Six Things You Don’t Know about Agnes Baden-Powell

Six Things You Don’t Know about Agnes Baden-Powell

World Thinking Day is a time to reflect upon on the global community of Girl Scouting and Girl Guiding and to examine issues faced by girls everywhere.

This February 22nd, let’s think about scouting’s forgotten ancestor, Agnes Baden-Powell.

Who is Agnes Baden-Powell?

The real Agnes Baden-Powell

Agnes Smythe Powell was born on December 16, 1858, in London. She was the ninth of fourteen children, and the only surviving daughter.

She was two years old when her father, the Reverend Baden Powell, died. Her grief-stricken mother soon announced that she was changing the family name in her husband’s honor. Thus, Agnes Powell became Agnes Baden-Powell.

In life and history, Agnes was overshadowed by her gallant older brother, Robert Baden-Powell, born in 1857. According to the familiar story, Robert created the Boy Scouts in 1909. When girls clamored to become scouts themselves, Robert instructed Agnes to create a similar, but more genteel version, the Girl Guides.

Despite overseeing the formative years of Girl Guiding, Agnes has been eclipsed by her sister-in-law, Olave. Many people mistakenly identify photos of Olave as Agnes.

Her Involvement Made Guiding Appear Suitable and Proper

Public opposition to the idea of “Girl Scouts” always focused on the concern that such girls would be tomboys and not proper homemakers. This minister’s daughter had a full range of domestic skills to offer, but she had more to offer.

She was an accomplished musician, proficient on violin, piano, and organ. She also had a curious streak and pursued a range of interests, including cycling, swimming, and steel engraving.

According to one acquaintance:

Anyone who had come into touch with her gentle influence, her interest in all womanly arts, and her love of birds, insects, and flowers, would scoff at the idea of her being the president of a sort of Amazon Cadet Corps.

https://peoplepill.com/people/agnes-baden-powell/

She Embraced STEM before STEM Was Cool

Agnes was fascinated by science and explored many dimensions. She was a respected apiarist, kept a flocks of birds, bees, and butterflies. She maintained a long friendship with radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi.

She was fascinated by astronomy, weather, and aeronautics. Agnes and another brother, Baden Baden-Powell (yes, not a very creative name) built and flew hot air balloons. They later designed very early airplanes.

Agnes was granted honorary membership in the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1938.

She Wrote the First Guide Handbook

Agnes wrote the first Girl Guide Handbook, which Juliette Gordon Low later adapted for the Girl Scouts.

She was Under-Appreciated and Pushed Aside

Agnes would later be remembered as an able administrator, but in her lifetime she put family loyalty ahead of assertiveness, often to her detriment.

She is remembered as the first Girl Guide, but her own brother doubted her abilities. Robert enlisted Agnes’ help only after being turned down by various first aid societies.

But the worst treatment came from her sister-in-law. Olave St. Clair Soames met Robert on an ocean voyage in 1912. Despite their 32-year age gap, the two married on October 30, 1912.

With Robert’s encouragement, Olave systematically assumed the leadership position held by Agnes and marginalized her new sister-in-law.

Olave began as a lowly county Guide officer in 1916 and before the end of the year had become Chief Guide. Agnes was offered the new, honorary post of President as a consolation prize. But the very next year, Agnes was told that Princess Mary would now be president; she would move down to vice-president. She was not happy, but dutifully stepped aside.

Olave explained her reasoning in her memoirs:

[Agnes] was a very gifted woman and extremely clever but thoroughly Victorian in outlook. She organized a Committee from her elderly friends [Agnes was 57 in 1916] … these ladies did their best but they were not really in touch with the younger generation; their ideas were based on the old-fashioned women’s organizations.

Quoted in Proctor, Scouting for Girls, pp. 33-34
Digital Image Created by Scouting Brazil

Agnes tried to remain involved in Guiding, but was regarded as a relic and nuisance at Guide Headquarters. She was well-received on a two-week tour of Canada in 1931, although Robert had written Canadian and US officials that her trip was unofficial. “Eventually,” writes historian Tammy Proctor, “Agnes was barred from Guide functions and dismissed from all official roles.”

While Olave argued that the shift was necessary to bridge the widening generation gap within Guiding, she had no such qualms about maintaining the generation gap between her husband and herself.

She is Buried in an Unmarked Grave in London

Agnes died on June 2, 1945, and was buried in the family plot at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. The Agnes Baden-Powell Guild has been established to raise funds to restore the family plot and to include Agnes on the monument. Members also maintain a Agnes Baden-Powell Appreciation Society page on Facebook.

The next time you attend a World Thinking Day event, tell them that Agnes sent you.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

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.

mdgs2

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

Happy Birthday, Lady Baden-Powell!

Girl Scouts and Girl Guides in 146 countries celebrate February 22 as World Thinking Day. They learn about their counterparts in other countries and study one theme worldwide. For 2018, the theme is “Impact.”

Impact World Thinking Day square 2018Thinking Day was established in 1926 as part of the Fifth World Conference held at Camp Edith Macy in New York state.

 

Macy VIPs

The Baden-Powells and Juliette Low at the Fifth World Conference

 

 

 

The date was chosen because it was the birthday of Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts, and his wife, Olave Baden-Powell, the world chief guide. (Different years, though; they were born 32 years apart!)

I recently learned that between 1930 and 1970, Lady Baden-Powell flew 487,777 miles across the globe. That’s a pretty impressive feat, and I’d definitely like some of those frequent flyer miles!

These trips included the opening ceremonies for Our Chalet, Our Cabana, and Sangam, as well as to Washington DC for the 50th anniversary of Girl Scouting celebration in 1962.

 

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This Thinking Day greeting card, from 1968, seems particularly appropriate for this enthusiastic ambassador of Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting.

 

1968 WTD Card

Thinking Day card from 1968 (Girl Guide History Tidbits)

 

Happy Birthday to Lady (and Lord) Baden-Powell!

©2018 Ann Robertson