Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 1940s

Only six weeks left until March 12, 2022, the 110th birthday of the Girl Scouts of the USA!

In the 1940s, World War II defined activities across the United States, including the Girl Scouts. Most councils had already introduced a civil-defense component into their programs so girls were ready to help out on the home front. Within hours of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Girl Scouts of Hawaii rallied to clear debris and offer a range of support services.

The February 1942 issue of Leader magazine was devoted to the war effort. Each age group had a role to perform–and often they could earn a badge in the process.

List of war service related Girl Scout badges in 1942.
From February 1942 Leader Magazine

High-school age Girl Scouts could join the Senior Service Scouts program and perform war-related service, such as airplane spotting.

Girl Scout civil defense logo, red trefoil on white triangle with blue background.
Senior Service Scout Insignia

The Traveling Women’s History Museum has a delightful 10-minute video about Girl Scouts in World War II. The museum began as a Girl Scout Gold Award project by Rachael McCullough of the Girl Scout Council of Eastern Pennsylvania. (The link above is to a Facebook page, scroll down for the video.)

Her video would make a great troop or service unit meeting topic!

Highlights of Girl Scout history in the 1940s.
History by Decade 1940s

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

The Girl Scouts and Pearl Harbor

Oahu Office Sign
Oahu Office Sign, Girl Scouts of Hawaii

When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended, 80 years ago today, all of Oahu sprang into action, including the Girl Scouts.

Although Hawaii did not become a US state until 1959, Girl Scout troops were organized on Oahu in 1917, later expanding to other islands and consolidating into one council (briefly called the Girl Scout Council of the Pacific) in 1963. Hawaii, therefore, is the second-oldest council west of the Mississippi River.

Queen Liliuokalani personally sponsored the first two troops on Oahu and presented them with her own silk flag in 1917.

The Hawaiian troops were a combination of local girls and daughters of US servicemen stationed in the islands. Some girls wore the regular khaki uniform, but the troops had their own special uniforms made of white, tropical weight fabric.

Hawaii Large Group of Girl Scouts their unique white uniforms
Hawaii Large Group of Girl Scouts
Early Hawaii Girl Scout
Early Hawaiian Girl Scout, 1917

The council’s main office was at Pearl City, Oahu, and it purchased land for Camp Haleopua (“House of Flowers”) in 1926.

Camp Haleopua, attractively located on the windward side of the Pearl City Peninsula, is without doubt the only Girl Scout Camp with the fleet of the United States Navy in the front yard (as it were). All Summer, the battle­ships, destroyers and submarine chasers presented an interesting picture during the day and at night, the “floating city” was a mass of light. Blackouts on the ships were also fascinating to watch and the “talkies” [movies] could be plainly heard in camp.

Camp Haleopua Director’s Report, June 15-July 31, 1941

Camp Haleopua letterhead
Camp Haleopua letterhead

Camp Haleopua was busy in summer 1941, with 174 girls participating in one of four week-long sessions. Nation’s Capital has a seven-page report by the camp director, who described a successful season with “sold out” sessions, a new tent unit, and no serious illnesses or accidents. (Because so many military families retire to the Washington area, Nation’s Capital occasionally receives documents related to distant Girl Scout troops.)

Camp Director Edna Reese planned to leave Hawaii before summer 1942, so she left careful instructions and suggestions for her successor. Fate had other plans.

The Japanese attack ended around noon. Local Girl Scout officials were told to vacate their Pearl City office ASAP because the US Navy had commandeered the building for its use.

Pearl Harbor Color Map
Pearl Harbor Showing Girl Scout office in Pearl City

Oahu Council President Margaret Fritschi ignored her husband’s insistence that she stay safe at home and drove to the office herself. Barbara Fritschi Dew remembers her mother returned hours later with the council’s treasured silk Hawaiian flag, presented by Queen Liliuokalani. They stored the flag until the war ended.

Girl Scouts of all ages took on tasks that would free up adults for demanding roles. The girls were not centrally deployed, they arrived on their own. They went to schools and other locations and asked how they could help. Girls washed linens, moved furniture and scrubbed floors at the Kaimuki Intermediate School, for example, so that rooms could be turned into hospitals, operating rooms, and refugee housing.

The Oahu Girl Scouts had been preparing for war for over a year.

All Senior troops … had been trained in first aid, mass feeding, care of young children, assistance in evacuation of civilians from danger zones, and organizing messenger service to outlying plantations and communities.

Leader (February 1942): 4.

During the first week after the attack, Girl Scouts worked in four-hour shifts feeding volunteers at an emergency kitchen set up at Central Union. They hand washed all of the dishes used by hundreds of hungry people.

