Wearing Pearls for Founder’s Day

Juliette Gordon Low was born on October 31, 1860, in Savannah, Georgia. Girl Scouts today honor her by wearing pearls on Halloween.

Why Pearls?

William Mackay Low presented his bride, known to all as Daisy, with a magnificent set of matched natural pearls for their wedding on December 21, 1886.

jgl and willy wedding
Juliette Gordon and William Low

It was an extravagant gift from a handsome and quite wealthy groom, but Mr. Low turned out to be a dud of a husband. He had affairs throughout their marriage, never gave Daisy the children she had hoped for, and perpetually late in sending an allowance to his estranged wife.

Just as Daisy was about to take the drastic step of divorcing her husband, Low conveniently died in 1905.

A new man, Robert, Lord Baden Powell, entered her life five years later, and soon Daisy devoted herself to the scouting movement then emerging in Great Britain. She launched an American version in Savannah in March 1912. (Dear readers, you realize this is heavily abridged.

But she envisioned her movement as a national one, so in June 1913 she set up a national headquarters in the Nation’s Capital — Washington, DC.

Low signed a lease for Room 502 of the Munsey Building at 1327 E Street NW. Monthly rent was $15, and she spent $2 for a sign on the door.

The 12-story building was full of law firms and financial executives. It boasted luxury details throughout, including marble Roman Doric pilasters, brass details, and exotic wood paneling. Black and red marble designs on the floor indicated the entrances to each suite.

Formal portrait of middle aged white woman in white dress and long string of pearls.
A 1922 portrait of Daisy wearing a different (presumably) string of pearls. (GSUSA archives)

Daisy summoned National Executive Secretary Edith Johnston from Savannah, GA, who set up shop with Miss McKeever, a local woman hired to handle mail requests for information, handbooks, and badges. Johnston also publicized troop activities, and local newspapers had a regular column about local Girl Scouts.

Low paid the rent herself and covered the cost of uniforms, handbooks, and all types of expenses until the organization could become self-funding.

Who Needs Pearls in the Woods?

When expenses became overwhelming, Daisy sold the pearl necklace to raise funds for her girls. She had rid herself of her husband, and his pearls held little sentiment.

Jewels are not important, but my Girl Scouts are, they need the money more than I need pearls.

Juliette Gordon Low
Muncie Evening Press Mon Sep 8 1913
Muncie Evening Press Mon Sep 8 1913

Ted Coy, the celebrated former captain of the Yale football team, bought the pearl necklace for his new bride, Savannah native Sophie Meldrim. They had just moved to Washington DC, for Ted to begin a career in finance. One client owned the Munsey building, and soon the Coys met Daisy. She responded in typical fashion, informing Sophie that she was now the Girl Scouts’ national treasurer. “Since I can neither add nor subtract,” Sophie recalled with a laugh, she passed the job to Ted.

In 1970, Sophie told American Girl magazine that her husband had paid $2,800 for the pearl necklace. Other accounts report the price as $8,000–close to $200,000 today.

The Coys soon moved to New York City and stayed in contact with Daisy, especially after she moved the national headquarters to New York City in 1916. The Coys divorced in 1925.

The Woman with the Pearls

Before Sophie married Horatio Shonnard in 1929, she and Nona McAdoo Park opened Chez Ninon, a couture salon in Manhattan, where they dressed many wealthy women in custom copies of the latest European styles.

The most famous outfit that Sophie created was the pink wool skirt suit that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wore to Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Sophie had worn the pearl necklace almost daily, but “Years later, sad to say, they were lost and I never got them back.”

Mrs. Kennedy’s dress is stored at the National Archives annex in College Park, Maryland. The fate of Daisy’s pearls, however, remains a mystery.

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

 

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

Girl Scouts Think Pink

Girl Scouts add a new color to their uniforms in October: pink for breast cancer awareness.

Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low died of breast cancer in 1927. She encouraged an active, healthy lifestyle for her girls, but the word “breast” was not used in those days. In fact, Low’s physicians likely never used the term “breast Cancer” even during treatment. Low herself carried on the business of Girl Scouts and hid her worsening health as much as possible.

Breast cancer remained a taboo topic of public conversation for another 50 years. In 1974, First Lady Betty Ford shared her diagnosis and subsequent mastectomy with newspapers and magazines across the United States.

Girl Scouts of the USA slowly began to include age-appropriate information about breast health in its programming.

