Camp Rockwood and Segregation

When did Rockwood, the national Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC, desegregate?

That’s a trick question. Rockwood Girl Scout Camp was established in 1938 to expand the principle “for all girls.”

Three uniformed girls in front of a large wooden sign with white letters
Seniors greet each other at the camp’s entrance (Marler Studio)

When owner Carolyn Caughey drew up her final will in 1935, she specifically designated the national organization (GSUSA) as her beneficiary, not the Washington DC Council (GS-DC).*

stern, elderly woman with pince nez glasses
Carolyn Caughey c. 1924 (doesn’t she look fun?)

Her lawyer believed that Mrs. Caughey had made that distinction because GS-DC still practiced segregation in the 1930s; the national organization did not. As a national property, Rockwood would be available to all Girl Scouts—regardless of their race. She wanted to be involved in transforming her country estate into a Girl Scout camp and especially wanted to include a swimming pool, as all pools in the area were White only.

Mrs. Caughey had a distinct aversion to racial discrimination, perhaps influenced by the strong abolitionist sentiments of her native Ohio. This belief is reflected in two wills written before she purchased Rockwood. First, she sought to endow two hospitals in Pennsylvania–for native-born Northerners only. A few years later, she decided her estate would be used to build “The Caughey Memorial Building” at Sibley Hospital in Washington. This facility would have been reserved for “sick volunteer soldiers of the Union Army, and their descendants.”

Washington may have been a national city, but it still held strong southern beliefs in the early twentieth century. Segregation was widespread. While it would be three decades before integrated troops formed, Girl Scouting thrived within Washington’s Black community.

black woman in early Girl Scout uniform
Virginia McGuire, early Girl Scout leader (GSCNC archives)

Members of the Council Board, including President Carol Phelps Stokes, resolved to reach out to this underserved community. Rockwood arrived while GS-DC was making its first tentative steps toward accepting African American members. In 1934, Mrs. Phelps Stokes personally asked Virginia McGuire, head of the District of Columbia NAACP, to form a Black troop in Washington. Mrs. McGuire accepted the invitation, after being assured “that the program developed would be identical in every way with that followed by all other districts.”

Washington’s Black Girl Scouts were excluded from attending the local council’s flagship Camp May Flather until 1955. A national camp close to Washington would dramatically expand the outdoor opportunities available to Black troops.

Mrs. Caughey’s attorney had advised her to include up-front funds in her will so GSUSA would not be stuck with a property it could not afford to use. She had the money (about $300,000) thanks to her successful real estate investments.

But, Mrs. Caughey also wanted to provide for her husband, if he survived her. Her solution was to distribute half of the estate upon his death and the balance 20 years later. Mr. Caughey, a sickly man in his 70s, surprised everyone by outliving his wife by 12 years.

With disbursement in the uncertain future, GSUSA brokered a cost-sharing agreement with GS-DC, whereby locals paid for initial operating expenses now, and they would be reimbursed once funds became available. GS-DC troops began using the camp in 1938 although capacity then was less than 30 girls.

When GSUSA drew up plans to expand the camp after World War II, GS-DC raised the race issue. GS-DC officials strongly opposed allowing Black troops to use Rockwood, and the issue threatened to break the cost-sharing agreement. According to GSUSA camping staff:

The Washington Council does not feel that it can accept any responsibility for Rockwood if troop camping by negro groups is allowed by National. This could be controlled in the Washington area, but negro groups from other states may apply for weekends from time to time. Washington feels that if a negro group is accepted, the camp will soon become completely colored.

National’s response was swift: “The facilities of the camp are open to any Girl Scout group in the country provided such group has sufficiently trained leaders and applies for reservations a month in advance.” Case closed.

Rockwood became a highly popular destination for all troops. It averaged 15,000 visitors per year, and reservations had to be booked up to two years in advance.

The camp welcomed girls from across the United States, and was especially popular with troops from segregated areas. A troop of 12th graders from Charlottesville, Virginia, for example, came to Rockwood because they wanted one camping experience before they graduated, and their own council refused to let them use any council campsite.

Trainers from GS-DC frequently scheduled classes at Rockwood so that adult volunteers from nearby councils could attend. As long as segregation was still practiced in the region, interracial groups could not camp together overnight. 

