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.

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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:

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(GSCNC Archives)

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(GSCNC Archives)

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(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

 

The Girl Advisory Committee: Girl-led in Action

After GSUSA asked councils to carry out special “Youth Serve Youth” service projects ahead of our 50th anniversary in 1962, they selected a 12-member Girl Advisory Committee to review the submissions and prepare a report for Congress.

Knowing that the Girl Scout program must always be sensitive to the contemporary needs and interests of girls, the national organization uses its Girl Advisory Committee to bring grassroots reactions to activities and events as a direct line from the girls themselves.

Register-Guard, Eugene OR (November 3, 1961): 7A.

Girl Scouts were asked to study youth in their communities and identify areas where they could help. Thousands of projects were carried out. Troops in Wisconsin’s Riverland Council pledged to make 1,000 dolls for less-fortunate families. Public safety was the focus in Asheville, NC, where Pisgah GS Council created emergency game kits for children aged 3-12. The kits taught civil defense lessons and were placed in disaster shelters. Troops in Tumbleweed Council in Kansas “adopted” two dozen girls at Parsons State Hospital, providing “useful items” and writing letters. Councils reported their projects to the national headquarters in late 1961.

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Lady B-P (right) with (maybe) Larie Blohm of Oregon.

On March 5, 1962, the national Girl Advisory Committee convened at Rockwood National Camp outside of Washington DC. The Committee was comprised of 12 girls, one selected from each administrative region of the country.

I’ve been able to identify seven of the dozen girls:

  1. Rea Ann Scoville (Portage, IN)
  2. Cheryle Bremer, (Cannon Falls, MN)
  3. Diane Young (Houston, TX)
  4. Larie Blohm (Eugene, OR)
  5. Rebecca Gainey (Charlotte, NC)
  6. Virginia Anne Meeker (NY)
  7. Anita Beth Cutler (MA)

The girls were given a daunting task: to review the submissions, select representative projects, then write and deliver a presentation on Capitol Hill, on March 12, the 50th birthday of the movement.

Between their work sessions, the girls enjoyed sightseeing in Washington and hiking to Great Falls, about a mile from Rockwood. They also attended the national 50th anniversary celebration in Washington and met World Chief Guide Olave Baden Powell.

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Members of the 1962 Girls Advisory Committee pose with Lady Baden Powell, Rockwood (GSCNC Archives)

On the morning of March 12, the girls traveled to Capitol Hill, where luncheon was scheduled for 12:30 pm in Room 1302 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. They were joined by 200 guests, including Senators, Representatives, and their Girl Scout wives, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters.

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1962 Postage Stamp, from Postal Museum

Other dignitaries included Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, GSUSA President Marjorie Culmer, and Postmaster General J. Edward Day, who announced a new stamp to commemorate the anniversary.

The vice president called on the Girl Scouts to promote citizenship during their next 50 years. He warned that too many Americans avoided learning about their government because they believe “politics are dirty business.”

[The Girl Scouts should] put increasing emphasis on encouraging our young people to learn everything they can about their Government at all levels….I feel sure the culture will belong to the free, the educated and to those who care, those who want to help, those who feel a responsibility for doing their share.

–Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson

The Committee selected Scoville, Bremer and Young to present their findings.  The three 17 year-olds addressed the distinguished guests with ease, poise, and confidence. While they spoke, reported the Washington Post, the Vice President hand wrote gold-edged Senate gallery passes for the girls.

Luncheon concluded with a round of “Happy Birthday” led by Lady Bird Johnson, and everyone blew out candles on the three-tier cake or individual cupcakes.

Reviewing the event for the October 1962  issue of Leader magazine, national Program Department staffer Marian F. Wells reflected on the process she had witnessed at Rockwood. She praised the girls for their maturity, organization, cooperation, and collaborative approach. National staff were present, but generally unneeded. “The most remarkable thing about the 1962 GAC,” she wrote, “was not that it had an important job to do in connection with our Fiftieth Anniversary; but that, having been given the responsibility, the girls were allowed to carry it out.”

Is it possible that in an organization dedicated to the encouragement of girl initiative, we sometimes stifle it instead? Do we, too often, short-change our Senior Scouts by failing to recognize their capabilities; by doing for them instead of helping them to do for themselves; and by overlooking the fact that, although teenagers don’t have all the answers, they frequently have ideas that are worth listening to? If this is the case, the time has come for more than Program Change! We need to change our attitude toward girls as well, or the basic premise of Girl Scouting–that girls govern their own troops and manage their own affairs under adult guidance–will be nothing but an empty phrase.

–Marian F. Weller, GSUSA Program Department

50th-cake

 

©2016 Ann Robertson

Laundry Day with the Girl Scouts

It’s laundry day at the Robertson household. No, I’m not going to tackle that teeming basket of ironing, I’m going to look at Girl Scout laundry badges!

The first handbook, How Girls Can Help Their Country included the Laundress badge. Girls had to:

laundress 1917

Laundress, 1917

  1. Know how to wash and iron a garment, clear starch, and how to do up a blouse.

  2. Press a skirt and coat.

  3. Know how to use soap and starch, how to soften hard water, and how to use a wringer.

 

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After 1938, laundry-related skills were incorporated into other badges, such as Housekeeper. Intermediate Girl Scouts of the 1940s had to learn how to remove a variety of stains (milk, coffee, ink, rust, etc.) and :

 

Assist in a weekly laundering by gathering and assorting the clothes and linens, by washing and ironing some articles with your mother’s permission, and by assorting and putting away the clean laundry.

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Since the 1980s, badges involving clothing have focused more on design and cost than care and cleaning.

One thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find in my Rockwood research is how nice campers managed to look, especially while touring Washington, DC. Whether in a tent or lodge, girls managed to keep their white uniform blouses clean and crisp.

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Girl Scouts ironing at Skyview Lodge, Rockwood (NHPC)

 

 

Personally, I really like this laundry spoof badge I found on Etsy.  Who knows what all those laundry symbols mean? laundry badge

If anyone would like to do my ironing, I’ll gladly buy one for you!

©2016 Ann Robertson