The 1995 handbook for Senior Girl Scouts (then grades 9-12) discussed conditions that affect women. Anorexia, bulimia, PMS, osteoporosis, and breast cancer were included in a chapter on “Health and Well-Being–Inside and Out.”

The chapter included diagrams of how to conduct monthly self-exams. The companion Leader’s Guide explained that …

Teenage women are at a critical point in their lives, both physically and emotionally. As changes occur in their bodies they may have questions that are hard to answer and might be somewhat embarrassing to ask. … For example, some girls may be reluctant or shy about discussing breast self-examination. The information and illustrations in the handbook, however, may help them to overcome their inhibitions and to realize that this is a health concern all women have.

The Guide for Cadette and Senior Girl Scout Leaders, 1995, p. 42.

A new Women’s Health badge for Cadettes and Seniors followed in 1997. The requirements included breast cancer awareness and encouraged girls to explore the technology behind mammograms.

Some Girl Scouts wanted a badge entirely devoted to breast health. Councils heard the request. The Indian Hills (NY), San Jacinto (TX), and Arizona-Cactus Pine councils developed their own teen-level badges under the Council’s Own program. GSUSA responded with a new teen badge in 2006. “In the Pink” was based on these local programs.

(There is no officially approved versions of “In the Pink” for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors.)

The new Girl Scout Leadership Experience program, introduced in 2011, continued the focus with a Women’s Health badge for older teens. Many councils offer additional opportunities through their own patch programs, including Citrus, North Carolina Coastal Pines, Southern Nevada, and Western Pennsylvania.

The North Carolina Coastal Pines Council sponsors many activities throughout Breast Cancer Awareness month. In 2018, these included:

Girls will engage in educational activities like bingo or inviting a doctor or nurse to speak to them about breast health. These activities are an engaging way to promote discussion among girls, allowing them to speak their mind and ask questions in a safe and supportive space. To further connect with the topic, girls can share what they learned with the women in their life, make crafts to display in the community to promote breast health, and interview a breast cancer survivor. After developing an understanding of the topic, girls will complete a Take Action project to benefit those with breast cancer. Examples of projects include creating mastectomy pillows to donate to a local hospital or creating chemo care kits for chemotherapy patients.

http://www.nccoastalpines.org/en/our-council/news/2018/girl_scouts_think_pi.html

Domestic Violence Month, Too

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. In 2012 my teen Girl Scout troop combined the two issues with an unusual service project–a bra drive.

They learned that bras are the most-requested clothing item at women’s shelters. Soma Intimates seeks to fill this need by encouraging donations of new and gently used bras. The girls decided this would be a perfect service project.

Reaching out to friends and female relatives, the troop collected 175 bras. When the troop delivered them to a local Soma store, the grateful staff explained the importance of appropriate undergarments for breast health and offered bra fittings. (Arranged in advance, interested girls wore tank tops.)

This contribution was just another way for Girl Scouts to support their community.

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

From Blair House to Brown Owl

Tradition holds that the president-elect spends the night before his inauguration at Blair House, the “President’s Guest House” at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

an ivory stone townhouse with white trim, green shutters and a US flag
Blair House (Carol Highsmith)

But what do you know about the Blairs?  The family produced several prominent American statesmen—and one very spunky Girl Scout leader, Edith Blair Staton.

Edith’s grandfather, Montgomery Blair (1813-1883), studied law at my alma mater, Transylvania University in Lexington, KY, and his most famous client was the fugitive slave Dred Scott. Blair moved to Washington in 1852 and became Lincoln’s Postmaster General in 1861.

The family’s “country house,” Falkland, was the earliest residence in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Today, Montgomery Blair is the namesake of one of the largest high schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

black and white headshot of a white woman

Edith arrived at Blair House on September 6, 1896, and was the last baby born at the residence. She married a young naval officer, Adolphus Staton, on July 28, 1917.

(Edith Blair Staton, 1916 passport photo)

While her husband was at sea, the young bride took the helm of a Girl Scout troop. When the girls were preparing for their first camping trip and realized they had no bedrolls or other equipment, Edith went to her hope chest, stored in her attic of her parents’ home, and took her brand new wedding linen into the woods!

Edith threw herself into Girl Scouting and met founder Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah in 1922, where Daisy taught her how to stand on her head.

gold circle pin with a Brownie elf and two enameled brown owl pins Girl Scout pins

When Girl Scout leaders decided to adapt the British Brownie program for younger girls in the United States, Edith was recruited to help launch the program. She organized the first Brownie “Pow-Wow” for prospective leaders in November 1922. She had the perfect venue for a large meeting–Manor Country Club. Her uncle’s club was about to open and the meeting offered a good dress rehearsal opportunity for the staff.

