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

My Afternoon with Frances Hesselbein

FH Portrait

Frances Hesselbein (Hesselbein Institute)

I never met Juliette Gordon Low, of course, but last week I came pretty close. I had the privilege of spending part of the day with Frances Hesselbein at her office in Manhattan. Few individuals have had as great an impact on the Girl Scout movement as this gracious lady.

Mrs. Hesselbein was the GSUSA National Executive Director from 1976 to 1990. Her first day on the job, in fact, was July 4, 1976. Today she is the director of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.

I had asked to interview her about the decision to sell Rockwood National Center in 1978. But we soon moved on to the many highlights and happier memories from her time at GSUSA.

She presided over many milestones, some more popular than others, including implementing circular management principles, introducing the Worlds to Explore program, reconfiguring the Edith Macy Center into a year-round training facility, and the introduction of the contemporary (three faces) logo. Some of her favorite memories include:

Halston Uniform

Mrs. H (“Frances” just seems too informal!) had just returned from visiting a Halston retrospective exhibition at the Nassau County (NY) Museum of Art. The famous fashion designer had created a stylish collection of adult uniforms in 1978, and Mrs. H vividly recalled participating in that process. She also let me borrow the gorgeous exhibit catalog.

Camping

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The diverse staff of Camp Blue Knob, circa 1952 (Hesselbein Institute)

I had submitted my resume, Rockwood book outline and synopsis, and several other documents in advance, and Mrs. H immediately noted that we both had experience as camp staff, making us both survivors of that trial by fire. She shared with me several staff photos from her time directing Camp Blue Knob in western Pennsylvania and pointed out the unusual racial diversity of the group for the early 1950s. She also had a photo from the summer 2016 camp out on the White House Lawn.

White House Honors

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Frances Hesselbein and President Bill Clinton (Hesselbein Institute)

While Mrs. H never camped on the White House lawn — that I know of — she has been a frequent visitor. But few visits can top one in 1998, when President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. (Juliette Gordon Low was posthumously awarded the medal in 2012.) The beautiful medal is prominently displayed in her office.

 

 

 

Diversity

While her Girl Scout camp was integrated in the early 1950s, society lagged behind. Mrs. Hesselbein recalled that she could not eat with her African-American staff members at any restaurant in any nearby town.

With that camp experience in mind, one of her priorities as head of GSUSA was to reach out to all girls, especially girls in historically underserved communities.  When she began at GSUSA, the organization was 95% white; fourteen years later, minority ranks had tripled.

As part of that effort, she sought to have a greater range of images in Girl Scout handbooks and other publications. She wanted any girl, of any background, to be able to find herself in a handbook. New handbooks depicted girls of all skin tones, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all physical abilities — in other words, all girls.

A Secret to Longevity?

Finally, as our conversation drew to a close, I brought up another topic: age. Mrs. Hesselbein is 101 — exactly twice my age.

Of course, many people remark on her extraordinary vigor. But my casual research in recent months has led me to a realization. We Girl Scouts seem to be an exceptionally long-lived group of women.

That holds true for volunteers and long-time staff. I just recently learned of a former Rockwood director who has passed away in February — and wanted it known in her obituary that she lived to 99 years and seven months.  At Nation’s Capital, we lost two past council presidents in recent years — Marguerite Cyr (101) and Bobby Lerch (104).

And the more I investigate, the more very senior Girl Scouts I find. Camping expert Kit Hammett (96); national board member Lillian Gilbreth (93). National presidents Henrietta Bates Brooke (89) and Grace MacNeil (92). But the record, so far, must be Executive Director Dorothy C. Stratton, who passed away at age 107!

 

I would love to see some data on the percentage of our membership over age 90 compared with the general population. That could be quite a retention incentive.

I asked Mrs. Hesselbein what she thought might be behind this possible trend. We came up with the same answer immediately — the girls.

The girls keep us young.

Postscript: No selfies from my visit, some memories are too precious to share. 

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Back to the Birthplace

Last weekend, I finally visited the renovated library at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia. I had not toured the house since the library’s controversial redo in April 2015.

Based on the criticism I’d read, I expected to step into a high-tech Apple Store, with rows of gleaming iPads, computer monitors, and glaring fluorescent lights. The reality was quite different.

