Letters from Camp, #1

Girl Scout summer camps are in full swing by mid-July, and even in the digital age girls are encouraged to write letters home. A few lucky girls may even be asked to write about their experiences for local newspapers.

I thought I would share a few from our archives. This report appeared in the Washington Post, September 14, 1930, and I’ve added some photos from various scrapbooks.

My Summer at Camp

by Helen Sheets (age 13)

1831 Lamont Street NW

Washington, DC

Old CMF Sign

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

This summer I went to Camp May Flather for a month. It is a Girl Scout camp near Stokesville Va on the North River. We lived in log cabins that faced the river, and ate in one big mess hall. Our camp uniform was a green suit of middy and shorts.

There were two different classes going on in the morning and two in the afternoon, and we could pick one in the morning and one in the afternoon to go to, like: campcraft, handcraft, weaving, or some others.

 

Swimming lesson (GSCNC Archives)

Swimming Test (GSCNC Archives)

In swimming we were divided into three groups beginners, intermediates, and· advanced and we all went swimming in one pool but at different times.

 

CMFHorseRiding258040

Ready for an overnight trip, 1930s (GSCNC Archives)

We had horses up there three days a week that we could ride if we wanted to. I went with a group of girls up to Pioneer Camp for three days where only the girls that have passed all their camp craft tests can go We got red ties as a kind of badge to show that we had been up there.

I went with a group of girls up to Pioneer Camp for three days where only the girls that have passed all their campcraft tests can go. We got red ties as a kind of badge to show that we had been up there.

LHH Crossing Bridge

Lou Henry Hoover strides across the bridge that she donated (GSCNC Archives)

The big event of the season was the dedication ceremonies.  Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Flather and some other important people came up and we had a program in their honor. Mrs. Hoover also dedicated a bridge that she had given to the camp.

We also had a water carnival, a wedding between the old and new campers and lots of other things.

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Circus night at camp, 1938 (GSCNC Archives)

Camp was not all play though, we had to do kitchen duty about once a week and dishes about twice a week. We also had our cabins inspected every morning and they had to be just right.

We got in lots of mischief too, like powder fights, mud fights, midnight feasts, and sliding down a mountain on a clean pair of pants, and lots of other things.

In all I had a wonderful time in spite of all the scrapes I got into.

Here is a poem I wrote about The Camp:

CAMP

After all is said and done,

I had really lots of fun.

Though I got in many a scrape,

I came out of them first rate.

I hope next summer I can go,

To camp instead of Chicago.

©2017 Ann Robertson

Who’s That Girl Scout? Virginia Hammerley

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Virginia “Ginger” Hammerley, ca. 1932

Virginia Hammerley is one of the most important women in the early years of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.

“Ginger” wasn’t one of Juliette Gordon Low’s debutante friends. She wasn’t a wealthy socialite who could donate buildings with a single check.  She didn’t organize troops in poor neighborhoods.

She was simply a Girl Scout; a teen-age girl who loved her sister scouts and the activities they did together. But she preserved her memories in a series of scrapbooks that provide some of the most extensive documentation of Girl Scout troop life during the Great Depression.

About 10 years ago, a relative of Ginger’s contacted Nation’s Capital. They had five of her scrapbooks; would we like them?  You bet we did!

These five albums are chock full of newspaper clippings, photos, holiday cards, invitations to friends’ weddings, and souvenirs of all kinds.

She was an active troop member, taking part in events held around Washington (click images to enlarge):

 

Earning her Golden Eaglet award:

Visiting the Little House, attending a national convention, and buying a brick for a new national headquarters building:

Ginger was one of the first campers at Camp May Flather when it opened in 1930, attended regular camp reunions, and became a counselor herself.

 

Like any teen-ager, she also saved holiday cards, celebrity photos and more:

Born in 1913, Virginia Hammerley was the only child of Charles and Mabel Hammerley. She grew up at 1819 Ingleside Terrace, NW, Washington, DC.

After graduating from McKinley Technical High School, she took a job with the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia, but she apparently was let go in 1941.

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Hammerley ObitI did a little research to find out what became of Ginger and was so sad to discover that she did not live happily ever after.

After the Girl Scouts, she took a clerical post with the Department of Agriculture.

Her father passed away in 1935 and Ginger and her mother moved. first to Iowa Avenue NW, then into an apartment together at 721 Fern Place NW. Mabel died in 1953.

Two years later, on the night of October 17, 1955, Ginger locked her front door, engaged the night chain, picked up a pistol, and took her own life.

I can only imagine what circumstances led to that fateful night in 1955. After spending so much time reading and handling hundreds of items that she carefully clipped, pasted, and preserved, it feels like losing a dear friend.

Ginger likely had no idea that her memories and mementos would still be around decades later, treasured records used by Girl Scouts and historians. Just this summer a graduate student spent days viewing scanned copies of the scrapbooks for a research project.

Virginia Hammerley may be gone, but she is hardly forgotten.

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©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Camp May Flather Desegregates in 1955

The District of Columbia Council’s flagship resident camp, Camp May Flather, quietly desegregated in the summer of 1955.

The Council’s Camping Committee had made the following recommendation to the Council Board of Directors, which voted for the change in January 1955:

The Committee on Camping recommends that there be no restrictions in any camp based on race. This means that in troop camping we will continue the present practice of camping as troops, but when council-wide encampments are held, there is no segregation.

Day camps will continue to be operated by District Committees and attendance will be limited by District jurisdiction.

Established camps will be open to all girls in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County [Maryland] regardless of district jurisdiction.

There was no big fanfare, no press release, just an invitation to members of a highly experienced troop of African American girls from the Charles Young School in Washington, DC. Troop 35 was led by Pansy Gregg, a second-grade teacher at Charles Young.

Intermediate Troop 35

Intermediate Troop 35 (GSCNC Archives)

Camp May Flather ran from June 27 through August 22, 1955, and five girls attended two-week sessions at camp: Beverly Pyles, Sandra Smith, Norma Turner, Sheila Gross, and Theresa Dorsey.

Council staff and members of the Camp Committee went to the bus stop as girls prepared to depart for Mt. Solon, Virginia, that summer. The women announced that from this day forward, Camp May Flather was open to all girls. Camp Committee chair and future council president Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch” waved a council checkbook and said that she would provide immediate refunds to any family that objected to the new policy. None did.

The campers later wrote about their experience for their school newsletter:

Sixth-grader Sheila Gross recalled:

I had a lot of fun at Camp May Flather last summer. I learned how to swim and how to make earrings and bracelets. I was in a group that played games and sang funny songs. We went on an overnight hike and slept out in the open. I had such a good time that I would like to go back next summer.

 

Prior to 1955, local African-American troops had primarily camped at Rockwood, just outside of Washington. As a National camp, Rockwood was open to all Girl Scouts.

Virginia McGuire (GSCNC archives)

Virginia McGuire (GSCNC Archives)

At the time, District VII, the administrative designation for African-American troops in the District of Columbia, had been raising funds to purchase their own camp. Leaders voted to donate that money toward a new administrative building at Camp May Flather. That building was named for Virginia McGuire, the original organizer of District VII in 1934. McGuire later became the first African American member of the council board.

Camp May Flather’s desegregation came one year after the US Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision. It would take another four years before Virginia began to desegregate its public school system.

At the end of the summer 1955 camp season, the Camp Committee sent a letter to parents of girls who had attended Camp May Flather “to get their reactions as to their likes and dislikes and things they would like to have done or would like to do when they return another summer.”

Members of the Camping Committee, October 1956. Bobby Lerch is second from left. (GSCNC Archives)

Members of the Camping Committee, October 1956. Bobby Lerch is second from left. (GSCNC Archives)

Information for this post was greatly aided by a recent donation from the family of Anne Murray, who was a member of the Camp Committee at the time of desegregation. I’ve already written about the wonderful camp scroll included in this material, and I hope to find more information as I explore the contents.

