice the level received in 2015. (See Girl Scouts of Greater New York 2020 Annual Report.)

The Girl Scouts of the USA has long advocated inclusion and maintained a strict policy of “For All Girls.” Period.  We know there is always room for one more around the campfire.

God Bless the Girl Scouts, indeed.

©2021 Ann Robertson

Girl Scouts Online: Then and Now

Have you ZOOMed yet?

Thanks to the coronavirus quarantine, this program has, well, zoomed its way to prominence.

Schools, hospitals, shuttered businesses and more are using Zoom to create virtual classrooms, meetings, exercise classes, and more.

I had my first experience with the popular video platform yesterday. A group of former staff of IREX, the International Research and Exchanges Board, met online to share war stories about working and living in the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Patch from Snappy Logos

The Girl Scouts have also jumped on the Zoom express, using the platform to hold virtual troop meetings, long-distance staff meetings, discuss program proposals, and to bring guest speakers to the girls. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital held 60 virtual troop meetings last week.

Councils with Annual Meetings scheduled over the next few months are turning to Zoom as well. (As of April 7, 2020, I have no idea what will happen to the National Council Session scheduled for this October.)

Which troop has the privilege of being the first to go virtual?

First Online

Cyber Girl (1998-2010)

That honor goes to a REALLY large troop in western South Dakota. Starting in fall 2002, 2,400 girls worked on badges and service projects from their own, very isolated homes. The Black Hills Council sought to bring Girl Scouts to these girls and GSUSA responded with a new program. The virtual troop covered 34,000 square miles, with an average of six residents per square mile.

Girl Scouts on the Small Screen

In a lower-tech time, GSUSA experimented with training by television. The first programs were done in conjunction with public television stations.

In 1955, only 18 education television stations existed in the United States. One of the 18, the University of Alabama, turned to the local Girl Scouts for program suggestions. The Girl Scouts of Jefferson County had plenty of ideas and eventually came up with a three-month series of programs:

There were to be four programs on leadership of Senior troops, followed by two on outdoor activities and three on ranks and badges. Later, a series of afternoon telecasts was outlined to present a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout demonstrating outdoor skills, crafts, and dramatics.

Leader Magazine (June 1956): 15.
Radio-Television (1963-1979)

When the Camping Caravan (a station-wagon traveling the country and providing outdoor trainings), arrived in Alabama, its training team added their own flourish to the programs.

In one episode, camping expert Kit Hammett fried an egg over a tin-can stove. As the emcee closed the show, Kit flipped over her egg and bread creation to reveal toasty perfection just as the credits began to roll.

The Colorado Springs Council piloted another TV training program in 1958. Staff from the Training Division and the Radio-TV Section in New York created an eight-part series for new leaders. They also created a workbook that applied to all of the 30-minute shows.

A local commercial television station provided free air time for the shows. They were so popular that the council received many inquiries from non-Girl Scouts who had seen the programs and wanted to join.

Technologies and Tradeoffs

Whether on television or in cyberspace, the Girl Scouts have embraced new technologies to bring the movement to its members. But just as in the 1950s, today’s virtual programs risk leaving some girls behind. Girls may live in remote areas with poor internet service, and not every family has a computer. Let’s find a way to include them, too.

New Year Greetings!

Girl Scout National President, poet, and suffragist Birdsall Otis Edey penned the following message to Girl Scouts for 1925:

Leader Magazine (January 1925): 1

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.

Birdsall Otis Edey at a Girl Scout Rally in Central Park, 1920 (GSUSA NHPC)

A future post will profile the marvelous Mrs. Edey.

Happy New Year from the Girl Scout History Project!!

Life at Camp Rockwood

Lately I have been reading monthly reports from the directors of Rockwood, the former Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC.

The monthly reports run about five pages each and provide statistics describing the groups using the camp in a particular month.

Many of the included items are routine and rather boring–I’ve learned more than I probably need to about septic systems.

But mixed in with the monotony are some real gems. Including these:

RFK: Come see my house!