Top: Brownie membership pin (1920s-1930s)

Left: Great Brown Owl (leader, 1930s)

Right: Tawny Owl (assistant leader, 1930s)

Edith Blair Staton thus became the first Great Brown Owl, the main Brownie leader for the United States.

Edith remained active in Girl Scouting for most of her adult life. She was a member of the advisory committee for the Rockwood National Camp and served as president of the District of Columbia council.

Edith passed away in 2001, at the age of 104. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Admiral Staton.

©2021 Ann Robertson

Who’s That Girl Scout? Martha Bowers Taft

The first Girl Scout troops were often an unusual combination of social classes.

The women who organized troops in a city could be described as “clubwomen.” They were upper-class matrons interested in social causes that could improve their communities.

Their backgrounds resembled that of Juliette Gordon Low, who brought Girl Scouting to the United States. To grow the movement, JGL reached out to her friends and boarding school chums and prodded them to start troops in their communities.

These women handled the administrative and financial needs, but many considered themselves too old to lead a troop. Instead, they turned to their daughters: young women who had recently `graduated from college and sought meaningful work, at least until they married. Their participation also gave the new movement a stamp of respectability that would help recruit more members.

Daughters were also nearer the age of the girls, who mostly were teenagers in the early years.

Troop captains (as leaders were originally called) had to be at least 21 years old and a 1921 survey found that most were under 25 years old.

Martha Bowers exemplified the use of Girl Scouting to bridge extreme economic and social divides in Washington, DC.

Martha, age 25, was the daughter of Lloyd Bowers, the former U.S. solicitor general. She had attended the Rosemary Hall School in Connecticut, studied at Bryn Mawr and the Sorbonne, and made her society debut in the 1909-1910 season.

The sudden death of her father in late 1910 left her extremely wealthy.

Martha’s travels, wardrobe and activities were avidly followed in leading newspapers.

In 1914, when the GS national headquarters was in Washington, DC., JGL appointed ten prominent women, including Martha, to a new Advisory Board.

Martha was also instructed to form a troop at Noel Settlement House, which provided community and recreational services to some of Washington’s poorest residents. The staff was particularly proud of their dance program.

The object of this social organization is to keep the boys and girls away from the vicious dance halls, of which there are many in the northeast, and to keep them off the streets.

Washington Herald (December 17, 1911).

Located at 1243 H Street NE, Noel House already had several Boy Scout troops. Those had been organized by Mrs. Richard Wainwright, who chaired the new Girl Scout Advisory Board.

Troop 4, “White Rose” was very active, participating in several city events that spring and summer. They held a May Festival at Rosedale park, dancing in simple white dresses and carrying garlands of pink roses.

But the most exciting thing to happen to Troop 4 was the marriage of their leader to Robert Taft, son of President William Howard Taft. She was part of a group of wealthy young women who were all marrying around the same time.

Washington Times (June 21, 1914)

The October 14, 1914, ceremony took place at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House. It was undoubtedly a highlight of the 1914 social season.

Observers were especially anxious to see her dress.

The girls of Troop 4 were also invited to the wedding. Eight of them sat in the balcony, beaming in their crisp khaki uniforms. 

St. John’s interior. Imagine Troop 4 leaning over the balcony railing to watch their captain’s wedding below.

Forty years later, one of those girls sent a letter to the local Girl Scouts, still vividly remembering the wedding and the troop’s excitement.

Martha stayed active in local Girl Scouting, but not as a troop leader. She explained the value of Girl Scouting in a 1918 issue of The Rally, an early GS magazine:

Martha and her husband divided their time between Washington and Cincinnati, as her husband was elected a US Senator and, later, governor of Ohio. They had four sons, but she never lost her love for Girl Scouts, evidently.

As a child, her namesake granddaughter was known to introduce herself as follows:

My name is Martha Bowers Taft. My great-grandfather was President of the United States, my grandfather was a United States Senator, my daddy is Ambassador to Ireland, and I am a Brownie.

https://ivanmisner.com/tag/martha-bowers-taft/

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

Clara Lisetor-Lane and the Girl Scouts of America

Please, never, ever, say “Girl Scouts of America” in front of me. Just don’t.

Why? BECAUSE IT IS WRONG. It falls on my editor-ears like nails on a blackboard.

