A Practical Approach to Girl Scout Archives

I have a busy week coming up, first going to the North Carolina Girl Scout Collectors’ Show, then on to Savannah, Georgia, to see my daughter, who is a junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

She is busy studying schedules and determining what classes to take this fall and the rest of her senior year. I continue to be amazed at the variety of courses and career paths offered at SCAD. They have areas of study that I never knew existed, like yacht design, sequential art, and luxury and fashion management. SCAD takes a very hands-on, applied approach to learning that equips students for creative careers.

I already have another trip to Savannah penciled in for October, this time for a Girl Scout history conference. The last such conference I attended was very conceptual–discussions and presentations on the changing role of museums in the 21st century.


GS Historic Georgia partnered with SCAD to create a Preservation Patch

I have no idea what is being planned officially, but if it were me, I know what Savannah resource I would want to use wisely–SCAD. A conference planned in coordination with the school could provide tremendous hands-on learning opportunities. There are many potentially relevant programs, for example:

Accessory and Jewelry Design: Techniques for cleaning pins and metal camping equipment;  novel ideas for displays of lots of tiny objects.

CharacterDesignWrkshpAdActing and Character Development: For our living Juliette Gordon Lows.

Branded Entertainment: I don’t have any idea what this is, but how often do we hear about communicating and protecting the Girl Scout brand? Maybe we would learn!

Fashion/Fibers/Costume Design: Best techniques for preserving old fabric; how do you clean 100-year old sweat stains and rust stains?



Museum Studies students craft narratives about their artifacts (SCAD).

Museum Studies: Duh.


Photography/Film/Sound: How to archive photos, film etc. (and could someone please convert some Beta tapes that we have?)

Preservation Design: This also seems obvious.



Designing exhibit displays and props (SCAD).

Production Design: Tips on how to construct and configure exhibits and display spaces.


Themed Entertainment Design: to create Juliette Gordon Low World (just kidding–mostly)

Conducting a two-hour workshop on these topics would be a great experience for students, as SCAD teaches them to hone their presentation skills whenever possible. I definitely would sign up for as many as possible.

Ultimately, the conference curriculum isn’t up to me.  Maybe I’ll just browse the textbook aisle in the campus bookstore and try to learn some of these skills on my own.

©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.


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



Happy Christmas from Belgium

In 1938, Belgian Girl Guide Elisabeth May sent this beautiful Christmas card to her Girl Scout friend, Virginia Hammerley in Washington, DC. “Ginger” had been friends with Elisabeth and her sisters when their father was the Belgian ambassador to the United States.

Xmas Card Cover

Xmas Card Inside_Page_3

Merry Christmas to All!

©2017 Ann Robertson


Gifts for Girl Scouts

This month’s history exhibit comes straight from the pages of vintage Girl Scout Christmas catalogs.



1930 catalog


Starting in 1928, Girl Scouts published holiday-themed catalogs in addition to annual uniform and equipment catalogs. Leader magazine, when it existed, also had full-page ads with gift suggestions.

The National Equipment Service, which publishes the catalogs, sells the basics: uniforms, handbooks, badges, and camping equipment. But it also sells a range of other products: jewelry, casual clothing, books, and accessories.

Unfortunately, these trinkets often wind up in the trash when a girl decides she’s “outgrown” Girl Scouts. Sometimes the cheapest items become the rarest collectibles.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Archives and History Committee has many of these gems in our collection, but we rarely have the opportunity to show them off.  We decided to take a few pages from these catalogs and match up the items included.



Brownie play clothes, pennant, dictionary, stationery, and records.




Penguin sweater, headbands, trash can, wool cape, and gloves.




Yes, that’s Girl Scout wrapping paper at the bottom!



What’s on my wishlist this year? This stylish housecoat from the early 1940s.


1941 Robe

Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum

Don’t forget the matching slippers, too!


1941 Slippers

Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum

The display will be at the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital main office, 4301 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC, through January. Items are also on display year round at our Archives and History Program Centers.

©2017 Ann Robertson


Meeting Minnie: Crowdsourcing History

Minnie Hill Uniform

Minnie Hill’s uniform

I knew it would be fun to share Minnie Hill’s uniform with everyone. Writing that post became even more exciting as I discovered details about her life. What I didn’t expect, was how many readers would join the search for more about Minnie.