Robert F. Kennedy sits on the front steps of his home, Hickory Hill
https://bobbykennedy.tumblr.com

A group of Senior Girl Scouts in perfect uniform is a beautiful sight to behold and Mr. Robert Kennedy evidently thought so too. The girls were standing on the roadside in front of Mr. Kennedy’s home waiting for their stalled bus to be repaired when Mr. Kennedy drove to the main road. He stopped his car—greeted the girls and shook hands with many of them—asked where they were from and then invited them into his home for a tour. He apologized because his wife was not there and he had to go on to his work, but left them with a maid to act as a tour guide. Those girls are convinced that their uniforms helped them to have this experience. (July 1964)

An impromptu recording session

Recently a staff member began to play a tape recording made at Shadowbrook All States encampment. This recording was of the favorite songs of the campers. Gradually the Manor House Lobby and stair steps filled with girls and the girls began to sing with the record. Then they, too, made recordings. Two fathers and a bus driver joined in with the fun. One father acted as sound engineer and the other held the microphone. Forty of the sixty girls in camp attended the impromptu sing. (September 1963)

Not without our leader

A leader, as she got off the bus, said to the staff member standing nearby—“Watch those girls. They are trying to hide my  wheel chair as they take it off the bus. They think that I do not know  that they have it here. I did not realize that I had muscular  dystrophy when  we started planning this trip three years ago. When I refused to go on this long planned adventure they would have none of it and then, when I said I would stay on the bus and rest as they went sightseeing they did not want that either. I dislike holding them back and tiring them with pushing my chair, but-no one  could resist them. They even have a secret kaper chart scheduling aides to help me. They don’t  know that I know about that too.” What a wonderful troop of Seniors that group was! Mature, capable, dependable, and determined to keep their leader from becoming tired and frustrated. (July 1964)

Ready for the Rascal

For two days in succession a tent was raided and the contents of suitcases thrown about. We feared that neighborhood boys were up to mischief. On the third day members of the staff took turns sitting quietly in the unit doing office work. The vandal was found and identified. It was one of those attractive and annoying rascals-a raccoon. Our campers enjoy hearing about their escapades. The owners of the raided suitcases now know that we mean it when we say that food should be kept in covered containers. 

Girl Scout postcard, 1946

This happened the third week of August.  Another troop from the same city arrived the fourth week of the month and were to live in the same unit. One girl immediately asked to be placed in the tent visited by the raccoons because she had a camera with a flash attachment. (August 1963)

The Expert

The Caretaker’s granddaughter came for a Brownie Holiday with her troop. They stayed at Carolyn Cottage and she immediately claimed a top bunk. This troop had few questions to ask since the granddaughter had already furnished all the necessary information. (May 1961)

Brownies on Bunk Beds, 1954

Do you have a Rockwood story? Please let me know.

I have already heard from that confident Brownie, who wanted to share her version of that weekend!

Who’s That Girl Scout? Oleda Schrottky

I have long been fascinated by former GSUSA staff member Oleda Schrottky. But when I recently found this vintage photograph, I was in love.

Oleda_Schrottky
Oleda Schrottky in costume (presumably), Macy Center, 1928 (Acme Newsphoto)

From 1921 to 1964, Schrottky was the Girl Scout “play lady.” She reluctantly took this position and over time crafted a one-of-a-kind job description uniquely tailored to her talents and convictions.

Why is Oleda Schrottky the coolest Girl Scout ever?

First, there is her name: Oleda Schrottky. Try saying it aloud a few times. Doesn’t it feel and sound fascinating?

From the Midwest to Massachusetts and Manhattan

Oleda Schrottky was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1894. She was a highly educated woman for the era, attending Lawrence College, the University of Minnesota, and New York University.

She established herself as a well-regarded speech and drama instructor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She frequently performed in professional productions, especially with the Provincetown Players.

She Admitted to Misunderstanding the Girl Scouts

In 1921, the Provincetown troupe debuted a new play in New York City, The Inheritors, written by Susan Glaspell and directed by Jasper Deeter. Twenty-seven Oleda memorably played the lead character’s grandmother.

