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

Who’s That Girl Scout? Oleda Schrottky

I have long been fascinated by former GSUSA staff member Oleda Schrottky. But when I recently found this vintage photograph, I was in love.

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Oleda Schrottky in costume (presumably), Macy Center, 1928 (Acme Newsphoto)

From 1921 to 1964, Schrottky was the Girl Scout “play lady.” She reluctantly took this position and over time crafted a one-of-a-kind job description uniquely tailored to her talents and convictions.

Why is Oleda Schrottky the coolest Girl Scout ever?

First, there is her name: Oleda Schrottky. Try saying it aloud a few times. Doesn’t it feel and sound fascinating?

From the Midwest to Massachusetts and Manhattan

Oleda Schrottky was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1894. She was a highly educated woman for the era, attending Lawrence College, the University of Minnesota, and New York University.

She established herself as a well-regarded speech and drama instructor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She frequently performed in professional productions, especially with the Provincetown Players.

She Admitted to Misunderstanding the Girl Scouts

In 1921, the Provincetown troupe debuted a new play in New York City, The Inheritors, written by Susan Glaspell and directed by Jasper Deeter. Twenty-seven Oleda memorably played the lead character’s grandmother.

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Jane Deeter Rippin (GSUSA)

After one show, Jasper introduced Oleda to his sister, Jane Rippin, who had greatly enjoyed her performance on several evenings.

Oleda was later astonished when Jasper commented that his sister was the executive director of the Girl Scouts. She could not believe that the aristocratic theater patron, dressed in an evening gown and furs, could possibly be a Girl Scout. She protested:

 

 

 

They wear khakis; they wear black khaki stockings; they wear the most awful-looking hats; they wear great big belts; they have got stuff hanging around like ropes and knives and they march. They are always marching and they are camping, they sleep in the poison ivy, they knock trees down, they dig holes, they cook meals. They are dreadful!

Leader (Winter 1985)

Obviously, she eventually changed her mind.

She Forged Her Own Path

Jane Deeter Rippin sought to hire professionals in the fine arts to train troop leaders in drama, music, and more. She offered Oleda a salary of $150 per month “and a lot of opposition.”

As promised, many volunteers and staff resisted the new initiative, but Oleda stood firm and eventually gained respect and her programs were praised. She originally meant to stay just a year, but 12 months rapidly turned into 40 years.

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Play written by Oleda Schrottky

As Secretary of Plays and Pageants, Oleda wrote scripts, guidebooks, and ceremonies, and she travelled across the country helping adults and girls perform.

Her training courses included lessons on set construction, costume design, and the importance of understanding a play’s context. She published guides for Scout’s Own ceremonies, “Simple Dramatics for Girl Scout Troop Meetings,” and plays such as “Lend a Hand,” “Milestones: A Girl Scout Pageant in Seven Episodes Based on the Life of Juliette Low,” and “A Pot of Red Geraniums: A Christmas Play in Two Acts.”

While she insisted that any number of girls, even a handful, were sufficient for a dramatics program, Oleda preferred to stage her own pageants on a grand scale.

The photo above was taken during a dramatics course for leaders given at the Edith Macy Training School in 1928. All 150 students participated in “Nottingham Fair,” a pageant based on the Robin Hood story.

Oleda became an in-demand speaker across the United States. Her presentations were noted for their insight, humor, and ability to mobilize civic clubs and parent-teacher groups to support youth recreation and community theater.

She Helped Dedicate Rockwood

Oleda organized the dedication of Rockwood National Camp in 1952, combining it with a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Girl Scouting. She wrote a new pageant for the event and found a unique way to include thousands of Girl Scouts in a ceremony held at a relatively small venue.

Councils across the country were encouraged to hold their own community-wide campfire ceremony over the summer, make a bundle from the remains of the fire, attach a special message, and send it to Rockwood. No detail was left to chance:

These bundles of sticks should not exceed 12” in length; each piece of wood approximately one inch in diameter. We experimented and the simplest way is to make a cloth bag, of unbleached muslin or light-weight duck, with a draw string, then use mailing tape.

Twenty-nine bundles arrived in time for the dedication.

Schrottky Bundles

Oleda Schrottky examines bundles of sticks mailed to Rockwood National Camp (GSUSA archives)

She Retired from Work, But Not from Her Mission

Oleda officially retired from GSUSA in 1957. But she continued to work with young women and maintained a busy schedule as a guest speaker.

Too many of our children today just sit and want to be entertained. They must learn that they themselves have resources for entertaining.

–Oleda Schrottky, 1964

She passed away in August 1969, after giving presentations as recently as that May. She also had a speaking engagement booked for November 1969.

She Believed in the Importance of the Liberal Arts

I wonder how Oleda would fare in today’s Girl Scouting. We supposedly are fighting against a public image of preferring crafts over camping. Increasingly, Girl Scouting is focusing on developing skills in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math.

These are undoubtedly valuable skills, especially in the 21st century.

But as a social scientist married to an architect and with a daughter in art school, I cannot ignore the value of non-STEM topics as well.

I hope we can find a balance that includes all of these subjects.

Otherwise, maybe I’ll have to wear my own floaty Maid Marian dress to the next Maker Fair.

©2018 Ann Robertson

Girl Scouts Bring History to Life at Riley’s Lockhouse

DEC06AR20Nestled inside a quiet bend of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal near Seneca, Maryland, Riley’s Lockhouse offers Girl Scouts a unique opportunity to learn about daily life in the 1870s and museum careers.

On weekends in the fall and spring, Girl Scouts dress in authentic period clothing and share the history of the Riley home to visitors of all ages. They serve as docents, demonstrating daily chores from the 1870s, including washing clothes, making butter, singing, playing games, sewing quilt squares, and making corn husk dolls.

 

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Welcome to Riley’s Lockhouse! (GSCNC Archives)

The C&O Canal was in use from 1831 to 1924, with 1871 its peak year. It ran from the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, to Cumberland, Maryland; 185 miles. Barges navigating the canal used a series of 74 locks to adjust to the changing depth; from sea level in Georgetown to 605 feet in Cumberland. Riley’s is located at lock 24. Today, the canal’s towpath is popular with cyclists, joggers, and history buffs.

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Approaching the lockhouse (Echo Reardanz)

In October 1975, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital launched the Riley’s Lockhouse History Program through a special permit from the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Searching for a special way to mark the US bicentennial, Cadette Troop 2032 of Bethesda, Maryland, devised a project to demonstrate how families lived in the 1870s.

 

In 2007 the Riley’s Lockhouse Program received the national Take Pride in America award from the US Department of the Interior. The program also won the 2007 George B. Hartzog, Jr., award for outstanding volunteer youth group in the local National Capital Region.

Over 40 years later, the program remains popular. Girl Scout troops still change into period costumes and give tours on Saturdays and Sundays in the spring and fall.

Leaders of troops interested in participating in the lockhouse experience need to take a half-day training course so that they can learn appropriate skills and teach them to their troop. Training classes are offered in both the fall and spring.

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Veteran C&O volunteer and Girl Scout Joan Paull trains leaders in 19th century life (Echo Reardanz)

The program is open to all Girl Scouts, not just troops registered with Nation’s Capital. Many of the photos featured here were taken by Echo Reardanz, a volunteer from the Girl Scout Council of Central Maryland who frequently brings troops to the lockhouse.

For more information about the program, contact programaa@gscnc.org.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

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

automobilng-badge_1

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!)

IMG_5708

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.

 

 

IMG_5707

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.

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

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.

Pages from GSL 1949-01 January

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