Meeting Minnie: Crowdsourcing History

Minnie Hill Uniform

Minnie Hill’s uniform

I knew it would be fun to share Minnie Hill’s uniform with everyone. Writing that post became even more exciting as I discovered details about her life. What I didn’t expect, was how many readers would join the search for more about Minnie.

Readers jumped into Ancestry.com, Newspapers.com, and more. Different facts were posted on different platforms, so I’ll gather them together here.

First, readers asked about the uniform’s provenance. They came from the family of Janet McIntyre of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Janet had been an active Girl Scout leader beginning in the 1950s. Like many leaders, she accumulated many, many, GS materials over the years, and troops could borrow items, such as these vintage uniforms, for meetings and ceremonies. Janet passed away in June 2015 (age 94). Her children discovered the uniforms as they prepared to sell the house and contacted the council to inquire about donating. They aren’t sure where or when their mother acquired this uniform–one of many.

Biography

Minnie Mosher Hill was born September 30, 1903, and died August 25, 1988. She never married and lived first with her mother, and later with a sister, Eleanor. After attending college, she initially worked as a secretary in a Washington law firm. She then spent 20 years working at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.

Her obituary shows Minnie’s interest in history and genealogy. She was an active member of the Colonial Dames Society, serving as regional chairman and on the national board.

Picturing Minnie

Several readers fired up PhotoShop to try to digitally repair our one confirmed image. Not only is the original torn, it is partly stuck to a plastic cover, which makes it difficult to get a clear image to work with. The brownish version is from Mel Squiers, the reddish one from Merena Cadorette.

 

 

Yearbook

But the prize for the best contribution goes to Stan Myles, from my own Service Unit. Several people had suggested looking for Minnie in old copies of the Central High School yearbook, but I haven’t had time to go to the DC Public School Archives.

Stan took the search a step further and discovered that, like his own daughter, Minnie is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park. He sent this page from Minnie’s senior yearbook:

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Minnie Hill in the 1925 University of Maryland yearbook

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Historian Stan Miles, without Minnie

I had hoped to take a picture of Stan with Minnie’s uniform at our council’s Back to Troop kickoff last weekend, but I decided against displaying the uniform when I couldn’t arrange appropriate security for it. (The hotel wouldn’t let me build a moat.)

This photo will have to do.

Thank you to everyone who helped tell Minnie’s story!!

Minnie is buried in Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Meet Minnie Hill

Wednesday began as an ordinary work day at the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland.

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Girl Scout Uniform, 1917-1919

While chatting over recent trips and eclipse plans, committee members worked to update the badge and patch collection and to continue processing the extensive donation of vintage Girl Scout and Girl Guide uniforms that we received in April. (With over 100 uniforms, it is a long, but fascinating task.)

We focused on one of the vintage suitcases that came with the collection.  (Even the suitcases are in pristine shape.) There were about a dozen bags to go through.

First, we found the tiniest khaki uniform I’ve ever seen. Skirt, jacket, even the bloomers were included. It appears home-made.

Then I heard someone yell, “Look at the badges!” One sleeve of the uniform was covered with an impressive, colorful record of hard work.

Minnie Hill Sleeve

Elusive White Felt badges: (from top left clockwise): Clerk, Civics, Matron Housekeeper, Attendance, Signaling, Dairy Maid, and Laundress (GSCNC Archives)

Yes, those are seven White Felt badges–the rarest of rare Girl Scout badges, available only from 1913 to 1918. The seven new White Felts bring our total number to — 10!

But when we turned the jacket over, we got an even bigger surprise:

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Minnie Hill’s Golden Eaglet, Buttercup Troop Crest, War Service Pin, and US Treasury War Service Award (GSCNC Archives)

According to a tattered paper in the suitcase, the uniform belonged to Minnie Hill.

Of course, this called for more research.

The included paper had three typed paragraphs, two faded newspaper clippings, and one ripped photo. They reported that Minnie Hill attended Central High School in Washington, DC, and was a Girl Scout in Troop 9 from 1917 to 1919.

She received her First Class badge from Mrs. Woodrow Wilson at a White House ceremony 100 years ago — on June 21, 1917.

Two years later she was back at the White House, this time to receive her Golden Eaglet from Queen Elizabeth of Belgium on October 31, 1919. The Queen, her husband, and their son were touring the United States at the time, and her participation in the ceremony had a special significance for Minnie, as Troop 9 had practiced their sewing and knitting skills by making layette sets for newborns in Belgium.

A Washington Times article about the 1919 ceremony noted that Minnie had earned 19 badges; all of which are still on her uniform sleeve.

In between those awards, Minnie was recognized for selling Liberty Bonds during World War I. The Washington Post reported that she had sold eleven war bonds for a total of $900. In addition to a medal, high sellers usually were honored with a parade. Alas, the 1918 parade was canceled due to the Spanish flu outbreak.

Sadly, our photo of Minnie is torn, crumbling, and not terribly useful. Attempts to repair it have done more harm than good:

Minnie Hill 3

I searched the electronic archives of three different Washington newspapers, but did not find the photo.