Jane_Deeter_Rippin
Jane Deeter Rippin (GSUSA)

After one show, Jasper introduced Oleda to his sister, Jane Rippin, who had greatly enjoyed her performance on several evenings.

Oleda was later astonished when Jasper commented that his sister was the executive director of the Girl Scouts. She could not believe that the aristocratic theater patron, dressed in an evening gown and furs, could possibly be a Girl Scout. She protested:

 

 

 

They wear khakis; they wear black khaki stockings; they wear the most awful-looking hats; they wear great big belts; they have got stuff hanging around like ropes and knives and they march. They are always marching and they are camping, they sleep in the poison ivy, they knock trees down, they dig holes, they cook meals. They are dreadful!

Leader (Winter 1985)

Obviously, she eventually changed her mind.

She Forged Her Own Path

Jane Deeter Rippin sought to hire professionals in the fine arts to train troop leaders in drama, music, and more. She offered Oleda a salary of $150 per month “and a lot of opposition.”

As promised, many volunteers and staff resisted the new initiative, but Oleda stood firm and eventually gained respect and her programs were praised. She originally meant to stay just a year, but 12 months rapidly turned into 40 years.

Everybodys_Affair
Play written by Oleda Schrottky

As Secretary of Plays and Pageants, Oleda wrote scripts, guidebooks, and ceremonies, and she travelled across the country helping adults and girls perform.

Her training courses included lessons on set construction, costume design, and the importance of understanding a play’s context. She published guides for Scout’s Own ceremonies, “Simple Dramatics for Girl Scout Troop Meetings,” and plays such as “Lend a Hand,” “Milestones: A Girl Scout Pageant in Seven Episodes Based on the Life of Juliette Low,” and “A Pot of Red Geraniums: A Christmas Play in Two Acts.”

While she insisted that any number of girls, even a handful, were sufficient for a dramatics program, Oleda preferred to stage her own pageants on a grand scale.

The photo above was taken during a dramatics course for leaders given at the Edith Macy Training School in 1928. All 150 students participated in “Nottingham Fair,” a pageant based on the Robin Hood story.

Oleda became an in-demand speaker across the United States. Her presentations were noted for their insight, humor, and ability to mobilize civic clubs and parent-teacher groups to support youth recreation and community theater.

She Helped Dedicate Rockwood

Oleda organized the dedication of Rockwood National Camp in 1952, combining it with a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Girl Scouting. She wrote a new pageant for the event and found a unique way to include thousands of Girl Scouts in a ceremony held at a relatively small venue.

Councils across the country were encouraged to hold their own community-wide campfire ceremony over the summer, make a bundle from the remains of the fire, attach a special message, and send it to Rockwood. No detail was left to chance:

These bundles of sticks should not exceed 12” in length; each piece of wood approximately one inch in diameter. We experimented and the simplest way is to make a cloth bag, of unbleached muslin or light-weight duck, with a draw string, then use mailing tape.

Twenty-nine bundles arrived in time for the dedication.

Schrottky Bundles
Oleda Schrottky examines bundles of sticks mailed to Rockwood National Camp (GSUSA archives)

She Retired from Work, But Not from Her Mission

Oleda officially retired from GSUSA in 1957. But she continued to work with young women and maintained a busy schedule as a guest speaker.

Too many of our children today just sit and want to be entertained. They must learn that they themselves have resources for entertaining.

–Oleda Schrottky, 1964

She passed away in August 1969, after giving presentations as recently as that May. She also had a speaking engagement booked for November 1969.

She Believed in the Importance of the Liberal Arts

I wonder how Oleda would fare in today’s Girl Scouting. We supposedly are fighting against a public image of preferring crafts over camping. Increasingly, Girl Scouting is focusing on developing skills in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math.

These are undoubtedly valuable skills, especially in the 21st century.

But as a social scientist married to an architect and with a daughter in art school, I cannot ignore the value of non-STEM topics as well.

I hope we can find a balance that includes all of these subjects.

Otherwise, maybe I’ll have to wear my own floaty Maid Marian dress to the next Maker Fair.

©2018 Ann Robertson