Making New Friends, Again

Why is “Make New Friends” such a popular Girl Scout song?

Because staff come and go so quickly that we’re always dealing with someone new.

Four years ago, when Anna Maria Chavez resigned as GSUSA CEO, I wrote a blog post about “If I Were CEO.” I listed five steps that could be done to strengthen the Girl Scout movement. It was a popular post, and GSUSA used the framework for its own blog.

Now we are saying goodbye to CEO Sylvia Acevedo, and the points I made four years ago are still relevant.

One directly addressed the perpetual issue of staff turnover:

3. Invest in Staff Stability

Girl Scout councils have become pass-through workplaces. Few staff stay as long as two years, regarding the jobs as temporary stages in their careers. But younger doesn’t necessarily mean better in terms of employees; it simply means cheaper. How do we get them to put down roots? We could ask new hires to make a two-year commitment. We could also recruit from another demographic—current volunteers. Would empty-nesters, long-time volunteers whose troops have graduated, be interested? They are already  familiar with the program, so they would have less of a learning curve. We can’t build strong relationships and continuity with fleeting partner.

Another point asks you to consider your own communication style:

4. Promote a Culture of Collaboration

The various components of our movement must commit to improving communication, treating others with respect, and not going off to pout in our tents. This is OUR movement. It is up to us to find ways to perpetuate it.

APR23AR07

The old recipe for Brownie Stew applies in the conference room as well as the campsite: everyone brings something to the table—new ideas, hard-earned experience, and enthusiasm, to name a few. Just because an adult wasn’t a member as girl doesn’t mean they can’t contribute today.

We must eliminate the fear of being expelled or fired that intimidates leaders and staff into silence.

Staff must learn to value the contribution of volunteers—that means recognizing the hours they serve as well as the dollars they give. Both forms of contribution are equally vital to the future of our movement.

National, council, staff, volunteer, girl—we’re all part of the same big troop.

…But Keep the Old

Girl Scout careers seem to be getting shorter and shorter. Most of our early CEOs (or “National Directors”) spent a decade or more in one position. But now, programs are launched then fade away because the driving force has hit the road. Who is left to clean up the crumbs?

Past CEOs of GSUSA

The result of staff churn is an unfortunate feeling among volunteers that we can wait you out. Why listen to new procedures when we can be fairly sure that the presenter won’t be around for next year?

No wonder there are so many, many verses for “Make New Friends.”

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Surviving the Big Trip

Surviving the Big Trip

Many Girl Scout troops spend several years working toward a “Big Trip.”

Often it is to one of the World Centers, located in London, Switzerland, Mexico, and India. Perhaps the destination is New York City, Washington DC, or Savannah, Georgia.

The Trip guides badgework, fundraising, camping and field trips that gradually build skills and cooperative behavior.

Planning a Big Trip to Washington DC, from Rockwood Film Strip

For the troop leaders, excitement is tempered by anxiety. How do you take twenty or so girls to the other side of the country; or the world?

(Plus, Girl Scout regulations specify that you must bring home the same number of girls that departed with you. Same number, I suppose you could swap some girls. Or at least threaten to.)

But relax, other volunteers and staff members will help you prepare the girls and yourself. At one time, trip plans had to be approved by the local Girl Scout council.

The Big Trip will make memories that last a lifetime, most of them good!

So, in a belated nod to Leader Appreciation Day, here is 1955 poem composed by a New York leader who took 64 seventh graders on a three-day trip to Washington, DC. And she survived!

Washington 1955 (Leaders’ Ditty)

Washington when Spring is here, to some may seem to be
A gay time, a play time, a time that’s fancy free.

With the blossoms and the buildings and the beauty of the city
To wander o’er and ponder o’er; and it really seems a pity

Or so you’d think, to have to steer wherever you may go
A gaggle of, or straggle of, Girl Scouts both fast and slow.

How very wrong such thoughts would be, the girls add to the fun,
But have no doubts, 64 Girl Scouts can keep you on the run.

They lose their buddies, sing strange songs and roam far and near
And history is a mystery to most of them I fear.

