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.

 

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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.

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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

Brownies and Blair House

Tradition holds that the president-elect spends the night before his inauguration at Blair House, the “President’s Guest House” at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

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Blair House (Carol Highsmith)

But what do you know about the Blairs?  The family produced several prominent American statesmen—and one very spunky Girl Scout leader, Edith Blair Staton.

Edith’s grandfather, Montgomery Blair (1813-1883), studied law at my alma mater, Transylvania University in Lexington, KY, and his most famous client was the fugitive slave Dred Scott. Blair moved to Washington in 1852 and became Lincoln’s Postmaster General in 1861.

The family’s “country house,” Falkland, was the earliest residence in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Today, Montgomery Blair is the namesake of one of the largest high schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

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Edith Blair Staton, 1924 passport photo

Edith arrived at Blair House on September 6, 1896, and was the last baby born at the residence. She married a young naval officer, Adolphus Staton, on July 28, 1917.

While her husband was at sea, the young bride took the helm of a Girl Scout troop. When the girls were preparing for their first camping trip and realized they had no bedrolls or other equipment, Edith went to her hope chest, stored in her attic of her parents’ home, and took her brand new wedding linen into the woods!

Edith threw herself into Girl Scouting and met founder Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah in 1922, where Daisy taught her how to stand on her head.

When Girl Scout leaders decided to adapt the British Brownie program for younger girls in the United States, Edith was recruited to help launch the program. She organized the first Brownie “Pow-Wow” for prospective leaders in November 1922. She had the perfect venue for a large meeting–Manor Country Club. Her uncle’s club was about to open and the meeting offered a good dress rehearsal opportunity for the staff.

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Logo for the First Brownie Pow-Wow in 1922 (GS Collector’s Guide)

Edith Blair Staton thus became the first Great Brown Owl, the main Brownie leader for the United States.

Edith remained active in Girl Scouting for most of her adult life. She was a member of the advisory committee for the Rockwood National Camp and was president of the District of Columbia council.

Edith passed away in 2001, at the age of 104. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Admiral Staton.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

 

Camping at Sherando Lake, 1951

This week I have been looking through boxes of scrapbooks, binders, and photo albums donated to the Nation’s Capital archives by the family of Jean Boyer Porter.

Sherando Lake Log 1951 page 3

Camping permit for Sherando Lake, VA (GSCNC Archives)

Jean joined the District of Columbia Girl Scouts in the mid-1930s and stayed active for the next 70 years. She also apparently rarely threw anything away. I’ve found kaper charts and shopping lists going back to the mid-1930s.

 

Sherando Lake Log 1951 page 4

Grocery list for trip (GSCNC Archives)


My favorite (so far) is this trip to Sherando Lake in Virginia, August 4-12, 1951. Troop scribe Nancy Brown documented this weekend:

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Fortunately the written account explains that the Senior Girl Scouts found a group of Boy Scouts camping nearby. Guess that’s not Girl Scouts swimming topless in the Sunday August 5 picture!

 

©2016 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

 

What Happened to Girl Scout Roundups?

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The Girl Scouts of the USA held four fabulously successful Roundups, in 1956, 1959, 1962, and 1965. Thousands of Senior girls pitched tents for two weeks of group living, friendship, songs, and adventure.1968 Roundup 2

Plans were in the works for a fifth Roundup in 1968. Leader magazine ran an article in which “Roundup ’65 Advises Roundup ’68.”

But the event never happened.  Why?

I’d hoped to research this question while I was at the GSUSA archives in January, but that trip was cut short by the Blizzard of 2016. Using other sources, I found three explanations.

1. The US Enters Vietnam

According to the Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, “A fifth Roundup was projected for 1968, but the conflict in Vietnam interfered with securing adequate supplies and government assistance” (p. 247). Indeed, US combat units began formal deployment in Vietnam in 1965.

As with Boy Scout Jamborees, the US military provided logistical support and equipment to the Girl Scout Roundups. The large-scale operation was used as a practical exercise in troop movements (military troops, not Girl Scout troops!).

 

Senate Aid 1961

New York Times, August 8, 1961

 

Senate Aid 1964

New York Times, June 30, 1964

2. No Reason

Official statements from GSUSA did not mention the military.

The GSUSA National Board voted to the cancel the 1968 Roundup in spring 1966.

1968 Roundup 4

3. Use Resources Wisely

Members evidently wanted an explanation. National President Margaret Price sent a letter to all council presidents.

1968 Roundup 1

New York Times, August 8, 1961

She cited the desire to create more opportunities for older Girl Scouts, instead of one super-sized event every three years. Indeed, Roundups were not cheap. Nation’s Capital spent $12,131.70 to send eight patrols to the 1965 Roundup.

That statement went to council presidents, not the membership at large. Leader magazine was not published in the summer, eliminating that opportunity to share the news. The only official notice was a small blurb in the fall:

1968 Roundup 3

According to Leader’s coverage of the 1966 National Convention, held October 23-28 in Detroit, the final session included discussion of the cancellation, but no specifics were included. I imagine it was a heated conversation.

Councils followed Mrs. Price’s directive and the Wider Opportunities (now Destinations) program was born. Many councils tried to hold an event in 1968, often using the familiar “Roundup” brand in their event name.

The Roundups are still fondly and vividly remembered by participants. Many still hold reunions to see their friends from across the country. I was surprised how many women still remembered their ID numbers after my first Roundup post.

 

 

 

 

The flags that lined the Avenue of Flags at the Roundups were donated to Rockwood National Center, where they greeted visitors for another decade.

©2016 Ann Robertson

Remembering Roundups

Before there were Destinations, before Wider Opportunities, Senior Roundups were often the highlight of a Girl Scout career.

