Note: This entry was originally published on March 10, 2014, but somehow it was accidentally deleted.
No, it’s not a newly discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder book. The Little House in Washington, DC, was the first in a series of model homes used by Girl Scouts across the country. Sadly, the Washington Little House is long gone and one current Little House in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, is about to close.
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 donated it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center. It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.
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.
A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House
The Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia rented a room in the northwest corner of the second floor as its headquarters until it outgrew the facility in 1928. 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. There is a commemorative plaque in the lobby of the office building that currently sits at the site. Update: We now have the plaque at our Frederick Archives and Program Center.
A dollhouse versionof the Little House has been on display at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
POSTSCRIPT: All of the photos used here are from the Harris and Ewing collection and may be downloaded FREE OF CHARGE from the Library of Congress. You don’t need to buy the overpriced copies offered on eBay!!
What’s cooking, Girl Scouts? The latest exhibit at the Nation’s Capital main office answers that question.
The easy way to create the exhibit would be to pull all relevant items from our collection. But I like to have some organization and a common theme running throughout. I decided to use this passage from the 1926 handbook:
The Girl Scout who has earned the Cooking Badge may be a great help at home if she has learned to work quickly and neatly and may get much amusement both at home and on camping parties. If the first trial of a process is not a success, the Scout should have patience to try again and again until her result is satisfactory. If she has learned to prepare a few simple dishes well she should have courage to try unfamiliar recipes which are found in any good cook book. If she is to be ready to take responsibility when it is necessary, she should be able to plan the meals in such a way that nothing is wasted and that the family is satisfied and well-nourished.
When working in the kitchen, the Scout should wear a clean, washable dress, or a washable apron which covers her dress. She should be sure that her hair is tidy, and she should remember to wash her hands before beginning work. She should try to use as few dishes as possible and not to spill or spatter. She should remember that her cooking is not finished until she has cleaned up after herself, has washed and put away the dishes, washed the dish towels and left the kitchen in order.
I divided up the quote into chunks of one or two sentences, then illustrated with pictures taken from old handbooks and vintage postcards.
Then we added a few more instructions from various handbooks and photos.
We used this opportunity to mention the Little House, a model home in Washington, DC, from 1924 to 1945, and the two tea houses once operated by the local Girl Scouts.
Finally, we included requirements for several vintage cooking badges and captions on recipe cards.
These only show the bottom half of the exhibit. To see it in person, visit the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital office, 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC.
Exhibits, that is. That probably isn’t the best headline for a history blog!
The Archives and History Committee recently changed the exhibit at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters.
After two months on exhibit, we dismantled “Badges and Biscuits.” This theme covered Girl Guide badges and product sales. It also coincided with our cookie sale and World Thinking Day (February 22).
Girl Guide Badges
The badges date to the late 1950s and early 1960s. They had originally been presented to the former Rockwood national Girl Scout camp by visiting Girl Guides. When that facility closed in 1978, GSUSA left them behind, and they made their way into our council’s collection.
I discovered them wrapped in paper and shoved in a box a few years ago, and I have been looking for an opportunity to share them.
Unfortunately, the foreign badges had been affixed to lengths of burlap with some sort of space-age polymer. I used heat, alcohol, acetone, a jackhammer, and sticks of dynamite to remove them. (OK, not the last two, but I was seriously contemplating it.)
After nearly a week, I had them all removed. I remounted them on 12″x12″ scrapbook paper so that they could fit into frames for display now and stored into scrapbook-sized envelopes after.
I was delighted with the results:
Girl Guide Biscuits
We filled one display case with the Girl Guide badges, the other was devoted to Girl Guide cookie sales. We also had some Girl Guide cookie patches to tie the theme together.
I learned a lot from Girl Guide websites and historians. I stuck largely to English-language sources, so the examples are drawn from a small number of countries.
UK and Ireland
British Girl Guides do not sell cookies. The Girl Guiding historians I contacted seemed quite proud of this fact.
In contrast, Irish Girl Guides only began selling packets of chocolate chip biscuits in fall 2017. Officials introduced the new program to help “change the imbalance of the number of women in decision-making position across the various sectors of society such as businesses, companies, and boardrooms around Ireland.”
Canadian Girl Guides have two categories of cookies (sandwich and mint). One is sold in the fall; the other in the spring.
They also have an impressive cookie badge curriculum that includes lessons on the history of their cookie sales and samples of vintage posters, cookie boxes, and other memorabilia.