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez (right) discusses the theory behind the new library (photo by Mark Bowles)

I watched a Cadette troop swarm into the room and head straight for the activity table in the middle of the room. Most of them passed right over the iPads—that’s something they see every day. What they really liked was the stereopticons. Everyone had to try out the “vintage virtual reality glasses.”

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The stereopticons were extremely popular (photo by Mark Bowles)

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez, front view (I forgot to take her picture!)

 

I spent over an hour in the library with Lisa Junkin Lopez, the executive director of the Birthplace. She arrived in November 2015, shortly after the new library was unveiled and instituted several modifications in response to a range of feedback. We had an excellent discussion about the purpose of various museum features.

Honor the Past, Serve the Future

The interactive table is the focus of the library and provides hands-on activities that allow girls to physically connect with the past. After a series of “do not touch” displays in other rooms, the girls welcome the change. The activities are grouped around the themes of Poems, Songs, Speeches, and Storytelling.

 

The exhibit has also been designed for maximum accessibility. Girls can feel Braille letters, for example. Girls are encouraged to compose poetry about their Girl Scout experiences, and they can leave their own mark on history by adding their favorite book to the memory journal. At one point, they could use a beautiful blue vintage typewriter to record their thoughts, but it was so popular that the machine would jam and congest the room. As the last stop on the tour, the library also offers a transition between past and present.

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This desk once held a vintage typewriter, a technology that proved too popular to remain on display  (photo by Mark Bowles)

Community Service

The library is now stocked with books by and about women, which builds on the Gordon family’s love of reading and learning. Troops are encouraged to bring contributions for the library, and returning girls often search the shelves for “their” books. Surplus books will be donated to Loop It Up, a local literacy charity.

There are also traditional Girl Scout handbooks and fictional stories on view, but these are for display only. It might be nice to have scanned excerpts of the older books available to browse on the iPads.

For All Girls

While the Birthplace is one of the holiest shrines of Girl Scouting, it also is one of the best-known house museums among the many restored mansions in historic Savannah. It is also the only house museum that has an elevator, making the upper floors accessible to visitors with physical disabilities.

Lisa explained that the Birthplace has an opportunity to expand on Juliette Gordon Low’s principle of inclusion. It can serve as a model and resource for other historic house museums seeking to improve the accessibility of their facilities without compromising their historical integrity. That seems like an outreach effort worth pursuing.

The Girls’ House

Overall, I did not find the new library as horrific as often portrayed. I’d feared isolated girls with earbuds roaming about, following a pre-recorded tour.

Instead, I was delighted to watch girls eagerly experience both the old and the new technology. We need to use the tools and technology available to help modern girls connect with the past. I’m sure I’m not the only Girl Scout historian who has referred to semaphore as “vintage texting.” That translates into something the girls understand, something more appealing than waving an old rag on a stick.

vintage-texting

Girl Scouts has long embraced technology. These campers from the 1920s are using “vintage GPS systems,” also known as a compass (GSCNC Archives).

I also don’t think the redesign of the library has damaged the historical integrity of the building. The rooms have not been structurally modified, just the contents changed. Any house museum will have to make compromises to meet modern building codes. I’m fairly sure the gift shop and public restrooms were not part of the original layout either, but I don’t hear complaints about those.

I find that when girls connect with Girl Scout history, when they discover their place in this venerable movement, they come away with a deeper appreciation of Girl Scouting. That’s what I saw happening in the Birthplace library, and I have no problem using the occasional iPad to help that process along.

©2017 Ann Robertson

Hurricane Awareness from the Girl Scouts

Hurricane Matthew is on track to slam into Savannah, Georgia, early tomorrow morning (October 8). Who knows what damage the “holiest” city in Girl Scouting will suffer.

I am extra anxious about the impending storm because my daughter is a sophomore at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In fact, her dorm is on the same street as the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, about two blocks west.

She evacuated Tuesday night and is home safe in Maryland, but we have no idea when she will return.

But never fear, the Girl Scouts are ready for anything, including hurricanes.

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Hurricane Preparedness

Several years ago, the Girl Scout Council of the Florida Panhandle issued Hurricane Preparedness Council’s Own badges for Brownies and Juniors. While these badges are no longer available, they contained lessons that are still valid today and that can be applied to many disaster scenarios.

