Virginia Hammerley is one of the most important women in the early years of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.
“Ginger” wasn’t one of Juliette Gordon Low’s debutante friends. She wasn’t a wealthy socialite who could donate buildings with a single check. She didn’t organize troops in poor neighborhoods.
She was simply a Girl Scout; a teen-age girl who loved her sister scouts and the activities they did together. But she preserved her memories in a series of scrapbooks that provide some of the most extensive documentation of Girl Scout troop life during the Great Depression.
About 10 years ago, a relative of Ginger’s contacted Nation’s Capital. They had five of her scrapbooks; would we like them? You bet we did!
These five albums are chock full of newspaper clippings, photos, holiday cards, invitations to friends’ weddings, and souvenirs of all kinds.
She was an active troop member, taking part in events held around Washington (click images to enlarge):
Visiting the Little House, attending a national convention, and buying a brick for a new national headquarters building:
Ginger was one of the first campers at Camp May Flather when it opened in 1930, attended regular camp reunions, and became a counselor herself.
Like any teen-ager, she also saved holiday cards, celebrity photos and more:
Born in 1913, Virginia Hammerley was the only child of Charles and Mabel Hammerley. She grew up at 1819 Ingleside Terrace, NW, Washington, DC.
After graduating from McKinley Technical High School, she took a job with the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia, but she apparently was let go in 1941.
I did a little research to find out what became of Ginger and was so sad to discover that she did not live happily ever after.
After the Girl Scouts, she took a clerical post with the Department of Agriculture.
Her father passed away in 1935 and Ginger and her mother moved. first to Iowa Avenue NW, then into an apartment together at 721 Fern Place NW. Mabel died in 1953.
Two years later, on the night of October 17, 1955, Ginger locked her front door, engaged the night chain, picked up a pistol, and took her own life.
I can only imagine what circumstances led to that fateful night in 1955. After spending so much time reading and handling hundreds of items that she carefully clipped, pasted, and preserved, it feels like losing a dear friend.
Ginger likely had no idea that her memories and mementos would still be around decades later, treasured records used by Girl Scouts and historians. Just this summer a graduate student spent days viewing scanned copies of the scrapbooks for a research project.
Virginia Hammerley may be gone, but she is hardly forgotten.
It’s laundry day at the Robertson household. No, I’m not going to tackle that teeming basket of ironing, I’m going to look at Girl Scout laundry badges!
The first handbook, How Girls Can Help Their Country included the Laundress badge. Girls had to:
Know how to wash and iron a garment, clear starch, and how to do up a blouse.
Press a skirt and coat.
Know how to use soap and starch, how to soften hard water, and how to use a wringer.
After 1938, laundry-related skills were incorporated into other badges, such as Housekeeper. Intermediate Girl Scouts of the 1940s had to learn how to remove a variety of stains (milk, coffee, ink, rust, etc.) and :
Assist in a weekly laundering by gathering and assorting the clothes and linens, by washing and ironing some articles with your mother’s permission, and by assorting and putting away the clean laundry.
Since the 1980s, badges involving clothing have focused more on design and cost than care and cleaning.
One thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find in my Rockwood research is how nice campers managed to look, especially while touring Washington, DC. Whether in a tent or lodge, girls managed to keep their white uniform blouses clean and crisp.
Girl Scouts ironing at Skyview Lodge, Rockwood (NHPC)
Personally, I really like this laundry spoof badge I found on Etsy. Who knows what all those laundry symbols mean?
If anyone would like to do my ironing, I’ll gladly buy one for you!
Today, instead of Throw Back Thursday (#TBT), let’s have Throw Out Thursday.
I’ve written before about the Girl Scout Little House in Washington, DC. Located at 1750 New York Avenue NW, about two blocks from the White House, it was a model home where Girl Scouts learned the basics of housekeeping, hospitality, and child care.
Lou Henry Hoover and a group of well-dressed Girl Scouts wait to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)
Built for the second Better Homes Demonstration Week in June 1923, the Better Homes in America and General Federation of Women’s Clubs donated it to the Girl Scouts, and National Girl Scout President Lou Henry Hoover quietly paid $12,000 to move it from the National Mall to its new location.
Lou Henry Hoover (third from right) supervises a kitchen demonstration at the Little House (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)
To encourage other councils to create similar opportunities for their troops, in 1930 Mrs. Hoover, now first lady, commissioned a highly detailed doll-sized version of the Little House. Everything matched the actual house, down to the wallpaper patterns. The dolls inside even wore tiny Girl Scout uniforms. She arranged for the doll house to be displayed at the 1930 national convention in Indianapolis. Afterward, the doll house toured the country, before taking up residence at the original house in Washington.
Photo from Dorothy Angel Tenney.
Side view of doll house (Hoover Presidential Library Facebook page)
Eleanor Roosevelt (second from right) enjoys a “15 cent lunch” in the Little House dining room, 1933 (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)
Doll house dining room, with original hutch, tables, chairs, and wallpaper (Dorothy Angel Tenney)
The Little House was used continuously for trainings and demonstrations of the domestic arts from June 1923 to April 1945. The Girl Scouts soon outgrew the building and vacated it in May 1955. The house itself was torn down in the early 1970s.
The doll house was taken to Rockwood, the Girl Scout national camp outside Washington, DC. But the manager there saw no need for a doll house at a camp, so it wound up on the trash pile.
I knew that a Rockwood housekeeper, Maude Hill, retrieved the doll house and gave it to a family that she worked for part time. The family had a little girl who was just the right age for the toy. She played with it and eventually donated it to the Hoover Presidential Library in 2012, the year of the Girl Scout centennial.
Imagine my surprise a few months ago, when that “little girl” contacted me, offering photos of the doll house!