Before it was sold in 1978, Rockwood was a gathering place for all Girl Scouts. Making new friends was as important as seeing the White House.

At a time when few families could afford international travel, and most Americans could go their entire lives without meeting a “foreigner,” Rockwood expanded their world. A troop from a bleak Pennsylvania coal mining town could meet “a real live Girl Guide from England,” who spent the day sightseeing with them. They might meet girls with physical challenges and discover that a wheelchair was no barrier to making smores.

Rockwood was a place where a White troop from Louisiana could invite a Black troop from Ohio to an evening campfire program and discover they knew the same songs and stories.

It was an atmosphere where friendship and sisterhood transcended differences.

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

*During the 1930s, the Washington DC council saw most surrounding counties establish their own councils to better serve local communities. Only Montgomery County Maryland–where Rockwood was located–stayed with the Washington organization. In 1963, Washington and the surrounding councils reunited, forming a new council: Nation’s Capital. “GS-DC” is a shorthand for the various versions of the Washington DC council.

Mystery of the Lou Henry Hoover Portrait

Who switched the Lou Henry Hoover portraits at Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp?

As I finalized the photos for Rescue Rockwood, my history of the national Girl Scout camp, I realized that the portrait of the former first lady and Girl Scout national president had been switched. When did that happen? Why?

The ballroom in the Manor House at Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp was dedicated in honor of Lou Henry Hoover on May 24, 1955.

(Yes, the camp had a ballroom, where else would they hang the chandeliers? That’s another story …)

The ceremony brought dozens of women to the camp in Potomac, Maryland, to enjoy a spring day with choral readings, songs, and lemonade.

Singers on terrace of large brick dwelling
Manor House with Performers
Young girl in straw hat draws curtains away from portrait of woman and her elkhound.
Little Lou and the original Rockwood portrait of her grandmother.

The room dedication culminated with Mrs. Hoover’s granddaughter, “Little Lou,” unveiling a portrait of the former first lady. The painting was based on a photograph by Barton Crandall of Palo Alto, California, and showed Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform, sitting alongside Weegie, her Norwegian elkhound.

When GSUSA sold Rockwood to residential developers in 1978, it only retained a few items, including the Hoover portrait and the chandeliers. GSUSA’s representatives repeatedly stated that the “chandelier … belonged to Mrs. Herbert Hoover.” That is simply not true. Rockwood’s original owner, Carolyn Caughey, scavenged building materials from the old British Embassy when the UK diplomats moved to newer facilities.

GSUSA also wanted the portrait of Mrs. Hoover.

Distinguished woman in vintage Girl Scout uniform.
The other Hoover portrait

I had assumed it was the original portrait with Weegie. But in photos taken in 1983, when items were being boxed to ship to New York, it’s a different portrait!! Mrs. Hoover is still wearing her uniform, but where’s Weegie?

I scoured the many boxes of materials in GSUSA’s Property: Rockwood collection. No mention.

Finding the answer took some detective work and more than a little luck.

Clue #1

During a recent research trip to the GSUSA archives, I stumbled upon several helpful clues. According to the Rockwood monthly report for May 1972, “A portrait in oils of Mrs. Herbert Hoover, which has been in storage at Headquarters, was received and hung in the Manor House over the Hoover Room fireplace.”

This monthly report was filed not with the other decades of monthly reports, but in a “Non-Federally Funded Projects: Rockwood, Quota Pathways” folder. I may write on “Quota Pathways” some day; but, for now, trust me that it has nothing to do with Lou Henry Hoover or painting. Or elkhounds, for that matter.

Clue #2

The second painting does show up on GSUSA’s archival system. The inventory entry notes that it was painted by Gleb Ilyin, and “cut down to half-length … in 1952.”

Portrait of Lou Henry Hoover by Gleb Ilyin
Painting entry in GSUSA inventory

If it had been on display at headquarters, why was it sent to Rockwood? And why was it cut down?

Clue #3

Newspaper accounts from 1930 report that the painting had been commissioned by the Girl Scouts of California (specifically Palo Alto) as a gift to the national organization. Gleb Ilyin was a well-regarded portraitist and selected because his “strong, virile style should do full justice to Mrs. Hoover’s kind of beauty.” Mrs. Hoover sat for six one-hour sessions at the White House.