Australia and New Zealand
Australian Girl Guides have sold cookies for decades, but they are limited to one weekend across the entire country. Think of one mega booth sale.
Girl Guides in New Zealand kicked off their first biscuit sale in 1957, which grew to selling 28 million boxes per year. But March 2019 marked the last national Girl Guide biscuit sale in New Zealand. The organization plans to seek new fundraising programs for the future as biscuit sales provided one-third of its budget.
Keep following the Girl Scout History Project to see our latest installation!
The 2019 season is nearing its end, with a heated contest for the Narwhals and Clouded Leopards.
Am I talking about NCAA basketball? The Super Bowl, World Series, or some national team mascot showdown?
No, it’s time to wrap up Girl Scout cookie season for 2019.
Each cookie baker has an annual theme with a mascot that shows up in promotional materials, cookie patches, and other incentives that girls earn for selling various amounts of cookies.
This year it was the ABC Narwhals against Little Brownie Bakers’ Clouded Leopard.
Each baker has a motivational theme associated with its yearly sale (Inspire, Imagine, Innovate! and Go for Bold!), but you need a mascot to use for a cute plush incentive. (Although I do wonder about that horn on the narwhal, seems more hazardous than cuddly.)
The mascots even have names!
Tradition of Prizes
Cookie incentives are almost as old as cookie sales themselves, but most councils originally applied cookie profits to summer camp fees. Some councils offered patches or charms to sellers. I still remember the goal I set for my first cookie sale–enough to attend day camp free. The pride of “earning it yourself” is behind all incentive programs.
When Girl Scouts of the USA consolidated the cookie program into a handful of national bakers in the 1970s, the companies introduced annual themes and mascots. Burry-LU’s animal series is perhaps the best known, not just for its bright colors and easily recognizable design, but for a few “what were they thinking?” selections.
The number of patches has grown exponentially since the 1990s, as councils, bakers, and some third-party vendors have jumped on the bandwagon with offerings related to the annual theme.
Visually similar patches with absolutely nothing to do with cookies, such as early registration, have been added to create a yearly set of patches.
Compare, for example, 1972 with 2015-16.
And there are patches for adults, too!
The patches and other prizes are fun and appealing to many Girl Scouts. Many consumers may not realize that the girls have a say in the marketing program as well.
In most councils, older Girl Scouts (middle school and high school age) can opt out of the incentive program in return for a higher profit per box. This is especially appealing for girls and troops saving up over several years for a big trip. After all, a girl can use only so many sparkly pens. (Opt-out girls usually still receive some patches.)
Girls also have a say in selecting the mascot for the next cookie season. Some councils allow all girls to vote, others may use a more limited random sample, but the principle of girl-led carries through.
For more on cookie patches and prizes over the years, see Cookie Crumbs, my web archive.
News this week that Girl Scout cookie supplier Little Brownie Bakers has been sold to an Italian company proved to be no April Fool’s joke.
In a deal valued at $1.3 billion, Ferrero Group purchased select properties from Kellogg, including Little Brownie, Keebler, and Famous Amos.
I found out from a Wall Street Journal reporter who called me for background on the history of Girl Scout cookie sales. Although I was surprised by the news, I’m not alarmed. Flavors, food trends, and bakers have come and gone for years, but Girl Scout cookies aren’t going away.
Despite the Keebler connection, Girl Scout cookies have never been made by elves in hollow trees. Besides, our hollow trees are full of girls.
Girl Scouts in Oklahoma began selling homemade cookies in 1917. Their popularity led other troops to fire up their ovens. As the volume of cookie sales increased, in 1934 Girl Scouts in Philadelphia turned to Keebler-Wyl, a commercial baker, to produce shortbread cookies.
From Many Bakers to Two
Other councils followed the Philly girls’ lead and negotiated contracts with regional companies. Volume and demand increased exponentially, until there were 29 authorized bakers by 1948. Another 14 were added in the 1960s.
All bakers made the signature shortbread cookie, and by the 1960s many had introduced mint and sandwich cookies. Most bakers also offered one or two of their own flavors.
As part of a brand standardization effort, the national Girl Scout organization limited production to four bakers starting in 1978. GSUSA provided graphics and program information, although the individual bakers picked their own annual theme, usually with a cute animal mascot.
(Disclosure: As a born-and-raised Kentucky girl, I’ve always been partial to Little Brownie. When my Cadette troop visited Louisville years ago, we wanted to arrange a tour. I couldn’t find “Little Brownie” in the phone book so I called information. The operator thought it was a prank call and hung up on me.)