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Hurricane Preparedness

There is also a similar patch program developed by Nation’s Capital and FEMA.be_prepared_patch

They all teach the same basic lesson: have a plan and review it often. Don’t waste time wondering what you should do, BE PREPARED!

To all of my friends at the Birthplace and First Headquarters, stay safe! We will be thinking of you.

Hurricane Preparedness, Florida Panhandle

Do 5 activities including one starred:

1. Look at a map or globe of the earth. Look for the horizontal lines called latitudes and the vertical lines called longitudes. Any spot on the globe can be pinpointed by the intersection of latitudinal line and the longitudinal line that the town falls on or near. The intersection of these two lines is called coordinates is measured in degrees. Find your city on a hurricane tracking map. Know the coordinates of your city. Learn how to use a tracing map to follow the path of a storm by using the coordinates.

2. Learn the terminology of the storms. Know the difference between a tropical wave, a tropical depression, a tropical storm and a hurricane. Be able to explain “hurricane watch” and “hurricane warning”.

3. Hurricanes are grouped together according to the strength of the storm. A hurricane will fall into one of five groups called categories. Learn the difference between the categories of a hurricane. Find out what categories of hurricanes have affected your area and how each category affected your area in relation to the damage and long term effects felt.

4. Make a hurricane checklist for your family. Include how to decide whether to stay or evacuate. If you evacuate, show on a map what route you would take and where your destination would be. Also indicate what items you would take with you.

*5. Help you family prepare a hurricane preparation kit. Make a list of supplies that you have prepared. Where are these items stored? How do you prepare the house (windows, water supply, outside items) for the storm?

6. Once a storm reaches the strength where it is classified as a tropical storm, it is given a name. What is the history behind naming hurricanes? How are names decided on? Are any names not used anymore and why? Make a chart of hurricane names for 2 different years.

7. Discuss with your troop your personal experience with hurricanes or hurricane warnings. Discuss how you feel before, during and after the storm. Do you and your family feel that you made the best decision whether to stay or evacuate? How do you feel now when hurricane season begins?

8. Invite an emergency management official to visit or take a field trip to the office of a local government, military, or college campus hurricane preparedness department. Learn how information is received into the office and how it is dispersed to the public.

9. With your troop, plan games and activities to do during a hurricane. Discuss what kinds of activities are better that others and why. Share what activities you may have done during a hurricane. Have supplies ready in your hurricane preparedness kit for these activities.

10. Find out about the shelters in your area. Where are they located? How do you decide whether to stay in your house or go to a shelter? Are shelters designed for specific needs such as the handicapped, medical needs, or the elderly? If anyone in your group has ever gone to a shelter during a hurricane, ask them to share their experiences.

11. Find out how hospitals, nursing care facilities, and prisons prepare for hurricanes. What special preparations do zoos, animal shelters and aviaries have to take?

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Brownie Badges: We Tried It, Girls Loved It!

How much do you know about the Brownie Try-It?

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Girl Scouts Ways

Happy 30th Birthday!

The fall 1986 Girl Scout catalog contained a major surprise: new badges … for Brownies! That means the Try-It has been around for 30 years.

The “Try-It” name reflected the non-competitive emphasis on fun. Brownies did not have to become proficient in a skill, they just had to Try It. Girls had to complete four of six requirements to earn the recognition.

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Try-Its debuted in the  1986 Girl Scout catalog.

 

Bicentennial Byproduct

Try-Its satisfied a growing demand for more Brownie program content, especially after the program expanded from two years (2nd and 3rd grades) to three (1st grade) in 1973.

Many councils issued special badge programs to celebrate the American Bicentennial in 1976. Brownies could earn these, leading many to ask why they didn’t have badges of their own. Some councils responded with their own patch programs. Today these are known as “Pre-Try-Its.”

Official Patches and Wedges

Before Try-Its, GSUSA introduced the Brownie Bs program in 1977. The program encouraged troops to create well-rounded programs that reflected the Brownie Bs:

  • Be a Discoverer
  • Be a Ready Helper
  • Be a Friend-maker

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Upon completing a year in the program, Brownies received a triangular patch to wear on the front of their sashes.  Each wedge represented one year: Yellow (1st year), Red (2nd), and Blue (3rd). (The bridge and Junior Aide bar were Junior recognitions, but you almost always see them grouped together.)

GSUSA also issued Brownie Bs fun patches that were worn on the back of the sash.  They came in several shapes and colors.

