Driving Miss Daisy

One of the joys of a high-school level Girl Scout troop is watching the girls pass a major milestone: earning their drivers’ licenses.  You see it at the end of troop meetings. The same parents arrive, but scoot to the passenger seat so their daughter drives them home. Next, the girls drive themselves, and, finally, girls take on carpool duties themselves.

The Girl Scout program has always encouraged girls to master this important life skill, even when motoring was not considered a suitable endeavor for young women.

That might be because founder Juliette Gordon Low was not the most accomplished driver herself. Perhaps it was because she divided her time between two countries and two sets of road rules. According to Daisy’s niece:

She’d drive on the left-hand side of the road in Savannah “because I am English” and the right-hand, side in England “because I am an American.”
–Peggy Gordon Seiler, niece of Juliette Gordon Low
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Automobiling, 1916-1919

The Automobiling badge was introduced in 1916, a time when only one out of every five US households owned a car.

In 1920, the badge was renamed Motorist and manufactured in the new khaki fabric used for uniforms.

GSUSA highlighted the Motorist requirements in a short video from 2015.

 

I’ve heard many times that earning a driver’s license was a requirement for the prestigious Golden Eaglet award, but Motorist does not appear on any list of required badges that I’ve seen.  (If you have, please let me know!)

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Transportation, 1938-1947

From 1938 to 1947, Intermediate-age Girl Scouts could earn the Transportation badge. It took a broader look at the many forms of transportation, and girls were encouraged to take rides on trains, trolleys, buses, and whatever else their communities had to offer.

In the 1950s, when the auto industry responded to the rising number of female drivers by introducing pink vehicles such as the Dodge “La Femme,” the Girl Scouts had been teaching young women to get behind the wheel and under the hood for decades.

Apparently, troops missed having driving instruction in their handbooks, so the national headquarters issued a separate booklet geared to driver education.

 

 

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Auto Maintenance, 1980-1996

The Worlds to Explore program introduced in 1980 featured badges that both Cadettes and Seniors could earn. (Seniors had not had their own badges for years.) Many of these badges broke gender stereotypes by encouraging girls to explore technology and science.  One of the most popular was Auto Maintenance.

I remember my Senior troop decided to earn the new Auto Maintenance interest project award. Kim, a girl in our troop, was taking auto shop, so she led us as we tinkered with our leaders’ cars during meetings.

(I also remember having to push start our leader’s pickup truck around that time. Presumably those two facts are unrelated.)

The new program wasn’t just Girl Scouts of driving age, either. Junior Girl Scouts (grades 4-6) got their own Car Care badge in 1990. (It changed to a green border in 2000).

 

 

The focus stayed on maintenance instead of actual driving when Cadette and Senior badges were updated in the mid-1990s (Car Sense, blue border).  The ill-fated Studio 2B program briefly had a car care On the Road Focus Award (a charm), which was available for barely two years and was never produced in badge form. A Car Care badge for Seniors was introduced in 2011.

 

Girl Scouts may also participate in workshops offered by local car dealerships and insurance companies. These programs are organized by individual councils and vary from year to year.

 

 

 

Women in Trucking

Women in Trucking patch

Two years ago, the Girl Scouts partnered with the Women in Trucking association to expose girls to career opportunities in the transportation industry.

Thus, for 102 years, Girl Scouts have encouraged young women to embrace technology, cultivate personal independence, and challenge social norms.

©2018 Ann Robertson

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.

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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

Girl Scout Spirit of 1776

To celebrate Independence Day, I’ll share part of my Girl Scout Bicentennial patch collection.

The Girl Scouts joined the rest of the United States to celebrate our country’s 200th birthday in 1976. Councils, troops, and cookie bakers all got into the spirit, issuing Bicentennial-themed patches. The Connecticut Trails Council even issued a very popular series of badges, “If I Were a Girl Scout in 1776.”

Enjoy!!

©2018 Ann Robertson

Making New Friends in Crisis

The wrenching images of immigrant children separated from their parents reminded me of several articles about Girl Scout outreach programs. The Department of Homeland Security should take note:

Girl Scouts have a long tradition of welcoming newcomers. They have created innovative programs to welcome girls moving across the country or across town; girls moving into overcrowded boom towns, as well as refugees from all corners of the world.

They have established and operated Girl Scout troops in challenging, high-security settings, such as the Japanese internment camps of the early 1940s. Since 1992, the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program has formed troops in women’s prisons so that inmates can participate in troops with their daughters. They even sell cookies to prison staff!

Early in the Cold War, troops were encouraged to seek out Displaced Persons arriving in their communities.

