In 1940, four members of the Norwegian royal family escaped German occupation of their homeland and took refuge in the United States: Crown Princess Martha and her children: Princess Astrid, Princess Ragnhild, and Prince Harald. The struggle to recapture Norway is chronicled in the current PBS miniseries Atlantic Crossing.
Only one year earlier, Martha and her husband, Crown Prince Olav, had toured the United States, crossing the country by train, from Boston to California and back to Washington DC. The royal couple captured many hearts across the country, as their public appearances provided a welcome diversion from the Great Depression.
Entire towns turned out to see the Norwegian royals, and the local hospitality included bands, flags, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and flocks of little girls in Norwegian national dress.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt was particularly charmed by Martha. He hosted the royals at his Hyde Park home as well as the White House.
This remarkable friendship prompted FDR to have US forces spirit Princess Martha and her three children out of Scandinavia to safety in the United States. The four Norwegians initially stayed in New York but soon relocated to Washington DC.
To help her daughters make new friends, Princess Martha enrolled them in Girl Scouts.
She had learned about the Girl Scouts during her 1939 tour. Like many visiting dignitaries, Martha visited the Girl Scout Little House on June 30 and learned about the various programs offered to girls and adult volunteers.
As she prepared to depart from the Little House, she was given a pair of guest towels, hand-woven by members of Troop 22. Kari Galbe, daughter of a Norwegian diplomat, wore her Norwegian Girl Guide uniform for the occasion.
It tells the story of Crown Princess Martha of Norway and her family. When Germany invaded neutral Norway in April 1940, Martha and her three children were spirited out of Norway, first to Sweden, then to the United States. Her husband, Crown Prince Olav, took refuge in London.
The royal couple had toured the United States in 1939, where President Franklin Roosevelt was immediately charmed by Martha. He welcomed the Princess and her children to Washington DC in August 1940, where they remained for the duration of the war. The four returned to Norway after VE Day, arriving June 7, 1945.
While in Washington, the Princess was active in charitable work, particularly the Red Cross relief effort.
But what would she do with with her children? As far as her two daughters, the answer was enroll them in the Girl Scouts!! (Alas, no Atlantic Crossing episode mentions this fact.)
Crown Princess Martha and the Norwegian diplomatic corps developed a deep connection with the Girl Scouts during the war years. Future posts will feature details of this relationship.
Martha and her children celebrated the 33rd birthday of Girl Scouts with a reception at the Norwegian embassy in March 1945. Even Crown Prince Olav attended, during one of his overseas visits.
The photo shows the real-life counterparts of the cast of “Atlantic Crossing”:
In front: Princess Ragnhild (age 14), Prince Harald (8), Miss Chloe Anderson (11) of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Miss Ellen MacEwen of Bethesda, Maryland.
In back: Madame Morgenstierne, Ambassador Wilhelm Morgenstierne of Norway, Crown Princess Martha, and Crown Prince Olav. Princess Astrid is not shown.
As part of the birthday celebrations, the Girl Scouts of Montgomery County, Maryland, on the border of Washington DC, and represented by Chloe and Ellen, declared that they would act as “special sisters” to the first Girl Scout troop to be reestablished in Norway after liberation.
(No, I haven’t found proof that Martha ever visited Rockwood, the national Girl Scout camp near Washington–but I’m working on it.)
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.)
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 should be published by the end of 2021.
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.)
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.
Finding programs to keep teenagers in Girl Scouting has always been a challenge. The four Senior Roundups may be the best known of these programs, but they certainly were not the only ones.
Three years ago I was introduced to the Senior Girl Scout Archaeological Camps. Between 1947 and 1957, over 300 Seniors (high-school age) participated. The University of Utah Press has just published a history of this early STEM program. Dutton’s Dirty Diggers, by Catherine S. Fowler.
Dr. Fowler participated in several expeditions and, like many other veterans of the program, chose to pursue a career in anthropology. She uses her own diaries from the program and those of several other participants to take readers out to the dusty desert, bumping along in vehicles that blew tires several times each day.
