Pants! We Want Pants!

What issue topped the agenda of the 1969 National Council session?

Pants. The membership spoke, and they wanted uniforms with pants.

Responding to waves of requests from girls, GSUSA announced that it would remain a uniformed movement and update girl uniforms. The most requested item? Pants. Active girls—not to mention their mothers—did not want to sacrifice movement for modesty. 

Official Uniform Catalog from 1963
Fashion Design, 1997-2011

Designing uniforms is a multifaceted process. The overall design needs to be visually unifying and reflect contemporary fashion without falling for passing fads that will shorten their appeal. The cut must flatter a wide range of body types, the fabric needs to be suitable for multiple climates, and the color palette needs to enhance skin tones ranging from very fair to very dark. Decorations and trims are kept to a minimum, both to keep costs down as well as to not compete with official insignia. 

Senior Uniform, 1960-1971

First up was the smallest age group—Senior Girl Scouts.  These high schoolers were still wearing the two-piece skirt suit introduced in 1960. Made out of a deep green sharkskin cotton fabric, the brightly colored uniform trim indicated the wearer’s area of concentration. Troops focused on International Friendship, for example, wore yellow ties and hat cords, Wing troops orange, and Homemaker troops turquoise. This iconic uniform, topped with an Overseas-style hat, was beloved by fans of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, but fell out of favor with the bell-bottom and suede fringe-wearing girls of the late 1960s. Girls had quickly nicknamed the suit the “Stewardess uniform,” but by now it was no longer a compliment. Besides, even the flight attendants had moved on to trendier styles. Seniors themselves had their own ideas about a uniform; they wanted pants—and mini-skirts, too.

After considering suggestions, designs, and even samples sent by girls, the National Equipment Service (NES) settled on two versions of a sleek step-in style A-line dress that buttoned up the front. For feedback, they took the uniform to the girls.

Manufacturers created samples in sizes 6 through 20 and shipped them to Rockwood National Camp and the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah. Visiting Seniors of all shapes and sizes tried on the samples and completed feedback cards. They had a definite preference for one version and one shade of green, but indicated that they wanted heavier fabric, a belt, and pants. Designers made more revisions and presented the result to the National Executive Committee for final approval. NES was still not convinced of the need for pants, but they conceded defeat on the matter. 

Senior Uniform, 1971-1980

Ultimately, the girls were rewarded with pants in the same green cotton poplin fabric, but the semi-flared legs hardly qualified as bell-bottoms. The ensemble included a soft beret made of the same fabric, a tab tie, and a formidable green leather belt that was 1.5” wide with adjustment holes running the entire length.

But the most notable feature was the dress’s hemline—or, rather, the lack of one. After endless debates among focus groups and survey responses, GSUSA gave up trying to settle on the appropriate length. The dress was sold unhemmed, with a hang-tag reading: “The Official GS Uniform with the Unofficial Hemline.” If girls wanted mini-skirted uniforms, Headquarters seemed to say, let parents deal with the matter.  Many Senior Girl Scouts were accustomed to sewing their own clothes and turned the new dress into a short tunic to be worn over the new pants. Just how many ditched the pants once out their front door is unknown. 

And to really be mod, GSUSA created a line of hippy, crunchy-granola inspired casual pieces at the same time. Can’t you just imagine Marcia Brady or Laurie Partridge in these funky frocks?

GSUSA pieces for the fashion-forward Senior Girl Scout in 1971

Nope, me either. And if you look closely at the 1973 image showing the new uniforms, that spiffy green cape is marked “SALE,” although it doesn’t come through well in the picture. Guess these duds were a dud.

The other age levels received new uniforms in 1973. Instead of a single dress, Brownies, Juniors, and Cadettes each had their choice of five or six mix-and-match pieces, that included jumpers, pants, shorts, cotton blouses, and hideous polyester double-knit turtleneck bodysuits that were hot, itchy, had a stiff plastic zipper that grabbed your hair, and featured a snap crotch that perpetually pinched your privates. 

Catalog descriptions of the new clothing reflected the lingo of the time, emphasizing choice, individuality, and liberation:

1973 Catalog Copy Introducing New Uniforms

New space-age materials meant less wrinkling and less ironing.

The new styles included several pieces for each age level, creating another point of consistency.