Gleb Ilyin biography
Gleb Ilyin Bio
Man in artist smock stands before painting of patrician woman in a Girl Scout uniform
Lou Hoover Portrait by Gleb Ilyin

The completed portrait was enormous. At 6.5 feet x 4.5 feet, the image was larger than life. The portrait was dedicated in 1931 and hung at the national Girl Scout headquarters, at 670 Lexington Avenue, New York City.

When GSUSA moved to larger offices the following year, the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York moved into the building. GSUSA left the portrait behind, thinking Greater New York would display it. However, Greater New York thought GSUSA had taken the painting with them. Meanwhile, Lou was lost and alone, relegated to the building’s basement.

Clue #4

Seventeen years later, in 1949, a New York gossip columnist reported:

Jack Scott, owner of the Lexington Avenue Restaurant, found a 15-foot portrait of Mrs. Herbert Hoover in the basement of his place, which formerly was headquarters for the Girl Scouts of America. He’ll present the picture–which shows Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform–to the former President.

Dorothy Kilgallen, “The Voice of Broadway”


When it learned of the column, GSUSA sprang into action. National Director Constance Rittenhouse insisted that the painting was neither lost nor abandoned. Rather, GSUSA and Greater New York each thought the other had it.

By now, Mr. Scott had already delivered the painting to President Hoover’s apartment at the Waldorf Astoria, and GSUSA dispatched several people to retrieve the massive artwork.

Distinguished woman in vintage uniform standing in doorway
Lou Henry Hoover at the entrance to the Little House

While the painting had not actually doubled in size, as the column implied, GSUSA had no appropriate place to display it in its current office. Instead, the painting was sent to Washington DC and GSUSA’s Region III field office, then at the Girl Scout Little House. Since Mrs. Hoover had been instrumental in securing the facility for the Girl Scouts, it seemed appropriate.

The portrait lived in a cramped office until Region III moved to new accommodations a few blocks away. When a staff member unboxed the painting–using a BUTCHER KNIFE–she accidentally slashed the canvas.

Staff members were distraught, until they realized that repairing the knife wound provided a good opportunity to cut down the image. Artist Ilyin was consulted, and he gave them his blessing.

With a new frame, the reduced canvas was 42″ x 35″; still a large painting.

The portrait bounced around for the next few years. Other GSUSA offices and national centers were offered the picture, but none were interested. When the Region III office moved in 1960, the smaller canvas was boxed, sent from Washington to New York, and put into another basement. A dozen years later, it was shipped back to Washington, specifically to Rockwood.

The portrait took pride of place in the Hoover Room for the next 10 years. When Rockwood was sold to developers, the portrait was one of a handful of items that GSUSA wanted to keep.

Long-time Rockwood caretaker Brice Nash personally drove the chandelier and several paintings to the Macy Center, located outside New York City in 1983, but the trail goes cold then.

In 2006 the National Portrait Museum inquired about the portrait. Venerable Girl Scout historian Mary Degenhardt replied:

While many of the items at Rockwood were returned to Girl Scout National Headquarters before the sale, there is no record of what happened to this portrait. It may still be at Rockwood.

Mary Degenhardt

Obviously, the painting has been located since 2006. Hopefully Lou enjoys her current accommodations.

That’s one mystery solved, but the original portrait also appears to have vanished without a trace. Where’s Weegie?

© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian

Rescue Rockwood: New Girl Scout History Book

At very long last, my Girl Scout history book, Rescue Rockwood, has been released!

Between 1938 and 1978, a half-million people visited Rockwood, the Girl Scout national camp in the nation’s capital. When members discovered it had been sold to developers, nine local Girl Scouts sued GSUSA to save their treasured gathering place. 

Packed with photos and eye-witness stories, Rescue Rockwood traces the development of the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Girl Scouts of Washington DC alongside the drive to preserve Rockwood.

Women in vintage dresses holding protest signs in front of brick mansion
Rescue Rockwood Cover

Amazon has both paperback and e-book/Kindle versions available.


The Knickerbocker Disaster and the Girl Scout Connection

This weekend marks the centennial of Washington DC’s Knickerbocker Theater Disaster of January 28, 1922. Most Washingtonians know that it is connected with the city’s largest snowstorm. But there is also an important Girl Scout connection.