Readers jumped into Ancestry.com, Newspapers.com, and more. Different facts were posted on different platforms, so I’ll gather them together here.

First, readers asked about the uniform’s provenance. They came from the family of Janet McIntyre of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Janet had been an active Girl Scout leader beginning in the 1950s. Like many leaders, she accumulated many, many, GS materials over the years, and troops could borrow items, such as these vintage uniforms, for meetings and ceremonies. Janet passed away in June 2015 (age 94). Her children discovered the uniforms as they prepared to sell the house and contacted the council to inquire about donating. They aren’t sure where or when their mother acquired this uniform–one of many.


Minnie Mosher Hill was born September 30, 1903, and died August 25, 1988. She never married and lived first with her mother, and later with a sister, Eleanor. After attending college, she initially worked as a secretary in a Washington law firm. She then spent 20 years working at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.

Her obituary shows Minnie’s interest in history and genealogy. She was an active member of the Colonial Dames Society, serving as regional chairman and on the national board.

Picturing Minnie

Several readers fired up PhotoShop to try to digitally repair our one confirmed image. Not only is the original torn, it is partly stuck to a plastic cover, which makes it difficult to get a clear image to work with. The brownish version is from Mel Squiers, the reddish one from Merena Cadorette.




But the prize for the best contribution goes to Stan Myles, from my own Service Unit. Several people had suggested looking for Minnie in old copies of the Central High School yearbook, but I haven’t had time to go to the DC Public School Archives.

Stan took the search a step further and discovered that, like his own daughter, Minnie is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park. He sent this page from Minnie’s senior yearbook:


Minnie Hill in the 1925 University of Maryland yearbook

Stan 2017

Historian Stan Miles, without Minnie

I had hoped to take a picture of Stan with Minnie’s uniform at our council’s Back to Troop kickoff last weekend, but I decided against displaying the uniform when I couldn’t arrange appropriate security for it. (The hotel wouldn’t let me build a moat.)

This photo will have to do.

Thank you to everyone who helped tell Minnie’s story!!

Minnie is buried in Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery.

©2017 Ann Robertson


Letters from Camp #2

Today’s camper missives come from Rockwood, a national camp outside Washington DC from 1938 to 1978. These young ladies used picture postcards purchased at the Rockwood Trading Post.


Manor House

Rockwood Manor Postcard (GSCNC Archives)


Dear Aunt Elsie,

I left Wed. after lunch and should be back Friday night. While here we will see the FBI, National Archives, Bureau of Engraving and all the monuments, we will go to the Wax Museum and eat there. This is the place we are staying at and it’s as beautiful inside as it is outside.

Much love,


October 1966


Weston Lodge

Weston Lodge, Rockwood National Camp (GSCNC Archives)


Dear Mom and Dad,

We’re having a great time. We heard about the tornado, it sounds like a bad one.

We’re going into Washington now and I can’t write very good. This is a picture of the lodge we are staying at. Well, I’ll write soon.


April 1965

©2017 Ann Robertson


Pittsburgh’s Troop 47

Being a Girl Scout archivist is always an adventure. Donations come in bags and boxes, via the mail or literally left on a doorstep. We know to go through the donations carefully. We get lots of old uniform socks, the occasional 20-year old cookie box (with the cookies still inside!), not to mention the potentially hazardous old first aid kits.

One recent donation included a shopping bag full of assorted papers: flag ceremony diagrams, permission slips, the typical troop records. But among the packing lists and kaper charts was this photo:


Pitt Girls

Captain Irma Gorton and Troop 47 of Pittsburgh, c. 1923


At first I thought it was a photocopy,  but no, it is the real thing.  There is some damage to the photo, but it is in remarkably good shape for being nearly 100 years old.

According to the caption written in pencil on the back, this is Troop 47, sponsored by Latimore Junior High School in Pittsburgh. Irma S. Gorton was captain, and the date is estimated as 1923.

But wait…there’s more! These documents were in an envelope in the same bag of random papers:


Gorton Card

Irma Gorton’s membership card



Gorton Certificate

Irma Gorton’s appointment certificate


The appointment certificate needs some preservation attention. It has been folded for decades, all four borders are present but delicate. You can also see the official stamp/seal in the lower left corner.

It is only fair to send these items to the Girl Scout Council of Western Pennsylvania, but I wanted to share them first!

©2017, Ann Robertson