Brownies entertained young children while their parents registered with officials. High-school age Seniors typed, filed, and performed other clerical work. All ages baked cookies (500 per week) for hospital patients and decorated hospital trays. They made quilts for wounded servicemen and pillows to cradle broken bones. Reflecting on the Girl Scouts’ wartime service decades later, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser noted that girls kept home air raid shelters neat and well stocked and even played patients for first aid training and bomb drills.

Collection of empty glass bottles
Shutterstock #89849179

The Great Scouts’ greatest contribution addressed the critical need for glass bottles for local blood banks. The girls collected nearly 3,000 bottles from homes and businesses, removed the labels, washed and sterilized them.

Mrs. E.E. Black, elected council president in January 1942, immediately explained the role of Girl Scouts in wartime:

Girl Scouts [should] assume Red Cross responsibility in their neighborhoods. Our job is to keep up morale of those with whom we come in contact. I am very certain that girls 13, 14, and 15 are just as clever with their fingers as many women.

Honolulu Advertiser (January 16, 1942): 2.

When the Girl Scouts of Oahu celebrated the 30th anniversary of the movement in March 1942, the Honolulu Advertiser paid tribute to their work:

The Girl Scout motto, “Be Prepared” was ably demonstrated shortly after December 7 by troops and individual Girl Scouts and leaders.

Honolulu Advertiser (March 14, 1942): 6.

The Hawaii Council website contains many rich history resources. Most of the photos used here came from the site.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scouts Think Pink

Girl Scouts add a new color to their uniforms in October: pink for breast cancer awareness.

Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low died of breast cancer in 1927. She encouraged an active, healthy lifestyle for her girls, but the word “breast” was not used in those days. In fact, Low’s physicians likely never used the term “breast Cancer” even during treatment. Low herself carried on the business of Girl Scouts and hid her worsening health as much as possible.

Breast cancer remained a taboo topic of public conversation for another 50 years. In 1974, First Lady Betty Ford shared her diagnosis and subsequent mastectomy with newspapers and magazines across the United States.

Girl Scouts of the USA slowly began to include age-appropriate information about breast health in its programming.

The 1995 handbook for Senior Girl Scouts (then grades 9-12) discussed conditions that affect women. Anorexia, bulimia, PMS, osteoporosis, and breast cancer were included in a chapter on “Health and Well-Being–Inside and Out.”

The chapter included diagrams of how to conduct monthly self-exams. The companion Leader’s Guide explained that …

Teenage women are at a critical point in their lives, both physically and emotionally. As changes occur in their bodies they may have questions that are hard to answer and might be somewhat embarrassing to ask. … For example, some girls may be reluctant or shy about discussing breast self-examination. The information and illustrations in the handbook, however, may help them to overcome their inhibitions and to realize that this is a health concern all women have.

The Guide for Cadette and Senior Girl Scout Leaders, 1995, p. 42.

A new Women’s Health badge for Cadettes and Seniors followed in 1997. The requirements included breast cancer awareness and encouraged girls to explore the technology behind mammograms.

Some Girl Scouts wanted a badge entirely devoted to breast health. Councils heard the request. The Indian Hills (NY), San Jacinto (TX), and Arizona-Cactus Pine councils developed their own teen-level badges under the Council’s Own program. GSUSA responded with a new teen badge in 2006. “In the Pink” was based on these local programs.

(There is no officially approved versions of “In the Pink” for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors.)

The new Girl Scout Leadership Experience program, introduced in 2011, continued the focus with a Women’s Health badge for older teens. Many councils offer additional opportunities through their own patch programs, including Citrus, North Carolina Coastal Pines, Southern Nevada, and Western Pennsylvania.

The North Carolina Coastal Pines Council sponsors many activities throughout Breast Cancer Awareness month. In 2018, these included:

Girls will engage in educational activities like bingo or inviting a doctor or nurse to speak to them about breast health. These activities are an engaging way to promote discussion among girls, allowing them to speak their mind and ask questions in a safe and supportive space. To further connect with the topic, girls can share what they learned with the women in their life, make crafts to display in the community to promote breast health, and interview a breast cancer survivor. After developing an understanding of the topic, girls will complete a Take Action project to benefit those with breast cancer. Examples of projects include creating mastectomy pillows to donate to a local hospital or creating chemo care kits for chemotherapy patients.

http://www.nccoastalpines.org/en/our-council/news/2018/girl_scouts_think_pi.html

Domestic Violence Month, Too

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. In 2012 my teen Girl Scout troop combined the two issues with an unusual service project–a bra drive.

They learned that bras are the most-requested clothing item at women’s shelters. Soma Intimates seeks to fill this need by encouraging donations of new and gently used bras. The girls decided this would be a perfect service project.

Reaching out to friends and female relatives, the troop collected 175 bras. When the troop delivered them to a local Soma store, the grateful staff explained the importance of appropriate undergarments for breast health and offered bra fittings. (Arranged in advance, interested girls wore tank tops.)

This contribution was just another way for Girl Scouts to support their community.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian