Why the Girl Scouts Should March in Trump’s Parade

The official lineup for the 2017 Inaugural Parade has been announced, and the backlash has begun. I was not surprised that the Girl Scouts are being criticized for participating, but I am very alarmed at the calls to boycott Girl Scout cookie sales.

I, too, was disappointed with the presidential election results, but I still think the Girl Scouts should participate for six reasons:

Because We Serve Our Country

We are a non-partisan organization that promotes civic education.  According to the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital: “The event is a symbol of our democracy and the peaceful transition of power. This year, the Presidential Inaugural Committee offered the opportunity for 75 Girl Scouts to march in the parade.”  

presidential_inauguration_2013

Girl Scout greeters at the 2013 Inauguration (GSCNC Archives)

Because We Respect Authority

The Girl Scout Law also instructs us to respect authority. That means to respect the office, if not the office holder.

Because We Teach Resilience

With elections, one side loses. Deal with it. We need to teach girls to lose with grace. If they don’t like the outcome, get up and do something about it.  Don’t go home and pout.

Because We Keep Our Commitments

We should march because we made a commitment to march—a commitment to the Inaugural Committee and a commitment to the girls who applied and were selected. There are much fewer opportunities for Girl Scouts this year. While for past Inaugurations Girl Scouts were posted at metro stations and other locations to provide information and directions, this year they were only invited to participate in the parade.

Because It Was a Struggle to Participate

Girl Scouts have marched in Inaugural Parades since 1917, but it was a major struggle to win that privilege. Parade organizers didn’t think delicate young girls could stand the physical demands of marching, and we actually had to audition in advance.

WP Feb 24 1917

Finally,

Because the best defense against a powerful misogynist is to raise a generation of strong, confident young women.

Watch out. We are coming.

And one more thing…

Has anybody else noticed that the Women’s March on Washington logo looks familiar?

 

©2017 Ann Robertson. All opinions are mine alone.

 

God Bless America and the Girl Scouts

Today musicians across the country will play both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” Over the years, many people have called for making “God Bless America” our national anthem. Among other arguments, it is a much easier song to sing.

I happen to agree, but I have an ulterior motive. I want the royalties.

 

Written in 1917, “God Bless America” debuted on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1938.  It was an instant hit.  Irving Berlin’s lyrics captured his love of the United States, the country that had welcomed his family when they fled Russia in 1893.  He decided to use the royalties from this song to invest in the country’s future, especially its youth.

Sheryl Kaskowitz's book from Oxford University Press, is available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon, among others.

Sheryl Kaskowitz’s book from Oxford University Press.

In July 1940 Berlin set up the God Bless America Fund and instructed its trustees to equally distribute all royalties to two all-American organizations: the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America (Note: We are NOT the Girl Scouts of America).

Berlin sat on the board of directors of the Boy Scouts and his wife on the board of the Girl Scouts.  The Fund’s trustees explained the selection of beneficiaries: “It was felt that the completely nonsectarian work of the Boy and Girl Scouts was calculated to best promote unity of mind and patriotism, two sentiments that are inherent in the song itself.”

Originally the funds were distributed to councils across the country, but since the 1990s the fund has focused on the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York and the Greater New York Councils: Boy Scouts of America. Both organizations used the funds to provide programs in low-income neighborhoods.

At the time, right-wing fringe groups attacked the Girl Scouts for accepting Berlin’s gift. Noting that the composer was Jewish, they denounced the song as being part of a Jewish conspiracy to replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Historian  Sheryl Kaskowitz reprints excerpts from some of these startling letters, including one that claimed the Girl Scouts had accepted $15,000 from Berlin as part of the conspiracy: “Millions of Christian Americans resent certain forces using a great Patriotic organization such as yours to further their own selfish interests, and further the lid is about to be blown right off this slimy trick.”

The Girl Scouts persevered, and ten years later, in 1950, Fund president Herbert Bayard Swope cited the movement as “a leading factor in the fight to end race, color, and religious discrimination in the United States.”

