Historians and genealogists alike spend hours studying old photographs, hoping to add names and places to anonymous faces. We look for clues to help make an educated guess. In Girl Scouts that means looking at the uniforms and badge sashes, which usually narrow the possibilities to one decade.
Sometimes we get very lucky, and people in the mystery photos contact us.
In March 2020, the Archives and History Committee of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital installed a display about Girl Scouting in Japan. We thought the timing was perfect–the famous Washington cherry blossom trees were budding, and we had recently acquired three scrapbooks from Girl Scout troops based in Okinawa, Japan, in the 1950s.
As it happened, however, our timing was waaaay off. As we locked the last display case in the lobby of Council headquarters, executive staff emerged from a meeting and announced that the office was closing indefinitely due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Since no one could see the exhibit in person, I did several blog posts (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) that include photos and clippings from the Okinawa scrapbooks. Many came from a March 2, 1957, international festival attended by local American and Japanese troops. This is one of my favorites:
A few months later, one of these adorable hula dancers contacted me!
Cheryll Greenwood Kinsley was a member of Okinawa Troop 50 from 1956 to 1959. Recently, she was downsizing and searched online for someplace to donate her sash. She was astonished not only to find interest in her old troop, but a photo of herself!
She kindly donated her sash to Nation’s Capital as well as a furoshiki–a printed cloth used to wrap gifts. Girl Scout troops in Okinawa sold them as a fundraiser.
These items enrich the scrapbooks in our collection, giving current Girl Scouts a tangible connection to the past.
Thank you Cheryll!
PS: The Okinawa exhibit remained in place for a year, and the council offices had partly reopened by the 2021 cherry blossom season.
Julian Salomon was a leading expert in camp development. Over his long career, Salomon worked with the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and the National Park Service.
In fact, Salomon wrote the book on camp development–literally.
His 1948 book, Camp Site Development, covers every possible aspect of camping facilities, from roads to sewage to waterfront. The illustrations, of actual buildings, are stunning:
Born in 1896 and educated as a landscape architect, Salomon focused on planned parks and camping facilities. He worked for the National Park Service from 1935 to 1941. He and his family lived in the Washington DC area at that time and were active with local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. His wife had her own Brownie troop.
His best-known project during this time was a wooded retreat near Thurmont, Maryland. Readers likely will recognize the site’s current name: Camp David.
During World War II, he served with the USO, planning recreational facilities for troops. (That’s military troops, not Scout troops.)
Camping with the Girl Scouts
Post-war, Salomon became a professional Girl Scout, working in the National Camping Division until retiring in 1965. His primary responsibility was to work with local camping committees, advising councils how best to acquire and develop land for permanent campsites. In this capacity, he helped the Washington Council in 1949, following a flood that devastated its Camp May Flather. He visited the camp, surveyed the wreckage, and offered advice about what to re-build and what to replace.
He photographed the damage, and a staff member snapped this marvelous photo. Salomon, seated in the washed-out remains of the Boone latrine, which had landed in the Sherando unit, nevertheless looks quite dapper in his straw hat, bowtie, and spotless white dress shirt.
His other responsibility at GSUSA was to manage the two national camping facilities in use at that time: Edith Macy in New York, and (you knew this was coming) ROCKWOOD National Girl Scout Camp, in Potomac, Maryland. Salomon created the first master plan for Rockwood in 1946. He especially enjoyed the task as he and his wife had been among the local Girl Scouts who built the first two units (The Oaks and Tall Timbers) in the late 1930s.
Rockwood, national Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC, 1936-1978. GSUSA sold it to a residential developer, but nine local Girl Scouts filed a lawsuit to block the sale, arguing that selling violated the terms set out by the woman who donated the property. The lawsuit was settled out of court, with one-third of the camp preserved as a local park and conference center. My book on the camp, Rescue Rockwood is available from Amazon.
When the Rockwood camp was sold, GSUSA largely locked the front gate and left. Thousands of dollars worth of equipment, office files and an entire commercial kitchen were abandoned. Many items, um…. well…. nobody else wanted them … wound up with the local Girl Scout council.
