Letters from Camp, #3

As summer camp winds down for the season, it is time to reflect on the experience. Girls’ letters home often provide insights and anecdotes about camp life.

Lois Milstead (right) attended Camp May Flather in its first summer. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital has run May Flather as its flagship camp since 1930. A temporary camp operated nearby in 1929, and Lois attended that as well.

Her letter appeared in the Washington Post on September 7, 1930.

My Camping Trip

I have just returned. from a four weeks’ stay at the Washington Camp, May Flather, situated in the mountains near Harrisonburg. Va., to which I also attended last summer. This camp is for Girl Scouts.

Although I am not yet a Girl Scout, I enjoy the ways of their life. I hope to become one in the very near future.

The whole four weeks to me were but an enjoyable time. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute while there. I am fond of all kinds of athletics and sports and camp life naturally appeals to me. I play golf and tennis a lot at home, and although I had neither of these sports at camp, there were many interesting pastimes to fully make up for the lack of them.

I will give a brief outline of our daily routine. Revielle, breakfast (just before breakfast we have flag raising), kapers (that is little tasks from each cabin), inspection, classes (forestry, camp craft), swimming, court of honor, dinner, rest hour, classes (handcraft, nature), retreat, supper, camp fire, taps.

I took many overnight hikes and one three-day hike. These were loads of fun.

While at camp this year, I met many of the: girls with whom I was acquainted last year.

Mrs. Hoover visited the camp while I was there. Mrs. Cheatham and Mrs. Flather also came with her. They spent two days and a night with us. They were present for the formal dedication of the new camp site. Mrs. Hoover dedicated a picturesque little bridge and Mrs. Flather, for whom the camp is named, donated much toward it.

VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH’s former secretary) GSCNC Archives
Dorothy Greene, Camp May Flather director, 1930 (GSCNC archives).

Miss Dorothy Greene, the director of our camp, has done much to the bettering of it, making the girls feel at home, and they are trying to live up to the high standards and morals which she has set for them. I had lots of fun at camp, but I was rather glad when the time came to go home, for I missed my mother and daddy.

Lois A. Milstead (age 12), Dahlgren, Va.

Girls prepare for a hike at Camp May Flather, 1930s (GSCNC Archives).

I don’t know if Lois ever joined the Girl Scouts. She graduated from the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1938.

Lois worked on the school newspaper, the Commercial Echoes. She married George Goodwin, a reporter, two years later and moved to Georgia.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Little House in the Nation’s Capital

Note: This entry was originally published on March 10, 2014, but somehow it was accidentally deleted.

No, it’s not a newly discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder book.   The Little House in Washington, DC, was the first in a series of model homes used by Girl Scouts across the country.  Sadly, the Washington Little House is long gone and one current Little House in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, is about to close.

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 donated it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center. It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.

Moving the Little House to New York Avenue
Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 for the Little House to be moved from its exhibition site to its new location at 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone.

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

A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

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. Update: We now have the plaque at our Frederick Archives and Program Center.

dollhouse version of the Little House has been on display at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

For more about the original Little House, see the pamphlet, “Girl Scouts Keep House in Washington.”

POSTSCRIPT: All of the photos used here are from the Harris and Ewing collection and may be downloaded FREE OF CHARGE from the Library of Congress.  You don’t need to buy the overpriced copies offered on eBay!!

©2014 Ann Robertson

The Festival of Nations, 1931

As World Thinking Day approaches, we look back at a previous experiment in international friendship with a guest post by Katherine Cartwright, a doctoral candidate in history at the College of William and Mary. She was a Girl Scout for seven years in Michigan.

On Monday, April 27, 1931, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, former First Ladies Edith Wilson and Helen Taft, the Vice President, the Ambassadors of Japan and Poland, and the ministers of Czechoslovakia and Austria crowded into Constitution Hall near the White House. The event? The “Festival of Nations” – a six-day theatrical production put on with the help of the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia. The pageant, according to the Washington Star (March 22, 1931) was intended “to promote friendship and better understanding between the youth of all nations.”

Festival of Nations Program
Festival of Nations Program (GSCNC Archives)

This was exactly the type of event I was hoping to find while conducting research for my dissertation in the archives of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.

My name is Kat Cartwright and I am a Ph.D. candidate at the College of William and Mary. My dissertation examines how young people engaged in and shaped efforts aimed at cross-cultural understanding and internationalism from World War I through World War II and when volunteer archivist Ann Robertson handed me a 1931 scrapbook containing newspaper clippings that chronicled the Festival I knew I had struck gold.

