It was a great idea. Except that the coronavirus decided to come to Washington at the same time. The festival was cancelled, the Girl Scout offices closed.
While the city offers virtual strolls among the blooming trees, we can do the same thing with the exhibit.
The exhibit draws from three scrapbooks donated by the family of long-time Girl Scout Fran Phoenix. Each album has a heavy black lacquer cover with mother-of-pearl inlay, and each belonged to a different US Girl Scout troop in Okinawa, Japan, in the late 1950s.
Those Pesky Prepositions
(This may get complicated, so grab a buddy. )
The albums were created by US Girl Scout troops in Japan. Their activities are preserved, as well as their many activities with local troops. That means we have Girl Scouts in Japan, Girl Scouts of Japan, and combinations of both.
Plus, the Girl Scouts of Okinawa is a branch of USA Girl Scouts Overseas (which has had many names over time), and Girl Scouts of the Ryukyu Islands is a division of the Girl Scouts of Japan.
Not Japanese Girl Guides?
Oh my, this is confusing. Let’s go to the exhibit signs for help. First, the American context:
Yes, Japanese Girl Scouts
Now, the Japanese side. Although their group briefly was Girl Guides, they have proudly been Girl Scouts for nearly a century.
In fact, the Japanese Girl Scout organization has a special online history exhibit marking their 100th birthday.
Got it? We’ll look at some photos and clippings from those scrapbooks in Part 2.
In the meantime, enjoy these images of our exhibit.
As World Thinking Day approaches, we look back at a previous experiment in international friendship with a guest post by Katherine Cartwright, a doctoral candidate in history at the College of William and Mary. She was a Girl Scout for seven years in Michigan.
On Monday, April 27, 1931, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, former First Ladies Edith Wilson and Helen Taft, the Vice President, the Ambassadors of Japan and Poland, and the ministers of Czechoslovakia and Austria crowded into Constitution Hall near the White House. The event? The “Festival of Nations” – a six-day theatrical production put on with the help of the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia. The pageant, according to the Washington Star (March 22, 1931) was intended “to promote friendship and better understanding between the youth of all nations.”
exactly the type of event I was hoping to find while conducting research for my
dissertation in the archives of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.
My name is Kat Cartwright and I am a Ph.D. candidate at the College of William and Mary. My dissertation examines how young people engaged in and shaped efforts aimed at cross-cultural understanding and internationalism from World War I through World War II and when volunteer archivist Ann Robertson handed me a 1931 scrapbook containing newspaper clippings that chronicled the Festival I knew I had struck gold.
newspapers began reporting on the Festival as early as November 1930. In
cooperation with the Department of State, four countries were chosen for the
play: Mexico and Canada, the closest neighbors of the United States; Czechoslovakia,
a nation “greatly interested in promoting friendship among nations”; and Japan
since the Festival was to correspond with the blossoming of the cherry trees, a
gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. The drama was to feature the “authentic”
culture, dancing, and singing of these four nations and end in a finale with
youth representing 50 nations.
While the initial articles in the scrapbook concentrated
on the adults organizing the production, the articles increasingly emphasized
the youths’ participation throughout that spring. These articles allow me to
incorporate the actions and voices of young people into my work.
Not only did young people, especially Girl Scouts from
troops in the Washington area, join professional singers, dancers, and actors
in the cast and serve as ushers at each performance, they also played an
important role in promoting the Festival. For example, they submitted posters
to be circulated throughout the United States, Canada, and other countries
leading up to the Festival.
About 30 Girl Scouts and Girl Guides representing at
least ten countries attended a promotional “Flying Tea” held at Hoover Airport,
now the site of the Pentagon. Nellie Veverka from Czechoslovakia got to do the
honors of christening a new airplane. Other reports scattered throughout local
papers followed additional preparations for the Festival, from the spectacular
costumes to the involvement of embassies.
With so much hype leading up to the premiere, I was sure that the Festival was going to be a hit. But, alas, the first reviews were hardly favorable. The most scathing review came from an Eleanore Wilson, who wrote in the April 28 Washington News,
Once more, we regret to report, Washington has made a daring and desperate stab at art and fallen short of the mark.