I am a proud, lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of the USA, not some rogue “Girl Scouts of America” group. If you want to be ultra correct, it is Girl Scouts of the United States of America. That is the name printed on our Congressional Charter.

Cover of Leader Magazine, October 1950

Prior to that document, the formal name was “Girl Scouts, Inc.” That name was used when the movement incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1915. That’s how it appeared on early versions of the Girl Scout Constitution and By-Laws. That’s how it appeared on letterhead.

Letterhead from 1944

Actually some letterhead from the 1940s uses “GSUSA.” Perhaps that was purchased in advance of the charter announcement?

Please, be accurate. You’d get testy too if someone constantly got your name wrong.

But there’s another, even more important reason. There really was an actual “Girl Scouts of America.”

Journalist Clara Lisetor-Lane insisted that she had created the “Girl Scouts of America” in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1910; two years before Juliette Gordon Low’s first troop in Savannah.

Lisetor-Lane seemed to prefer working on publicity rather than recruitment. Newspapers of the era report her arrival in towns to organize troops, but no membership numbers were given.

Her program would encourage housekeeping and the outdoors. But some behavior was decidedly not for her Girl Scouts:

Sacramento Star, August 11, 1911.

In June 1911, her Girl Scouts of America, a few self-described “Girl Guides” and the Camp Fire Girls merged to become “Girl Pioneers of America.” The thoroughness of that merger is unclear; reports of the component organizations continued into 1912.

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1924

Lisetor-Lane eventually took up other causes. She founded “Crusaders for Decency,” group that promoted “clean literature and films.”

But she never renounced her claim to starting the Girl Scouts.

Lisetor-Lane even crashed the 1924 Girl Scout national convention and challenged Low to met with her. (She didn’t.)

Lisetor-Lane went to her grave in 1960 insisting that Juliette Gordon Low had stolen her idea.

When the Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated its 50th birthday in 1962, the story of Clara Lisetor-Lane was revived in her home town. A few former members came forward and a Des Moines Register article was picked up by other newspapers.

Although Clara certainly would have been pleased by the renewed interest in her organization, I can only imagine her horror if she had seen how it appeared in the Moline, IL, Dispatch.

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

Those Adventurous Girl Scout Dolls

Usually we have to come up with ideas for our vintage exhibits at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters. But sometimes we get lucky, and a display comes together on its own.

That’s what happened last fall when we received a donation of Girl Scout dolls. People often contact us saying that they or a friend has some items they’ve held onto to for years, would we like them.

Of course, the answer is yes!

And when we had such a query about dolls, we said yes and suggested the donor drop them at a council field office. They would make their way to the archives eventually. So we knew some dolls were coming and we assumed it was perhaps four or five.

This is what arrived:

Sandy Alexander sorts through donated dolls.

They were all in pristine condition, most even labeled with manufacturer, date, and the relevant page from the doll handbook!

We have displayed dolls in chronological before, so this time we tried thematic grouping. We staged the dolls doing typical Girl Scout things.

Proudly Wearing Their Uniforms

Whenever Girl Scouts of the USA issued a new uniform, doll uniforms were updated as well. 

Evolution of Girl Scout Junior Uniforms since 1963

Embracing Diversity

Girl Scout dolls, like actual Girl Scouts, come in many shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.

The first African-American Girl Scout doll was available in the mid-1940s, although she did not appear in the official equipment catalogs.

More skin tones became available in the 1990s, especially with the Adora collection shown

Advertising and packaging of Girl Scout doll clothes began featuring dolls  with mobility challenges, although there has not been a Girl Scout doll that comes with her own wheelchair—yet!

Making New Friends!

Girl Scout friendships have always been reflected in the range of Girl Scout dolls. Dolls celebrate troop friends as well as Girl Guide friends abroad.

Autograph hound, friendship dolls, and Girl Guide dolls alongside a Girl Scout bus (with four finger puppet girls aboard) and a camping play set.

Camping

Girl Scout dolls love being outdoors as much as real girls do! Many dolls come with their own camping gear.

These Brownies and Juniors are ready for camp in their camp uniforms and swimsuits.

Following Trends

From Barbie to Beanie Babies and Build-a-Bear, popular characters and toy lines have signed up with the Girl Scouts.

Daisy dolls, along with Build-a-Bears, Barbies, and Groovy Girls have all become Girl Scouts
Belly Beans were the Girl Scout version of Beanie Babies

Learning Their History

Many dolls have been issued to honor Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts. Whether an expensive collector’s piece or a soft, snuggly cloth friend, girls can be close to Daisy day or night. 