As I reorganized and refiled research materials recently, I found a gem that I had somehow overlooked. This is his hand drawn diagram for his 1946 master plan. Unfortunately, it had been folded for 60 years. I brightened the colors a wee bit in PhotoShop. (Note: Conduit Road is now MacArthur Boulevard.)
A Questionable Tribute to Native Americans
Salomon’s caption, Rockwood National Girl Scout RESERVATION,” is hard to miss. On the Boy side of Scouting, Salomon is also known for his “celebration” of Native American culture that permeated early Boy Scout lore. He published a 400-page Book of Indian Crafts and Indian Lore, and performed a one-man show as “White Eagle.” Salomon strongly believed that his “Indian activities” helped destroy stereotypes, but today he is often criticized for cultural appropriation. His publicity photo for his performances is cringeworthy today.
But back to the Girl Scouts …
In honor of his work at Rockwood, one of the conference rooms in the main Manor House is named for him. When the new Rockwood Manor Park was dedicated in 1987, Salomon, at age 91, attended and shared some of his Rockwood recollections. He passed away five months later.
When the White House wanted a nice, fresh turkey for Thanksgiving dinner in 1925, they opted for delivery.
But instead of Door Dash or another nearby delivery service, President and Mrs. Coolidge turned to their home state, Vermont, and one of their favorite civic groups.
First Lady Grace Coolidge had been an enthusiastic Girl Scout since her husband was vice president. Now Honorary President of the Girl Scouts, Mrs. Coolidge tried to incorporate Girl Scouts into White House events whenever possible. The Washington organization was in the midst of a $20,000 fund drive, and a Thanksgiving-related photo call would be great for publicity.
She ordered a Vermont turkey, from a family friend in East Montpelier, and the First Lady wanted it delivered—-and cooked—-by a Girl Scout.
Thirteen-year-old Leona Baldwin was chosen for this mission, as the 20-lb turkey hailed from her family farm. Leona had never travelled beyond her hometown, so her leader, Laura Gould, accompanied her on the long train ride. They departed on November 6.
After their adventure in Washington, they planned to make a stop in New York City on the way home. (The turkey did not have a round-trip ticket.)
No account of the trip clarifies whether the turkey traveled with a ticket, in a crate, or in a roasting pan.
Upon arrival, Leona and Mrs. Gould were whisked away from Union Station and taken to the Girl Scout Little House at 1750 New York Avenue NW.
The Little House was a recent gift from the Better Homes of America and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. It was modeled after the house that inspired the “Home Sweet Home” song and contained a working kitchen, furnished dining room, living rooms, bedrooms, and bathroom.
Leona inspected the kitchen and was no doubt relieved to learn that a team of 19 local girls would be there to assist. Newspaper reports of the time do not mention where Leona, Mrs. Gould, or the turkey spent the evening.
The next morning, Leona and Mrs. Gould went to the Tivioli Theater, which was holding a benefit performance of the comedy “Cold Turkey” for the Girl Scouts. Leona met Mrs. Coolidge, for the first time.
After the film ended, the dignitaries moved on for dinner. In addition to the Coolidges, the guest list included Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover, who had secured the building for the Girl Scouts; May Flather, head of Girl Scouts in Washington, DC; J.S. Storrow, national president of the Boy Scouts; and Dean Sarah Arnold, national president of the Girl Scouts.
The girls gathered in the dining room and, once everyone was seated, began to serve.
Leona’s glistening turkey rested on a sideboard. When she passed the platter to the President, “Silent Cal” commented, “Thank you. It looks very good.”
Aside from Leona, the other girls were local. Lucille Weber and Margaret Strong, for example, were hostesses. Marian Bates, of Troop 42, was in charge of circulating the cream and sugar, while Phyllis Adelman, also from Troop 42, had celery and carrot duty. Everyone was nervous.
Marian and I bumped each other, spilling cream on the President’s coat. We cleaned it off as best we could and Grace Coolidge was so kind. … Cal ignored the whole thing!