Washington News (April 28, 1931)
Others cited the duration of the play as its primary flaw and wished that it had been a silent film because the discourse took away from the music and scenes. Though we don’t know the exact reason why, even First Lady Hoover left half-way through opening night! The crew and cast quickly responded, cutting scenes here and there.
By the time more than 2,000 Girl Scouts and various other youth from the Washington area crowded into the hall for the children’s matinee on Saturday, the play had been shortened by an hour and fifteen minutes.
Many of the articles in the scrapbook suggest that the Festival
that took place in DC in 1931 was modeled on similar events held elsewhere.
That suggests many additional research paths to explore: Where did these events
take place? Were the Girl Scouts and Department of State involved? What
countries were represented in the festivals? How were young people—both from
the U.S. and abroad—active participants? I hope to explore these questions and
find more events like the “Festival of Nations” as I continue my research.
P.S. I am currently working my way through The American Girl magazine [the Girl
Scout publication, 1920–1979] and have evidence of international correspondence
between Girl Scouts in the U.S. and Girl Guides and Girl Scouts abroad. Maybe
you know of such letters collecting dust in an attic or basement? If you have
any leads, I’d love to hear from you! You can contact me at email@example.com.
My calendar has two major anniversaries marked for October 2017.
One is the 10th anniversary of Girl Scout’s realignment program, which consolidated 312 councils into 112 “high capacity” councils. Realignment deserves its own post, but the basic idea is that GSUSA decided that large councils would be more efficient than smaller ones.
The other anniversary is the centennial of the Russian Revolution that brought the Communist Party to power. The new government dramatically redrew the map of their new country, dividing some territories and lumping others together.
What do these two events have in common? For one thing, they are both part of my office wall decor:
(Kookie Kong looks pretty afraid of the First Soviet Airplane.)
The other common thread is that they are both examples of externally imposed new state formation.
NO, wait, come back!!! Let me rephrase.
They are the political equivalent of a shotgun marriage. These events threw people together whether they wanted to or not.
Whether councils or countries, they faced similar issues: Where do we draw our borders? What do we call ourselves? What does our new flag/logo/patch look like? What if we don’t like our new neighbors? Do we have to pay their debts? What do we do with people who don’t want to merge?
Suddenly the comparison doesn’t seem quite so crazy, does it?
Academic research is about making such unexpected connections. If the examples come from a largely unknown source, that’s even better.
Across the United States, Girl Scout councils are sitting on piles of largely unknown sources. We need to get the word out that researchers should come see what we have. We need to leverage our historical assets for academic research. Doing that requires matching theories with data, a process that often requires travel and field research. I’m very fortunate because I’ve found a way to cover both bases: I can use Girl Scout data in my academic research.
I’m not a professional Girl Scout historian, just a very busy volunteer. In my day job, I am a political scientist who specializes in secessionist movements and new state formation. Most of my work deals with the former communist world, such as the collapse of the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. Those countries experienced the opposite of realignment; they were taken apart instead of thrown together; think divorce instead of marriage. I’m (supposedly) trained to see possible patterns and then find evidence to prove or disprove the pattern.
I know the political scientist/Girl Scout historian combination is about as rare as a genuine Golden Eagle of Merit–or perhaps a Chartreuse Buzzard. But working in this direction doesn’t require a PhD. Instead, it needs a new mindset. It means looking beyond the uniforms and badges to see what girls and women were doing in your community. You—we—can provide local examples of national issues.
It means looking beyond the uniforms and badges to document what girls and women were doing in your community. You can provide local examples of national issues that researchers can plug into their models and theories.
Letters and fund-raising campaigns can become examples of philanthropy, women’s empowerment, or marketing. Camp and troop policies reflect social trends. We recently found meeting minutes that debate whether or not to integrate resident camps. I knew the date of integration; I didn’t know that some committee members tried to reverse the decision the following year.
Researchers need examples of local history (GSCNC Archives).
Troop activities can reveal trends in girls’ development and interests. Citizenship programs demonstrate efforts to prepare future voters when the voting age was lowered to 18. Popular history accounts would be enriched by knowing how the American Bicentennial was celebrated in your community.
