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

 

First National Headquarters

Juliette Gordon Low used her carriage house in Savannah for the earliest Girl Scout meetings and the first administrative office.

But she envisioned her movement as a national one, so in June 1913 she set up a national headquarters in the Nation’s Capital — Washington, DC.

Low signed a lease for Room 502 of the Munsey Building at 1327 E Street NW in Washington, DC. Monthly rent was $15, and she spent $2 for a sign on the door.

Munsey Building

Munsey Building (Library of Congress photo)

The building was conveniently located near the Willard Hotel and the Treasury Department.

Munsey Map

Neighborhood map (Library of Congress image)

The Munsey Building was the Washington base of Frank Munsey, a New York newspaperman who had made his fortune publishing racy articles on cheap, low-quality paper — the original pulp fiction. In 1901 he purchased the Washington Times from William Randolph Hearst.

According to Lost Washington, DC, by John DeFerrari, Munsey bought the old Lawrence Hotel on E Street in 1905, razed the building, and erected one of the first Washington “skyscrapers.” He hired the prestigious architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White to design his new offices.

The 12-story building boasted luxury details throughout, including marble Roman Doric pilasters, brass details, and exotic wood paneling. Black and red marble designs on the floor indicated the entrances to each suite.

Munsey 12 floor

Typical suite entry (Library of Congress photo)

The Munsey Building became the center of Washington’s “Newspaper Row.” The Washington Times and Washington Post offices were just doors away, with the Evening Star a few blocks east.

National Executive Secretary Edith Johnston arrived from Savannah, GA, and set up shop with Miss McKeever, a local woman hired to handle mail requests for information, handbooks, and badges. Johnston also publicized troop activities, and local newspapers had a regular column about local Girl Scouts.

DeFerrari writes that the building was home to “a variety of patent attorneys,” which proved convenient when Low patented the trefoil design in 1914. Other tenants included the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

 

Munsey Interior

Typical office suite in the Munsey Building (Library of Congress photo)

Low paid the rent herself and covered the cost of uniforms, handbooks, and all types of expenses until the organization could become self-funding. She famously sold her wedding pearls in 1914 to raise funds for her girls. Low moved the national headquarters to New York City in 1916.

Johnston later lamented that Washington was not adequately recognized as the site of the first national headquarters:

Johnston June 12 1954

Letter from Edith D. Johnston to Kathleen Eihlers (GSCNC Archives)

The Munsey Building was torn down in the early 1980s.

©2015 Ann Robertson

A Warehouse? On Winter Break?

I have the greatest troop of Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts.

They are unfailingly kind, generous, smart, funny, and always willing to be guinea pigs in whatever crazy scheme I come up with.

Over the years we’ve rung in the New Year with movie marathons at our local camp, gone to DC Roller Girls matches, walked the length of the National Mall on the hottest day of the year, debated proper attire for vampires, and collected nearly 200 bras for victims of domestic violence.  They have gamely tried out possible activities for my patch programs about princesses, Barbies, and the Hunger Games.

Since I became chair of the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Committee in 2012, they have become Girl Scout historians, too. They have visited local sites with Girl Scout history ties, such as Peirce Mill and Rockwood Manor. They spent one meeting arranging a suitcase full of old teen uniforms in chronological order and critiquing the style and fabric. Last year, over winter break, a group dismantled, relocated, and reassembled the Committee’s storage area when the council headquarters received new carpet.

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Yesterday, I took a carload of girls to the warehouse in Northeast Washington, DC, where the majority of our collection is housed. Our two storage units are packed to the brim, so I limited the trip to four girls. Would you believe I had a waiting list? Let’s review: I had teenage girls on winter break clamoring to go to a warehouse. A warehouse!

I didn't know we had old GS bathing suits!

I didn’t know we had old GS bathing suits!

We spent about two hours at the warehouse, carrying out several missions. I had old Leader magazines to return and needed to borrow some Rockwood materials for research. We also had a request requiring some old camp uniforms and a roundup hat, so we located those and talked about what roundups were.

Everyone loves old hats!

Everyone loves old hats!

 

Our main goal was to locate items for an upcoming display about cookie patches and prizes over the years. The girls are working on the old Museum Discovery Interest Project, and the display will satisfy some of those requirements. But there’s more to the cookie display project than just earning a badge.

 

The Museum Discovery Interest Project

The Museum Discovery Interest Project

Next year Nation’s Capital will open a dedicated history program center at a former field office in Frederick, Maryland. I am beyond excited by the prospect of permanent displays and being able to better share our collection with our members and the community.

We’re still working out what types of programs will be offered in Frederick, but I hope there will be a mix of “for girls” and “by girls” on the menu.  I visited the First Headquarters in Savannah last summer and was so impressed that teens from the Historic Georgia Council work at the museum and lead most of the programs.  pa_pinI would love to implement a similar model for Nation’s Capital, perhaps even creating a History Program Aide specialty.

Working with my own troop has confirmed that, with proper instruction, girls can handle artifacts appropriately and responsibly. I try to reinforce with my girls that there is a huge, wonderful world of Girl Scouting out there beyond our troop. They enjoy seeing how they fit into our timeline, discovering what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Above all, they prove that Girl Scouts want to learn more about Girl Scout history.  I can’t wait to give them and other troops that opportunity.