Each level had a tie that snapped together. No more arguments about how to tie a neckerchief or which way the ends should point. The polyester, turtleneck bodysuit was high fashion at the time, not to mention indestructible and UNCOMFORTABLE. Can clothing cause PTSD? Because if so, these bodysuits would have.

The new Cadette uniform included the very first vest, instead of a badge sash. They were made from dark green felt, and some people mistakenly think they were homemade.

This week a new collection of uniform pieces debuted. So far, they are targeted toward the older age levels.

Hopefully GSUSA will never repeat the snap-zip-bodysuit debacle of the 1970s.

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

Martha and the Stailey Sisters

No, it’s not a girl band from the 1960s. It’s a girl group from the 1910s!

My last post profiled Martha Bowers Taft, who began a Girl Scout troop at the Noel Settlement House in Washington, DC, in 1914.

Near the end of 1914, Martha married Robert Taft, son of President William Howard Taft, at St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square (and scene of protests this week).

My favorite part of Martha’s story is that her troop attended the wedding. The girls were mentioned by name in the plentiful news coverage of this enormous social event. Can’t you just imagine these little disadvantaged girls mingling with Washington’s elite?

Washington Post (October 25, 1914)

I thought some of the names seems familiar. The connection was something way, way back in my mind.

I was right. After a deep dive into our council’s archives produced two tintypes.

After a little cleanup with PhotoShop, I’m thrilled to present:

The Stailey Sisters!

I don’t know why Margaret, the fourth Stailey girl mentioned in the newspaper, was not included in the photo session. Alas.

But look at those proud girls in the Girl Scout uniforms! And they even brought their semaphore flags!!

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

Breathe in Virtual Fresh Air

Got cabin fever? If not, it’s coming soon.

The ongoing coronavirus crap means that thousands of spring Girl Scout camping trips have been cancelled.

Maybe this vintage postcard from a 1920 leaders’ camp will help anyone experiencing camp deprivation:

Leaders perform their morning calisthenics at camp.

These leaders are starting their day with a round of “setting up” exercises, just like the campers in the Golden Eaglet, a 1918 promotional film from the Girl Scouts.

This postcard was never mailed. Instead, the owner used it as a souvenir of her time at camp.

For you non-cursive folks, it reads:

“The mess hall is to the left and the lake down to the right. I am the 7th one in the 2d row from the left and Rose is the 4th one in the 3d row. The 3d on in the 4th row was our bugler. We called her Tommy. She was fine at the taps trade.

Our tent isn’t shown here.”

Don’t you just love the camp uniform of middies and bloomers?

Those were the days!

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

Those Naked Leaders?

Those Naked Leaders?

I received this announcement from GSUSA today:

GSUSA Message, February 25, 2020

The new scarf looks lovely. But what really caught my attention was the statement that I underlined:

“In 1968, our first adult uniform…”

Oh my. No adult uniforms for the first 56 years? Really?

That gives a whole new dimension to exploring the great out-doors.

Perhaps what was meant in this release was that 1968 was the first time a well-known designer created an adult uniform?

Wrong again.

In 1948 the American designer Mainbocher created new uniforms for Intermediates, Seniors, and ADULTS.

GSUSA eagerly announced the new garments in its own publications:

1948 National Equipment Catalog

… and press releases.

Lancaster New Era (September 8, 1948)

Before the Girl Scout uniforms, Mainbocher was best known for outfitting the WAVES (women serving in the US Navy) during World War II.

A retrospective exhibition of Mainbocher’s work was held in Chicago in 2016. Vogue magazine described the man as “The Most Important American Designer You’ve Never Heard Of.” (And it’s pronounced Main-Bocker)

Tsk. Tsk. Next time, run it by a Girl Scout historian. Better yet, an editor/Girl Scout historian.

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

A Brief History of Troop Crests

Troop Crests are some of the oldest official insignia. Originally, each patrol (sub-group) within a troop had a different crest. The first troop in Savannah, for example, had White Rose, Carnation, Red Rose, and Poppy patrols. Over time, crests began to encompass the entire troop.

Original Savannah Girl Scouts (Georgia Historical Society)

Early troops were identified by their crest, not troop number, as in this Washington Post article from 1914.