Recollections of Phyllis Adelman Larson, GSCNC Archives.
Newspaper accounts of this most memorable dinner focus exclusively on Leona, using extremely outdated language that makes the dinner seem like an installment of the “Perils of Pauline.”
Leona collapsed after the luncheon was over. The honor and excitement had been too great. A little heart had beaten too wildly and had signaled to a set of taut nerves that it was time for reaction. Hysteria, the price of Leona’s glory, ensued.
Solicitous Scout leaders gathered around the little Vermont girl, and after much nursing and petting and drying of tears, brought her back to emotional stability.
Washington Post (November 8, 1925): 1.
And what of the other 19 girls?
They hardly were standing by taking selfies. In fact, given the limited capacity of the Little House, THEY were probably the ones giving aid.
Let’s do a quick experiment: what Girl Scout history information appears on your local council’s website?
Go to your council’s website and click on “Our Council” then “About Our Council. The wording may vary slightly.
If those are not an option, try “About GS” then “Our History.”
Not affiliated with a particular council? Don’t know which council is currently yours? Not a problem. Go to the GSUSA Council Finder page and click on any state.
You should arrive on a page that looks like this:
It has a nice history of the Girl Scout movement. It is concise, and more info is available through a link. I like the photo of Juliette Gordon Low with an early troop and her personal flag.
But at the moment you’re looking at a council website, not GSUSA. Do you see any council history? It does not have to be lengthy, Southwest Indiana, for example, adds a paragraph specific to them following the national history:
I’ve found very little local history on council sites.
If your selected council has a museum, its hours and specifics are probably listed. There may be a sentence or two with information for prospective researchers. There might be a sentence that specifies the year in which that council was created. But wait … something is missing.
About 90 years of Girl Scout history.
Do you see anything about Girl Scouting between 1912 and 2008? Anything about the Realignment program or at least a list of the legacy councils that combined to create the current council?
Cue the crickets and try not to fall into that gaping chasm.
Only One Shade of Green
Beginning in 2015, GSUSA’s Customer Engagement Initiative standardized council websites. As someone who frequently visits websites of multiple councils, I find it very easy to navigate. I imagine it is cost effective for councils as well.
But I’ve noticed a troubling change in content in the past few months. Most council sites have a history page with the exact same three paragraphs on the history of the movement. I can see where that would be useful to introduce Girl Scouts to non-members.
But what happened to council histories? If there is a page or even a paragraph on council history, I cannot find much beyond the date the council was created. Where have all the legacy councils gone? It is difficult to even find the name of a legacy council--those 300+ councils consolidated into 112 a decade ago.
Instead, council descriptions enumerate counties covered today. Again, useful information, but only part of the story. There is a gaping chasm in history between 1912 and 2008.
I contacted GSUSA with this question and was told that councils have complete control over the content of their site. Really?
Thanks to the Corona virus, days, weeks and even seasons have become a jumble. This time-warp effect, I think, is partly due to the lack of seasonal signposts.
This year there was no July 4th parade in my suburban town. Summer concerts are cancelled. Back-to-school shopping has been scaled back. And what about the Kentucky Derby? The family julep cups were polished, chilled, and ready to fill with minty goodness.
But what I find myself missing today is Camp Sunshine, a Girl Scout day camp about a 45-minute drive from our house. The last week of July is always Camp Sunshine week. My daughter Erin went every year from first grade through 12th, except for one year she was at NYU. I also worked there for four summers, including the one Erin missed.
The camp is held in a wooded area owned by a small, nearby church, but it is separated from the church buildings (and cemetery) by a field, usually planted with corn or soybeans. There was a small footbridge by the church, and protocol was that parents stayed on one side and watched their daughters cross the bridge, join other campers and head for the woods, walking on a gravel road. At afternoon pickup, we’d wait in the church parking lot and watch for our daughters to emerge from the corn.