The program offered two-week long camping caravans and archaeological excavations that introduced teenage girls to the rich cultural and scientific heritage of the American Southwest as well as new career possibilities. Unlike the Roundups, girls could participate several times, allowing them to follow the painstaking progress of the selected sites.
The star of the book is Dr. Bertha Dutton, a curator at the Museum of New Mexico who served as trip leader. The girls’ respect and affection for Dr. Dutton is evident throughout the book, and many of the girls stayed in touch with her for years.
The National Parks Service has developed classroom materials on “Bert” and the Girl Scout program.
GSUSA ended the program after 1957, judging the experimental program a success. Staff at GSUSA announced that it was time for local councils to sponsor similar programs. Without Dr. Dutton’s charisma and intense involvement in the curriculum, local archaeological programs failed to take hold.
The fully illustrated book is a fun read and available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
Tradition holds that the president-elect spends the night before his inauguration at Blair House, the “President’s Guest House” at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
But what do you know about the Blairs? The family produced several prominent American statesmen—and one very spunky Girl Scout leader, Edith Blair Staton.
Edith’s grandfather, Montgomery Blair (1813-1883), studied law at my alma mater, Transylvania University in Lexington, KY, and his most famous client was the fugitive slave Dred Scott. Blair moved to Washington in 1852 and became Lincoln’s Postmaster General in 1861.
The family’s “country house,” Falkland, was the earliest residence in Silver Spring, Maryland. Today, Montgomery Blair is the namesake of one of the largest high schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Edith arrived at Blair House on September 6, 1896, and was the last baby born at the residence. She married a young naval officer, Adolphus Staton, on July 28, 1917.
(Edith Blair Staton, 1916 passport photo)
While her husband was at sea, the young bride took the helm of a Girl Scout troop. When the girls were preparing for their first camping trip and realized they had no bedrolls or other equipment, Edith went to her hope chest, stored in her attic of her parents’ home, and took her brand new wedding linen into the woods!
Edith threw herself into Girl Scouting and met founder Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah in 1922, where Daisy taught her how to stand on her head.
When Girl Scout leaders decided to adapt the British Brownie program for younger girls in the United States, Edith was recruited to help launch the program. She organized the first Brownie “Pow-Wow” for prospective leaders in November 1922. She had the perfect venue for a large meeting–Manor Country Club. Her uncle’s club was about to open and the meeting offered a good dress rehearsal opportunity for the staff.
Top: Brownie membership pin (1920s-1930s)
Left: Great Brown Owl (leader, 1930s)
Right: Tawny Owl (assistant leader, 1930s)
Edith Blair Staton thus became the first Great Brown Owl, the main Brownie leader for the United States.
Edith remained active in Girl Scouting for most of her adult life. She was a member of the advisory committee for the Rockwood National Campand served as president of the District of Columbia council.
Edith passed away in 2001, at the age of 104. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Admiral Staton.
Snow has begun to fall here in Washington, DC. It’s the first of the season and forecast to be “significant,” which in our Nation’s Capital means about two inches.
Of course, it is still 2020, which means anything could happen, such as rabid polar bears floating downward from the heavens.
This makes today the perfect time to bring out one of my favorite entries in the “what’s the worst that can happen?” file.
Once upon a time, a troop of Intermediate Girl Scouts went to Camp Potomac Woods for a cozy weekend trip. It was February (February 1958, to be precise) and bound to be cold, but the hardy girls were staying in a lodge, not tents, and they would have an oil furnace to keep everyone toasty.
The girls of Troop 163 hauled their gear and rations to the lodge Friday night, made dinner and turned in for bed, after copious cups of cocoa, of course.
Saturday morning, everyone was up early. The absolute, best thing that can happen on a camping trip was right outside the lodge. SNOW!
BEST. TRIP. EVER.!!
The girls had a blast. They had dressed for February and spent the day outside. They made snow balls and snow Scouts. After dinner, the leaders sent them off to bed, but nobody could sleep. There was SNOW outside!