Clipping from the Washington Post (March 29, 1914).

Similarly, members of this troop were the “Surrey Poppies.”

Washington, DC’s “Surrey Poppies” troop, 1931

In May 1913, Juliette Gordon Low brought a selection of English Girl Guide crests for the earliest American troops to use. The English crests were circles of black felt, embroidered with bright colors and a red border.

The Girl Scouts adopted many of the English crests in 1920. They soon realized that the Blackbird crest was almost invisible when embroidered on black felt. The girls decided to use blue thread instead and renamed it “Bluebird” in 1922.

Chart based on John Player and Sons, Patrol Signs and Emblems trading cards

Traditionally, once girls chose a crest, it was used for the lifetime of the troop.

Excerpt from 1947 Handbook

But there are exceptions to every rule. Estelle Kelso, owner of this uniform, was either in a troop that picked a new crest each year or perhaps she changed troops.

Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and Poppy Crests

Contrary to popular belief, meanings have only been ascribed to crests in recent years. The early crests were all flowers, trees, waterfalls, stars and other non-floral designs came later. Between 1923 and 1930, troops were encouraged to

choose the names of famous women, either from real life or literature, and “build up troop traditions around them. … select women “who have done conspicuous service or pioneer work in professional and scientific fields, or who were associated with our early American life, either in the colonies or in the Westward moving border lands.”

–Blue Book of Rules
Contemporary Troop Crest Meanings, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland

From 1918 to 2011, troops could also design their own crests. They chose images that reflect their interests or perhaps a local landmark or significant culture. The meanings of many, however, are known only to the girls.

Whatever the design, fabric, or official status, crests can always be identified by shape. Crests are oval, all badges are (or were) round. That’s a difference that is easily overlooked by even the best historians. The rare fuchsia crest at right was mis-identified online by the Georgia Historical Society.

Designs have come and gone over the years. In 2011 the oval shape was replaced by a shield shape. Yet some designs have remained nearly unchained for over 100 years.

What new designs will be added in the future?

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

So That’s In Your Bag, Girl Scout

Last week I shared photos of our exhibit of pocket-sized Girl Scout memorabilia. We had photos of various Girl Scout bags and what girls and adults might have carried over the years.

As promised, here are the four main photos, with the various items labeled. Did you recognize all of them?

Enjoy!

Girl Purses 1970s Labels2

Girl purses then

Girl Purses today Labels2

Girl purses now

Leader Purse 1950s Labels2

Leader purses then

Leader Purses today Labels2

Leader purses now

 

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

What’s In Your Bag, Girl Scout?

Scouting Bag T-Shirt

I had this t-shirt from the late 1970s!

When we changed the history display at the council headquarters recently, I realized that I hadn’t shared our summer exhibit online.

The theme came from a non-Girl Scout source: a regular feature in Us Magazine. Each week, the magazine has a celebrity dump out her bag; usually a purse, but sometimes a diaper bag, backpack, or shopping bag.

 

meghan-trainor-whats-in-my-bag-02

Singer Meghan Trainor’s bag, Us Magazine (August 25, 2018)

Magazine editors tag various items, usually providing a handful of product names and purchase information. I think a little pruning happens before the actual photo shoot, as you never see dirty tissues, used gum, and other unmentionables that you’d find in my purse, at least.

I didn’t fully photograph this exhibit due to lighting issues. Instead, I tried to recreate parts in my tabletop photo studio.

We created paired “now-and-then” vignettes for girls, leaders, and campers.

How many items do you recognize?

I’m not going to label these pictures today. I will update with labels on October 1.

IMG_5959

Girl, 1950s-1970s

IMG_5962

Girl today

IMG_5966

Leader, 1950s-1960s

IMG_5970

Of course, the first Girl Scouts didn’t need a purse. They carried all of their essentials on their utility belt or in their pockets.

Utility Belt

Here’s a quick look at the entire display. You can bet I took plenty of photos as we installed our fall exhibit!

Bag Display

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

 

Picture Yourself in the Girl Scout Archives

Last Saturday was the Nation’s Capital 2018 Annual Meeting, and the Archives and History Committee arranged an exhibit.