Epic Snow Storm

After a snowstorm dumped 28 inches of snow on the city, cabin fever led some residents to hike to the Knickerbocker Theatre at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. Not all staff had made it in to work that evening, but the show went on, with patrons ready to watch the silent movie Get Rich Quick, Wallingford!

Knickerbocker Theater before collapse
Knickerbocker Theatre
Knickerbocker theater after collapse
Aftermath of Collapse

Above their heads, snow had been accumulating on the building’s flat, steel-and-concrete roof for days. The combined weight was more than the roof could bear. Suddenly, the audience heard a hissing sound.  A faint cloud of white plaster dust beginning to swirl above the orchestra—or was it snow? It seemed to glimmer in the dark theater.

With a thunderous crack, the roof collapsed under the weight of the snow, falling in one giant slab. The roof had caught the front edge of the balcony and pulled it down on top of the orchestra and the patrons seated below. People sitting in the front rows of the balcony were catapulted from their seats into the rows below. The rear of the balcony remained attached to the wall, dangling ominously over the enormous pile of twisted iron and steel, concrete slabs, plaster dust, and audience. The downward force created a huge blast of air that blew open the auditorium doors and propelled some late arrivals into the lobby. The collapse lasted less than a minute.

It would take hours for rescuers to clear the debris, soldiers came from nearby bases to help. But they soon heard a clear voice calling out. It was a woman’s voice, it belonged to 26-year old Helen Hopkins, leader of Girl Scout Troop 8.

Help Arrives

Trapped under four steel girders, a stunned Helen could hear the agonized cries of the wounded and dying around her and realized that she, too was seriously injured.  Blinking in the darkness and struggling to breathe through the thick plaster dust caked on her face and trying to remain calm, Helen began to evaluate her injuries. One arm was pinned under the rubble and useless, and the other one badly swollen, but she reached out to her friend Freddie, and found his hand. She held Freddie’s hand until it grew cold as he succumbed to his injuries. The man who had been seated on her other side lay dead, as well. She saw other people lying around her, but all appeared motionless and silent. 

Helen tried to remember her first aid training. All of her girls had earned their First Aide proficiency badges. Their handbooks spelled out what to do in an emergency, starting with “Keep cool. The only way to do this effectually is to learn beforehand what to do and how to do it. Then you are not frightened and can do readily and with coolness whatever is necessary to be done.” Helen took the deepest breath should could and struggled to focus her thoughts. 

Helen believed she was in shock. She knew had to get her blood to circulate throughout her body, so she began pinching her body using her thumb and forefinger, although the two could hardly meet, her hand was so enlarged. If nothing else, the sheer pain that resulted gave her something to focus on and helped her to remain conscious. She could hardly move her head, as her long hair was caught on some piece of debris, but she was determined to live. 

Rescuers worked slowly, but Helen could hear them inside the dark theater. Gathering her remaining strength, using the loud, strong voice she’d honed on troop hikes and in the church choir, she called out to the rescuers. 

“Help!  Over here!  We need help over here!”

Helen Hopkins

But help did not arrive immediately, so Helen continued to shout. 

Finally someone answered Helen’s calls. Realizing that she had their attention, Helen began directing the rescuers to her location and that of people hidden under debris around her.  She also sang song after song, trying to cheer other survivors, urging them to hang on just a little bit longer. 

Finally, a patch of daylight shone onto Helen. After hours in the dark, she had been found. It took soldiers nearly four hours to dig her out of the rubble. Rescuers had to cut off some of her long blond hair that was tangled into the debris. 


Helen was the first trapped victim to be removed from the theater alive. Soldiers carried her out of the theater on a stretcher and across the street to the Christian Science church. Weak and confused, she called out, “Mother, it was the everlasting arms that saved me!” She was loaded into an ambulance, which sped away, rocking from side to side over snow drifts, and taken to Garfield Hospital on Florida Avenue NW. Thanks to her clear instructions, ten other survivors were located and removed to safety. 

Drawing of women trapped under rubble
Helen won $10 for her story in a 1939 Philadelphia Inquirer Contest

The soldiers “could not find words in which to praise her courage and when they attempted to tell her of their admiration, she said that she was a Girl Scout and could do no less.”

