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.

From Savannah to Frederick, MD

Two weeks ago my family boarded am Amtrak train for a weekend trip to Savannah, Georgia.

Erin and I by the Juliette Gordon Low memorial gate.

Erin and I by the Juliette Gordon Low memorial gate.

Officially, the trip was for my daughter to tour the Savannah College of Art and Design, but I took the opportunity to make my first pilgrimage to the First Headquarters and Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, where Jami Brantley and Katherine Keena were excellent hosts.

Marian Corbin Aslakson, one of Savannah's first Girl Scouts.

Marian Corbin Aslakson, one of Savannah’s first Girl Scouts.

 

 

 

My husband, daughter and I all toured the Birthplace together, and I especially enjoyed pointing out to them Marian Corbin’s name on the early Savannah troop roster.

Part of my haul from Savannah.

Part of my haul from Savannah.

As an adult, Marian Corbin Aslakson was a vibrant and vigorous presence at the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a bonus, our guide, like many at the Birthplace, was a recent SCAD graduate who had lots of insider information for Erin.

 

 

 

I am looking forward to future talks with Jami about the programs that Historic Georgia runs at the First Headquarters, especially as many are run by Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors.  As Nation’s Capital prepares to open a history program center* in its former Field Office in Frederick, Maryland, we are looking at developing our own workshops on our rich Girl Scout history.

Of course we did a ghost tour!  Isn't this a great patch!

Of course we did a ghost tour! Isn’t this a great patch!

*Yes, you read that correctly! I’ll write more on the history program center in future posts.  Stay tuned!