Local newspapers began reporting on the Festival as early as November 1930. In cooperation with the Department of State, four countries were chosen for the play: Mexico and Canada, the closest neighbors of the United States; Czechoslovakia, a nation “greatly interested in promoting friendship among nations”; and Japan since the Festival was to correspond with the blossoming of the cherry trees, a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. The drama was to feature the “authentic” culture, dancing, and singing of these four nations and end in a finale with youth representing 50 nations.

Washington Times (February 18, 1931)

While the initial articles in the scrapbook concentrated on the adults organizing the production, the articles increasingly emphasized the youths’ participation throughout that spring. These articles allow me to incorporate the actions and voices of young people into my work.

Not only did young people, especially Girl Scouts from troops in the Washington area, join professional singers, dancers, and actors in the cast and serve as ushers at each performance, they also played an important role in promoting the Festival. For example, they submitted posters to be circulated throughout the United States, Canada, and other countries leading up to the Festival.

Selected costumes featured in the Sunday Star (April 19, 1931)
Winning poster designs. Washington Times (April 20, 1931).

About 30 Girl Scouts and Girl Guides representing at least ten countries attended a promotional “Flying Tea” held at Hoover Airport, now the site of the Pentagon. Nellie Veverka from Czechoslovakia got to do the honors of christening a new airplane. Other reports scattered throughout local papers followed additional preparations for the Festival, from the spectacular costumes to the involvement of embassies.

Washington Times (April 20, 1931)

With so much hype leading up to the premiere, I was sure that the Festival was going to be a hit. But, alas, the first reviews were hardly favorable. The most scathing review came from an Eleanore Wilson, who wrote in the April 28 Washington News,

Once more, we regret to report, Washington has made a daring and desperate stab at art and fallen short of the mark.

Washington News (April 28, 1931)

Others cited the duration of the play as its primary flaw and wished that it had been a silent film because the discourse took away from the music and scenes. Though we don’t know the exact reason why, even First Lady Hoover left half-way through opening night! The crew and cast quickly responded, cutting scenes here and there.

By the time more than 2,000 Girl Scouts and various other youth from the Washington area crowded into the hall for the children’s matinee on Saturday, the play had been shortened by an hour and fifteen minutes.

Many of the articles in the scrapbook suggest that the Festival that took place in DC in 1931 was modeled on similar events held elsewhere. That suggests many additional research paths to explore: Where did these events take place? Were the Girl Scouts and Department of State involved? What countries were represented in the festivals? How were young people—both from the U.S. and abroad—active participants? I hope to explore these questions and find more events like the “Festival of Nations” as I continue my research.

© 2019 Katherine Cartwright

P.S. I am currently working my way through The American Girl magazine [the Girl Scout publication, 1920–1979] and have evidence of international correspondence between Girl Scouts in the U.S. and Girl Guides and Girl Scouts abroad. Maybe you know of such letters collecting dust in an attic or basement? If you have any leads, I’d love to hear from you! You can contact me at kscartwright@email.wm.edu.

Training Leaders at Colleges

How did you receive your Girl Scout volunteer training?

Was it in a classroom with other new volunteers, led by an experienced volunteer?

Was it a telephone conference call, with you alone in your living room?

Perhaps you watched an online video? Read a packet of papers that came in the mail?

When you were taught how to perform a friendship circle, did you hold the actual hands of a living, breathing human being, or did you have to make do with the throw pillows on your couch?

Chances are, you did not head to the nearest university to major in Girl Scouts. But that was the practice in the earliest days of the movement, especially in areas where troops were just forming.

UK Training Card

In 1922, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller fund awarded the first of many grants to the Girl Scouts to train a group of young women who would teach Girl Scout Leadership Training Courses at colleges as universities. The program was extremely popular and quickly spread across the United States.

Reports for 1925 indicate that 6,000 young women had taken courses in the first three years they were offered. Training courses were available at 116 universities, colleges, and technical schools, located in 39 states and territorial possessions.

Participating institutions included Wellesley, Smith, Vassar, Columbia, New York University, Cornell, University of North Carolina, and the University of Texas.

Pages from GSL-1924-01-January.jpg

from January 1924 Leader magazine

At Stanford University, for example, the Department of Education offered classes to prepare prospective troop leaders.

Typically, students from a variety of majors took the Girl Scout coursework in the spring quarter, but the smaller summer quarter classes were usually made up of rural teachers hoping to bring Girl Scouting to their schools.

Nancy Beck Young, Lou Henry Hoover: Activist First Lady

Some schools offered academic credit for the leadership training. The University of Iowa offered one credit hour to women who complete the course and run a troop for the rest of the school year.

Stanford alumna and GSUSA President Lou Henry Hoover threw her support behind college-level training and encouraged expanding the program to more and more teachers’ college whenever possible.