While the bakers have changed over the years, the basic recipes have not. Hopefully that will continue to be the case with Ferrero.
Other Foreign Connections
I can’t imagine Ferrero moving production overseas as it would prohibitively drive up shipping costs. But even if they did, it would not be the first time that some Girl Scout cookies were not made in the USA.
In 1984, sharp-eyed consumers noticed “Made in Belgium” written on boxes of Kookaburras. Representatives from the baker, Burry-LU, explained that that they were still testing the flavor. Because US-based factories did not have the proper equipment, this one flavor was temporarily being made in Belgium. It the cookie made the cut, Burry-LU would need to fork over $2 million for new production equipment.
And if anyone wants to get very picky, ABC Bakers is a subsidiary of the Toronto-based Weston Foods.
Change is the Secret Ingredient
What makes Girl Scout cookies so popular? It is a combination of tradition, quality, adorable vendors, and flexibility.
Each baker is required to offer four traditional cookies (Mint, Samoa, Trefoil, Tagalong) plus up to four more flavors. Over the years, these elective varieties have often reflected changing tastes and dietary concerns. Past offerings have been low-fat, crunchy granola, gluten free, 100-calorie packets, and even crackers, such as the Golden Yangles of the 1980s.
Perhaps it is easier to justify scarfing down a box of Thin Mints if you balance them out with such healthier options.
That’s a Lot of Cookies
Simply stated, the Girl Scout cookie jar is too big to loose. With total revenue from both bakers estimated at $800 million annually, including Little Brownie Bakers undoubtedly sweetened the deal for Ferrero.
I don’t see a need to begin hoarding Girl Scout cookies–not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Instead, I see the new owners as offering some tantalizing opportunities.
Two words: Nutella cookies. I’m just saying…
For more cookie history fun, see Cookie Crumbs, my online archive of cookie prizes past and present.
This poster hangs on a wall at our Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland. Bright yellow and 28×22″, it always attracts comments.
However, we didn’t know the story behind the picture. We found it in the back of a closet, in a ratty old frame held together with Scotch tape.
Based on the uniforms and the fact that it says “70th Anniversary,” the image is obviously from the early 1980s, presumably 1982.
But the mystery was solved thanks to an old Nation’s Capital newsletter. For Girl Scout Week 1982, Delta Airlines replaced their normal peanut snacks with packets of Trefoil shortbread cookies. Delta bought and distributed 800,000 cookies March 7-13, 1982.
This was the second time an airline joined the national cookie sales. In 1981 United made what was then the largest corporate cookie purchase in history. United included a packet of two Trefoils on every meal tray.
The success of the United program encouraged Delta to participate. Delta went one step further, having their own company artist, Brad Diggers, commemorate Girl Scouts’ 70th birthday with a special painting.
Limited editions of the painting were presented to 15 Girl Scout councils served by Delta. Nation’s Capital has print number 10 of 34.
Both the Little House and Rockwood were generous, but
unanticipated, gifts reluctantly accepted by the national Girl Scout
headquarters (GSUSA). National’s reticence related to the costs associated with
these surprise bequests.
Imagine that I give all readers a new car. (Emphasis on imagine.) The prize sounds like a windfall at first, but your excitement dims when you realize that you must suddenly come up with cash to pay taxes on the gift, registration fees, insurance, and even gasoline.
After accepting Rockwood, GSUSA vowed to never again accept
such a gift without an accompanying endowment.
Indeed, when the Girl Scouts had the opportunity to purchase the Andrew Low Housein 1943, Daisy’s marital home in Savannah, they declined for this very reason—the total cost would be much higher than just the purchase price.
Nine years later, the Savannah Council called again. An
historic property was about to come on the market. The council could not afford
it, so representatives contacted the national headquarters. This time the
property in question was a Regency mansion on the corner of Bull and Oglethorpe
Streets; the Gordon family home and Daisy’s birthplace.
Both the house and the neighborhood had deteriorated over
time, and some Gordon descendants wanted to raze the house and sell the land.
Savannah’s commercial district was expanding, and the Gordon corner lot would
be attractive to business developers.
Daisy’s niece Eleanor Wayne Macpherson was appalled at the
idea of tearing down the house. It held wonderful memories from her childhood.
Losing it, she lamented, “would be a tragedy, because, over and above its
historic value, it is associated with everything I hold dear.”