The camp was pretty spartan. There’s a nice amphitheater, and porta-potties brought in for the occasion, but the units are concrete slabs with picnic tables and a large wooden storage box. Shelters are made by hoisting tarps and fastening the ropes around one of the many trees.
But once you got the campers and the staff together, the magic begins. Girls normally glued to their phones and screens discover that they can get by with much simpler gear. And, they learn that it is fun to be outside, that the occasional worm crawling about won’t bite them, and to always take a buddy. They also will learn songs. Morning songs, lunchtime songs, hiking songs, and at least one song intended to annoy adults for months on end. “Stay on the Sunny Side” always seemed to fill that last category. There always is a sober-minded staffer who explains to the girls that Princess Pat did not actually live in a tree.
And, for the record, Girl Scouts have been singing “Baby Shark” for decades.
In addition to making friends and having fun, Camp Sunshine was a treasured source of continuity for my daughter. Erin was in three different Brownie troops and three different elementary schools, but for the first four years at Camp Sunshine, she had the same leader (called “Butterfly”) and a large group of familiar faces in her unit.
That first year, she met a girl named Laura, and they quickly became friends. Unfortunately, they lived quite far apart. Year after year, the two girls would impatiently wait for Camp Sunshine so they could see each other again. As they became Cadettes, they were thrilled to find they were both going to the same magnet middle school and later the same magnet high school. Finally, the two wound up in the same troop, and they stayed together through high school. They attended college on opposite coasts, graduating in 2019. Both wound up in California for work, and despite being on opposite ends of the state, they have managed to visit back and forth. That is the power of a Girl Scout friendship.
When the camp switched from two weeks to one, I volunteered to lead the Cadette unit. I like working with that age group (middle school) because that’s the time we loose so many girls. They choose other, more time-consuming activities or decide that Girl Scouts isn’t cool. If we keep them through middle school, they can become Program Aides (junior counselors) in high school. At one point, my teen troop provided six Program Aides.
I tried to make the Cadette unit cool. We set up at the farthest edge of the camp, and skip some all-unit activities. The year all units had cute aquatic-themed names (Starfish, Mermaids, etc.), we were The Island–very foreboding and mysterious. I tried to create an atmosphere where the younger girls couldn’t wait to be a Cadette.
So we did cool stuff. I usually had around 15 girls. One year was forestry, origami, and paper-making. Another was Crime Scene Investigations, where the girls created crime scenes for the others to solve. We experimented with different recipes for fake, “movie” blood. That year I uttered one of the strangest sentences in my Girl Scout career:
“No, Susie, you can’t take your bag of severed limbs to the closing flag ceremony.”
The last two years were extra-fun. We did activities that turned into two of my Hunger Games patches. The girls did archery, made bread, and learned how to treat various injuries from the books. They made obstacle courses, makeshift tents, designed uniforms, and interviewed “tributes” competing in the games.
I really wanted to stay on at least another year, enough to finish the Hunger Games trilogy, but I reluctantly had to acknowledge that I could not continue.
About 20 years ago I had a catastrophic leg injury. Doctors saved the leg, but after several surgeries, I lost muscles, tendons and more. I now have a leg brace and cannot stand for long periods of time. I am especially prone to tripping, so the woods are hazardous.
The camp director was very generous about accommodations for me. I could drive out to the campsite, and I had program aides to help, but that still meant keeping the girls close to the unit, and me collapsing in a pool of pain each night.
Nevertheless, I am proud that I took on this challenge. It was really hard, but also fun. I loved working with a difficult age group and keeping them excited about staying Girl Scouts. I loved watching camping return as staff. I loved stopping at 7-11 for a Slurpee fix with a carload of Program Aides from my troop.
But the best part, of course, was working with Erin. Even when we were in different units, we did planning and packing, and setting up together.
I guess with all of life’s many changes, girls growing up and leaving for the next phase of their lives, it has been reassuring to know that, year after year, Camp Sunshine would always convene on the last week of July.
Camp Sunshine was cancelled this year, but I hope it will rise again in 2021. We could all use a dose of stability and continuity.
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!