Two summers ago, I found the Holy Grail of my Girl Scout research: the Little House scrapbooks. They had been stored on the highest shelf in the most distant corner of GSUSA’s storage space in Connecticut. They had now resurfaced and were logged into the GSUSA archival records, where I discovered them by accident.
Given the limited history resources at GSUSA at the time, I offered to scan them and provide headquarters with copies. My offer was accepted, and the books were shipped to the GSUSA Advocacy Office in Washington.
What Could Be in the Little House Scrapbooks?
Between 1923 and 1945, the Little House hostess, Gertrude Bowman, had meticulously clipped and pasted every local newspaper article about the Little House. The house was the center of Girl Scouting in Washington. Between 1923 and 1927, the Washington Council rented a room in the Little House for its office. The boundary between national and local was never clear, and I hoped the albums might fill in some holes in local Girl Scout history.
I knew of the books through my Rockwood research. When the Washington Little House was converted to office space in 1945, old correspondence, kitchen ware, dishes, photographs, and artwork, among other things, were sent up the road to Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp. I had an inventory of the items sent, and one entry caught my eye: six scrapbooks of newspaper clippings.
How NOT to Preserve a Scrapbook
I have a series of letters between GSUSA, Rockwood staff, and Rockwood volunteers about what to do with the scrapbooks. Rockwood Committee Chair Lillian Mountford decided that Connie Tucker—a Little House employee who had transferred to Rockwood—should cover each page with contact paper. She completed the first volume, but, thank goodness, the women decided it would be too costly to cover all six.
The Rockwood women discussed next steps and decided to donate the albums to the local history collection of the District of Columbia Public Library. I contacted staff there, and there was not a trace of them.
There the trail went cold—until 2022.
Scanning the Little House Scrapbooks
One benefit of being lost for several decades, is that the albums were in fairly good condition. But age made them delicate, and they could not stand up to frequent use—hence the scans.
About a decade ago I was involved in a council historian-driven project to scan the complete run of Leader magazine, and I had worked out file specifications with the former National Historic Preservation Center staff at GSUSA. I used the same parameters for this project.
Restoring the Past
The main obstacle to scanning the Little House scrapbooks is past conservation attempts. The “preserved” first album must weigh 15 pounds. It could not lay flat, and the glare from the contact paper made text and photos blurry. I wound up scanning with ceiling lights out to cut some of the glare. I also brought musician’s wind clips to gently hold pages in place without obscuring content.
Further complicating the project, photo captions had been done with a red typewriter ribbon, making many illegible. Fortunately, I was familiar with the people and events that I could decipher the faded red legend. I located original photos and newspaper records held in the Nation’s Capital archives, the DC Public Library, and the Library of Congress.
Using Adobe Acrobat, I annotated the scans with legible captions and included better photographs in addition to existing content. No original content was deleted or removed.
Was It Worth the Effort?
Do Girl Scouts sell cookies? YESSSSS. The Little House came to life in those photos. I may someday create a virtual tour as every room had been photographed with and without people.
I don’t think you have to be unreasonably obsessed with former Girl Scout properties to enjoy the deep dive into the albums. The Washington Little House was the first such model home, but not the only one.
There was a seventh album sent to me, and it was a delightful bonus. It is a directory of Girl Scout houses across the United States (49 in 1941), complete with interior and exterior photos, often blueprints, and an information card.
That will be another post in the future.
Now, welcome to the Washington Little House:
*Some readers are having difficulty with the photos. Please check back later. I’m working on it!*
© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian