Collect, Preserve, or Document?

I was so excited by a new item that popped up on eBay earlier this month.

Designated as volume 1, number 1, The Girl Scouts’ Rally Bulletin is the public record of the first national convention, which was held in Washington in 1915. It was compiled by Edna Colman, the local commissioner.

Tableaux 1915

In 1915 local troops put on a demonstration for convention delegates, including this representation of Justice, Liberty, and Peace.

This 32-page booklet includes highlights from troops across the country, including Washington. It also has a uniform price list (hats, $1.25; middy blouses, $1.75, etc.), and the names and addresses of troop leaders from every state.

The Nation’s Capital council archival holdings are surprisingly thin on the early history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC. While council consolidation has brought the records of many legacy councils into a central location, our historical records are scattered across multiple sites. It takes some ingenuity, detailed searching, and sometimes pure luck, to track down information about our earliest days.

The main problem is that our early history is so closely entwined with that of the national movement. The first troops in and around the District of Columbia were managed out of the Munsey Building, where Juliette Gordon Low established the first national headquarters in 1913. Records from those years are more likely to be found at the JGL Birthplace or the First Headquarters in Savannah.

 

Little House Booklet Cover

Cover of 1923 booklet about the Little House

After national headquarters moved to New York, the national Little House opened in Washington, and the local council rented one room of the house to use as its headquarters. When the Little House closed in 1945, some of its files went to New York, but others went to Rockwood, a national Girl Scout camp just across the District of Columbia—Maryland border. When Rockwood closed, its files and fixtures went everywhere … but that is another story.

 

Surprisingly, some of the best information I’ve found about our early years comes from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa. Lou Henry Hoover’s role in the first years of Girl Scouting cannot be understated, and archivists there have been very generous about scanning documents for me.

Another source, the first Girl Scout magazine, The Rally (1917-20), published a regular column about the Girl Scouts of Washington.

But back to eBay. The asking price for this booklet? Nearly $600!! Pardon while I grab the smelling salts. This was a 30-day auction, now ended, and the price was slashed several times. The final price was $299.99. It did not sell.

1915 Bulletin

At first, I was furious. This was highway robbery! Holding our history hostage for a huge ransom! Unfair!

Then I looked closer. The listing included numerous photos of various pages and ended with the statement:

Early enough, very rare and important enough to be a museum piece according to my research. I could not find another one like it. I could only find a PDF version at Girl Scouts University, Girl Scout History & Preservation. RESEARCH IT!

So I did.

GSU Pin

Girl Scout University pin

The website is still up for Girl Scout University, another promising idea that GSUSA quietly abandoned and allowed to die of neglect.

 

I downloaded a good-quality PDF that added several new pages to our history.

The thing is, even if I had an extra $300 or $600 sitting around, there is no way I could justify the cost. I see my task as documenting history, not necessarily collecting examples of everything Girl Scout. While it is important to have artifacts that can be held and experienced, we wouldn’t pass around a century-old, original report anyway. We would scan it, lock it away carefully, and work with a copy. Which is exactly what we now have. And it didn’t cost us $300.

A few days after I first saw this auction, I received a priceless donation of original documents from essentially the same time period.

I’ll share that in a few days…

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

 

Rockwood Open House

Tomorrow, January 20, 2018, Montgomery County Parks will host an open house at Rockwood Manor Park in Potomac, Maryland, from 11 am to 3 pm. Open Houses are offered several times a year for brides and other people considering the venue for an event.

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The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

Rockwood was a national Girl Scout camp from 1938 to 1978. The neighborhood was largely rural in the camp’s early years, but as new houses and neighborhoods expanded, Rockwood staff reached out to make new friends. One open house was held in 1950.

 

RW Open House

Washington Post, March 17, 1950.

 

Visitors in 1950 might have found a troop preparing meals, a family camping together, or perhaps Brownies splashing in the stream.

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While some neighbors were not pleased to discover latrines near their homes (and they are long gone!), many groups near the camp considered it an asset.  Boy Scouts, church groups, and schools all used the facilities for meetings and occasional retreats.

One of the most successful Rockwood-community partnerships began in 1959, when a group of five women from the town of  Potomac asked if they could use Rockwood’s commercial kitchen to mash potatoes for the 1,000 guests expected to attend their church’s yearly community dinner.

Kitchen

Staff working in Rockwood’s Kitchen, 1950s (GSUSA/NHPC)

The meetings of the “Potato Mashers Guild” became so popular that many of the ladies offered to be on “stand-by” to volunteer as needed at the camp. The ladies hosted birthday parties for Guild members at Rockwood and even picnicked one summer at Rockwood director Ida May Born’s beach house.

 

 

 

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Rockwood kitchen equipment abandoned in June 1983. Is that the potato peeler in the center? (Photo by Patricia Cornish)

 

Another strong relationship developed with Potomac Elementary School. Students would come to Rockwood for science lessons and nature walks, while Rockwood’s kitchen staff would pitch in at the school cafeteria if needed.

After weeks of sub-freezing temperatures here in Washington, DC, tomorrow is forecast to reach nearly 60º. Seems like an ideal day to visit Rockwood, located at 11001 MacArthur Blvd, Potomac, Maryland 20854.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Who’s That Girl Scout? Jane Nicolet Toal

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Jane Toal in her Mariner uniform.

Our Archives and History Committee lost one of its original members last month, Jane Toal.  I never met Jane, she had gone into assisted living around the time I joined the Committee, but I heard her name often from other members.

Now that I’ve had a chance to read her obituary and read some of the tributes to her, I especially regret never making her acquaintance. Her life story is a testament to Girl Scouts and STEM programs.

Jane Nicolet was born in 1921 and grew up in Riverdale, Maryland, outside Washington. She joined a Girl Scout troop in 1931, at age 9½. She seems to have seized every opportunity that came her way: she was in the first local Senior troop, led by Lucy Knox. The troop helped prepare Rockwood National Center to receive its first campers in 1937. Lucy and other girls spent many weekends reupholstering furniture at Rockwood and sleeping on the floor of Carolyn Cottage.

Jane also was involved in the activities of the Little House, including once serving a meal to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Little House Lunch

Eleanor Roosevelt (second from right) enjoys a “15 cent lunch” in the Little House dining room, 1933 (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

 

She quickly became a regular figure at Camp May Flather, living in each of the various units and co-editing the camp newspaper, the Mountain Log.

Jane Nicolet Toal Golden Eaglet Original copy

Washington Post, June 11, 1939.

Jane was awarded the prestigious Golden Eaglet on June 10, 1939.

 

She left the Washington area for college, first to Oberlin College and then to Cornell University, where she earned a master’s degree in biochemistry. Upon graduation, she took a job at Rutgers University. After a brief marriage, she led an Intermediate troop in New Jersey.

Jane returned to Washington in 1947 to accept a research position at the National Institutes of Health.  She spent the next 30 years conducting structural studies of DNA and RNA.

She bought a boat in 1950 and taught herself to sail. When she heard about a Mariner Girl Scout troop forming in the area she signed on. She stayed with the Mariner program for 27 years, taking full advantage of the nearby Chesapeake Bay.  She proudly wore her Mariner uniform for official events and led a Bethesda-based troop from 1964 to 1977.

Over the years, Jane kept sailing, but she did add to her outside interests. She rode with the Iron Bridge Hunt and the Howard County Hunt until her 90th birthday and was an active member of the Trail Riders of Today.  She was also part of the devoted crew that maintains the historic carousel at Glen Echo park. For decades, she rallied troops that turned out to polish the brass on the carousel before it opens for the season.

Glen Echo

Jane organizes Girl Scouts polishing the Glen Echo Carousel, 2008 (photo courtesy of Jennifer Manguera)

 

 

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Jane Toal’s homemade Mariner doll.

It is a shame that a woman once so involved in our Council’s History programs never was able to visit our now two-year old Program Center in Frederick, Maryland.  But we do have a homemade doll that she donated years ago. With bright red hair, it even looks a bit like her.

The doll is prominently displayed at the Center, a small way to keep Jane involved in Girl Scout history.

 

Special thank you to Julie Lineberry, whose previous profile of Jane was essential for this post.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Letters from Camp #2

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

 

Manor House

Rockwood Manor Postcard (GSCNC Archives)

 

Dear Aunt Elsie,

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

Much love,

Barbara

October 1966

 

Weston Lodge

Weston Lodge, Rockwood National Camp (GSCNC Archives)

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

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

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

Nancy

April 1965

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Don’t Buy Cookies from an Aardvark

I found this treasure in one of our cookie boxes at the GSCNC Archives & History Program Center in Frederick, MD. (An archival box of cookie sale materials, not a box of actual cookies, although I could use one right now…)

It is a letter-size sheet of paper, folded and printed as a booklet, that tells the story of Girl Scout cookies:

aardvark-front

(GSCNC Archives)

aardvark-tale-1

(GSCNC Archives)

aardvark-tale-2

(GSCNC Archives)

The back cover, in tiny print, reads “J. Moore, 51-4 GSCNC.” I assume that this is the work of Jean Moore, who was once an active member of Nation’s Council (and a plaintiff in the Rockwood case).