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Item from January 1949 issue of Leader magazine.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Girl Scouts in the United States reached out to children in Europe and Korea, sending care packages and school supplies to communities ravaged by war.

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Hugh M. Milton, II, Undersecretary of the Army (left) and Frank G. Millard, General Counsel of the Army, are presenting school kits to Vietnamese Girl Scouts on December 3, 1959, at CARE headquarters, Saigon. Thousands of kits donated by GSUSA troops (including 339 from Southern Maryland) were distributed in India, Vietnam, and Hong Kong between December 1959 and February 1960. (GSCNC Archives)

The Girl Scout way of Making New Friends continued in the 1980s. A February/March 1981 article in Leader magazine highlighted programs designed to help newcomers integrate into their new communities.

Leaders in the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida … visited Cuban mothers to assist them with grocery shopping, cooking and coping with the trials their new and confusing lives, while the Riverland Girl Scout Council in LaCrosse, WI, held a five-day cross-cultural “get acquainted” day camp with some of their new Cuban neighbors.

When community members in Fort Smith, Arkansas, were less than welcoming toward a group of Cuban refugees, Mount Magazine Council staff greeted the newcomers. The council CEO went on local television to challenge Girl Scouts to be friendly, prompting more residents to come forward with donations.

The article highlighted efforts in my own council, Nation’s Capital, to warmly welcome Vietnamese and Laotian families to the Washington region. Council staff first recruited high-school aged Vietnamese girls into Girl Scouting, then used their language skills to form multi-level troops for each community. The best sign of the program’s success—the girls soon were bringing more friends to the meetings.

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The current refugee crisis in the United States, with children desperate for friendship, attention, activities, and caring adults, provides a critical opportunity for the Girl Scouts to put decades of experience to work.  We have the skills and a proven track record—if we are allowed to use them.

© 2018 Ann Robertson

 

Girl Scouts Answer Call to End to Social Unrest

Fifty years ago today, the Girl Scouts of the USA released this telegram:

GSUSA Kerner Telegram copy

From Leader magazine, October 1968

Copies were also sent to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Judge Otto Kerner, every member of the Kerner Commission, every member of Congress, and every Girl Scout council president.

Two months earlier, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder released a landmark study on race relations in the United States. President Lyndon B. Johnson had convened the 11-man panel of experts following riots in Newark, NJ, Detroit, MI, and 23 other cities the previous year. The violent uprisings, concentrated in African-American neighborhoods, were responsible for the deaths of 69 people in Newark and Detroit.

Known as the Kerner Report, as Judge Kerner of the US Court of Appeals chaired the panel, the report’s conclusion was concise and alarming:  The United States faced such deep social and economic division that

Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.
—Conclusion of the Kerner Commission

 

The Report called for massive investment in housing and jobs to improve living conditions for African Americans and an end to segregation in urban neighborhoods, among other recommendations.

GSUSA received many responses to the telegram, including one from Judge Kerner:

Your message of the action of the Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of the United States should be hailed by all throughout the United States. I am a great believer in using existing organizations to work on the greatest social problem the country has ever faced. I am sure that through the Girl Scouts you can reach into the economically deprived areas and give new experience and opportunity there as well as to those people outside the depressed areas by becoming acquainted with the conditions. Please extend my congratulations to the officers and the Board of Directors.

—Judge Otto Kerner

 

President Lyndon B. Johnson ignored the Kerner Report’s advice, mainly due to the cost, but the Girl Scouts paid attention.

Pages from GSL 1970-01 January (1)

Leader (Jan 1969)

At the 1969 National Council Session, GSUSA launched “Action 70,” a program to improve race relations within Girl Scouting. Within Nation’s Capital, the leaders of the Southwest Montgomery County and Mid-Eastern Washington Associations took up the challenge of fostering good relationships within the council. Mary Ann Claxton, of Southwest Montgomery County, invited Field Vice President Ethel Harvey to a discussion on “The Kerner Report and Its Implications for Girl Scouting.”

 

This discussion evolved into the Inter-Association Friendship Committee, a series of joint events between the Girl Scouts from the urban Mid-Eastern Washington and upper-middle class Southwest Montgomery County Associations spanning more than three decades. The Friendship Committee brought together troops for camping, swapping program ideas, service projects, and fun. One of the Committee’s most popular annual traditions was polishing the brass on the carousel at Glen Echo Park, once a whites-only establishment.

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Nation’s Capital troops polishing the brass on the Glen Echo carousel (GSCNC Archives)

A half century later, the United States remains a sharply polarized society.  The Girl Scout’s persistent determination to be inclusive is still a model worthy of consideration.