2018 Annual Meeting Patch

 

The exhibit theme was “Picture Yourself in the Girl Scout Archives,” and it had two parts. First, Committee members brought a current project to share. We are informally divided by specialty (uniforms, patch programs, books, publications, etc.) and this seemed a good way to demonstrate what the Committee does.

I brought some of our camera collection to decorate our display, and many girls were fascinated by them. We had to explain that these cameras did not have phones.

Second, we organized a photo booth with old uniforms. Last year we had a large exhibit of adult uniforms and people were literally lining up to have their picture made with the mannequins. We decided to build on that by having uniform pieces to try on.

 

Hats were easy to arrange.  We’d been advised by other history groups to be vigilant about hygiene since we didn’t want to accidentally spread germs or unwelcome critters. We lined each hat with a basket-style coffee filter that we changed after each wearing.

Uniforms were more challenging. Folks today are larger than people a few decades ago and some of our uniforms are tiny! We know that for fashion shows, we have to go for younger models.  Sometimes only a Daisy in kindergarten can fit into a vintage Brownie dress, and we have to use a fifth-grade Junior for one of the vintage teen uniforms.

But we’d gotten a fabulous idea from other historians: split uniforms. I saw them up close at the North Carolina Girl Scout Collector’s Show in March, and organizer Becky Byrnes offered some great advice.

 

Uniforms are split along the spine, hemmed, and ribbons or bias tape is sewn in to use as ties. Girls and adults slip the old uniform on over their clothing, much like a doctor slipping into a surgical gown. It doesn’t completely solve the size issue (tiny uniform + clothing = tight squeeze) but everyone seemed pleased with the results.

Our designated photographer reported snapping pictures of 74 groups, and many more visitors took selfies.

This experiment worked well and we plan to have more split uniforms available at our Program Centers.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

A Practical Approach to Girl Scout Archives

I have a busy week coming up, first going to the North Carolina Girl Scout Collectors’ Show, then on to Savannah, Georgia, to see my daughter, who is a junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

She is busy studying schedules and determining what classes to take this fall and the rest of her senior year. I continue to be amazed at the variety of courses and career paths offered at SCAD. They have areas of study that I never knew existed, like yacht design, sequential art, and luxury and fashion management. SCAD takes a very hands-on, applied approach to learning that equips students for creative careers.

I already have another trip to Savannah penciled in for October, this time for a Girl Scout history conference. The last such conference I attended was very conceptual–discussions and presentations on the changing role of museums in the 21st century.

IMG_2356

GS Historic Georgia partnered with SCAD to create a Preservation Patch

I have no idea what is being planned officially, but if it were me, I know what Savannah resource I would want to use wisely–SCAD. A conference planned in coordination with the school could provide tremendous hands-on learning opportunities. There are many potentially relevant programs, for example:

Accessory and Jewelry Design: Techniques for cleaning pins and metal camping equipment;  novel ideas for displays of lots of tiny objects.

CharacterDesignWrkshpAdActing and Character Development: For our living Juliette Gordon Lows.

Branded Entertainment: I don’t have any idea what this is, but how often do we hear about communicating and protecting the Girl Scout brand? Maybe we would learn!

Fashion/Fibers/Costume Design: Best techniques for preserving old fabric; how do you clean 100-year old sweat stains and rust stains?

 

SCAD-Museum_School-Visit_07_FS

Museum Studies students craft narratives about their artifacts (SCAD).

Museum Studies: Duh.

 

Photography/Film/Sound: How to archive photos, film etc. (and could someone please convert some Beta tapes that we have?)

Preservation Design: This also seems obvious.

 

Production-Design_Student-Candids_Fall-2013_MN_-272

Designing exhibit displays and props (SCAD).

Production Design: Tips on how to construct and configure exhibits and display spaces.

 

Themed Entertainment Design: to create Juliette Gordon Low World (just kidding–mostly)

Conducting a two-hour workshop on these topics would be a great experience for students, as SCAD teaches them to hone their presentation skills whenever possible. I definitely would sign up for as many as possible.

Ultimately, the conference curriculum isn’t up to me.  Maybe I’ll just browse the textbook aisle in the campus bookstore and try to learn some of these skills on my own.

©2018 Ann Robertson

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:

Minnie_Hill_Yearbook

Minnie Hill in the 1925 University of Maryland yearbook

 

Stan 2017

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