Leadership Course

Textbook from 1942

Girl Scout officials also hoped the courses would encourage young women to consider careers in the Girl Scout movement.

GSU Pin

GSU pin

GSUSA partly revived this idea with the website Girl Scouts University (http://gsuniversity.girlscouts.org/), which provided online training and enrichment courses. However, the website has not been updated in over two years.

This Girl Scouts University should not be confused with an earlier incarnation, also called Girl Scouts University (http://www.gsuniv.org/history/). This site somewhat links to the newer GSU site. Notably, it still has valuable history resources produced by the former National Historical Preservation Center.

©2018 Ann Robertson

Collect, Preserve, or Document?

I was so excited by a new item that popped up on eBay earlier this month.

Designated as volume 1, number 1, The Girl Scouts’ Rally Bulletin is the public record of the first national convention, which was held in Washington in 1915. It was compiled by Edna Colman, the local commissioner.

Tableaux 1915

In 1915 local troops put on a demonstration for convention delegates, including this representation of Justice, Liberty, and Peace.

This 32-page booklet includes highlights from troops across the country, including Washington. It also has a uniform price list (hats, $1.25; middy blouses, $1.75, etc.), and the names and addresses of troop leaders from every state.

The Nation’s Capital council archival holdings are surprisingly thin on the early history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC. While council consolidation has brought the records of many legacy councils into a central location, our historical records are scattered across multiple sites. It takes some ingenuity, detailed searching, and sometimes pure luck, to track down information about our earliest days.

The main problem is that our early history is so closely entwined with that of the national movement. The first troops in and around the District of Columbia were managed out of the Munsey Building, where Juliette Gordon Low established the first national headquarters in 1913. Records from those years are more likely to be found at the JGL Birthplace or the First Headquarters in Savannah.

 

Little House Booklet Cover

Cover of 1923 booklet about the Little House

After national headquarters moved to New York, the national Little House opened in Washington, and the local council rented one room of the house to use as its headquarters. When the Little House closed in 1945, some of its files went to New York, but others went to Rockwood, a national Girl Scout camp just across the District of Columbia—Maryland border. When Rockwood closed, its files and fixtures went everywhere … but that is another story.

 

Surprisingly, some of the best information I’ve found about our early years comes from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa. Lou Henry Hoover’s role in the first years of Girl Scouting cannot be understated, and archivists there have been very generous about scanning documents for me.

Another source, the first Girl Scout magazine, The Rally (1917-20), published a regular column about the Girl Scouts of Washington.

But back to eBay. The asking price for this booklet? Nearly $600!! Pardon while I grab the smelling salts. This was a 30-day auction, now ended, and the price was slashed several times. The final price was $299.99. It did not sell.

1915 Bulletin

At first, I was furious. This was highway robbery! Holding our history hostage for a huge ransom! Unfair!

Then I looked closer. The listing included numerous photos of various pages and ended with the statement:

Early enough, very rare and important enough to be a museum piece according to my research. I could not find another one like it. I could only find a PDF version at Girl Scouts University, Girl Scout History & Preservation. RESEARCH IT!

So I did.

GSU Pin

Girl Scout University pin

The website is still up for Girl Scout University, another promising idea that GSUSA quietly abandoned and allowed to die of neglect.

 

I downloaded a good-quality PDF that added several new pages to our history.

The thing is, even if I had an extra $300 or $600 sitting around, there is no way I could justify the cost. I see my task as documenting history, not necessarily collecting examples of everything Girl Scout. While it is important to have artifacts that can be held and experienced, we wouldn’t pass around a century-old, original report anyway. We would scan it, lock it away carefully, and work with a copy. Which is exactly what we now have. And it didn’t cost us $300.

A few days after I first saw this auction, I received a priceless donation of original documents from essentially the same time period.

I’ll share that in a few days…

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

 

The Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia

You might assume that the Girl Scout Council of Washington, DC, began with a formal meeting of prominent women concerned with youth issues. Perhaps Juliette Gordon Low trotted across Pennsylvania Avenue from her office to meet with the first lady at the White House.

But in reality, the Washington Council was the product of an auto accident, a case of appendicitis, and a brief kidnapping.

The first Washington DC troop formed in December 1913. With the national headquarters located in the Munsey Building, near the White House, national staff initially handled matters related to local troops.

 

hec09024u

Washington DC Troop 1 with Juliette Gordon Low 

 

But when JGL moved the headquarters to New York City in 1916, Washington Girl Scouts had to take charge of their own affairs. With more than 50 active troops, it was time to get their files in order and apply for a charter.

