Last week, the oldest synagogue in Washington, DC, was seen rolling through the streets of the Nation’s Capital.
This wasn’t cheap entertainment provided during the federal government furlough–well, actually it WAS free and entertaining. The journey was a major step in the development of a new Capital Jewish Museum, whose design will incorporate the 1879 building. A decent-sized crowd gathered to watch the wheeled building migrate from near the Supreme Court to 3rd Street NW.
(Photos from UPI, but WordPerfect’s new editor is fighting me.)
This motorized procession reminds me of a similar excursion made by the Girl Scout Little House in 1924. But that move was accomplished with actual horsepower, not heavy equipment.
Built behind the White House in Washington, DC, for the second Better Homes Demonstration Week in June 1923, the Little House was a fully working home, with a modern kitchen, breakfast nook, three bedrooms, and a nursery. Between June 4 and June 10, 2,500–3,500 people visited the house each day. After the exhibition, the Better Homes in America and General Federation of Women’s Clubs offered it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center.
The Girl Scouts were reluctant to accept. While it would wonderfully fit in with the Girl Scout program, accepting the gift would require a considerable investment. There were no funds for utilities, staff, insurance, and other operating costs. Most important, there were no funds available to relocate the building.
The clock began ticking on the fate of the model home. The exhibit permit had expired on June 15, 1923.
Lou Henry Hoover immediately saw the value in accepting the house and began working to persuade the Girl Scouts to accept. As national president of the organization, she began a barrage of letters and telegrams to national board members that lasted all summer. On September 20, the national board voted to decline the proposed gift.
But Hoover refused to let the issue drop. She even offered to personally pay any deficit that might accrue in the first two years of operation.
Hoover offered several arguments to sway the reluctant board members. My favorite one sought to dispel the Girl Scouts’ image at the time, of being more interested in hiking than homemaking:
Considering the opposition we have had to meet in many quarters, particularly with the Camp Fire Girls and the Boy Scouts on this very matter of our home making propensities, or the lack of them, I feel that we must accept this, our justification, if possible.
–Lou Henry Hoover, October 1, 1923
Meanwhile, Colonel C.O. Sherrill, superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, was continually pleading for someone to get the house off of government property.
Mrs. Hoover asked the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, to handle the concerned colonel. His reassurances helped little, as an increasingly desperate Sherrill offered his own solutions, including opening a Tea Room in the building to feed the many government workers situated in nearby offices.
Ultimately, Mrs. Hoover grew tired of the back-and-forth and took matters into her own hands. She contacted Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, of the Phillips Art Collection, who agreed to loan a plot of land that they owned at 1750 New York Ave. NW. The new home for the Little House would be two blocks southwest of the White House and across the street from the famous Octagon House.
Hoover wanted her financial contribution to be anonymous, so she arranged for Henrietta Bates Brooke to sign the moving contract, as member of the National Executive Board. Edward G. McGill of Cumberland, Maryland, oversaw a crew of men who hoisted the house onto rails and pulled it to the new site. McGill charged $3,000 for transporting the house. Hoover also paid for a basement, utility connections, and landscaping, for a total cost of $12,000.
Much to the relief of Colonel Sherrill, the Little House arrived at its new home in March 1924—nine months after the original exhibition. First Lady Grace Coolidge helped re-dedicate the building in a ceremony on March 25, as a beaming Mrs. Hoover watched.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Little House was THE place to go on Saturdays. There was always some badge activity to try or new skill to learn, and the First Lady, as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, might decide to drop by. After all, the White House was just around the corner.
It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.
The Little House was used continuously for trainings and demonstrations of the domestic arts from June 1923 to April 1945. The building was used as a branch of Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, for the next decade then given to the landowners in May 1955. The Little House was torn down in the early 1970s.
The pin is engraved “Suncoast Girl Scout Council,” but the seller had no information about its origins.
A few weeks ago I received an email from Terri Costello, the special events manager for Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. Suncoast was one of the councils that merged to create West Center Florida during realignment.
Terri had recognized the pin immediately. It is presented each year to the council’s Women of Distinction. Many councils have similar programs to recognize inspiring women.
This event is held each year to honor and celebrate local women who have achieved success in their chosen fields and serve as inspiring role models for girls and other women in our local communities, each exemplifying ethical leadership and a commitment to making a difference in the lives of their fellow citizens through community service.
While the Suncoast program dates to 1992, the pin, designed by Tampa artist Karen Arch, and was introduced in 2002.
I am delighted that even though I am not a “Woman of Distinction,” Terri has given me permission to continue wearing it with pride. In fact, I think I’ll wear it today!
The Nations Capital Archives & History Program Center has been open for six months now. We offer workshops to help girls earn their Girl Scout Way badges on the third Saturday and Sunday of each month. Registration is through the Council event calendar.
Girls watch “The Golden Eaglet,” learn the history of our council, and examine vintage uniforms and badges. They also do a scavenger hunt through the 1963 handbooks and try some activities from older badges.
One troop just sent me a delightful thank you note, and their leader included a few photos. Enjoy!
Watching “The Golden Eaglet” in October 2015 (photo by Sarah Barz).
Ambassador Jenn, an archives aide, watches as I model my own vest (photo by Sarah Barz).
Sandy Alexander teaches Council history.
Don’t forget classic songs and games! Susan Ducey teaches Strut Miss Lizzie (above).
Trying out an old badge requirement (photo by Sarah Barz).
Group shot! Each workshop ends with a group photo. We immediately print it out, paste it into our guest book, and each girl signs before she leaves.
The GSCNC Annual Meeting on April 13, 2013, included the council’s first Girl Scout Antiques Road Show. Members were invited to share their Girl Scout treasures and the stories behind them. The Archives and History Committee helped identify a few curious objects. We hope to repeat the Road Show next year and have better audio for the 2014 video!
Girl Scout CEO Anna Maria Chavez visits Juliette Gordon Low at Madame Tussaud’s museum.
Madame Tussaud’s museum isn’t the only place near Washington, DC, to see a lifelike image of Juliette Gordon Low.
Cadette Leah T. of Troop 5576 portrayed Juliette Gordon Low at the Greenbriar East Elementary School’s Wax Museum in late February. The Fairfax County sixth grader wrote to the GSCNC Archives and History Committee, asking if she could borrow an appropriate uniform. Naturally, we said, “Of course!”
Juliette Gordon Low at Greenbriar East Elementary
The Committee has uniforms from various decades and age levels that troops can borrow. For the very earliest years of Girl Scouting, we have reproduction uniforms to lend.
Leah completed her Daisy look with a badge book, a strand of pearls, several boxes of Girl Scout cookies, and a small horse and dog to indicate Daisy’s love of animals. She obviously has done her homework on our founder.
Update: April 2, 2014
Due to high demand, the Committee has revised its lending policy. Please see the “Dress Like Daisy” page on this website.