Annual income to the two organizations has ranged around  $100,000-$200,000 in recent years. According to a 1996 article in Billboard, other patriotic Berlin songs have been added to the Fund’s catalog, including “This Is the Army” and “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.”  The bulk of the royalties still comes from “God Bless.”

Royalties swelled to $800,000 for 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  By 2011 some $10 million had been distributed to both organizations.

However, Fund trustees became increasingly uncomfortable with the Boy Scouts’ official policy of discrimination against homosexual members, upheld in a 2000 Supreme Court ruling. Fund publications began to stress that royalties went to the Greater New York Council, not the national organization.  Each year the Greater New York Council had to assure the Fund of its non-discrimination policy.

The Fund was not satisfied by the council’s statement in 2012, and it refused to cut a check to the Boy Scouts for several years. However, eventually the Fund was satisfied and donations resumed. For 2015, the New York Boy Scouts received a donation of between $50,000 and $100,000.

 

Girl Scouts representing Justice, Liberty, and Peace strike a pose during a June 19, 1915, rally at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

Girl Scouts representing Justice, Liberty, and Peace strike a pose during a June 19, 1915, rally at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The Fund has never had a problem with the Girl Scouts. For 2015, Girl Scouts of Greater New York reported a donation from the God Bless American Fund of between $25,000 and $49,999. (See Greater New York Annual Report 2015.)

The Girl Scouts of the USA has long advocated inclusion and maintained a strict policy of “For All Girls.” Period.  We know there is always room for one more around the campfire.

God Bless the Girl Scouts, indeed.

©2016 Ann Robertson

The Girl Scout Red Scare, part four

Technical issues delayed this final installment of the Girl Scout Red Scare, but I have a treat that is worth the wait!

On August 6, 1954, the Illinois chapter of the American Legion passed a resolution withdrawing American Legion support for the Girl Scouts for supposedly subversive, anti-American content in its 1953 Intermediate handbook.

GSUSA President Olivia Layton  contacted Irving Breakstone, the newly elected commander of the Illinois chapter, to discuss the matter. Breakstone distanced himself from the Clammage resolution and assured Layton that it would never reach the floor of the National American Legion convention, set for August 30-September 2 in Washington, DC.

Breakstone was wrong.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

Legionnaires from across the United States gathered at the Washington Armory over Labor Day weekend, 1954, and voted on a series of proposals calling for vigilance against communism, including  universal military training. They passed a resolution praising McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Regarding the Girl Scouts, convention delegates commended GSUSA for taking “remedial action” (revisions underway long before the Legionnaires got worked up over the handbook) and called on GSUSA to disclose the author(s) who had inserted the “un-American influences” into the text and whether or not they still worked for the Girl Scouts.

Furthermore, Legion National Commander Arthur J. Connell reneged on a promise to let the Girl Scouts defend themselves if the handbook issue made it to the floor.

GSUSA President Olivia Layton at the 1957 Roundup (GSCNC Archives).

GSUSA President Olivia Layton at the 1957 Roundup (GSCNC Archives).

Layton was furious, especially as she lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and could have been at the convention with less than an hour’s notice. Layton blasted the vote, saying,

They promised to get in touch with me if anything at all was to be done. Then they went ahead and did this, without even letting me know a thing about it, until I read in the paper Wednesday that the resolution had been passed.

Connell’s reply seemed to suggest that Layton should find a scapegoat to preserve the movement’s wholesome image:

All organizations, including the American Legion, could be infiltrated, and it seems to be that it might be well for the Girl Scout leaders to see who in their organization was responsible for the changes in their handbook, that ought to be blamed rather than any individual in the Legion.

As it turns out, the author of the Intermediate Handbook was Margarite Hall, an old friend of Nation’s Capital who worked at Camp May Flather when the camp opened in 1930 and later on the council staff.  In 1953 she was the Intermediate Program Advisor at GSUSA and hardly a rabble-rouser.

Hall previewed new badges in the May 1953 Leader magazine.

Hall previewed new badges in the May 1953 Leader magazine.

Hall introduced the 1953 Handbook in the October 1953 Leader magazine.