Learning Skills; Giving Service

Sewing and gifting dolls has long been a popular service project.


Members of Junior Troops Nos. 434 and 472 of Prince George’s County put their sewing skills to work for others, sewing and stuffing dolls that would be Christmas gifts for the needy. 
Mattel created pattern kits for Barbie-sized uniforms ranging from Brownie through Adult. The kits appeared in Girl Scout catalogs and shops from 1995 to 2001. 

The full exhibit can be seen at the Girl Scout office at 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite M-2, Washington DC.

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

Update

One reader asked for a better look at the Mariner doll in the first photo. She is wearing a homemade Mariner uniform.

Girl Scout EXPO 2019

The 2019 GSCNC Expo is History!

Green bordered patch reading Expo 2019, Girl Scouts Nation's Capital

The Saturday, November 16, 2019 event was truly one for the record books.

9,000 girls explored the Dulles Expo Center in three-hour blocks. There was singing, archery, tent-pitching relays, robotics, book signings, and, of course, history.

The Archives and History Committee ran a booth with history-themed games. Linda Paulson taught girls how to play “Name that Cookie,” answer council history questions, and match new badges with their vintage counterparts. Girls received a “vintage” patch prize from our surplus. Most were excited to realize that the patch was older than the girl!

History-themed games

The booth also had a collection of Girl Scout dolls and displays about founder Juliette Gordon Low. Our own Susan “Daisy” Ducey posed for photos with girls all day.

Girl Scouts met their “founder,” Juliette Gordon Low (photo by Lisa Jackson)

But the Council History team didn’t settle for just one little old booth. No, not us! We also provided international uniforms on mannequins for another booth.

We proudly watched Archives Program Aide Vivian moderate a presentation.

Archives Program Aide Vivian (left) hosted one discussion session (GSCNC)

We welcomed our own special guest, Margaret Seiler, who told stories about her Great Aunt Daisy. Her presentation helped younger Girl Scouts understand that Juliette Gordon Low was a real person, not just a character in a book.

Last, but hardly least, we organized three vintage uniform fashion shows, one show per session. Ginger Holinka fitted girl (and a few adult) models on the spot, while Julie Lineberry emceed the show. Members of the audience gave special applause for “their” childhood uniforms and came away understanding how uniforms changed in response to fashion trends, war-time shortages, new fabrics, and the need for girls to move, move, move.  

The Committee owes a deep debt to Lisa Jackson and Dena McGuiggan Baez, leaders who found replacement uniform models when others dropped out at the last minute. They saved the show!!

The last Council Expo was held in 2006. Many people have asked why it took so long to organize another. After Saturday’s experience, I know I will need at least 13 years to recover. But maybe I’ll pencil another one in on my calendar, just to save the date.

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

The Volunteer Legacy at the Birthplace

This week a new Birthplace Advisory Committee convenes in Savannah to consider renovations and other changes for the coming decade.

The Girl Scouts of the USA purchased the childhood home of founder Juliette Gordon Low in 1953. I’ve previously written about the fund drive to raise money for the purchase and subsequent renovation.

I have always been curious about the Birthplace and how it compares to other national properties, specifically the Little House, (acquired in 1922), and Rockwood National Camp (1936).

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 House in 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.

Dedication of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, GSUSA photo

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 Gordon house.

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.”

Anne Hyde Choate

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.

Committees Begin

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 their cause.

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?”

–Louise Dawe

Mission Accomplished

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.

©2019 Ann Robertson

A Brief Guide to Thinking Day Patches

IMG_1007Traditionally, Girl Scouts and Girl Guides around the world mark February 22 by celebrating their international ties. Across the United States, troops select a country to learn about and often hold an event so that several troops may share their discoveries. February 22 was chosen because it was the birthdate of both Lord and Laden Baden Powell, who began the scouting and guiding movements.

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) coordinates relations among national programs. The organization typically chooses five countries (one from each of its administrative districts) to highlight. In recent years, it has also selected a theme so that everyone is “thinking” about the same thing.

The number of Thinking Day patches offered has greatly increased over the past decade, so I thought I would try to untangle them.

GSUSA Fun or Participation Patches

GSUSA_WTD_2019Girls earn fun or participation patches by participating in a World Thinking Day (WTD) event. GSUSA has offered WTD participation patches since at least the 1990s. Now they come with online, age-appropriate activity booklets. Girls must complete one activity to receive the WTD patch.

