Today you cannot turn on the news or surf the internet without seeing plea upon plea for face masks to protect health care workers during the Covid-19 crisis.
Groups across the country have sprung into action, sewing masks while quarantined at home. Girl Scouts are doing their part, collecting materials and sewing masks themselves. Troops across the United States are sending cases of cookies to hospitals and other health-care centers.
Girl Scouts have provided war-time service since the movement was founded in 1912. When the United States entered the World War I in 1917, girls distributed sandwiches to soldiers passing through town, raised homing pigeons destined for the front lines, and made bandages for the Red Cross.
Local Girl Scouts also jumped in to help when another mask-related emergency occurred.
The March 1918 edition of The Rally (the first Girl Scout magazine) introduced a Girl Scout War Service Award to “stimulate thoughtful direct effort that would have a distinct value to those in the war.”
To earn the award, girls had to knit two pounds of wool, make 50 jars of jam, and sell at least 10 Liberty Bonds.
The Rally also directed Girl Scouts to collect and dry fruit pits and nut shells:
A CAMPAIGN FOR PITS
Gather up the peach pits,
Olive pits as well.
Every prune and date seed
Every walnut shell.
The magazine article explained that “200 peach pits or seven pounds of nut shells produced enough carbon for one filter for a solider’s gas mask” (GS Collector’s Guide, p. 87). With the German military deploying highly toxic chlorine gas against the Allied troops, the Red Cross and other organizations launched peach pit collection drives across the country, according to The Atlantic magazine.
The Girl Scouts rose to the occasion, and three Washington, DC, Girl Scouts — all under age 13 — were declared “Peace Pit Champions.”
Hopefully we won’t have to resort to fruit as protective gear but if so, the Girl Scouts are ready.
Many troops had to cancel cookie booths due to social distancing. You can purchase cookies online and have them delivered to first responders, food banks, or yourself!
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:
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?
It was a great idea. Except that the coronavirus decided to come to Washington at the same time. The festival was cancelled, the Girl Scout offices closed.
While the city offers virtual strolls among the blooming trees, we can do the same thing with the exhibit.
The exhibit draws from three scrapbooks donated by the family of long-time Girl Scout Fran Phoenix. Each album has a heavy black lacquer cover with mother-of-pearl inlay, and each belonged to a different US Girl Scout troop in Okinawa, Japan, in the late 1950s.
Those Pesky Prepositions
(This may get complicated, so grab a buddy. )
The albums were created by US Girl Scout troops in Japan. Their activities are preserved, as well as their many activities with local troops. That means we have Girl Scouts in Japan, Girl Scouts of Japan, and combinations of both.
Plus, the Girl Scouts of Okinawa is a branch of USA Girl Scouts Overseas (which has had many names over time), and Girl Scouts of the Ryukyu Islands is a division of the Girl Scouts of Japan.
Not Japanese Girl Guides?
Oh my, this is confusing. Let’s go to the exhibit signs for help. First, the American context:
Yes, Japanese Girl Scouts
Now, the Japanese side. Although their group briefly was Girl Guides, they have proudly been Girl Scouts for nearly a century.
In fact, the Japanese Girl Scout organization has a special online history exhibit marking their 100th birthday.
Got it? We’ll look at some photos and clippings from those scrapbooks in Part 2.
In the meantime, enjoy these images of our exhibit.
This post wasoriginally published in 2014, and it has been updated for the coronavirus era.
The Washington Post recently compared the influenza epidemic of 1918 to the current Ebola outbreak, but the newspaper left out the Girl Scout part of the story.
From late 1918 through early 1919, a particularly nasty strain of flu killed 50 million people worldwide and some 500,000 in the United States. Washington, DC, was particularly hard hit because the city was overflowing with federal workers (“living three or four to a room in private homes and boarding houses”) and soldiers passing through on their way to or from the World War I front.
The Girl Scouts had already mobilized to sell sandwiches, cake, and ice cream to soldiers and war workers. One girl, Edna Schwartz, recalled making stacks and stacks of egg and ham sandwiches and setting up a stand near the Corcoran Gallery of Art at lunchtime. They put those skills to work as a new enemy attacked.
Invalid Cook, 1916
That’s “invalid” as somebody with a persistent disease, not something “not valid.”
(Photo from Vintage GS Museum)
When the Spanish flu brought Washington to a near-standstill in October 1918, the Girl Scouts set up a Diet Kitchen first at Central High School, then later at 1101 M Street NW.
Girls who had earned their Invalid Cook badge had mastered the art of making soup, broth, custard, gelatins, and a formidable-sounding substance labelled “kumyss” in their Handbook. Now they worked from dawn to dark cooking gallons of these very basic meals.
Volunteers delivered the hot meals to patients throughout the city. Leaders had to make a public appeal for drivers and containers to meet the demand. Some 2,180 patients were served from the high school and a total of 7,821 patients at the peak of the epidemic. Troop 60 put on a play and sang songs, charging 10 cents a head, and raised $25 for supplies.