Senior Girl Scouts at Mt. Vernon, from Rockwood filmstrip

They stroll around Mount Vernon, while you revel in it too,
The FBI stands way high in their list of things to view.

Memorials and monuments and museums, where they see
Two-headed babies, gems of rubies – strange things you will agree.

But those they rank as equal to the homes of famous men,
Or the Capitol. They lap it all up – want to go again.

But see these green-clad forms stand still when the Guard is changing o’er
Way, that’s a sound of girls you’re proud of, now and evermore.

And though they give you headaches, if you’re honest, you must say
You’re glad you went, not sad you went, and you loved just every day.

Heading Home, 1950s (Rockwood Collection)

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scouts and Japan, part 2

Let’s return to Japan and keep touring our exhibit on Girl Scouting in that country.

(Need a refresh? Jump back to part 1.)

Our three scrapbooks represent three different US troops and document their activities for about two years. There is some repetition and duplication due to multiple newspapers covering the same event.

What kind of events? The girls living in Okinawa did the same Girl Scout activities as US-based troops. They wore the same uniforms, recited the same Girl Scout Promise, and earned the same badges.

That was the purpose of having Girl Scout troops for families living abroad. Parents knew that their daughters would find a warm welcome and many new friends when they attended their first troop meeting.

Local residents from the Girl Scouts of Japan were often invited to troop meetings to share in the fun.

Twist Me and Turn Me

Courts of Award

Girls of Kaden Air Base receive their First Class pins from base commander Col. William C. Adams. First up is Sammie Towne, while Sharon Foley, Marylin Earl, Martiele Graham, and Kaye Rodgers (USAF Photo)

Active Citizens

Service Projects

Jane Ruiz of Troop 12, Kadena Air Base, presents a Girl Scout handbook to Katherine Newsom of Keystone library. (Note the “Professional Military Books” shelf!).

Mealtime

Square Dancing

Camping

Day Camps for Brownies and Intermediates began in 1957.

Badgework

In addition to regular Girl Scout badges, the American troops on Okinawa created their own badge for learning about Okinawa. The design was apparently used for patches as well. (I’ve also seen a Okinawa troop crest with the red Shinto gate symbol.)

That tradition has carried into modern day, with USAGSO offering badges on Okinawa’s culture and sea life. These can be ordered online.

Shared Activities…

… will be featured in part 3.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scouts Online: Then and Now

Have you ZOOMed yet?

Thanks to the coronavirus quarantine, this program has, well, zoomed its way to prominence.

Schools, hospitals, shuttered businesses and more are using Zoom to create virtual classrooms, meetings, exercise classes, and more.

I had my first experience with the popular video platform yesterday. A group of former staff of IREX, the International Research and Exchanges Board, met online to share war stories about working and living in the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Patch from Snappy Logos

The Girl Scouts have also jumped on the Zoom express, using the platform to hold virtual troop meetings, long-distance staff meetings, discuss program proposals, and to bring guest speakers to the girls. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital held 60 virtual troop meetings last week.

Councils with Annual Meetings scheduled over the next few months are turning to Zoom as well. (As of April 7, 2020, I have no idea what will happen to the National Council Session scheduled for this October.)

Which troop has the privilege of being the first to go virtual?

First Online

Cyber Girl (1998-2010)

That honor goes to a REALLY large troop in western South Dakota. Starting in fall 2002, 2,400 girls worked on badges and service projects from their own, very isolated homes. The Black Hills Council sought to bring Girl Scouts to these girls and GSUSA responded with a new program. The virtual troop covered 34,000 square miles, with an average of six residents per square mile.

Girl Scouts on the Small Screen

In a lower-tech time, GSUSA experimented with training by television. The first programs were done in conjunction with public television stations.

In 1955, only 18 education television stations existed in the United States. One of the 18, the University of Alabama, turned to the local Girl Scouts for program suggestions. The Girl Scouts of Jefferson County had plenty of ideas and eventually came up with a three-month series of programs:

There were to be four programs on leadership of Senior troops, followed by two on outdoor activities and three on ranks and badges. Later, a series of afternoon telecasts was outlined to present a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout demonstrating outdoor skills, crafts, and dramatics.