LHH in Uniform Portrait

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

The first question was who would be the commissioner (president) of the DC Girl Scouts. The obvious choice was Lou Henry Hoover, an old friend of Daisy’s, but she was too busy for the amount of work necessary to seek a charter. After thinking about civic-minded  women in Washington, she came upon the solution by accident–literally.

In 1916, Mrs. Hoover had been in a fender bender with Henrietta Bates Brooke. Mrs. Brooke was well known in Washington for her various charitable endeavors. She had met JGL years earlier in Savannah and seemed ideal. Mrs. Hoover called on Mrs. Brooke, only to find her confined to her bed with a severe attack of appendicitis.

 

Being in no physical condition to deny any request, [Mrs. Hoover] quickly persuaded me to build a council, so when I got well, I had that to do.

Memoirs of Henrietta Bates Brooke

 

Brown_Brooke

Portrait of Henrietta Bates Brooke that hung at Rockwood National Center

 

Mrs. Brooke turned to her friend Edith Macy, the head of the New York council, for advice. They decided to invite a group of like-minded women to tea at Mrs. Macy’s apartment in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. As an added incentive, they promised a viewing of Mrs. Macy’s art collection.

This was a plum invitation. Mrs. Macy lived in the newly built McCormick Apartments at 1785 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The luxury Beaux Arts building had five stories and only six enormous apartments.

Edna Coleman, director of Girl Scouts in Washington, invited Mrs. Hoover to attend the tea, but, unfortunately, the future first lady was traveling at the time. That invitation is preserved at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.

In any case, there was a huge turnout for the Thursday afternoon tea. About one dozen women admired the paintings, nibbled on cookies, and exchanged pleasantries.

After tea was served, I simply locked the doors. Learning that they would only be permitted to depart after accepting places on the Washington Girl Scout Council, they all accepted and always stayed in scouting.

Memoirs of Henrietta Bates Brooke

On July 17, 1917, the Girl Scout Association of the District of Columbia became the eighth council chartered by the national headquarters.

From these humble and haphazard beginnings, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia has grown in include parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. One hundred years later, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital is the largest council in the United States, with over 87,000 members.

We rarely kidnap volunteers anymore.

©2017 Ann Robertson

Letters from Camp, #1

Girl Scout summer camps are in full swing by mid-July, and even in the digital age girls are encouraged to write letters home. A few lucky girls may even be asked to write about their experiences for local newspapers.

I thought I would share a few from our archives. This report appeared in the Washington Post, September 14, 1930, and I’ve added some photos from various scrapbooks.

My Summer at Camp

by Helen Sheets (age 13)

1831 Lamont Street NW

Washington, DC

Old CMF Sign

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

This summer I went to Camp May Flather for a month. It is a Girl Scout camp near Stokesville Va on the North River. We lived in log cabins that faced the river, and ate in one big mess hall. Our camp uniform was a green suit of middy and shorts.

There were two different classes going on in the morning and two in the afternoon, and we could pick one in the morning and one in the afternoon to go to, like: campcraft, handcraft, weaving, or some others.

 

Swimming lesson (GSCNC Archives)

Swimming Test (GSCNC Archives)

In swimming we were divided into three groups beginners, intermediates, and· advanced and we all went swimming in one pool but at different times.

 

CMFHorseRiding258040

Ready for an overnight trip, 1930s (GSCNC Archives)

We had horses up there three days a week that we could ride if we wanted to. I went with a group of girls up to Pioneer Camp for three days where only the girls that have passed all their camp craft tests can go We got red ties as a kind of badge to show that we had been up there.

I went with a group of girls up to Pioneer Camp for three days where only the girls that have passed all their campcraft tests can go. We got red ties as a kind of badge to show that we had been up there.

LHH Crossing Bridge

Lou Henry Hoover strides across the bridge that she donated (GSCNC Archives)

The big event of the season was the dedication ceremonies.  Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Flather and some other important people came up and we had a program in their honor. Mrs. Hoover also dedicated a bridge that she had given to the camp.

We also had a water carnival, a wedding between the old and new campers and lots of other things.

VH1-2

Circus night at camp, 1938 (GSCNC Archives)

Camp was not all play though, we had to do kitchen duty about once a week and dishes about twice a week. We also had our cabins inspected every morning and they had to be just right.

We got in lots of mischief too, like powder fights, mud fights, midnight feasts, and sliding down a mountain on a clean pair of pants, and lots of other things.

In all I had a wonderful time in spite of all the scrapes I got into.

Here is a poem I wrote about The Camp:

CAMP

After all is said and done,

I had really lots of fun.

Though I got in many a scrape,

I came out of them first rate.

I hope next summer I can go,

To camp instead of Chicago.

©2017 Ann Robertson