For more about the 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Report, follow the link to an interview with the last surviving panel member.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Who’s that Girl Scout? Dolly Parton

COMC-Dolly-Patch-e1496687078189-202x300Yesterday, the Library of Congress honored country singer Dolly Parton and her Imagination Library project.

Since 1996, Dolly has arranged for new books to be sent to young children every month. She launched the program to honor her father, who never learned to read or write. The event yesterday marked Imagination Library’s 100 millionth book.

To mark the milestone, Dolly read (and sang) from her own book, based on her beloved song, “Coat of Many Colors.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Dolly partnered with the Tanasi Girl Scout Council (now the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians) to create a Coat of Many Colors patch program. The patch, which can be earned by non-Girl Scouts, teaches resilience and self-respect in the face of bullying.

As Dolly said in 2008,

Be proud of who you are, and be kind to everyone you meet. That’s what Girl Scouting is all about.

Today, the need for building such resilience is even greater than when she wrote her song in 1971.

Dolly Parton is a lifetime Girl Scout, and I am proud to be her Girl Scout Sister!

© 2018 Ann Robertson

Conventions, Co-Eds, and First Ladies

Yesterday, the International Day of the Girl, the Boy Scouts announced that girls will be able to join Cub Scouts, beginning in fall 2018. BSA will introduce a pathway for girls to earn the Eagle Scout award in 2019.

The new policy, first floated in August, is a response to falling numbers of registered Boy Scouts nationwide. Girl Scouts of the USA (note: we are NOT Girl Scouts of America or GSA) President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan weighed in on the proposed co-ed membership in a letter to Boy Scout President Randall Stephenson:

Rather than seeking to fundamentally transform BSA into a co-ed program, we believe strongly that Boy Scouts should instead take steps to ensure that they are expanding the scope of their programming to all boys, including those who BSA has historically underserved and underrepresented, such as African American and Latino boys.

GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan

On Monday, October 9, newly elected GSUSA board member Charles Garcia made his objections clear:

The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” Garcia wrote. “Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA’s senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls.

Charles Garcia, GSUSA Board Member

 

I’ve just returned from the 54th National Council Session in Columbus, OH, October 4-8, 2017. Every three years the Girl Scouts’ National Council convenes to vote on proposals that affect the entire movement, such as dues and composition of the national board of directors (Garcia was elected to the board in Columbus). While not on the official agenda, the possible Boy Scout change prompted considerable discussion between panels.

Boys have frequently participated in Girl Scout events, especially high-school-age members. Local Senior troops staying at Rockwood National Center might invite boys for an evening of (closely supervised) dancing.

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A co-ed event at Rockwood National Center in the 1950s (GSCNC Archives).

 

In the earliest years of Scouting in Washington, DC, troops frequently held joint meetings and events. Perhaps the first assembly of all of the Girl Scout troops in Washington was on  May 23, 1914, when troops from both movements held an all-day picnic at Wildwood Boy Scout Camp in Takoma Park, MD.

 

Forty-two years ago, co-ed membership was the main issue at the Girl Scouts’ 1975 National Council Session, held in Washington, DC. The proposal came at a time of dropping membership levels across all youth organizations. Camp Fire Girls had responded by admitting boys aged 14-18 and the Boy Scouts opened Explorers (Venturing) to girls aged 14 to 21 in 1974.

Backers of co-ed membership argued that the presence of boys would help girls develop social skills that would prepare them for the workplace. Critics cited the confidence girls develop in a single-sex environment and pointed out that boys mature more slowly than girls and could not be grouped with same-age girls.

Ultimately, after two hours’ of debate, a voice vote overwhelmingly defeated the motion to admit boys. The issue has not come up for a vote since.

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First Lady Betty Ford helped open the 1975 convention in Washington, DC.

The 1975 convention is also notable for having First Lady Betty Ford participate in the opening ceremony. Since Edith Wilson in 1917, every first lady has been honorary president of the Girl Scouts. While few can appear in person at a convention, they typically send video greetings for the opening session. Melania Trump was conspicuously absent from Columbus. Instead, former first daughters Barbara Pierce Bush and Chelsea Clinton chaired panel discussions.

 

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Chelsea Clinton fields questions from the National Young Women of Distinction, Columbus OH

 

 

Brenda Akers

The insightful Brenda Akers (AP Photo)

 

Researching the debate on boy membership, I was struck by how many press reports quoted Brenda Akers, a 17-year-old Senior Girl Scout from Indiana: “If we need boys to sell the Girl Scouts, we need to re-evaluate our program.”

The Boy Scouts should take Miss Akers’ suggestion to heart.

©2017 Ann Robertson