Leader Magazine (June 1956): 15.
Radio-Television (1963-1979)

When the Camping Caravan (a station-wagon traveling the country and providing outdoor trainings), arrived in Alabama, its training team added their own flourish to the programs.

In one episode, camping expert Kit Hammett fried an egg over a tin-can stove. As the emcee closed the show, Kit flipped over her egg and bread creation to reveal toasty perfection just as the credits began to roll.

The Colorado Springs Council piloted another TV training program in 1958. Staff from the Training Division and the Radio-TV Section in New York created an eight-part series for new leaders. They also created a workbook that applied to all of the 30-minute shows.

A local commercial television station provided free air time for the shows. They were so popular that the council received many inquiries from non-Girl Scouts who had seen the programs and wanted to join.

Technologies and Tradeoffs

Whether on television or in cyberspace, the Girl Scouts have embraced new technologies to bring the movement to its members. But just as in the 1950s, today’s virtual programs risk leaving some girls behind. Girls may live in remote areas with poor internet service, and not every family has a computer. Let’s find a way to include them, too.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scouts and Japan, part 1

The newest history exhibit at the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital is inspired by the capital’s famous cherry trees.

We timed the installation to coincide with the city’s Cherry Blossom Festival.

It was a great idea. Except that the coronavirus decided to come to Washington at the same time. The festival was cancelled, the Girl Scout offices closed.

While the city offers virtual strolls among the blooming trees, we can do the same thing with the exhibit.

One of the three donated scrapbooks from Okinawa

The exhibit draws from three scrapbooks donated by the family of long-time Girl Scout Fran Phoenix. Each album has a heavy black lacquer cover with mother-of-pearl inlay, and each belonged to a different US Girl Scout troop in Okinawa, Japan, in the late 1950s.

Those Pesky Prepositions

(This may get complicated, so grab a buddy. )

The albums were created by US Girl Scout troops in Japan. Their activities are preserved, as well as their many activities with local troops. That means we have Girl Scouts in Japan, Girl Scouts of Japan, and combinations of both.

Plus, the Girl Scouts of Okinawa is a branch of USA Girl Scouts Overseas (which has had many names over time), and Girl Scouts of the Ryukyu Islands is a division of the Girl Scouts of Japan.

This exhibit covers a range of Girl Scout groups in Japan

Not Japanese Girl Guides?

Oh my, this is confusing. Let’s go to the exhibit signs for help. First, the American context:

Yes, Japanese Girl Scouts

Now, the Japanese side. Although their group briefly was Girl Guides, they have proudly been Girl Scouts for nearly a century.

In fact, the Japanese Girl Scout organization has a special online history exhibit marking their 100th birthday.

Japanese Girl Guide troop, 1920s

Got it? We’ll look at some photos and clippings from those scrapbooks in Part 2.

In the meantime, enjoy these images of our exhibit.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Senior Interests, Then and Now

Senior Interests, Then and Now

With the re-launch of Girl Scout Mariner and Trailblazer troops planned for 2020, it is a good time to revisit the original programs.

Senior Girl Scouts did not have their own proficiency badges until Interest Projects were introduced in 1980.

Instead, Senior troops concentrated on specific topics, with a particular emphasis on practical training for service roles. Girls earned small service bar pins, with the color indicating the focus.

Starting in 1955, troops and patrols could choose from five concentrations: Trailblazer, Mountaineer, Explorer, Wing, and Mounted. A “General Interest” path was added in 1958. Seniors wore a 3″ green bordered patch to indicate their focus.

The Mariner program, which launched in 1934, remained separate. The Wing program, dating to 1942, was not as popular as the Mariners and flew into the new framework as one of the five.

Personally, I think if the Wing groups had distinct, spiffy uniforms like the Mariners, they would have been more visible and likely more popular.

Based on girl feedback, the Senior program was tweaked in 1960. New interests were added, unpopular ones dropped, and patches slimmed down to 2.25″. Now Mariners were grouped with everyone else although their patch remained blue.