©2015 Ann Robertson

 

Flood Sweeps through Camp May Flather in 1949

As Camp May Flather staff prepared to welcome campers in June 1949, a huge storm caused flash flooding throughout Virginia.  Six locals died, and the Red Cross reported 2,400 people had been left homeless by the raging waters. Half of the town of Petersburg, VA, was underwater.

Just before the storm hit, on the night of June 17, staff had fanned out across the camp to set up their individual units. When the rain ended, the North River, which runs through the middle of camp, was 15 feet above its normal level. Five staff members were unaccounted for: Director Edith Clark; Assistant Director Eugenia Darby of Alabama; Faith Marr, who led a Brownie troop at the Potomac School in McLean, VA; and Grace McDade and Catherine Ducharme of Lafayette, LA.

CMF Flood

Faith Marr, Kay Ducharme, Eugenia Darby, and Grace McDade. Note the damage to the road.

The next day, a relieved Lenora Mann, director of camping for the DC Council, told reporters that a small plane had flown over the camp and seen the five gathered at the dining hall (Evening Star, June 19, 1949). The plane dropped food to the grateful women, who spent the next 48 hours at the dining hall before they were rescued by the National Guard. Even then, they had to “wade from the camp’s dining hall in the chest-deep water to the highway and then walk a mile to Stokesville” (Evening Star, June 20, 1949).

Staff wait for a Jeep to pick up them and their luggage.

Staff wait for a Jeep to pick up them and their luggage.

Camp May Flather sustained heavy damage. One-third of the buildings had been washed from their foundations. The crushed stone roadways were gone, leaving behind “impassible mud and boulder trails” (Washington Post, June 21, 1949). The swimming pool, 12 foot at the deep end, was completely filled with mud. The Boone unit, comprised of eight cabins, an outdoor kitchen, and a troop house, was completely destroyed, as were two new footbridges.  Early estimates put the replacement cost at $10,000.

The remains of Boone.

The remains of Boone.

Staff carry out records and equipment.

Staff carry out records and equipment.

Camp was canceled for the summer. Staff salvaged what they could, loading records and equipment into handwoven pack baskets.

That fall, Lenora Mann made repeated trips to May Flather to supervise the cleanup. Julian Salomon, a camp consultant from GSUSA in New York, also came to inspect the site.

Julian Salomon found the Boone latrine in the Sherando unit. Salomon also designed Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Julian Salomon found the Boone latrine in the Sherando unit. Salomon also designed Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Locals were busy repairing their own property, but the Forest Service helped her hire a cleanup crew from West Virginia. Many of the West Virginians were descended from German immigrants and spoke a German dialect. Somehow in translation they became known as the “Dutchmen,” and the proud workers confided to the Foresters that they found it hard taking orders from a woman.

The

The “Dutchmen” work crew. From left, Roy and Bud, John and his two boys.

The crew bulldozed the remains of the Boone cabins, but left the stone fireplaces from the outdoor kitchen and troop house intact. They had withstood the floodwaters and Lenora would not let them be torn down.

The Boone troop house chimney survived the flood.

The Boone troop house chimney survived the flood.

Lenora carefully documented the cleanup and donated her photos to the GSCNC Archives and History Committee.

Mrs. Hoover Comes to Camp May Flather, part two

Earlier today, I wrote about First Lady Lou Henry Hoover’s visit to Camp May Flather, August 7-8, 1930.

As a special treat, here are the memories of Marguerite Hall, an original staff member at Camp May Flather, tasked with baking a cake for Mrs. Hoover’s visit.

Her math is a little off at the beginning, but keep watching and enjoy!

Mrs. Hoover Comes to Camp May Flather, part one

May Flather may have been the driving force in establishing Camp May Flather, but she had influential friends who helped as well. First among these was First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

Mrs. Hoover was a huge supporter of Girl Scouting. Not only was she honorary national president from 1929 to 1933, she also was the elected national president twice, 1922-1925 and 1935-1937.

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

President and Mrs. Hoover were neighbors of Camp May Flather, with Camp Rapidan, their private retreat, located nearby. When they sold Camp Rapidan in the 1940s, Mrs. Hoover donated much of the furnishings to Rockwood, the national camp outside Washington, DC.