Girl Scouts helped track the spread of this fungus (USDA).
In the 1920s campers in Washington were examined before and after weeks in the woods to provide scientific “evidence” of the health benefits of the out of doors. Similarly, girls attending Camp May Flather were tasked with combing the forest for signs of white pine blister rust, a dangerous fungus. We don’t have the data, but we know the agency that conducted the studies and can point researchers in that direction.
Such quirky stories are hiding in the newspaper clippings and the troop scrapbooks in our collections. How can we make them available to researchers anxiously searching for new sources to study?
I’ve had the pleasure of hosting several graduate students in our archives. They were investigating topics such as the national Girl Scout Little House, first ladies, family biographies, representation of minorities, and more. They have all gone away with valuable primary data sources, not to mention a patch and the occasional box of cookies!
This week I have been looking through boxes of scrapbooks, binders, and photo albums donated to the Nation’s Capital archives by the family of Jean Boyer Porter.
Camping permit for Sherando Lake, VA (GSCNC Archives)
Jean joined the District of Columbia Girl Scouts in the mid-1930s and stayed active for the next 70 years. She also apparently rarely threw anything away. I’ve found kaper charts and shopping lists going back to the mid-1930s.
Grocery list for trip (GSCNC Archives)
My favorite (so far) is this trip to Sherando Lake in Virginia, August 4-12, 1951. Troop scribe Nancy Brown documented this weekend:
Fortunately the written account explains that the Senior Girl Scouts found a group of Boy Scouts camping nearby. Guess that’s not Girl Scouts swimming topless in the Sunday August 5 picture!
Virginia Hammerley is one of the most important women in the early years of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.
“Ginger” wasn’t one of Juliette Gordon Low’s debutante friends. She wasn’t a wealthy socialite who could donate buildings with a single check. She didn’t organize troops in poor neighborhoods.
She was simply a Girl Scout; a teen-age girl who loved her sister scouts and the activities they did together. But she preserved her memories in a series of scrapbooks that provide some of the most extensive documentation of Girl Scout troop life during the Great Depression.
About 10 years ago, a relative of Ginger’s contacted Nation’s Capital. They had five of her scrapbooks; would we like them? You bet we did!
These five albums are chock full of newspaper clippings, photos, holiday cards, invitations to friends’ weddings, and souvenirs of all kinds.
She was an active troop member, taking part in events held around Washington (click images to enlarge):
Visiting the Little House, attending a national convention, and buying a brick for a new national headquarters building:
Convention name badge for Virginia Hammerley, a staff member of the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia.
Ginger was one of the first campers at Camp May Flather when it opened in 1930, attended regular camp reunions, and became a counselor herself.
Like any teen-ager, she also saved holiday cards, celebrity photos and more:
Born in 1913, Virginia Hammerley was the only child of Charles and Mabel Hammerley. She grew up at 1819 Ingleside Terrace, NW, Washington, DC.
After graduating from McKinley Technical High School, she took a job with the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia, but she apparently was let go in 1941.
I did a little research to find out what became of Ginger and was so sad to discover that she did not live happily ever after.
After the Girl Scouts, she took a clerical post with the Department of Agriculture.
Her father passed away in 1935 and Ginger and her mother moved. first to Iowa Avenue NW, then into an apartment together at 721 Fern Place NW. Mabel died in 1953.
Two years later, on the night of October 17, 1955, Ginger locked her front door, engaged the night chain, picked up a pistol, and took her own life.
I can only imagine what circumstances led to that fateful night in 1955. After spending so much time reading and handling hundreds of items that she carefully clipped, pasted, and preserved, it feels like losing a dear friend.
Ginger likely had no idea that her memories and mementos would still be around decades later, treasured records used by Girl Scouts and historians. Just this summer a graduate student spent days viewing scanned copies of the scrapbooks for a research project.
Virginia Hammerley may be gone, but she is hardly forgotten.
What did it take to earn a Golden Eaglet, Girl Scouting’s highest honor from 1918 to 1939?
Golden Eaglet Pin
The requirements were revised several times, but the 1920 Handbook had essentially two:
Earn 21 proficiency badges. Girls chose 15 from a list of 17 badges; the other six were their choice. (One required badge was Laundress!)
Earn the Medal of Merit (1922-1926) or a Letter of Commendation (1926-1931). These awards were meant to attest to a girl’s attitude and character, highly subjective requirements indeed.
Instead of searching various musty handbooks, let’s look at an actual application from Virginia Hammerley of Washington, DC:
Unlike today’s Gold Award, there was no time-defined project to conduct.
Applications were then submitted to the National Standards Committee for review. Virginia received her Golden Eaglet in May 1930. (Second from left)
Although more than 10,000 girls were awarded the Golden Eaglet, quite a few were turned down. That led to complaints about the rather fuzzy requirements. How could strangers in New York City fairly evaluate the character of girls in California or anywhere in between?
According to the Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, “There were constant complaints about applications that were questioned or refused by [the Standards] Committee.” (That NEVER happens with today’s Gold Award process.)
The Girl Scout Program Study completed in 1937 recommended that the Golden Eaglet be discontinued, due to “the restrictions it imposes on the girls and the trouble it engenders in the communities.”
My name is Miya Carey, and I am a doctoral candidate in history at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. Last month, I had the pleasure of spending a week at the new Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital History Center in Frederick, MD, completing the last bit of my dissertation research. My project looks at the shifting constructions and experiences of black girlhood in Washington, DC from the 1930s to the 1960s through an examination of African American and interracial girls’ organizations. One of the main organizations in my study is the Girl Scouts.
Ethel Harvey, GSCNC President, 1972-1978
I found many gems during this research trip, but one of the most fascinating was a photo album from the Ethel Harvey collection. Harvey was one of the most prominent leaders in the scouting movement in Washington, DC. She became the first African American to serve as president of any Girl Scout council. In 1961, she and Pansy Gregg, her co-leader and dear friend, traveled with their troop to Our Cabaña, a WAGGGS world center, in Cuernavaca, Mexico. [The same troop would visit Pax Lodge in London and Our Chalet in Switzerland in 1964.]
The most striking photographs in the album featured the scouts, who were all African American, dressed in their sharkskin “stewardess” uniforms and posed listening to record players, creating scrapbooks, and writing post cards. Following this series of photographs is a note that says, “photographs taken by USIA.” This note refers to the United States Information Agency, which President Eisenhower established in 1953 as the organ of U.S. public and cultural diplomacy. It is unclear how the USIA used these photographs, if they used them at all, but it is useful to speculate how these photographs could have been used, and why the USIA thought that photographing the scouts would further their goals.
Senior Troop 1027 (GSCNC Archives)
The agency’s main goal was to maintain the image of the U.S. abroad as the bastion of democracy and on the right side of the Cold War. However, this was a difficult task when images of racial violence and civil rights protest dominated international headlines, and revealed the cracks in America’s promise of democracy for all. The Our Cabaña photographs were taken after Little Rock, the start of the sit-in movement, the Freedom Rides, and numerous other civil rights struggles. The common thread linking each of these events is that young people were at the center of each.
Senior Troop 1027 (GSCNC Archives)
The scouts offered an alternative image of black childhood and young adulthood abroad. The image of black girlhood offered in these photographs is one that is both playful and patriotic. The scouts were doing typical teenage activities, such as listening to music, rather than being victims of racialized violence. They were proud members of the Girl Scouts, an organization that espoused patriotism and democracy, rather than young people marching against injustice. The USIA could use the figure of the black Girl Scout in American propaganda to demonstrate racial harmony, and counter the notion that the United States was in opposition to its black citizens, even if this was not completely true.
Senior Troop 1027 (GSCNC Archives)
I still have many questions about these photographs. How did the USIA come to photograph the scouts at Our Cabaña? Did the agency have a relationship with the Girl Scouts? Most importantly, what did the girls in the photograph think? Did they know the purpose of photographs and the USIA? I would suspect that when they embarked on their trip to Mexico, they saw it as a chance to experience a culture different from their own, rather than serving as ambassadors of the American model of democracy. Regardless, these photographs demonstrate the far-reaching and rich legacy of the Girl Scouts in American culture.