Praise for Helen

Helen’s story quickly spread throughout Washington, as newspaper readers were eager to have a happy ending to balance the sadness of the 98 lives lost and some 133 people injured. She became a celebrity, with newspapers across the country providing updates on her condition and mentioning that she was a Girl Scout leader.  First Lady Florence Harding sent Helen a large, autographed photograph of herself in her own Girl Scout uniform, with her dog Laddie Boy nearby. Mrs. Harding regularly sent bouquets to Helen while she recuperated at home. 

Girl Scouts of the USA awarded Helen the Bronze Cross, a recognitions reserved for persons displaying gallantry, resourcefulness, and personal peril while saving the lives of others.  She would be the first Girl Scout from Washington to receive the honor. 

Group photo of early Girl Scouts with khaki uniforms and hats
Helen Hopkins receives medal and flowers from Girl Scout President Lou Henry Hoover, as her troop watches.

Lou Henry Hoover, then national president of the Girl Scouts, hosted the medal ceremony at her home in Georgetown. Each local troop was allowed to send one member, and all of Helen’s troop was invited. Troop 8 assembled in the Hoover’s garden for the ceremony, dressed in freshly washed and ironed uniforms.  In addition to their leaders outstanding honor, the girls were allowed to hold their own Court of Awards ceremony at this time. Helen had recently married and was moving to Philadelphia, but the girls had a replacement– Mrs. Hoover.

Another Girl Scout Connection

Among the people following Helen’s story was her mother’s close friend, Carolyn Gangwer Caughey. Carolyn had amassed a considerable sum of money by buildings and managing apartment buildings. Impressed by the Girl Scout program, she decided to leave her entire estate to the Girl Scouts of the USA. The centerpiece of this gift was Carolyn’s country home–Rockwood.

Drawing of country house with trees
Rescue Rockwood Patch

But that’s another story, to be continued in the spring ….

For more about the Knickerbocker disaster, see the two books written by my pal, Kevin Ambrose.

The WAVES at Rockwood National Camp

When the United States entered World War II, Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp joined the war effort. Washington had faced a housing shortage for years. Local officials created a Defense Housing Registry that became a model for the rest of the country. Accommodations for women were especially scarce.

In June 1942 the National Housing Agency asked former National Girl Scout President Henrietta Bates Brooke for permission to include the Manor House on the Washington, DC, Registry. “There is at present a need for rooms in and near Washington to accommodate incoming war workers,” and Uncle Sam wanted this “thirteen or fourteen room house.”

Four well dress girls on bicycles
Troop 55 bicycled from Takoma Park, Maryland. Carolyn Cottage in background

It truly was a desperate request. Few rooms in the Manor House were heated, and the closest streetcar station was five miles away. Rockwood’s sole employee, Frances Hoopes, seldom had time to pick up passengers in the camp station wagon. Visiting troops usually had to hike from the streetcar stop. Local troops might pile their gear into their father’s truck and ride their bicycles to camp.

The US Navy needed quarters for its newly created WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program. Officials regarded Rockwood as ideal for women posted at the new David Taylor Model Basin, part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center; the camp was just 2.4 miles away. But that plan was abandoned when officials decided not to station WAVES at the Taylor Basin.

The Girl Scouts were willing to make rooms available, but they were bound by the conditions imposed by Carolyn Caughey, when she gifted her beloved country home to the Girl Scouts in 1936. Specifically, would such use qualify as “character building”?

Nora Huffman, Mrs. Caugheys former secretary and confidant, was enthusiastic:

The local Girl Scouts, as a bit of war service, are generously sharing the comfort of the house with the enlisted service girls now located in Washington, many of whom have been Girl Scouts. Most of these girls are from distant states and feel it is a real privilege to have the hospitality and security of a Girl Scout Home for a few days rest or a week-end relaxation, at a very nominal cost.

Stern woman in 1920s
Carolyn Caughey Passport Photo

Miss Huffman believed that Mrs. Caughey would want the military guests to observe her own beliefs about how women should conduct themselves in public. Mrs. Caughey fully supported women who entered the professional world, but drew the line at lipstick, nail polish, and smoking. She also was an ardent prohibitionist, known for the saying, “Put glasses to your eyes—not to your lips.”

The estate trustees endorsed the housing request, and soon military women enjoyed weekends at Rockwood’s Manor House, while Girl Scout troops used other facilities on site.