Senior Explorer patches, 1958 (left) and 1960 (right).

The biggest change came in 1963, when more paths were introduced, such as Community Action, Homemaker, and Arts.

Each focus now had a specific color that was used on the border of the emblem, but also on the tie and hat cord of the uniform.

The 1963 Senior Handbook shows girls with many interests.

But unlike the badges earned at younger levels, there was no earned insignia specific to this program. Instead, the large patches were simply an oversized troop crest.

A new set of four interest patches was introduced in 1974 along with a new Senior Handbook, Options.

The book marked the peak of Girl Scout efforts to be mod, hip, and crunchy granola. It practically came with a choker made of love beads and puka shells. Girls regarded the suggested activities, such as “Mysterious Musical Mood” and “Reading for Pleasure and Profit” as childish and condescending.

Finally, take a close look at the design of these patches. See the gold starburst design in the background? That was taken from the earlier special Senior membership pin.

Many troops simply kept using their trusty 1963 handbook and related interest patches.

In 1980, Options was officially declared dead. Few noticed.

An entirely new set of earned recognitions for Cadettes and Seniors (Ambassadors date only to 2008) came with the Worlds to Explore program. The program retained the “interest project” name, although the name changed several times: Interest Project Award, Interest Project Patch, and Interest Project.

The new program also launched a new highest award for Girl Scouts, the Gold Award.

Now, dear readers, take a good look at the images above. Did you ever notice the sunburst design carried through to the current Gold Award design?

Thank you to members of the Facebook Girl Scout historian community for sharing their experiences with these programs.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Whooo Earned These Pins?

Whooo Earned These Pins?

Does anyone remember the golden pins offered for adult service? There were two programs available between 1987 and 2005.

The Leadership Development Pin was introduced in 1987. A similar Volunteer Development Pin was released in 2003. Both were designed to emphasize long-time service and to be worn for many years.

Leadership Development Pin

The Leadership Development Pin featured a brown owl on a gold metal circle. Five holes had been punched at the bottom of the pin in anticipation of future attachments. Green, silver, and gold leaves could be attached as leaders accumulated credentials.

Basic Requirements

There were four steps to earning the basic, golden circle pin.

  • Complete one year as a troop leader or co-leader.
  • Complete basic leadership training.
  • Attend at least two meetings or events beyond the troop, such as service unit meetings, council annual meetings, or Thinking Day celebrations.
  • Secure camp certified and first aid trained adults for the troop.

Once the basic pin was completed, leaves could be awarded for additional training. One green leaf signified ten hours. Five green leaves could be exchanged for one silver leaf; five silvers (250 hours) merited one gold leaf.

The big problem with the “Owl Pin” was the leaves. They were tiny; no larger than a grain of rice. The main pin itself was less than an inch in diameter. Thus, by the time members accumulated silver and gold leaves, they needed reading glasses.

At least one of my leaves was possessed by demons. That’s the only explanation for the chaos that ensued the last time I tried to attach a new leaf:

Step 1: Gather pins, leaves, and jewelry tools.

Step 2: Recoil in horror as one leaf flies out of your fingers.

Step 3: Shake keyboard vigorously to remove leaf now lodged between keys. Retrieve and repeat.

Step 4: Attach leaf. Scowl as pinback snaps off, leaving a useless disc.

Fly Away, Fly Away

Like too many Girl Scout programs, the Leadership Development pin was never officially discontinued. It was last seen in the 2005 Girl Scout catalog.

Volunteer Service Award

The 2003 catalog introduced a new recognition, the Volunteer Service Award. Dubbed the “key pin,” it was even more complicated (and expensive) than the owl pin series.

From the 2003 Girl Scout catalog

Basic Requirements

The Volunteer pin continued the pin + dangles concept but focused on non-troop service. The main pin could be earned by completing one year:

  • On a board committee
  • On an appointed task group
  • On a service unit management team
  • On an association team or
  • As a GSUSA National Operational Volunteer.