Each girl had brought a cup on a string as a standard part of their mess kits. Not only could these fine implements be used for cocoa, they could be silently tossed out a window and drug back in … full of snow … for an indoor snowball fight! Little sleeping was done that night.
Before the sun was up on Sunday the girls were praying that they would be snowed in another day.
But that was going to be a problem, as they’d only brought food for a two-night stay.
Mrs. Steeger and Mrs. Smith, the leaders, conferred with the camp’s resident caretaker. After several phone calls, they learned that the road to the camp, located in Lucketts, Virginia, was impassible.
What to do?
Relax, these are GIRL SCOUTS were are talking about. A group trained to be level-headed and resourceful.
They did what anyone would do in similar circumstances.
They called the US Army.
Helicopter pilots W.C. Hampton and Raymond Bowers flew in from Ft. Belvoir, alighting in a field partly cleared by the caretaker.
The troop was too large to all fit, so the pilots made two runs, taking all of 15 minutes each.
Safe on the ground, they posed for photos with their rescuers, before heading home.
You know they had a great story to tell their friends at school.
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.
Girl Scouts of the USA strives to create conscientious future voters who appreciate the unique qualities of the American political system.
From the founding of Girl Scouts in 1912, girls could earn badges that involved learning about their government, laws, and elections.
After women received the right to vote 100 years ago, Girl Scouts stepped in to help anyway they could. Sometimes an act as simple as holding a baby while mother goes into the voting booth can make a difference in turnout.
There are clear limits on political involvement. The Blue Book–GSUSA’s collection of bylaws, policies, and the corporate constitution–states the following:
Individual Girl Scouts may engage in partisan political activities, but only as civilians. They cannot appear in uniform, as that would suggest the organization has endorsed a particular candidate or expressed an opinion on a public issue.
A Little Too Active
Sometimes good intentions may get out of hand, as happened during the 1960 Presidential Election.
It seems that Intermediate* Troops 670 and 702 from Bethesda, Maryland, loved to do community service projects. When their leader, Mrs. Smith heard that the Volunteers for Nixon-Lodge headquarters needed help, she immediately signed the girls up. The field trip to 1000 16th Street NW in Washington did not raise any red flags among parents, as most were Republicans themselves.
*In 1963, the Intermediate level was divided in Juniors (grades 4-6) and Cadettes (grades 7-9).
A dozen girls, in their green uniforms, yellow ties, and jaunty berets, had a blast at the campaign office. They stuffed envelopes; assembled press releases; and filled campaign kits with buttons and bumper stickers.
Vice President Nixon’s press secretary, Herbert G. Klein called the Washington Post to suggest that there was a great photo opportunity happening at campaign headquarters. A campaign staffer had tipped off Klein and said the girls might be working at the Kennedy-Johnson office another day.
A witty local reporter asked the girls whether “some people might not regard Nixon’s defeat as a community service,” the girls giggled and confidently stated, “Kennedy isn’t going to be elected.”
The girls had put in about four hours of work when a telephone rang; the caller asked for Mrs. Smith. In fact, the caller was Helaine Todd, executive director of the National* Capital Area Girl Scout Council.
*Also in 1963, the National Capital Girl Scout Council and four other councils combined to form the Nation’s Capital Girl Scout Council.
Todd was a tad upset. She informed Mrs. Smith that “Partisan political activity is absolutely against local and national Girl Scout policy. ” Todd also declared that the girls could not count the day toward service hours. (That seems a bit over the top, in my opinion.)
Mrs. Smith, a relatively new leader, was “flabbergasted and aghast.” She grabbed the girls and swiftly exited. At the next troop meeting, she turned the experience into a learning opportunity, explaining what she had done wrong.
Of course, Nixon lost in 1960. Much could–and has–been said about Richard Nixon. But I must give the Nixon family credit for being strong supporters of Girl Scouts–before and after their White House years.
Both Nixon daughters, Julie and Tricia, were active Girl Scouts and future First Lady Pat Nixon was their co-leader.
Mrs. Nixon greatly enjoyed her time as honorary national president of GSUSA, welcoming girls to the White House and visiting the national headquarters in New York.
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.
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?