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Fun, but unofficial, World Thinking Day patches

Councils and service units (a cluster of troops that feed into to one or more high schools) may also create their own patch, especially if they held a specific event. There are also many unofficial (but usually beautiful) “international friendship” patches around.

WAGGGS Patches

The World Association also offers an annual patch and activity packet. This year’s theme is leadership:

This year’s World Thinking Day celebrates the theme of “leadership,” and is dedicated to the group of girls who demanded change in the Scouting movement in 1909 and asked Lord Baden -Powell to create “something for the girls.”

Anna Maria Mideros

World Board Chair

UN Millennium Development Goals

In 2008, WAGGGS introduced an ambitious program that aligned with the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals were proclaimed by UN in 2000 and were intended to eradicate extreme poverty across the world by 2015.

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UN Millennium Development Goals

WAGGGS created a “Global Action Theme” curriculum with the slogan,

Girls worldwide say “together we can change our world.”

The Association explained that this initiative “encourages girls, young women and members of all ages to make a personal commitment to change the world around them.” In many parts of the world, the average age of Girl Guides is older than that of Girl Scouts, and WAGGGS noted that by 2015, “many young WAGGGS members will then be at the point of becoming full citizens so their future will be directly affected by the MDGs.”

Each year WAGGGS issued a patch whose design reflected a specific goal’s official symbol, as well as accompanying activity booklets.

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WAGGGS Millennium Development Goal patches

GSUSA used similar images on its WTD participation patches at first, but changed in 2013. Perhaps a teddy bear was considered less controversial than a pregnant silhouette.

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GSUSA and WAGGGS themed patches

GSUSA Global Action

I suspect that GSUSA already had concerns about the Millennium Development Goals curriculum.

Maternal health, child mortality, HIV/AIDS, and malaria were hardly warm, fuzzy topics to discuss around the campfire. Some leaders and parents refused to go along, although I doubt they had bothered to look at the WAGGGS booklets, which offered age-appropriate activities, such a hand washing to eradicate germs of any kind.

This was also a time period when groups erroneously accused the Girl Scouts, Girl Guides, and WAGGGS of promoting a liberal agenda and attacking family values. I would not be surprised if GSUSA sought to put a bit of distance between itself and the global sisterhood at the delicate moment.

GSUSA introduced its own global advocacy program in 2010. The Girl Scouts Global Action patch also examines the causes of extreme poverty around the world, but, according to GSUSA, it does so in a manner that aligns with the then-new Girl Scout Leadership Experience; that is, the Journeys.

Patches and age-appropriate requirements were distributed online:

Global Action 2010 Cadette
Portion of the 2010 Global Action patch for Cadettes

Sharing tea with mom certainly seems tamer than talking about burying her.

Sustainable Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals expired in 2015, and the United Nations introduced a package of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to continue the fight against poverty.

The GSUSA Global Action program continues today as a way for Girl Scouts to learn about problems girls face in other parts of the world. The program draws on the SDGs.

WAGGGS has offered different themes since 2015, not necessarily related to the SDGs.

  • 2016: Connect 10 Million
  • 2017: Grow
  • 2018: Impact
  • 2019: Leadership

The three patch categories (GSUSA WTD, GSUSA Global Action, and WAGGGS WTD) currently have unrelated designs.

2018 WTD Set
2018 World Thinking Day patches

Got that?

But wait, there’s more!

There are other World Thinking Day patches that you might see on old uniforms. Let’s take a quick look:

Juliette Gordon Low World Friendship Fund

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A Juliette Low Memorial Fund was established after Low’s death in 1927. It was “dedicated forever to good will and cooperation among nations of the world.” The fund was renamed the Juliette Low World Friendship Fund in 1943. Many Thinking Day celebrations collect small donations from participants that help finance the fund’s activities such as travel grants. Several councils have their own related patch programs.

Thinking Day Symbol

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WAGGGS introduced this symbol in 1975. It depicts the World Trefoil at the center of a wheel of “action and direction” arrows.

Games Go Global

The Games Go Global program coincided with the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Greece issued the first Olympia badge in 2004, ahead of the Athens games. Hong Kong and WAGGGS jointly released a second Olympia badge in 2008. They emphasize the international friendship and striving to be your best that are fundamental to both the Olympics and international Scouting.

Note that the patches come in gold, silver, and bronze versions!

©2019 Ann Robertson