I suspect there’s a good story behind this delightful tale.

If it has made you half as hungry as it’s made me, try out the Girl Scout Cookie Locator to find cookies close to your location. Look for the girls in green, blue, brown, or khaki, and beware any aardvarks.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Brownies and Blair House

Tradition holds that the president-elect spends the night before his inauguration at Blair House, the “President’s Guest House” at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

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Blair House (Carol Highsmith)

But what do you know about the Blairs?  The family produced several prominent American statesmen—and one very spunky Girl Scout leader, Edith Blair Staton.

Edith’s grandfather, Montgomery Blair (1813-1883), studied law at my alma mater, Transylvania University in Lexington, KY, and his most famous client was the fugitive slave Dred Scott. Blair moved to Washington in 1852 and became Lincoln’s Postmaster General in 1861.

The family’s “country house,” Falkland, was the earliest residence in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Today, Montgomery Blair is the namesake of one of the largest high schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

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Edith Blair Staton, 1924 passport photo

Edith arrived at Blair House on September 6, 1896, and was the last baby born at the residence. She married a young naval officer, Adolphus Staton, on July 28, 1917.

While her husband was at sea, the young bride took the helm of a Girl Scout troop. When the girls were preparing for their first camping trip and realized they had no bedrolls or other equipment, Edith went to her hope chest, stored in her attic of her parents’ home, and took her brand new wedding linen into the woods!

Edith threw herself into Girl Scouting and met founder Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah in 1922, where Daisy taught her how to stand on her head.

When Girl Scout leaders decided to adapt the British Brownie program for younger girls in the United States, Edith was recruited to help launch the program. She organized the first Brownie “Pow-Wow” for prospective leaders in November 1922. She had the perfect venue for a large meeting–Manor Country Club. Her uncle’s club was about to open and the meeting offered a good dress rehearsal opportunity for the staff.

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Logo for the First Brownie Pow-Wow in 1922 (GS Collector’s Guide)

Edith Blair Staton thus became the first Great Brown Owl, the main Brownie leader for the United States.

Edith remained active in Girl Scouting for most of her adult life. She was a member of the advisory committee for the Rockwood National Camp and was president of the District of Columbia council.

Edith passed away in 2001, at the age of 104. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Admiral Staton.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

 

Girl Scout Exhibit at Rockwood Manor

The Girl Scouts have returned to Rockwood Manor Park!

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Uniform display in Rockwood’s Manor House (photo courtesy Montgomery County, MD, Parks)

Rockwood is, of course, one of my favorite Girl Scout topics.

I am nearly done writing a book-length history of this beautiful facility, which was a national Girl Scout camp from 1938 to 1978.  Its sale to developers in 1978 triggered a class-action lawsuit filed by the Maryland Attorney General and nine individual Girl Scouts. A pre-trial settlement resulted in roughly 75% of the property going to the developers (who created a subdivision with the terrifically uncreative name of “Woodrock”) and 25% to the local parks department.

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The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

While the settlement also called for the creation of a Girl Scout room filled with memorabilia and nature resources, the room’s prime location in the Manor House meant that it was gradually converted into a small office and storage area.

But out of the blue, I was contacted a few months ago by Jamie Kuhns, senior historian for the Montgomery County Parks. A uniform had recently been donated to her office, and she was in charge of creating a Girl Scout-themed display for the Manor House, Rockwood’s main building. Would I be interested in collaborating?

YES!!!!!!!!!!

(That’s actually my family’s reaction; they are SO glad I have someone else to talk Rockwood with.)

I met with Jamie, who told me the uniform had been donated by Barbara Lages. I reviewed the display text, answered questions about various people, buildings, and events; provided a photo or two; and replaced the missing yellow tie for the uniform.

Jamie also had several pictures she wanted to incorporate into the display.  I immediately recognized two of the photos, as they include Bobby Lerch, the beloved former president of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. Both images show Bobby investing  her granddaughter, also named Barbara, as a Brownie around 1964. Troop leader Jessie Bradley Lerch also took part in the investiture.

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GSCNC President Bobby Lerch, left, invests her granddaughter Barbara as a Brownie, c. 1964 (GSCNC archives)

Bobby remained an active Girl Scout until her death at age 104. She also wrote the Foreword to my book on the history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.

The display case was dedicated in late November 2016. Next, I look forward to consulting with Jamie as she creates new signage around the grounds of Rockwood.

©2016 Ann Robertson