Macpherson launched a three-pronged strategy to save the
Persuading the Family
The house was owned and managed by an informal trust set up among
Daisy and her siblings. The six children had received equal ownership shares
upon the death of their parents. These shares were subsequently further divided
and sold or swapped among descendants.
Macpherson knew that the trustee, her nephew, favored
demolition, so she began quietly acquiring house shares from distant relatives
so that she would gain a majority and be able to block moves toward demolition.
GSUSA: “No Thanks”
Macpherson approached national Executive Director Dorothy
Stratton about purchasing the home. The reply was a swift “No.”
Macpherson was not completely surprised by this refusal. In
fact, she had already contacted Anne Hyde Choate about the situation. Choate,
Daisy’s goddaughter who had succeeded Low as national president in 1920, agreed
on the need to preserve the house.
Choate advised Macpherson to not condemn national leaders
for their veto, as “One cannot blame those overburdened people for wanting to
avoid more responsibility.”
Rally the Troops
Choate encouraged Macpherson to persevere. Specifically, it
was time to rally the membership behind this cause.
Somehow we must get into our Nat. Hdqrs’ mind the idea that one of their chief functions is to encourage local or other Girl Scout groups to take responsibility and carry out their own good ideas, — in fact, to treat their experienced members as grownup people!
–Anne Hyde Choate
She encouraged Macpherson to contact Louise Dawe, an influential Girl Scout in Richmond, Virginia, and the women began assembling an informal panel of volunteers to save the Birthplace.
The Board Bends
When the national Board of Directors met in October 1952,
Choate formally proposed creating a committee to study the implications of
purchasing the Gordon home. Board members agreed they should not to dismiss the
issue outright. The motion passed, and an “Ad Hoc Committee to Consider
Purchase of the Birthplace” was created from Choate’s list of proposed
committee members. She reported to Dawe that the motion had passed “definitely
against” the advice and wishes of top GSUSA officials.
The Ad Hoc Committee visited Savannah in February to inspect
the Birthplace and offered their preliminary impressions to the Board in March.
At that point, the Board expanded the committee, creating subcommittees to
focus on finance as well as restoration, operations, maintenance, and program.
The latter subcommittee was to include representatives from Savannah.
The national Board also instructed headquarters to pay $500 for an option to purchase the house for $65,000. This would prevent the building from being razed or sold to another buyer until after the October Board meeting, when the Dawe report would be presented.
The Committee worked at a frantic pace throughout the summer
of 1953 to assess the financial implications of purchasing and restoring the
Gordon home. They looked at a range of expenses and consider what programming
could be offered at the house.
Not Just Another Expense
Volunteers spent the summer trying to convert key leaders to
National President Olivia Layton sent Dawe a list of other
properties that had recently been offered to and refused by GSUSA, trying to
establish that a precedent existed for such matters. Dawe, for her part,
insisted that none of these cases were relevant because “none of them belonged
to the Girl Scout history nor offered a reason for the girls’ participation in
the project.” Furthermore, she cited bankers and real estate experts who
believed the property would be “not alone a sentimental or emotional [purchase]
… [but] a very good investment.”
Dawe went on to compare the Girl Scouts to the United
Nations as both sought “to build the defenses of peace in the minds and hearts
of children.” Just as the UN complex has a small chapel dedicated to the
founder, she thought the Gordon house could provide a similar focal point for
Girl Scouts. “It might offer that sense of the beginning of an idea and the
continuity of its great purpose.” Office locations might change, but the house
would remain a fixed anchor.
Layton took note of Dawe’s lofty ideals, but plainly stated that finding a new national headquarters building and developing Camp Macy should take precedence over buying an old home in Savannah. Dawe acknowledged these priorities, but
“With the house, it is now or never. … Is that also true of headquarters, and of Macy?”
The Committee’s findings were assembled into an extensive
report, which Dawe presented at the October meeting of the national Board of
Directors. In a nail-biting vote, the board approved the purchase, 32–24.
The Ad Hoc Committee to Consider the Purchase was dissolved
and a new “Special Committee on the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace” created. This
new group included members of the initial committee, as well as individuals
representing Savannah, and Girl Scout Region VI, among others.
Macpherson was also a part of this original committee.
Although I have seen no provision requiring a Gordon family member to be on
such an advisory group, typically someone has. That is true for the latest
incarnation, as well.
As the Birthplace continues to evolve, let us remember that volunteers can have a lasting impact on key decisions determining the direction of our movement.