Dorothy Angel as a child (Dorothy Angel Tenney)
Dorothy Angel Tenney grew up about a half mile from Rockwood. According to Dorothy,
On May 26, 1950, Mrs. Hill told Mrs. Angel that a wonderful doll house had been just tossed out for junk and that Mrs. Angel’s young daughter would love it. Mrs. Angel said she did not want some ratty little doll house that no one else wanted. Mrs. Hill persisted during the next several days and eventually prevailed upon Mrs. Angel to look at it. Mrs. Angel immediately had a laborer load the doll house in her car trunk and took it home.
For Dorothy, it was a wonderful toy. She played with it carefully and didn’t break a single piece of furniture. However, many of the original pieces, including the dolls, had been lost by the time Mrs. Hill discovered it.
Fortunately for Girl Scout history buffs, Dorothy’s father wasn’t just an ordinary father. He was an archivist! In fact, Herbert Angel, was Deputy Archivist of the United States from 1968 to his retirement in 1972. He researched the provenance of the doll house, and the family kept the treasure long after Dorothy outgrew dolls.
Dorothy shared these photos of the doll house. Isn’t it a delight?
Living room, bed room, and nursery (Dorothy Angel Tenney)
Bedrooms, dining room and kitchen (Dorothy Angel Tenney)
Yesterday the oldest synagogue in Washington, DC, was seen rolling through the streets of the Nation’s Capital.
This wasn’t cheap entertainment provided during the federal government furlough–well, actually it WAS free and entertaining. The journey was a major step in the development of a new Capital Jewish Museum. A decent-sized crowd gathered to watch the wheeled building migrate down 3rd Street NW.
In fact, this was the third relocation for the peripatetic synagogue.
This latest motorized procession reminds me of a similar excursion made by the Girl Scout Little House in 1924. But that move was accomplished with actual horsepower, not heavy equipment.
Built behind the White House in Washington, DC, for the second Better Homes Demonstration Week in June 1923, the Little House was a fully working home, with a modern kitchen, breakfast nook, three bedrooms, and a nursery. Between June 4 and June 10, 2,500–3,500 people visited the house each day. After the exhibition, the Better Homes in America and General Federation of Women’s Clubs offered it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center.
The Girl Scouts were reluctant to accept. While it would wonderfully fit in with the Girl Scout program, accepting the gift would require a considerable investment. There were no funds for utilities, staff, insurance, and other operating costs. Most important, there were no funds available to relocate the building.
The clock began ticking on the fate of the model home. The exhibit permit expired on June 15.
Lou Henry Hoover immediately saw the value in accepting the house and began working to persuade the Girl Scouts to accept. As national president of the organization, she began a barrage of letters and telegrams to national board members that lasted all summer. On September 20, the national board voted to decline the proposed gift.
But Hoover refused to let the issue drop. She even offered to personally pay any deficit that might accrue in the first two years of operation.
Hoover offered several new arguments to try and sway the reluctant board members.
First, the house had historical significance as it was the last building dedicated by President Warren G. Harding before his sudden death on August 2.
Second, operating programs from the Little House would silence other groups who accused the Girl Scouts of being more interested in hiking than homemaking:
Considering the opposition we have had to meet in many quarters, particularly with the Camp Fire Girls and the Boy Scouts on this very matter of our home making propensities,—or the lack of them,—I feel that we must accept this, our justification, if possible.
–Lou Henry Hoover
Third, some costs could be mitigated by renting out a room or two to the local council for its offices.
Meanwhile, the Parks Service was continually pleading for someone to get the house off of government property.
Ultimately, Mrs. Hoover grew tired of the back-and-forth and took matters into her own hands. She contacted Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, of the Phillips Art Collection, who agreed to loan a plot of land that they owned at 1750 New York Ave. NW. The new home for the Little House would be two blocks southwest of the White House and across the street from the famous Octagon House.
Hoover wanted her financial contribution to be anonymous, so she arranged for Henrietta Bates Brooke to sign the moving contract, as member of the National Executive Board. Edward G. McGill of Cumberland, Maryland, oversaw a crew of men who hoisted the house onto rails and pulled it to the new site. McGill charged $3,000 for transporting the house. Hoover also paid for a basement, utility connections, and landscaping, for a total cost of $12,000.
Much to the relief of Colonel Sherrill, the Little House arrived at its new home in March 1924—nine months after the original exhibition. First Lady Grace Coolidge helped re-dedicate the building in a ceremony on March 25, as a beaming Mrs. Hoover watched. Dressed in a broad-brimmed hat, long dress, fox-trimmed cloak, and dark leather gloves, Mrs. Coolidge gamely picked up a mason’s trowel and slathered on a layer of cement to seal the cornerstone placed under the breakfast nook. Inside the stone was a handbook, several other Girl Scout publications, and that day’s newspaper.
Lou would have pulled it herself
Moving the Little House from its exhibition site to 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House.
Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 to relocate the Little House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone, as Hoover watched.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Little House was THE place to go on Saturdays. There was always some badge activity to try or new skill to learn, and the First Lady, as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, might decide to drop by. After all, the White House was just around the corner.
These girls look a bit tired after preparing a luncheon for First Lady Grace Coolidge (in white).
These girls are preparing lunch while their guest of honor, Eleanor Roosevelt, observes.
A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House
It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.
The Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia rented a room in the northwest corner of the second floor as its headquarters until it outgrew the facility in 1928. The Little House was used continuously for trainings and demonstrations of the domestic arts from June 1923 to April 1945. The building was used as a branch of Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, for the next decade then given to the landowners in May 1955. The Little House was torn down in the early 1970s.
There is a commemorative plaque in the lobby of the office building that currently sits at the site.