The Diet Kitchen was such a success that Susie Root Rhodes, DC Supervisor of Playgrounds, asked the Girl Scouts to also distribute soup at playgrounds in two of Washington’s poorest neighborhoods. This meal often was the only meal, certainly the only hot meal, that many of these children received each day while their mothers worked or were ill.
Mrs. Rhodes credited the Girl Scouts with saving the lives of people too poor to afford doctors and preventing malnourished children from succumbing to influenza.
Is it a coincidence that the latest virus arrived at the same time as Girl Scout cookies? Girls Scouts to the rescue again!
DISCLAIMER: There is no scientific proof that Girl Scout cookies prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But they don’t hurt, either…
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?
In 1948 the American designer Mainbocher created new uniforms for Intermediates, Seniors, and ADULTS.
GSUSA eagerly announced the new garments in its own publications:
… and press releases.
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.
World Thinking Day is a time to reflect upon on the global community of Girl Scouting and Girl Guiding and to examine issues faced by girls everywhere.
This February 22nd, let’s think about scouting’s forgotten ancestor, Agnes Baden-Powell.
Who is Agnes Baden-Powell?
Agnes Smythe Powell was born on December 16, 1858, in London. She was the ninth of fourteen children, and the only surviving daughter.
She was two years old when her father, the Reverend Baden Powell, died. Her grief-stricken mother soon announced that she was changing the family name in her husband’s honor. Thus, Agnes Powell became Agnes Baden-Powell.
In life and history, Agnes was overshadowed by her gallant older brother, Robert Baden-Powell, born in 1857. According to the familiar story, Robert created the Boy Scouts in 1909. When girls clamored to become scouts themselves, Robert instructed Agnes to create a similar, but more genteel version, the Girl Guides.
Despite overseeing the formative years of Girl Guiding, Agnes has been eclipsed by her sister-in-law, Olave. Many people mistakenly identify photos of Olave as Agnes.
Her Involvement Made Guiding Appear Suitable and Proper
Public opposition to the idea of “Girl Scouts” always focused on the concern that such girls would be tomboys and not proper homemakers. This minister’s daughter had a full range of domestic skills to offer, but she had more to offer.
She was an accomplished musician, proficient on violin, piano, and organ. She also had a curious streak and pursued a range of interests, including cycling, swimming, and steel engraving.
According to one acquaintance:
Anyone who had come into touch with her gentle influence, her interest in all womanly arts, and her love of birds, insects, and flowers, would scoff at the idea of her being the president of a sort of Amazon Cadet Corps.
Agnes was fascinated by science and explored many dimensions. She was a respected apiarist, kept a flocks of birds, bees, and butterflies. She maintained a long friendship with radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi.
She was fascinated by astronomy, weather, and aeronautics. Agnes and another brother, Baden Baden-Powell (yes, not a very creative name) built and flew hot air balloons. They later designed very early airplanes.
Agnes was granted honorary membership in the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1938.
She Wrote the First Guide Handbook
Agnes wrote the first Girl Guide Handbook, which Juliette Gordon Low later adapted for the Girl Scouts.
She was Under-Appreciated and Pushed Aside
Agnes would later be remembered as an able administrator, but in her lifetime she put family loyalty ahead of assertiveness, often to her detriment.
She is remembered as the first Girl Guide, but her own brother doubted her abilities. Robert enlisted Agnes’ help only after being turned down by various first aid societies.
But the worst treatment came from her sister-in-law. Olave St. Clair Soames met Robert on an ocean voyage in 1912. Despite their 32-year age gap, the two married on October 30, 1912.
With Robert’s encouragement, Olave systematically assumed the leadership position held by Agnes and marginalized her new sister-in-law.
Olave began as a lowly county Guide officer in 1916 and before the end of the year had become Chief Guide. Agnes was offered the new, honorary post of President as a consolation prize. But the very next year, Agnes was told that Princess Mary would now be president; she would move down to vice-president. She was not happy, but dutifully stepped aside.
Olave explained her reasoning in her memoirs:
[Agnes] was a very gifted woman and extremely clever but thoroughly Victorian in outlook. She organized a Committee from her elderly friends [Agnes was 57 in 1916] … these ladies did their best but they were not really in touch with the younger generation; their ideas were based on the old-fashioned women’s organizations.
Quoted in Proctor, Scouting for Girls, pp. 33-34
Agnes tried to remain involved in Guiding, but was regarded as a relic and nuisance at Guide Headquarters. She was well-received on a two-week tour of Canada in 1931, although Robert had written Canadian and US officials that her trip was unofficial. “Eventually,” writes historian Tammy Proctor, “Agnes was barred from Guide functions and dismissed from all official roles.”
While Olave argued that the shift was necessary to bridge the widening generation gap within Guiding, she had no such qualms about maintaining the generation gap between her husband and herself.
She is Buried in an Unmarked Grave in London
Agnes died on June 2, 1945, and was buried in the family plot at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. The Agnes Baden-Powell Guild has been established to raise funds to restore the family plot and to include Agnes on the monument. Members also maintain a Agnes Baden-Powell Appreciation Society page on Facebook.