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Brownie Fun Patches from 1978. They usually weren’t this dirty!

Try-Its Influenced the Uniform

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Brownie fun wear with a Try-It design became available in 1999.

Now that Brownies could earn recognitions, they needed a place to display them. The sash was introduced in 1977 and the vest in 1991. Mothers everywhere rejoiced when iron-on Try-Its were introduced in 2004.

 

Most Popular

The original Try-Its had borders that matched the Worlds to Explore program: Arts, Out-of-Doors, People, Today and Tomorrow, and Well-Being. The program was wildly popular and members immediately asked for more options. A blank “Our Own Council’s” version was introduced in 1988, followed by 20 new Try-Its in 1989, six in 1993, and five in 1997.

The most popular early Try-Its were:

(1) Girl Scout Ways, (2) Play, (3) Food Fun, (4) Music, and (5) Dance.

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The top five Try-Its of the Worlds to Explore era.

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Top Brownie Try-Its, 1999-2004.

The Worlds to Explore program was phased out, and by 1999 all Try-Its had brown borders.  The 2001 Brownie handbook included 57 Try-Its, many updated versions of existing ones. The most popular were:

(1) Cookies Count, (2) Girl Scout Ways, (3) Manners, (4) Art to Wear, and (5) Caring and Sharing.

Of course, my personal favorites are the various Council’s Own Try-Its.

Yes, It’s Hyphenated

It’s Try-It, not Try It. (I’m an editor, I care about such things!)

Try-Its Inspired Today’s Girl Scout Way Series

The first group of Try-Its included “Girl Scout Ways.” Now each level (except Daisies) has their own version of this basic badge.

 

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Ambassador Girl Scout Way badge

Now Officially “Badges”

The Discover, Connect, Take Action program included a new set of Brownie recognitions in 2012, and the Try-It name was dropped. Now Brownies earn “badges,”  but the old name is still frequently used.

 

Learn more by visiting the exhibit at the Nation’s Capital main office, 4301 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

 

Flying the Flag for 9/11

As we mark the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, take a moment to look at your right shoulder. Specifically, look at the flag waving atop your uniform sash or vest.

The US flag was not part of the official Girl Scout uniform until after 9/11. Even today, the flag technically is optional, although most girls wear it.

The straight flag was introduced in the 2002 catalog, although no girl pictured in the catalog was wearing one. The wavy flag was introduced in 2008.

 

GSUSA also introduced three new badges that emphasized flag etiquette, history, and patriotism: Wave the Flag for Brownies, United We Stand for Juniors, and American Patriotism for Cadettes and Seniors.

As troops form and begin meeting this fall, take the opportunity to explain the importance of that small flag on her shoulder.

©2016 Ann Robertson

Applying for the Golden Eaglet

Applying for the Golden Eaglet

What did it take to earn a Golden Eaglet, Girl Scouting’s highest honor from 1918 to 1939?

Golden Eaglet

Golden Eaglet Pin

The requirements were revised several times, but the 1920 Handbook had essentially two:

Earn 21 proficiency badges. Girls chose 15 from a list of 17 badges; the other six were their choice. (One required badge was Laundress!)

Earn the Medal of Merit (1922-1926) or a Letter of Commendation (1926-1931). These awards were meant to attest to a girl’s attitude and character, highly subjective requirements indeed.

Instead of searching various musty handbooks, let’s look at an actual application from Virginia Hammerley of Washington, DC:

Eaglet Application 1

Eaglet Application-2

Eaglet Application-3

Letter of Commendation

Unlike today’s Gold Award, there was no time-defined project to conduct.

Applications were then submitted to the National Standards Committee for review. Virginia received her Golden Eaglet in May 1930. (Second from left)

Hammerley Clipping

Although more than 10,000 girls were awarded the Golden Eaglet, quite a few were turned down. That led to complaints about the rather fuzzy requirements. How could strangers in New York City fairly evaluate the character of girls in California or anywhere in between?

According to the Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, “There were constant complaints about applications that were questioned or refused by [the Standards] Committee.” (That NEVER happens with today’s Gold Award process.)

The Girl Scout Program Study completed in 1937 recommended that the Golden Eaglet be discontinued, due to “the restrictions it imposes on the girls and the trouble it engenders in the communities.”

©2016 Ann Robertson, Gold Awardee 1983