Four Years in Savannah

Last week my daughter graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design. (Summa Cum Laude in scriptwriting, I know you want to ask.)

When she opted for SCAD, I knew we wouldn’t get to see her very often, as the SCAD campus is some 600 miles away.

But I’m glad we made the effort to visit this beautiful city. My husband and I became regulars at a Hampton Inn near SCAD, and only partly because of their free waffles.

Husband (left) and daughter at commencement

Over time we walked around the historic district enough times that we no longer need a map.

As we drove over the Savannah River and into South Carolina and back to Maryland, it was easy to review what I’d learned these past years. Most are connected to Girl Scouts, which began in Savannah in 1912.

1. I was already familiar with the bridge when the Girl Scouts of Georgia lobbied (unsuccessfully) in 2017 to have it named for founder Juliette Gordon Low.

2. My daughter had the coolest college job ever, as a docent at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. I learned a lot from her about how to bring former residents “alive” in a house museum. After all, tours are just another form of script.

3. I was lucky to have a peek behind the curtain to see Birthplace operations, including the renovated library.

4. I learned more about museum strategies to humanize artifacts. Instead of just showing a uniform, add details about who wore it and what she did while wearing it.

5. I had a fancy dinner in the Birthplace dining room with two of JGL’s great-nieces. They were just as warm and friendly as you’d expect.

6. I learned that shrimp and grits are nature’s most perfect food.

7. And yes, Leopold’s ice cream really is that good.

8. I participated in a GSUSA Task Force on the future of the Birthplace.

9. I didn’t spend nearly enough time at the Girl Scout First Headquarters museum. I don’t remember how many rounds of phone tag the director and I had, but we seldom connected.

10. I learned that if you stand on a street corner and yell “It’s Girl Scouts of the USA” every time a tour guide says that JGL founded the “Girl Scouts of America,” tourists think you’re just a weird Girl Scout vigilante and ignore you.

I deliberately decided not to visit the Andrew Low House or Laurel Grove cemetery. I’m saving them as the reason to return in the future.

Farewell to the Birthplace!!
(and, yes, passing tourists stared)

These four years in Savannah were unforgettable. And yes, I got the patch. All of them!

A sample of my many Savannah patches

©2019 Ann Robertson

Daisy and Her Travel Documents

My daughter recently mentioned that visitors on her tours at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace are often surprised when Erin says, “She was about my size.”

That comparison surprised me, too.  Erin and I are only 5 feet tall, and even then we really have to stretch on our tippy toes. “Hold on,” I replied. “I think I’ve seen her height.”

Less than a minute later,  I texted her a copy of  Low’s 1919 passport application, which states her height at 5 feet, 4.5 inches.

“OK,” Erin conceded. “But that’s still pretty small.”

“You’re not going to comment on my just happening to have JGL’s passport application sitting around?”

“No, mom.” She replied. “I’ve learned to expect that.”

I had found the passport records earlier on Ancestry.com.  It is fun to see Daisy’s handwritten comments, description of her own appearance, and to read the reasons given for her travel abroad.  The passport photos are great, as well.

The documents have been bound into hardback volumes, and some text is not fully visible.

Her 1915 application gave her destinations as England, Italy, and Egypt, and she requested that the document be delivered to her parents’ home on Oglethorpe Street.

1915-Description

Daisy describes herself as 5 ft, 4.5 inches tall.

1916 Photo

Passport Photo, 1915, 1916

She renewed her passport in 1916, and her brother’s statement served in place of a birth certificate.  The file also includes a letter noting that her landlord in London, Lady Coghlan, was upset to discover that Daisy had used parafin oil lamps and left at least one sink stopped up.

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By 1918 Daisy had misplaced her passport and urgently needed a new one. She included a letter from Boy Scout founder Lord Baden-Powell explaining the reason for her travel.

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In 1919 she explained that she needed to renew her passport for six months to attend an international scouting conference. She handwrote that her travels would include Switzerland, and another letter from Lord Baden-Powell confirmed the international meeting.

 

The last passport on file was for 1923. This trip included Egypt. She also indicates that her previous passport had been canceled.

 

Unfortunately, the photo for the 1923 document is almost illegible. Likely the product of poor quality microfiche.

I always enjoy looking at original documents, especially ones with personal details such as eye color, face shape, and height.

Now I have yet another reason to look up to Daisy Low.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

A Practical Approach to Girl Scout Archives

I have a busy week coming up, first going to the North Carolina Girl Scout Collectors’ Show, then on to Savannah, Georgia, to see my daughter, who is a junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

She is busy studying schedules and determining what classes to take this fall and the rest of her senior year. I continue to be amazed at the variety of courses and career paths offered at SCAD. They have areas of study that I never knew existed, like yacht design, sequential art, and luxury and fashion management. SCAD takes a very hands-on, applied approach to learning that equips students for creative careers.

I already have another trip to Savannah penciled in for October, this time for a Girl Scout history conference. The last such conference I attended was very conceptual–discussions and presentations on the changing role of museums in the 21st century.

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GS Historic Georgia partnered with SCAD to create a Preservation Patch

I have no idea what is being planned officially, but if it were me, I know what Savannah resource I would want to use wisely–SCAD. A conference planned in coordination with the school could provide tremendous hands-on learning opportunities. There are many potentially relevant programs, for example:

Accessory and Jewelry Design: Techniques for cleaning pins and metal camping equipment;  novel ideas for displays of lots of tiny objects.