Mrs. Hoover personally donated $100 to build a bridge over the North River, which runs through Camp May Flather. She was actively involved in the design of the bridge, commenting on sketches as they were presented to her. However, she did not want the bridge named for her, so it officially is “Shawnee Bridge.”

To the great delight of campers, volunteers, and staff, Mrs. Hoover agreed to come to camp to formally dedicate the bridge. She arrived on August 7, 1930, and spent the night in a tent.

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A coveted invite to the camp dedication (Hoover Presidential Library)

A coveted invite to the camp dedication (Hoover Presidential Library)

She spent a busy two days at the camp, filled with activities and demonstrations:

Dedication schedule (Hoover Presidential Library)

Dedication schedule (Hoover Presidential Library)

A nervous color guard prepares to post the colors for the first lady (GSCNC archives)

A nervous color guard prepares to post the colors for the first lady (GSCNC archives)

While other campers have their cameras ready (GSCNC Archives)

While other campers have their cameras ready (GSCNC Archives)

Finally, the dedication begins. Mrs. Hoover cut a rope of laurel branches and marched across the new bridge.

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Many Washington Girl Scout officials attended the event. May Cheatham, second from left, was married to US Army Quartermaster Major General B.F. Cheatham, who supervised construction of the camp.

VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH's former secretary) GSCNC Archives

VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH’s former secretary) GSCNC Archives

Then she waves farewell to Camp May Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Then she waves farewell to Camp May Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Which staff remembered fondly.

Clippings from scrapbook of 1930 Camp May Flather staff (GSCNC Archives)

Clippings from scrapbook of 1930 Camp May Flather staff (GSCNC Archives)

Ever the gracious host, Mrs. Flather promptly wrote Mrs. Hoover to thank her for the visit.

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After 85 years, the “Shawnee Bridge” still stands at Camp May Flather.

Mrs. Hoover's bridge today.

Mrs. Hoover’s bridge today.

Meet May Flather

In the late 1920s, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia were trying to raise $25,000 to build a camp of their own. For nearly a decade, summer camps had rotated among several borrowed sites.

After an unsuccessful attempt to raise funds to purchase Fort Foote in 1927, the council’s attention turned to land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains, near North River Gap, between Grindstone and Lookout Mountains.

A new fund raising campaign began, asking donors to fund a specific building.  A sleeping cabin, for example, would cost $120, a latrine $100, and an infirmary for $400.

Camp May Flather Fund Raising Brochure (Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.)

Camp May Flather Fund Raising Brochure (Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.)

But the real breakthrough came in the form of a fairy godmother: Mrs. Henry H. Flather, known to her friends as “May.”

Mary Rebecca Mullan Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Mary Rebecca Mullan Flather (GSCNC Archives)

May Flather pledged $10,000 for the camp, on the condition that the council raise matching funds.  With that sizable start, additional donations rapidly followed. Edith Macy, for example, donated $600 for the director’s cottage. Mr. Julius Rosenwald donated $2,500.

May’s donation was used to build the picturesque Stone Lodge, she also secured a bank loan to complete the lodge’s roof.

Mary Rebecca Mullan was born on May 13, 1871, in San Francisco. Her father, Captain John Mullan, built the first military road in the northwestern United States. Mullan Pass near Helena, Montana, was named in his honor.

May married prominent Washington banker Henry H. Flather in 1916. Two years later, the Flathers purchased and restored Tulip Hill, an 18th-century estate in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. (George Washington really did sleep at Tulip Hill.)  She held open houses at Tulip Hill to raise money for the Girl Scout scholarship program.

May became active in the new Girl Scout movement, becoming commissioner (president) of the Washington Council in 1926. During her two-year term, she made acquiring a permanent camp her top priority. May also loaned the council a house at 1825 M Street NW, which served as council headquarters from 1929 to 1943.

After stepping down as commissioner in May 1928, May spearheaded the efforts to provide a permanent summer camp for Washington’s Girl Scouts.

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Girls and parents usually assume that Camp May Flather was named for a flower found in the area. But let’s not forget the generous woman who made the camp possible.

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

© 2015 Ann Robertson