Friendly woman in house dress holding a folded American flag
Rockwood Superintendent Florence Hoopes

Rockwood Superintendent Florence Hoopes was not thrilled with the arrangements. “Hoopsie,” as the girls called her, soon learned that hosting adult women was much more complicated than hosting Girl Scouts. She repeatedly informed national staff members that some of the women did not set appropriate examples for any troops camping at the same time.

Her main complaint was the late-night activities of the adults, so she documented their comings and goings. Her weekly reports included comments such as:

January 22, 1944:       Group of women return at 1 am; another member of group returns at 2 am

January 28, 1944:       Group of 18 women checks in at 11 pm

Eleanor Durrett intervened to defuse the situation.

Durett head shot
Elenor Durrett

Soon quiet hours were established for the visiting women.  Between November 1943 and June 1944, 272 WAVES and the occasional Coast Guard SPARS enjoyed weekend “rest and relaxation” retreats at Rockwood.

Readers may remember Durrett as executive director of the District of Columbia council. She resigned that position to become an officer in the WAVES. She remained with the Navy until 1958, rising to the rank of commander.

Durrett might have created one more connection between the WAVES and the Girl Scouts. The WAVES uniform was designed by Mainbocher, who designed new Girl Scout uniforms in 1948. The two uniforms are quite similar.

Tailored green women's suit
Adult Uniform by Mainbocher
Uniform for Navy WAVES during World War II
WAVES Uniform by Mainbocher

Who’s That Girl Scout? Julian Salomon

Book cover for Girl Scout Camp Site Development by Julian Salomon

Julian Salomon was a leading expert in camp development. Over his long career, Salomon worked with the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and the National Park Service.

In fact, Salomon wrote the book on camp development–literally.

His 1948 book, Camp Site Development, covers every possible aspect of camping facilities, from roads to sewage to waterfront. The illustrations, of actual buildings, are stunning:

Camp expert Julian Salomon wearing a hat from a Girl Scout camp roundup.
Julian Salomon wearing Roundup cap

Born in 1896 and educated as a landscape architect, Salomon focused on planned parks and camping facilities. He worked for the National Park Service from 1935 to 1941. He and his family lived in the Washington DC area at that time and were active with local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. His wife had her own Brownie troop.

His best-known project during this time was a wooded retreat near Thurmont, Maryland. Readers likely will recognize the site’s current name: Camp David.

During World War II, he served with the USO, planning recreational facilities for troops. (That’s military troops, not Scout troops.)

Camping with the Girl Scouts

Post-war, Salomon became a professional Girl Scout, working in the National Camping Division until retiring in 1965. His primary responsibility was to work with local camping committees, advising councils how best to acquire and develop land for permanent campsites. In this capacity, he helped the Washington Council in 1949, following a flood that devastated its Camp May Flather. He visited the camp, surveyed the wreckage, and offered advice about what to re-build and what to replace.

He photographed the damage, and a staff member snapped this marvelous photo. Salomon, seated in the washed-out remains of the Boone latrine, which had landed in the Sherando unit, nevertheless looks quite dapper in his straw hat, bowtie, and spotless white dress shirt.

Dapper man in white dress and hat sitting atop a washed out latrine at Girl Scout Camp May Flather
Julian Salomon found the Boone latrine in the Sherando unit.

His other responsibility at GSUSA was to manage the two national camping facilities in use at that time: Edith Macy in New York, and (you knew this was coming) ROCKWOOD National Girl Scout Camp, in Potomac, Maryland. Salomon created the first master plan for Rockwood in 1946. He especially enjoyed the task as he and his wife had been among the local Girl Scouts who built the first two units (The Oaks and Tall Timbers) in the late 1930s.

Rockwood, national Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC, 1936-1978. GSUSA sold it to a residential developer, but nine local Girl Scouts filed a lawsuit to block the sale, arguing that selling violated the terms set out by the woman who donated the property. The lawsuit was settled out of court, with one-third of the camp preserved as a local park and conference center. My book on the camp, Rescue Rockwood is available from Amazon.

When the Rockwood camp was sold, GSUSA largely locked the front gate and left. Thousands of dollars worth of equipment, office files and an entire commercial kitchen were abandoned. Many items, um…. well…. nobody else wanted them … wound up with the local Girl Scout council.