Hall introduced the 1953 Handbook in the October 1953 Leader magazine.

Although the controversy over the Handbook had to be frightening at the time, by 1990 Hall could laugh about the incident, as she did in a 1990 presentation at Rockwood Manor, outside Washington DC.

Now that the recording of the presentation has been digitized, I’ll let Margie have the last word on the Girl Scout Red Scare:

 

 

©2014 Ann Robertson

Why Barbie Needs the Girl Scouts

Barbie’s not interested in the cookies.

Consumer groups have recently criticized the national Girl Scout organization for its partnership with Mattel.  Launched in August 2013, the “Be Anything, Do Everything” program uses the Barbie theme to explore various career options.

The controversial Barbie patch.

The controversial Barbie patch.

Aimed at Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors, the program consists of a booklet, computer game,  pink patch for the back of the vest or sash, and three Barbie dolls wearing Girl Scout “uniforms.” Barbie wears a pinkified Junior (4th and 5th grader) uniform, hardly age appropriate for an astronaut, architect, or even a teen age Girl Scout.

My first reaction was “Ewwwww.” My second was “why”?

What do Mattel and GSUSA get out of the deal?

Why did GSUSA partner with Barbie?

The official answer links to career exploration and Barbie’s impressive resume.  According to GSUSA CEO Anna-Maria Chávez:

This partnership will allow Girl Scouts to offer an engaging and interactive new leadership experience, one that leverages the appeal of Barbie in order to encourage girls to explore exciting new career possibilities. We are tying the fun girls have playing with Barbie to an opportunity to gain insight into the careers of today and tomorrow, with patches and discovery along the way. Like Girl Scouts, Barbie is an American icon; together, we are teaching girls that their futures are wide open with possibilities, and that they can accomplish anything they set their sights on in their careers.

What does GSUSA get from Mattel?

It is a three-year, $2 million deal.

This is hardly the first time GSUSA has licensed a line of dolls. There have been official dolls for decades.  The Groovy Girls became Girl Scouts in 2007 and Adora dolls are in every council shop today. American Girl dolls could buy Junior Girl Scout uniforms in the late 1990s. A new set of dolls, the Girl Scout Friendship Collection, debuted yesterday at the GS National Convention in Salt Lake City.

 

What is different about the Barbie deal is the curriculum and patch. Critics, led by Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, say the patch transforms girls “into walking advertisements.”  Yet various councils already offer patches created with corporate grants.

 

What Does Mattel Get?

Mattel gains a strategic partnership with an iconic brand linked to wholesome goodness and little girls.  More important, Mattel creates new ties to an age group that often has moved beyond Barbie.

Yesterday, October 16, Mattel announced that Barbie sales had plunged 21% in the 3rd quarter of the year, following drops of 14% or more in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2014.  The Wall Street Journal reported that “Barbie is in a slump so bad that she’s getting pushed around by no-name newcomers,” such as Walmart’s Funville Sparkle Girlz.

Recent studies show that between the ages of 7 and 11 (Brownies and Juniors), many girls reject Barbies as “babyish” and move on to trendier toys, such as Monster High and tablets.

What Do the Girls Think?

While other adults debate the merits and value of Barbies, I think a girl-led approach would be to encourage younger Girl Scouts to apply their critical thinking skills to Barbie.

Girls can earn the Be A Doll patch.

Girls can earn the Be A Doll patch.

I’ve created a “Be a Doll” patch program that explores how dolls reflect culture,  asks girls  to evaluate Barbie as a role model, and looks at the range of careers related to the fashion industry beyond just model or designer. Activities span a wide age range and include:

  • Sharing favorite dolls
  • Comparing dolls now with our mothers’ and grandmothers’ toys
  • Comparing uniforms on other Girl Scout dolls
  • Putting on a fashion show of old uniforms or “What Not to Wear to Middle School”
  • Body image and eating disorders
  • Interviewing real women to see if they could perform their jobs dressed as a career Barbie.

Barbie needs the Girls Scouts.