Then I had another idea. That ceremony in 1917 was well documented. In fact, it was the ceremony where two Washington scouts, Eleanor Putzki and Ruth Colman received their Golden Eagles of Merit. Could Minnie be in one of those photos?

Here is the group shot from after the Court of Awards:

 

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White House Court of Awards, June 21, 1917. That’s Ruth Colman front and center, with her sleeve full of badges and her Golden Eagle of Merit pin. (Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection)

 

Take a closer look at the young lady on the back row, far left. I think that is Minnie Hill.

History hasn’t lost her after all.

©2017 Ann Robertson

My Afternoon with Frances Hesselbein

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Frances Hesselbein (Hesselbein Institute)

I never met Juliette Gordon Low, of course, but last week I came pretty close. I had the privilege of spending part of the day with Frances Hesselbein at her office in Manhattan. Few individuals have had as great an impact on the Girl Scout movement as this gracious lady.

Mrs. Hesselbein was the GSUSA National Executive Director from 1976 to 1990. Her first day on the job, in fact, was July 4, 1976. Today she is the director of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.

I had asked to interview her about the decision to sell Rockwood National Center in 1978. But we soon moved on to the many highlights and happier memories from her time at GSUSA.

She presided over many milestones, some more popular than others, including implementing circular management principles, introducing the Worlds to Explore program, reconfiguring the Edith Macy Center into a year-round training facility, and the introduction of the contemporary (three faces) logo. Some of her favorite memories include:

Halston Uniform

Mrs. H (“Frances” just seems too informal!) had just returned from visiting a Halston retrospective exhibition at the Nassau County (NY) Museum of Art. The famous fashion designer had created a stylish collection of adult uniforms in 1978, and Mrs. H vividly recalled participating in that process. She also let me borrow the gorgeous exhibit catalog.

Camping

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The diverse staff of Camp Blue Knob, circa 1952 (Hesselbein Institute)

I had submitted my resume, Rockwood book outline and synopsis, and several other documents in advance, and Mrs. H immediately noted that we both had experience as camp staff, making us both survivors of that trial by fire. She shared with me several staff photos from her time directing Camp Blue Knob in western Pennsylvania and pointed out the unusual racial diversity of the group for the early 1950s. She also had a photo from the summer 2016 camp out on the White House Lawn.

White House Honors

JAN15,1998 copy

Frances Hesselbein and President Bill Clinton (Hesselbein Institute)

While Mrs. H never camped on the White House lawn — that I know of — she has been a frequent visitor. But few visits can top one in 1998, when President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. (Juliette Gordon Low was posthumously awarded the medal in 2012.) The beautiful medal is prominently displayed in her office.

 

 

 

Diversity

While her Girl Scout camp was integrated in the early 1950s, society lagged behind. Mrs. Hesselbein recalled that she could not eat with her African-American staff members at any restaurant in any nearby town.

With that camp experience in mind, one of her priorities as head of GSUSA was to reach out to all girls, especially girls in historically underserved communities.  When she began at GSUSA, the organization was 95% white; fourteen years later, minority ranks had tripled.

As part of that effort, she sought to have a greater range of images in Girl Scout handbooks and other publications. She wanted any girl, of any background, to be able to find herself in a handbook. New handbooks depicted girls of all skin tones, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all physical abilities — in other words, all girls.

A Secret to Longevity?

Finally, as our conversation drew to a close, I brought up another topic: age. Mrs. Hesselbein is 101 — exactly twice my age.

Of course, many people remark on her extraordinary vigor. But my casual research in recent months has led me to a realization. We Girl Scouts seem to be an exceptionally long-lived group of women.

That holds true for volunteers and long-time staff. I just recently learned of a former Rockwood director who has passed away in February — and wanted it known in her obituary that she lived to 99 years and seven months.  At Nation’s Capital, we lost two past council presidents in recent years — Marguerite Cyr (101) and Bobby Lerch (104).

And the more I investigate, the more very senior Girl Scouts I find. Camping expert Kit Hammett (96); national board member Lillian Gilbreth (93). National presidents Henrietta Bates Brooke (89) and Grace MacNeil (92). But the record, so far, must be Executive Director Dorothy C. Stratton, who passed away at age 107!

 

I would love to see some data on the percentage of our membership over age 90 compared with the general population. That could be quite a retention incentive.

I asked Mrs. Hesselbein what she thought might be behind this possible trend. We came up with the same answer immediately — the girls.

The girls keep us young.

Postscript: No selfies from my visit, some memories are too precious to share. 

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Pittsburgh’s Troop 47

Being a Girl Scout archivist is always an adventure. Donations come in bags and boxes, via the mail or literally left on a doorstep. We know to go through the donations carefully. We get lots of old uniform socks, the occasional 20-year old cookie box (with the cookies still inside!), not to mention the potentially hazardous old first aid kits.