As I reorganized and refiled research materials recently, I found a gem that I had somehow overlooked. This is his hand drawn diagram for his 1946 master plan. Unfortunately, it had been folded for 60 years. I brightened the colors a wee bit in PhotoShop. (Note: Conduit Road is now MacArthur Boulevard.)

Julian Salomon's hand drawn masterplan for Rockwood National Girl Scout camp.
1946 Master Plan for Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp
Julian Salomon dressed as his version of a Native American
Salomon as “White Eagle” (Yikes!)

A Questionable Tribute to Native Americans

Salomon’s caption, Rockwood National Girl Scout RESERVATION,” is hard to miss. On the Boy side of Scouting, Salomon is also known for his “celebration” of Native American culture that permeated early Boy Scout lore. He published a 400-page Book of Indian Crafts and Indian Lore, and performed a one-man show as “White Eagle.” Salomon strongly believed that his “Indian activities” helped destroy stereotypes, but today he is often criticized for cultural appropriation. His publicity photo for his performances is cringeworthy today.

But back to the Girl Scouts …

In honor of his work at Rockwood, one of the conference rooms in the main Manor House is named for him. When the new Rockwood Manor Park was dedicated in 1987, Salomon, at age 91, attended and shared some of his Rockwood recollections. He passed away five months later.

From Blair House to Brown Owl

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.

an ivory stone townhouse with white trim, green shutters and a US flag
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.

black and white headshot of a white woman

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.

(Edith Blair Staton, 1916 passport photo)

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.

gold circle pin with a Brownie elf and two enameled brown owl pins Girl Scout pins

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.

Top: Brownie membership pin (1920s-1930s)

Left: Great Brown Owl (leader, 1930s)

Right: Tawny Owl (assistant leader, 1930s)

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 served as 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.

©2021 Ann Robertson

Pants! We Want Pants!

What issue topped the agenda of the 1969 National Council session?

Pants. The membership spoke, and they wanted uniforms with pants.

Responding to waves of requests from girls, GSUSA announced that it would remain a uniformed movement and update girl uniforms. The most requested item? Pants. Active girls—not to mention their mothers—did not want to sacrifice movement for modesty. 

Official Uniform Catalog from 1963
Fashion Design, 1997-2011

Designing uniforms is a multifaceted process. The overall design needs to be visually unifying and reflect contemporary fashion without falling for passing fads that will shorten their appeal. The cut must flatter a wide range of body types, the fabric needs to be suitable for multiple climates, and the color palette needs to enhance skin tones ranging from very fair to very dark. Decorations and trims are kept to a minimum, both to keep costs down as well as to not compete with official insignia. 

Senior Uniform, 1960-1971

First up was the smallest age group—Senior Girl Scouts.  These high schoolers were still wearing the two-piece skirt suit introduced in 1960. Made out of a deep green sharkskin cotton fabric, the brightly colored uniform trim indicated the wearer’s area of concentration. Troops focused on International Friendship, for example, wore yellow ties and hat cords, Wing troops orange, and Homemaker troops turquoise. This iconic uniform, topped with an Overseas-style hat, was beloved by fans of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, but fell out of favor with the bell-bottom and suede fringe-wearing girls of the late 1960s. Girls had quickly nicknamed the suit the “Stewardess uniform,” but by now it was no longer a compliment. Besides, even the flight attendants had moved on to trendier styles. Seniors themselves had their own ideas about a uniform; they wanted pants—and mini-skirts, too.

After considering suggestions, designs, and even samples sent by girls, the National Equipment Service (NES) settled on two versions of a sleek step-in style A-line dress that buttoned up the front. For feedback, they took the uniform to the girls.

Manufacturers created samples in sizes 6 through 20 and shipped them to Rockwood National Camp and the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah. Visiting Seniors of all shapes and sizes tried on the samples and completed feedback cards. They had a definite preference for one version and one shade of green, but indicated that they wanted heavier fabric, a belt, and pants. Designers made more revisions and presented the result to the National Executive Committee for final approval. NES was still not convinced of the need for pants, but they conceded defeat on the matter. 

Senior Uniform, 1971-1980

Ultimately, the girls were rewarded with pants in the same green cotton poplin fabric, but the semi-flared legs hardly qualified as bell-bottoms. The ensemble included a soft beret made of the same fabric, a tab tie, and a formidable green leather belt that was 1.5” wide with adjustment holes running the entire length.