CharacterDesignWrkshpAdActing and Character Development: For our living Juliette Gordon Lows.

Branded Entertainment: I don’t have any idea what this is, but how often do we hear about communicating and protecting the Girl Scout brand? Maybe we would learn!

Fashion/Fibers/Costume Design: Best techniques for preserving old fabric; how do you clean 100-year old sweat stains and rust stains?

 

SCAD-Museum_School-Visit_07_FS

Museum Studies students craft narratives about their artifacts (SCAD).

Museum Studies: Duh.

 

Photography/Film/Sound: How to archive photos, film etc. (and could someone please convert some Beta tapes that we have?)

Preservation Design: This also seems obvious.

 

Production-Design_Student-Candids_Fall-2013_MN_-272

Designing exhibit displays and props (SCAD).

Production Design: Tips on how to construct and configure exhibits and display spaces.

 

Themed Entertainment Design: to create Juliette Gordon Low World (just kidding–mostly)

Conducting a two-hour workshop on these topics would be a great experience for students, as SCAD teaches them to hone their presentation skills whenever possible. I definitely would sign up for as many as possible.

Ultimately, the conference curriculum isn’t up to me.  Maybe I’ll just browse the textbook aisle in the campus bookstore and try to learn some of these skills on my own.

©2018 Ann Robertson

106 Years and Counting

One hundred and six years ago today, a 51-year old widow reinvented herself by inventing the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Juliette Gordon Low invited 18 girls to the first Girl Scout meeting on March 12, 1912, in the carriage house of her home in Savannah, Georgia.

Today that building, known as the First Headquarters, welcomes girls (everyone, actually) from around the world who want to learn more about this woman and her life-changing movement. I look forward to being there next week.

 

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Girl Scout First Headquarters in Savannah, Georgia

 

Here’s to the women willing to break the mold, challenge tradition, and shape the future.  And here’s to life’s second acts!!

Leaders Born Women

Happy Birthday, Girl Scouts!!

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

 

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

 

 

Celebrating Our Success: A National Award for the Library at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace!

The Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace just received a major honor for its redesigned Library. Click below for details?

Source: Celebrating Our Success: A National Award for the Library at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace!

I wrote about the Library redesign in February.

Buying the Birthplace

I have had the good fortune to make two trips to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah in the past month. In between, I decided to learn more about the history of the building. How did it become a Girl Scout National Center?

Leader June 1954

Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, purchased the home from the Gordon family in 1953.  The Birthplace became the third national Girl Scout center, joining Camp Edith Macy in New York and Rockwood outside of Washington, DC. The Savannah home would become

a unique center for Girl Scouting in this country — a place where ideas for new troop activities can be tried out, where there will be records of the past and plans for the future of Girl Scouting where girls from all over the world may come together to find friendship and inspiration.

–Lilly Macintosh, chair of Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Committee in 1954

The GSUSA Board of Directors advanced the purchase price ($500,000), intending to launch a national fundraising campaign to pay for the building and its renovation.

Girls were asked to contribute pennies equal to the cost of an ice cream cone.

However, the campaign did not go as smoothly as hoped. Only $88,450 had been raised by late 1954; $100,000 was needed before restoration could begin.

To date, contributions to the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace fund have been very slow. As a report will be made at the regional conference of Girl Scouts in October, it is asked that any adult or troop wishing to make a contribution to this fund do so as soon as possible.

Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman (October 5, 1954): 18.

Other indications of trouble were sprinkled throughout local news columns on Girl Scout activities, such as “the local quota of $105 for the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace restoration” and “each troop be contacted and made acquainted with the plan of contributing one dollar or more for restoration.”

Birthplace Gift Form

Coupons like this ran in Leader magazine in 1955.

If the Girl Scouts were to meet their target grand opening in 1956, they needed a new strategy. So they turned to a time-tested fundraiser: baked goods.

One year earlier, Helen Duprey Bullock, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, had begun adapting “classic” cake recipes for Dromedary Heritage Series cake mixes. Not only were the recipes based on family traditions from historic American homes, but a portion of the profits went to restore the related home. Dromedary was a division of the National Biscuit Company

The company’s first mix, First Lady Martha Washington’s “Great Cake,” was a flop (perhaps because it required 40 eggs), but her gingerbread recipe was a hit.

Soon Bullock created mixes for James Monroe’s white cake,Thomas Jefferson’s pound cake, Mary Todd Lincoln’s yellow cake, and Theodore Roosevelt’s devil’s food cake, among others.

For Juliette Gordon Low, she created an angel food cake mix. Thankfully, the required 13 egg whites came with the mix.

JGL Cake Mix

The result, according to advertisements, was

Angel Food light as a moonbeam, fluffy as a summer cloud, white and moist as a fresh snowfall. And with a delicate crust and flavor all its own.

Dromedary kicked off the deal with a $500 token payment. Going forward, the company would pay royalties of three-fourths of one cent per case of angel food cake mix. They anticipated selling six million cases per year and pledged an advertising campaign worth $1 million.

I haven’t found the total amount raised, but the cake mix strategy was evidently a recipe for success. The  beautifully restored Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low re-opened in 1956.

©2017 Ann Robertson