One recent donation included a shopping bag full of assorted papers: flag ceremony diagrams, permission slips, the typical troop records. But among the packing lists and kaper charts was this photo:

 

Pitt Girls

Captain Irma Gorton and Troop 47 of Pittsburgh, c. 1923

 

At first I thought it was a photocopy,  but no, it is the real thing.  There is some damage to the photo, but it is in remarkably good shape for being nearly 100 years old.

According to the caption written in pencil on the back, this is Troop 47, sponsored by Latimore Junior High School in Pittsburgh. Irma S. Gorton was captain, and the date is estimated as 1923.

But wait…there’s more! These documents were in an envelope in the same bag of random papers:

 

Gorton Card

Irma Gorton’s membership card

 

 

Gorton Certificate

Irma Gorton’s appointment certificate

 

The appointment certificate needs some preservation attention. It has been folded for decades, all four borders are present but delicate. You can also see the official stamp/seal in the lower left corner.

It is only fair to send these items to the Girl Scout Council of Western Pennsylvania, but I wanted to share them first!

©2017, Ann Robertson

 

Brownies in the Philippines

I promised a better look at our newly acquired, hyper-adorable uniform for Brownies in the Philippines.

Ta da!

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I don’t have many hard facts about this uniform, but there are plenty of clues.

The dress has no labels or manufacturing marks, so it likely was homemade. It is pale brown linen.

A card in the pocket says it was donated by Mildred “Connie” Conrad in March 1987, but it is obviously much older.  This was part of a large donation that included flags for every country represented; the US flag included only has 48 stars, suggesting the 1950s or earlier.

The Philippines is an exception to the “Girl Guides” naming pattern used by most countries in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The first troops in the Philippines were established by families of US servicemen stationed there.  They were registered in New York as Girl Scouts, much like Troops on Foreign Soil. The original charter for the Philippines was issued in May 1940, but the organization had to be significantly reorganized and revived after World War II.

The dress has several patches, badges, and insignia:

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These look like the Golden Hand and Golden Bar emblems used by American Brownies between 1926 and 1937. The Girl Scout Collector’s Guide explains,

The Golden Bar rank represented a bit of the Golden Ground that the Brownie stands on ready to lend a hand. The Golden Hand rank showed that the Brownie could really lend a hand.

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The other shoulder has a Brownie Six emblem, council strip, and troop number.

This looks like the “Little People” emblem, which was introduced in 1929.

The dress includes eight badges, sewn around the waistband. These resemble badges earned by Girl Guides, especially as US Brownies did not earn badges before 1986.

 

Now, for the hard part, can anyone identify the badges?

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Based on current and vintage Girl Guide badges, my best guess is:

Writer, Knitting, Swimmer

 


Swimmer, Housekeeper (or cooking?), Jester (Blue Skeletor? He’s kinda creepy.)


Jester, Toymaker, Discoverer

 

 

IMG_3874 (1)Badge #8 is on the back of the dress. Perhaps Softball? Athlete?

I’ll share some of the other vintage uniforms, but don’t promise to do all 50!

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

 

 

 

Archives at Annual Meeting

Saturday, April 8, was the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. The Archives & History Committee always creates a display for the event.

This year we featured vintage adult uniforms and uniform kits. As usual, I visited with so many people that I forgot to take many pictures, but here are a few:

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Vintage adult Girl Scout uniforms.

IMG_3787The uniform display was so popular that we had people lining up to take photos with them!

Troops can check out vintage uniform kits for meetings or events. Each kit is a suitcase containing about seven uniforms and handbooks. We have all-age samplers, as well as Brownie, Junior, and Teen kits. We will be adding an adult kit soon.

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Uniform Program Kits

We were delighted to receive an enormous new donation just a few days before the Annual Meeting.  Not only did the donation include many adult uniforms in near-pristine condition, there also were nearly 50 international uniforms from the 1950s.

They came from the family of Janet McIntyre of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Janet had been an active Girl Scout leader beginning in the 1950s. Like many leaders, she accumulated many, many, GS materials over the years, and troops could borrow items, such as these vintage uniforms, for meetings and ceremonies. Janet passed away in June 2015 (age 94). Her children discovered the uniforms as they prepared to sell the house and contacted the council to inquire about donating.

We brought a few of the international uniforms to display at the Annual Meeting as well. This Brownie dress from the Philippines may be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. The hand-embroidered badges are sewn on the waistband. (See next post.)

Committee members also wore vintage uniforms. I picked the Stella Sloat dress from 1968. I think we should bring back gloves.

Council members can check out vintage uniforms to wear for the National Conference Session this October. Contact me if you are interested.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Girl Scout Shoes, Part 2

When I wrote about vintage Girl Scout shoes, many readers shared their memories of various sturdy, sensible oxford shoes.

But one Girl Scout historian emerged as the supreme arbiter of Girl Scout footwear: Merana Cadorette.

Check out what’s in her closet:

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Part of Merana Cadorette’s Girl Scout shoe collection (photo courtesy Merana Cadorette).

Look at those adorable Brownie slippers!!  I am SO jealous!

©2016 Ann Robertson