The next time you attend a World Thinking Day event, tell them that Agnes sent you.
With the re-launch of Girl Scout Mariner and Trailblazer troops planned for 2020, it is a good time to revisit the original programs.
Senior Girl Scouts did not have their own proficiency badges until Interest Projects were introduced in 1980.
Instead, Senior troops concentrated on specific topics, with a particular emphasis on practical training for service roles. Girls earned small service bar pins, with the color indicating the focus.
Starting in 1955, troops and patrols could choose from five concentrations: Trailblazer, Mountaineer, Explorer, Wing, and Mounted. A “General Interest” path was added in 1958. Seniors wore a 3″ green bordered patch to indicate their focus.
The Mariner program, which launched in 1934, remained separate. The Wing program, dating to 1942, was not as popular as the Mariners and flew into the new framework as one of the five.
Personally, I think if the Wing groups had distinct, spiffy uniforms like the Mariners, they would have been more visible and likely more popular.
Based on girl feedback, the Senior program was tweaked in 1960. New interests were added, unpopular ones dropped, and patches slimmed down to 2.25″. Now Mariners were grouped with everyone else although their patch remained blue.
The biggest change came in 1963, when more paths were introduced, such as Community Action, Homemaker, and Arts.
Each focus now had a specific color that was used on the border of the emblem, but also on the tie and hat cord of the uniform.
But unlike the badges earned at younger levels, there was no earned insignia specific to this program. Instead, the large patches were simply an oversized troop crest.
A new set of four interest patches was introduced in 1974 along with a new Senior Handbook, Options.
The book marked the peak of Girl Scout efforts to be mod, hip, and crunchy granola. It practically came with a choker made of love beads and puka shells. Girls regarded the suggested activities, such as “Mysterious Musical Mood” and “Reading for Pleasure and Profit” as childish and condescending.
Finally, take a close look at the design of these patches. See the gold starburst design in the background? That was taken from the earlier special Senior membership pin.
Many troops simply kept using their trusty 1963 handbook and related interest patches.
In 1980, Options was officially declared dead. Few noticed.
An entirely new set of earned recognitions for Cadettes and Seniors (Ambassadors date only to 2008) came with the Worlds to Explore program. The program retained the “interest project” name, although the name changed several times: Interest Project Award, Interest Project Patch, and Interest Project.
The new program also launched a new highest award for Girl Scouts, the Gold Award.
Now, dear readers, take a good look at the images above. Did you ever notice the sunburst design carried through to the current Gold Award design?
Thank you to members of the Facebook Girl Scout historian community for sharing their experiences with these programs.
Usually we have to come up with ideas for our vintage exhibits at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters. But sometimes we get lucky, and a display comes together on its own.
That’s what happened last fall when we received a donation of Girl Scout dolls. People often contact us saying that they or a friend has some items they’ve held onto to for years, would we like them.
Of course, the answer is yes!
And when we had such a query about dolls, we said yes and suggested the donor drop them at a council field office. They would make their way to the archives eventually. So we knew some dolls were coming and we assumed it was perhaps four or five.
This is what arrived:
They were all in pristine condition, most even labeled with manufacturer, date, and the relevant page from the doll handbook!
We have displayed dolls in chronological before, so this time we tried thematic grouping. We staged the dolls doing typical Girl Scout things.
Proudly Wearing Their Uniforms
Whenever Girl Scouts of the USA issued a new uniform, doll uniforms were updated as well.
Girl Scout dolls, like actual Girl Scouts, come in many shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.
The first African-American Girl Scout doll was available in the mid-1940s, although she did not appear in the official equipment catalogs.
Advertising and packaging of Girl Scout doll clothes began featuring dolls with mobility challenges, although there has not been a Girl Scout doll that comes with her own wheelchair—yet!
Making New Friends!
Girl Scout friendships have always been reflected in the range of Girl Scout dolls. Dolls celebrate troop friends as well as Girl Guide friends abroad.
Girl Scout dolls love being outdoors as much as real girls do! Many dolls come with their own camping gear.
From Barbie to Beanie Babies and Build-a-Bear, popular characters and toy lines have signed up with the Girl Scouts.
Learning Their History
Many dolls have been issued to honor Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts. Whether an expensive collector’s piece or a soft, snuggly cloth friend, girls can be close to Daisy day or night.
Learning Skills; Giving Service
Sewing and gifting dolls has long been a popular service project.
The full exhibit can be seen at the Girl Scout office at 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite M-2, Washington DC.
Girl Scout National President, poet, and suffragist Birdsall Otis Edey penned the following message to Girl Scouts for 1925:
Mrs. Edey (and was there EVER a better name than “Birdsall Otis Edey”) is referring to the Girl Scout headquarters at 670 Lexington Avenue in New York City. Funds for the building came in part from the “buy-a-brick” campaign associated with “Dorothy,” the yellow brick girl.
A future post will profile the marvelous Mrs. Edey.
Happy New Year from the Girl Scout History Project!!