After earning the main pin, volunteers could earn keys for additional service:

  • White: GS Mentoring Award
  • Black: GS Executive Award
  • Gold: GS Diversity Award
  • Silver: GS Community Cultivation
  • Copper: GS Fund Development

I could provide more detailed explanations of these categories, but typing them out would require more time than the pin was in existence. It also disappeared after 2005.

Alas, I am leafless and keyless

After the Great Leaf Debacle, I didn’t bother with the key pin. I don’t think many other volunteers did either.

Some programs never die, they just get stuck in the nooks and crannies of keyboards, junk drawers, backpacks, and couch cushions.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scout EXPO 2019

The 2019 GSCNC Expo is History!

Green bordered patch reading Expo 2019, Girl Scouts Nation's Capital

The Saturday, November 16, 2019 event was truly one for the record books.

9,000 girls explored the Dulles Expo Center in three-hour blocks. There was singing, archery, tent-pitching relays, robotics, book signings, and, of course, history.

The Archives and History Committee ran a booth with history-themed games. Linda Paulson taught girls how to play “Name that Cookie,” answer council history questions, and match new badges with their vintage counterparts. Girls received a “vintage” patch prize from our surplus. Most were excited to realize that the patch was older than the girl!

History-themed games

The booth also had a collection of Girl Scout dolls and displays about founder Juliette Gordon Low. Our own Susan “Daisy” Ducey posed for photos with girls all day.

Girl Scouts met their “founder,” Juliette Gordon Low (photo by Lisa Jackson)

But the Council History team didn’t settle for just one little old booth. No, not us! We also provided international uniforms on mannequins for another booth.

We proudly watched Archives Program Aide Vivian moderate a presentation.

Archives Program Aide Vivian (left) hosted one discussion session (GSCNC)

We welcomed our own special guest, Margaret Seiler, who told stories about her Great Aunt Daisy. Her presentation helped younger Girl Scouts understand that Juliette Gordon Low was a real person, not just a character in a book.

Last, but hardly least, we organized three vintage uniform fashion shows, one show per session. Ginger Holinka fitted girl (and a few adult) models on the spot, while Julie Lineberry emceed the show. Members of the audience gave special applause for “their” childhood uniforms and came away understanding how uniforms changed in response to fashion trends, war-time shortages, new fabrics, and the need for girls to move, move, move.  

The Committee owes a deep debt to Lisa Jackson and Dena McGuiggan Baez, leaders who found replacement uniform models when others dropped out at the last minute. They saved the show!!

The last Council Expo was held in 2006. Many people have asked why it took so long to organize another. After Saturday’s experience, I know I will need at least 13 years to recover. But maybe I’ll pencil another one in on my calendar, just to save the date.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

To the Moon, Girl Scout!

Where were you when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon? You’ve probably been asked that question and heard many answers today, as we mark the 50th anniversary of that event.

Out of the blue, I received the following memory today from Lisa Wilson:

In the summer of 1969 my best friend, Jane Conable, and I were 12 year old campers at May Flather. It was our first time sleeping in a platform tent, eating (and cleaning up!!) in a mess hall, and searching for snakes along wooded trails. It was also our first and only time getting woken up in the middle of the night to sit around the campfire circle gazing into the cool blue light of a black & white TV set that had been connected to an outlet via a long, LONG extension cord so that us privileged “older” campers could watch the moon landing live. We had to watch in total silence so as not to wake the younger campers and that spectacular silence still rings in my ears today whenever I think about Apollo 11. The juxtaposition of nature and technology was breath taking.

The first Star Gazer badge was introduced in 1920. Since then, astronomy and space science badges have been created for nearly every age level.

The years of encouragement have paid off.

GSUSA CEO Sylvia Acevedo credits her Brownie leader with fueling her interest in space. That interest led to a degree in engineering and job with NASA. (Read about her career in her book, Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist.)

Nearly every female astronaut has been a Girl Scout, a fact that led NASA to create this splendid poster:

NASA: The Path to High Adventure Begins with Scouting
NASA: The Path to High Adventure Begins with Scouting

This week NASA set a new lunar goal: to return to the moon by 2024, with at least one female astronaut on board.

Chances are, she’ll be a Girl Scout.

©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