Blank Spots and Black Holes

Let’s do a quick experiment: what history information appears on your 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 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.

Illustration 95575932 © Orlando Florin RosuDreamstime.com

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?

What about this statement, which was included in the 2017 Stewardship Report?

GSUSA, 2017 Stewardship Report, p. 34.

Take a closer look at the third line from the bottom:

…we introduced a standard set of national content covering our history and program as well as consistent branding…

GSUSA, 2017 Stewardship Report, p. 34.

Is the intent here to provide national history in lieu of council history?

I’m not suggesting a great conspiracy here, perhaps it is just confusion. Perhaps councils did not get the memo saying that they could add their own history content?

If not, GSUSA should send it again. Councils should ask.

Listening to the Past
Brownie Try-It, 1989-2011

Girl Scouts has a rich history across the movement. History that is rich in breadth and depth.

It is time we stop erasing the board every time new leadership arrives.

Sorry folks, but history does not begin with you--but you surely can end it.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Summer Sunshine

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.

“Butterfly” and Erin, 2006

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.

Laura and Erin, 2009

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.

Staff, 2011

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.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Caption, Please #1

I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite vintage Girl Scout photos from time to time.

I’ll include some information, such as the date and location, but, dear readers, I’d like YOU to suggest a caption.

Serious is good, funny is better, but keep them clean.

Photo 1: Maryland Girl Scout camp in 1920s.

Grab some cookies, get creative, and start typing!

Vintage Girl Scouts using compasses outside teepee tents.
Girl Scouts at camp, 1920s

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Rolling Down the Street

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.)

In fact, this was the third relocation for the Adas Israel synagogue.

Rendering of new Capital Jewish Museum
Architectural rendering of new museum (Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington)

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.

Loading the Little House on rails (Harris & Ewing).
Moving the Little House from its exhibition site to 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House.
Moving the Little House from its exhibition site to 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House (Harris & Ewing).

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.

Preparing the Little House for travel (Acme Photo)

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.

Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 for the Little House to be moved from its exhibition site to its new location at 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone.
Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 to relocate the Little House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone, as 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.

Cover of promotional brochure advertising products in the Little House (GSUSA archives)
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These girls are preparing lunch while their guest of honor, Eleanor Roosevelt, observes.

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.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Favorite Pin Identified

Three years ago I shared my favorite piece of Girl Scout memorabilia. It is a sterling silver and brass brooch that I found on eBay.

 

 

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.

GSCWCF website

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!

©2018 Ann Robertson

Sharing Girl Scout Ways

GSWay_AmbThe 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_Eaglet

Watching “The Golden Eaglet” in October 2015 (photo by Sarah Barz).

 

Ann_Jenn

Ambassador Jenn, an archives aide, watches as I model my own vest (photo by Sarah Barz).

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Sandy Alexander teaches Council history.

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Don’t forget classic songs and games! Susan Ducey teaches Strut Miss Lizzie (above).

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Trying out an old badge requirement (photo by Sarah Barz).

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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.

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GSCNC Antiques Road Show

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!

Juliette Gordon Low Gets Another “Wax” Likeness

JGL AMC

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!”

Tyrell

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.