When it’s time to renew the deal with Mattel, GSUSA should ask for more than $2 million and insist that Mattel give Barbie a tent—and a Gold Award.

 

©2014 Ann Robertson

Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel, which is not connected to this patch program in any way.

An Unfortunately Named Service Project

Oh my.

I found this clipping in an old council press scrapbook. I don’t think it would work as a primary document for classroom use!

A World War II Service Project that would need major updating to try today.

A World War II Service Project that would need major updating to try today.

The Girl Scout Red Scare, part three

Sixty years ago, on August 6, 1954, the Illinois branch of the American Legion denounced the Girl Scouts for “subversive and un-American influences.”

It was the latest battle surrounding the 1953 Intermediate Girl Scout Handbook.

When we last examined the allegations of Girl Scouts promoting communism, it was July 1954 and the debate had reached the US Congress.  Florida radio personality Robert LeFevre had published an article in his obscure newspaper suggesting that the new handbook promoted a dangerous world order instead of patriotism for the United States. When LeFevre heard that a handbook revision was underway, he crowed that it was because of his complaints. In fact, the revision process was already well underway, so that a newer edition would be in Girl Shop shops in time for the start of the school year.

Several Illinois Congressmen inserted LeFevre’s accusations into the Congressional Record, but tempers seemed to calm on  July 27 when Illinois Representative Timothy P. Sheehan read a statement from GSUSA President Olivia Layton explaining the revision process. Congress adjourned for a summer break and all seemed well.

Then came the bombshell.

On August 5, a reporter called the National Office from the Illinois State American Legion Convention. Edward Clamage, head of the Anti-Subversive Commission for Illinois, was about to introduce a resolution withdrawing American Legion support for the Girl Scouts. He had never examined the Handbook or bothered to contact a single Girl Scout, but he had read LeFevre’s article.  The local council mobilized and gave him additional information about the revisions that already gone to press.

Clamage remained unswayed, and his resolution was presented on the convention floor on the evening of August 6.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

He repeated, almost verbatim, the pro-United Nations accusations first leveled by LeFevre, but the “certain pro-Communist authors” accusation was new.

It referred to a review of the book First Book of Negroes by Langston Hughes that had appeared in the February 1953 issue of Leader magazine.  In a memo to field staff, GSUSA summarized the criticism about the book review and explained that it had been “carefully read by our editors and members of our Program Department” and was selected for “its clear presentation of the history and accomplishments of the Negroe race, and its contribution to increased understanding of an important aspect of our American heritage and culture.”

The First Book of Negroes was reviewed in the February 1953 Leader magazine.

The First Book of Negroes was reviewed in the February 1953 Leader magazine.

However, Hughes had been called to testify before the Joseph McCarthy and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in March 1953 on charges of Communist sympathies. The Girl Scouts risked guilt by association.

After 90 minutes of debate on the convention floor, a minister got up and read Hughes’ poem “Goodbye Christ,” which includes these lines:

“Good-bye, Christ Jesus,

Lord, God, Jehovah,

Beat it on away from here now,

Make way for a new guy with no religion at all.

A real guy named ‘Marx, Communist, Lenin, Peasant, Stalin, Worker, me.”

Although that poem was written 20 years earlier, published only in Europe, and did not appear in the book reviewed in Leader, that recitation sealed the deal. The resolution passed.

The press had a field day, mocking the resolution, and numerous organizations came forward to defend the virtue of the Girl Scouts. The Chicago Daily News called the incident “berserk patriotism” and Eleanor Roosevelt agreed with one Legionnaire who’d shouted out, “How Screwy Can We Get?”  National Capital Post 15 of AmVets told the New York Times that they had conducted their own investigation and determined, “They favor marshmallows and Gregory Peck. They oppose homework and mosquito bites. None of these are on the Attorney General’s (subversive) list.”

One of the many editorial cartoons about the controversy.

One of the many editorial cartoons about the controversy.

