Princess Martha of Norway, part 3

(for the full story, see part 1 and part 2)

My Girl Scout history stories often have unusual origins.

I stumbled upon the story of Crown Princess Martha of Norway while I researched the Girl Scout Little House in Washington DC.

I had searched “Little House” through the US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and a photo of her 1939 visit popped up.

When a related photo appeared on eBay, I purchased it. I usually do not waste money purchasing an overpriced reprint of an image that may be downloaded for free from the Library of Congress.

But if the photo offered for sale is an original, that’s another matter entirely. Vintage press service photos typically have a long caption that includes the date and names of the individuals. As the image is copied and widely distributed across the Internet, those details are usually lost. This is literally a rare chance to attach names to faces.

I purchased this photo, which appeared in part 1 of this series without the caption.

Girl Scouts and adults around a birthday cake

The caption noted that it was from a Girl Scout birthday party held at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington DC in 1945. End of story, right?

Hardly.

The Archives and History Committee of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital (like all councils) frequently receives donations. Old uniforms, badge sashes, and handbooks are typical, but photos, scrapbooks, and other one-of-a-kind items also appear. Sometimes the donor contacts the council office first, but others just arrive. A council staff member acknowledges receipt, then transfers it to the archives.

A few months back, I opened a large mailing envelope forwarded by staff and found several folded sheets of typewritten paper. A Post-It note was attached:

One of our leaders didn’t know what to do with these–found in her mother’s attic!

The obvious answer, of course, was to send it to the Girl Scouts.

The papers were folded around a smaller envelope, which I discovered contained photos. Specifically, 16 extremely well preserved photographs of the Norwegian Embassy event!!! The typed pages contained captions for each photo.

Nothing I’d found to date reflected the size of the event–over 400 girls attended!!

Here is a selection to enjoy:

Norwegian Ambassador Wilhelm Morgenstierne addresses the 400 girls present:

Many of the activities related to a service project helping a Norwegian Girl Guide troop that was meeting at a castle in Scotland. The Girl Scouts sent a scroll and gifts to the troop.

Sharing birthday cake with friends:

Talking to Princess Ragnhild and Prince Harald (on right, third photo)

Leaving the Embassy … with memories to tell their own children and grandchildren.

The donated photographs appear to have been professionally taken. A note on the page of captions says:

These are file pictures which could be used to help build up the feature. The Norwegian Embassy has cabled to see if they can get pictures of the troop there but don’t know when they can get the pictures or even if they have uniforms in war-weary Scotland.

The moral of this story? Don’t toss photos found in grandma’s attic!

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Princess Martha of Norway, part 2

continued from part 1

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.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Crown Prince Olav, Sara Roosevelt, Crown Princess Martha, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, PBS

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.

two teenagers in Girl Scout dresses present woven towels to a royal woman in a floral dress and pearls
Princess Martha receives guest towels at Girl Scout Little House

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.

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Who’s That Princess? Martha of Norway, part 1

Have you seen “#AtlanticCrossingPBS,” the latest drama on PBS?

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.

a woman holds her son as he waves
Prince Harald and Crown Princess Martha, Atlantic Crossing publicity

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!!

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.

A group of well dressed children and adults prepare to cut a birthday cake.
Girl Scout Birthday Reception at Norwegian Embassy

The photo shows the real-life versions 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.

Stay tuned…

(No, I haven’t found proof that Martha ever visited Rockwood, the national Girl Scout camp near Washington–but I’m working on it.)

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian