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

Washington Girl Scouts Need a Camp!

The District of Columbia Girl Scout Council was chartered in 1917, but ten years later, in 1927,  Washington’s Girl Scouts still had no camp to call their own.

For the past six summers, resident camp had been held at several borrowed sites. The most popular was “Camp Bradley” held adjacent to Edgewood Arsenal (now Aberdeen Proving Ground) in northern Maryland.  That deal had been arranged by General Amos Fries, chief of the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service, whose eldest daughter Elizabeth was in Washington Troop 8.

General Amos Fries (Arlington Cemetery)

General Amos Fries (Arlington Cemetery)

Fries contacted Joseph H. Bradley, who owned some unused land adjacent to the arsenal and agreed to lend it to the Girl Scouts. Fries dispatched soldiers to set up the camp, complete with wooden boardwalks and even electricity.

Camp Bradley staff, 1924 (GSCNC Archives)

Camp Bradley staff, 1924 (GSCNC Archives)

Washington (and Baltimore) Girl Scouts enjoyed Camp Bradley for several summers, but in 1927 girls went eight miles south of Washington, to Fort Foote, a former Civil War-era garrison near Fort Washington in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The campers lived in Army tents and used existing buildings for a commissary, kitchen, and assembly hall. Washington Council director Dorothy Greene called it “a beautiful site for a camp and a natural amphitheater on a hillside has been selected for the pageant picturing the Spirit of Camping.”

The Army was considering selling the 66-acre site, which Army Quartermaster General Benjamin Cheatham had valued at $9,750. When the council was granted a license to continue using the camp in November 1927, they leapt into action, hoping for the opportunity to buy Fort Foote, if they could raise enough money.

A fund drive was organized for December 2-9. The council needed $55,000 for operating expenses, existing debt, and a resident camp. Among other activities, troops demonstrated Girl Scout skills in the windows of a dozen Washington department stores while their leaders stood on the sidewalks outside with collection cups. (See clipping WP 1927 Dec 4).

Similar demonstration of laundry skills, November 1925, likely at the Little House (GSCNC Archives)

Similar demonstration of laundry skills, November 1925, likely at the Little House (GSCNC Archives)

Matoaka clipping

Matoaka clipping

Unfortunately, they only collected about $20,000 and could not make a bid for Fort Foote.

In 1928 girls went to Camp Matoaka in St. Leonards, Maryland, on land loaned by Mrs. James Alburtus.

Resident camp moved to Rawley Springs, Virginia, in 1929.

Brochure for Rawley Springs camp (GSCNC Archives)

Brochure for Rawley Springs camp (GSCNC Archives)

This sprawling site in the Allegheny Mountains was near Rapidan, President Herbert Hoover’s mountain getaway.

And, there was another site, not far from Rawley Springs, that might make a good permanent camp, if the Girl Scouts could raise $25,000, a tremendous amount at the onset of the Great Depression. If only they could find a benefactor…

to be continued

© 2015 Ann Robertson

The Girl Scout Red Scare, part four

Technical issues delayed this final installment of the Girl Scout Red Scare, but I have a treat that is worth the wait!

On August 6, 1954, the Illinois chapter of the American Legion passed a resolution withdrawing American Legion support for the Girl Scouts for supposedly subversive, anti-American content in its 1953 Intermediate handbook.

GSUSA President Olivia Layton  contacted Irving Breakstone, the newly elected commander of the Illinois chapter, to discuss the matter. Breakstone distanced himself from the Clammage resolution and assured Layton that it would never reach the floor of the National American Legion convention, set for August 30-September 2 in Washington, DC.

Breakstone was wrong.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

The Illinois resolution, retyped from a file at GSUSA NHPC.

Legionnaires from across the United States gathered at the Washington Armory over Labor Day weekend, 1954, and voted on a series of proposals calling for vigilance against communism, including  universal military training. They passed a resolution praising McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Regarding the Girl Scouts, convention delegates commended GSUSA for taking “remedial action” (revisions underway long before the Legionnaires got worked up over the handbook) and called on GSUSA to disclose the author(s) who had inserted the “un-American influences” into the text and whether or not they still worked for the Girl Scouts.

Furthermore, Legion National Commander Arthur J. Connell reneged on a promise to let the Girl Scouts defend themselves if the handbook issue made it to the floor.

GSUSA President Olivia Layton at the 1957 Roundup (GSCNC Archives).

GSUSA President Olivia Layton at the 1957 Roundup (GSCNC Archives).

Layton was furious, especially as she lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and could have been at the convention with less than an hour’s notice. Layton blasted the vote, saying,

They promised to get in touch with me if anything at all was to be done. Then they went ahead and did this, without even letting me know a thing about it, until I read in the paper Wednesday that the resolution had been passed.

Connell’s reply seemed to suggest that Layton should find a scapegoat to preserve the movement’s wholesome image:

All organizations, including the American Legion, could be infiltrated, and it seems to be that it might be well for the Girl Scout leaders to see who in their organization was responsible for the changes in their handbook, that ought to be blamed rather than any individual in the Legion.

As it turns out, the author of the Intermediate Handbook was Margarite Hall, an old friend of Nation’s Capital who worked at Camp May Flather when the camp opened in 1930 and later on the council staff.  In 1953 she was the Intermediate Program Advisor at GSUSA and hardly a rabble-rouser.

Hall previewed new badges in the May 1953 Leader magazine.

Hall previewed new badges in the May 1953 Leader magazine.

Hall introduced the 1953 Handbook in the October 1953 Leader magazine.

Hall introduced the 1953 Handbook in the October 1953 Leader magazine.

Although the controversy over the Handbook had to be frightening at the time, by 1990 Hall could laugh about the incident, as she did in a 1990 presentation at Rockwood Manor, outside Washington DC.

Now that the recording of the presentation has been digitized, I’ll let Margie have the last word on the Girl Scout Red Scare:

 

 

©2014 Ann Robertson

A tribute to my Friend  Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch

A tribute to my Friend Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch

We lost a true piece of GSCNC history last month, our council’s first president, Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch. What an incredible legacy she left for us.

CapiTalk Blog

In Memory of Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch
First President of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s CapitalImage

By: Lidia Soto-Harmon

Over the past 50 years, Gertrude “Bobby “ Lerch rarely missed a Girl Scout event, quite an accomplishment for a 104 year old woman. She was the first president of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, and I met her ten years ago when I joined Girl Scouts. She was a young 94 back then. I was struck by her sense of humor, her “tell it like it is” directness, and her deep passion for girls and the Girl Scout Movement. On March 10, we presented Bobby with the 90-Year Longevity Award to celebrate nine decades as a Girl Scout. Four weeks later she passed away at home, surrounded by her loving family.

In the last ten years, I have had many occasions to visit with Bobby to…

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Françoise May, the Belgian Apple Blossom Queen

Today, May 2, the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival will crown its 2014 queen in Winchester, VA.  In 1933 that honor went to a 23-year old Girl Scout leader, Françoise May.

Françoise May, the 10th Apple Blossom Queen, sits upon her throne.

Françoise May, the 10th Apple Blossom Queen, sits upon her throne.

Françoise was the eldest daughter of Paul May, the Belgian ambassador to the United States. She had been an active Girl Guide in Belgium, and when her father was posted to the United States in 1931, she immediately signed up with the Washington, DC, area Girl Scouts. She became captain (leader) of Troop 53, and the troop grew so large that it divided into 53 and 53A. Françoise became a popular speaker about the Girl Guides and a staff member for Camp May Flather. She was awarded the Thanks Badge for her efforts.

 

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Her younger sisters, Ghislane and Elisabeth, also joined Troop 53.

Françoise presents the First Class rank to her sister Ghislane and other members of Troop 53.

Françoise presents the First Class rank to her sister Ghislane and other members of Troop 53.

The entire troop traveled to Winchester for the coronation ceremony.

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Troop member Virginia Hammerley, who later joined the staff of the Girl Scouts of Washington, DC, kept detailed scrapbooks of Troop 53’s activities, including many clippings and items from the coronation of Queen Françoise. Her scrapbooks are in the archives of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.

Ambassador May died suddenly in July 1934. When Françoise, her sisters, and their mother returned to Belgium, “Ginger” Hammerley succeeded her as troop captain.

Excerpt from farewell letter to Troop 53.

Excerpt from farewell letter to Troop 53.

Her touching farewell letter to the troop may be downloaded in its entirety by clicking here.

 

Françoise pauses for a photo while working at Camp May Flather.

Françoise pauses for a photo while working at Camp May Flather.

Girl Scout History Book Released

Just in time for the holidays, my new book, Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, was published on December 2, 2013.  Retailing for $21.99, the book is available at the Nation’s Capital Girl Scout Shops, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers.

Arcadia front Cover

The book shares 100 years of Girl Scout memories in the greater Washington, DC, region and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.  GSCNC was created in 1963 upon the merger of the Arlington, Alexandria, National Capital, Northern Virginia, and Southern Maryland councils.

Girl Scouting came to Washington, DC, in June 1913 when Juliette Gordon Low decided her new girls empowerment movement needed a national headquarters. Although the headquarters moved to New York City in 1916, the council in Washington, DC, is still actively involved in the programs. Girl Scouts of the Nations Capital includes some 200 photographs that will rekindle memories of making new friends, earning badges, spending summer nights at Camp May Flather, taking road trips to Rockwood, attending freezing inaugural parades, hiking along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and participating in enormous sing-alongs around the Washington Monument.

Vintage Camping Equipment on Display

There’s still time to see the latest exhibit from the GSCNC Archives and History Committee.

“Girl Scouts: Camping Is Our Bag” showcases  vintage camping equipment.

Whether you’re shopping for a new uniform or taking a training class, next time you are at the GSCNC main office at 4301 Connecticut Ave., NW in Washington, check out the displays in the lobby!

What did the well-prepared Girl Scout bring to camp? Compare the  Camp May Flather packing lists from 1930 and 1947:

CMF 1930 packing list

1930 Packing List for Camp May Flather

1947 Packing List for Camp May Flather

1947 Packing List for Camp May Flather