But the most notable feature was the dress’s hemline—or, rather, the lack of one. After endless debates among focus groups and survey responses, GSUSA gave up trying to settle on the appropriate length. The dress was sold unhemmed, with a hang-tag reading: “The Official GS Uniform with the Unofficial Hemline.” If girls wanted mini-skirted uniforms, Headquarters seemed to say, let parents deal with the matter.  Many Senior Girl Scouts were accustomed to sewing their own clothes and turned the new dress into a short tunic to be worn over the new pants. Just how many ditched the pants once out their front door is unknown. 

And to really be mod, GSUSA created a line of hippy, crunchy-granola inspired casual pieces at the same time. Can’t you just imagine Marcia Brady or Laurie Partridge in these funky frocks?

GSUSA pieces for the fashion-forward Senior Girl Scout in 1971

Nope, me either. And if you look closely at the 1973 image showing the new uniforms, that spiffy green cape is marked “SALE,” although it doesn’t come through well in the picture. Guess these duds were a dud.

The other age levels received new uniforms in 1973. Instead of a single dress, Brownies, Juniors, and Cadettes each had their choice of five or six mix-and-match pieces, that included jumpers, pants, shorts, cotton blouses, and hideous polyester double-knit turtleneck bodysuits that were hot, itchy, had a stiff plastic zipper that grabbed your hair, and featured a snap crotch that perpetually pinched your privates. 

Catalog descriptions of the new clothing reflected the lingo of the time, emphasizing choice, individuality, and liberation:

1973 Catalog Copy Introducing New Uniforms

New space-age materials meant less wrinkling and less ironing.

The new styles included several pieces for each age level, creating another point of consistency.

Each level had a tie that snapped together. No more arguments about how to tie a neckerchief or which way the ends should point. The polyester, turtleneck bodysuit was high fashion at the time, not to mention indestructible and UNCOMFORTABLE. Can clothing cause PTSD? Because if so, these bodysuits would have.

The new Cadette uniform included the very first vest, instead of a badge sash. They were made from dark green felt, and some people mistakenly think they were homemade.

This week a new collection of uniform pieces debuted. So far, they are targeted toward the older age levels.

Hopefully GSUSA will never repeat the snap-zip-bodysuit debacle of the 1970s.

Girl Scouts, Japan, and Rockwood

Yoshiko Nagata, director of Girl Scouts of Okinawa

Our virtual tour of Girl Scouts in Okinawa, Japan, in the 1950s is almost complete.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

However, I can’t let this topic (or any topic, really) go by without mentioning a Rockwood connection!

The former Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp, located just outside Washington DC, hosted Yoshiko Nagata, the director of the US-sponsored Okinawa Girl Scout Council. She held that post from the council’s inception in 1954. When Okinawa returned to Japanese control in 1972, she continued as director of the new Girl Scouts of Japan..

Nagata-san, as she was typically addressed, visited Rockwood in 1956 as part of a three-month training trip across the United States.

Okinawa Girl Scout director Yoshiko Nagata (left) with
Rockwood National Camp director Ida May Born, April 1956

She was delighted to meet the girls camping at Rockwood during her visit. Brownie Troop 266 of Fairfax County, Virginia, even had the pleasure of inviting Nagata-san to lunch one Saturday. She taught the Brownies several songs in Japanese, and they reciprocated with their own favorites.

Troops from Massachusetts and Gladstone, NJ also met Nagata-san and decided they wanted to pursue service projects that would benefit the Girl Scouts of Okinawa.

Every month, Rockwood staff compiled a report covering groups in camp and other interesting developments.

One sentence in the April 1956 report leaped off the page and went streaking around my office (a common occurrence in this work-at-home time) until I recognized it:

Mrs. Frances Faeth joined Mrs. Nagata for her last day at Rockwood.

It has been several months since we departed on our tour to Okinawa, so perhaps the name doesn’t ring a bell for you.

But this whole series about Girl Scouts in Okinawa began with a donation of three scrapbooks from American Girl Scout troops living in Okinawa in the late 1950s.

The scrapbooks had been Fran’s. Her family generously presented them to the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.

One of three scrapbooks from the Girl Scouts in Okinawa

This truly was a round trip excursion, finishing back where we began.

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)