GSUSA National President Olivia Layton issued a response on August 9, rejecting the “unwarranted and unfair charges”:

 

Layton also had several telephone consultations with Irving Breakstone, who was elected commander of the Illinois American Legion at the convention and was embarrassed by the mess. Breakstone told the Chicago Sun-Times that he deplored “the method used to call attention to the mistakes made by the scouts’ leaders. It was unnecessary because the scouts themselves already were in the process of making corrections.”

Layton was concerned about the resolution going to the National American Legion convention set for August 30 through September 2 in Washington, DC. Breakstone assured Layton that the resolution would not reach the floor in Washington — but that would not be the case.

© 2014 Ann Robertson

The Girl Scout Red Scare, part two

Several of the problematic 1953 badges

Several of the problematic 1953 badges

Over the 1954 Independence Day holiday, the attacks on the Girl Scouts spread to the US Congress, courtesy of B.J. Grigsby. Again, the Girl Scouts were accused of promoting communism and internationalism in the 1953 Intermediate handbook.

Grigsby, a Chicago businessman, had read the LeFevre article and reprinted it in his own vanity newspaper, the Spoon River Journal.  He also wrote to GSUSA expressing his concern over the new handbook and noting that he had contributed to the Girl Scouts in the past.  The response from Leonard Lathrop, head of public relations at GSUSA, did not satisfy him, so Grigsby contacted his Congressmen.

On July 2, Illinois Congressman Timothy P. Sheehan read LeFevre’s article into the Congressional Record. Sheehan added his own concern that one badge in the new Intermediate handbook “requires a knowledge of the United Nations, but nowhere among the merit badges did [LeFevre] find one that required the Girl Scouts to memorize part of the Declaration of Independence or a statement from the Constitution.” [Those were required for the My Government badge.]

Ten days later, Illinois Congressman Edgar Jonas introduced Grigsby’s response to LeFevre into the Congressional Record. While Grigsby dismissed some of LeFevre’s charges, he agreed with others.  Jonas also included Lathrop’s response to a letter of concern sent to GSUSA by Grigsby.

After the accusations from the Illinois delegation, GSUSA mobilized supporters in Congress. At the request of GSUSA, Representative Robert Kean of New Jersey inserted an article into the July 21, 1954, Congressional Record written by Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, then at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  Gilbreth, a member of the national program committee, was best known for her studies of time management in the household and as the inspiration for the book and movies, Cheaper by the Dozen. Gilbreth argued:

We cannot take comfort in the thought that everyone accepts us as spiritually minded, as patriotic, as trying to be constructive in every thought and deed. We must therefore reaffirm our beliefs, reiterate our pledges. As we think of our motto, “Be prepared,” we must be able to answer for ourselves for others the question, “Prepared for what?”

Today the world needs individuals and organizations prepared to meet the challenge of communism. As Girl Scouts we are prepared to do so because we are imbued with the responsibilities and the privilege of following our Promise and Laws day by day, as best we can. […]

What can communism really offer as it challenges all this? Nothing. What should Girl Scouts do to meet the challenge? Keep busy at our work of  service with serenity of spirit. Try to attain the educated mind, the educated hands, the educated heart which will help us to keep our Girl Scout promise and prove ourselves assets to God, our country, and our fellow men. Girl Scouts try.

 

The tide began to swing in favor of the Girl Scouts, with Indiana Congressman Charles Brownson introducing a rebuttal from Indianapolis civic leader John Burkhart on July 26. The next day, Sheehan seemed to backtrack a bit and read into the Congressional Record a statement from GSUSA President Olivia Layton outlining revisions already underway.

Discussion over submitting Burkhart letter to Congress.

Discussion over submitting Burkhart letter to Congress.

Another pro-Girl Scouts statement was made by Congressman Victor Wickersham of Oklahoma.  In preparing this post today,  I realized that I did not have a copy of his remarks. I searched the Washington Post online and, to my surprise, discovered that two years earlier, Wickersham  had sold 20 acres of land to GSUSA for $30,000 — land that was used to enlarge the entrance to the Rockwood camp outside of Washington, DC.

But, as it turned out, the skirmish on Capitol Hill was merely a lull before an even bigger storm.

In part three, the American Legion escalates the controversy…

©2013 Ann Robertson