These two-week encampments brought together high school-age Girl Scouts from around the country plus a few Girl Guides as well. They lived together in small groups, engaged in special programs and activities, and generally experienced the scope of the Girl Scout movement.

Four Roundups were held: 1956 in Detroit; 1959 in Colorado Springs; 1962 in Vermont; and 1965 in Idaho.

Roundup_Line

 

The Roundups were before my time, so I asked a member of the GSCNC Archives and History Committee, Kathy Seubert Heberg, to share her memories:

Fifty years since the last Girl Scout Roundup! It’s hard to believe that much time has passed. Anyone who attended one of the Roundups knows what a wonderful experience it was.

I was thrilled when I received my selection notice in December 1961 for the July 1962 Roundup, scheduled for two weeks in Vermont!

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GSUSA President Olivia Layton calls Rounduppers to dinner in 1957 (GSCNC archives).

The excitement had been building since mid-May of 1961 when all the Washington Metropolitan Area Roundup applicants met for an orientation meeting. This included Senior Scouts from five Councils that were merging to become the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital – Alexandria, Arlington, National Capital, Northern Virginia, and my council, Southern Maryland. Each of these Councils selected their own representatives to Roundup; Southern Maryland was sending two patrols of eight girls each.

In early July, we formed initial patrols, elected patrol leaders, and started to meet on a regular basis. After a rigorous process, the Southern Maryland Council made their selections, and the two patrols were finalized. In the following months, we honed our camping skills and worked on our demonstration and swaps – we became a close-knit patrol and were ready to go. On the evening of July 17, 1962, all the area patrols gathered on the Washington Monument Grounds and received a grand send-off from family, friends, and Council officials. At that time, we each received a waterproof ID (think old-fashioned hospital wristband) that we wore at all times until we got back home.

We boarded three buses and headed north. We were excited, we talked, and we sang – there wasn’t much sleeping on the bus! We arrived late morning on the following day and located our patrol equipment and personal belongings. Tents, cooking utensils, and individual duffel bags, with all the important things – our clothing, swaps, stationery for letters home (this was long before cell phones!) – had been shipped a month beforehand.

We then headed to our designated spot to pitch camp. The entire encampment was divided by Section, Camp, and Troop, with each Troop containing four Patrols of eight girls each. All patrol items were marked with our specific number – 2F82. Each of us had an added number indicating our position in the patrol so all my clothing and personal items, for example, were marked 2F82-1. We settled in and met our Troop Leader, Jerry, and the other three patrols that made up our Troop – from upstate New York, western Illinois, and southwestern Minnesota.  We got to work building our patrol picnic table, which was a bit challenging – I think we used a whole box of nails to hold it together! One day it collapsed – it didn’t fall apart – it just sank to the ground. It was easy to fix – just needed more nails.

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Tents pitched at the first Roundup, Detroit, 1956 (GSCNC archives).

There was always something to do! In addition to preparing food, eating, and cleaning up, there were patrol meetings to let everyone know what was happening that day. Sometimes, we had assignments, such as being part of the flag ceremony on the Avenue of Flags. There were demonstrations by each patrol about something related to our home area. Because jousting is the Maryland State Sport, our patrol demonstrated a jousting tournament – with cardboard horses. The demonstrations were always interesting and fun to watch and, if you were lucky, perhaps you could get a taste of rattlesnake meat – really! In the evenings, we joined other patrols at Troop or Camp programs – perhaps folk dancing by Girl Guides, singing (of course), and Arena events.

The official camp uniform was “greenies” – dark green shorts and knee socks, and white camp shirt. It was very sharp looking but we could only take so many sets along – that meant hand laundry and line drying. Roundup was open to the public and we had a lot of visitors – the first day that Roundup was open to the public, over 4,000 people visited and that number increased. The patrol areas also had to be ready for visitors during certain hours of the day. Any wet laundry had to be out of sight during those times and, combined with almost daily thunderstorms, clothes took a while to dry! There were career counseling sessions, visits with Burlington College language students, and exhibits. Vermont is a big dairy state, and the cows and milking machines were a big hit! There were even milk dispensers scattered throughout the area. We drank a LOT of milk!

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Regulation camp uniform (GSCNC archives).

Whenever, wherever, we exchanged swaps! Every State was represented and Girl Guides from 15 member countries attended. Meeting them was simply terrific! The best place to put all those swaps was on your Roundup hat – until you ran out of space and then you safely packed the rest away. Our patrol’s swap was a small, thin, pointed wooden dowel – like a jousting lance – slipped through a round piece of material (Pellon®) with Southern Maryland Council written on it and, of course, our own name and address.

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SWAPS!!!  (GSCNC archives)

For our meals, we received recipes and bags of food. We had enough for nine people because we always had a guest – usually a Troop Leader or Staff Member. We cooked on charcoal and had made many, many fire starters soaked in paraffin which were safe, lightweight, and easy to pack. We celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Girl Scouting with a special meal of grilled chicken. We received 4 ½ chickens – 4 were whole. Only one of us had the foggiest clue of what to do with a whole chicken. We ended up with a total of 90 pieces of chicken – some were a little small but it all tasted great!

The 1962 Roundup focused on the 50th Anniversary of Girl Scouting – “Honor the Past, Serve the Future.” The 50th Anniversary stamp was issued from Roundup, and we all kept the on-site Post Office busy by mailing First Day covers. One of the Arena Events was a special celebration of the 50th birthday, with special guest of honor Maria von Trapp visiting from nearby Stowe. The arena, a natural hillside, was a perfect setting and could handle 10,000 people. You can image 10,000 Girl Scouts on the move!

There’s so much to tell you about – all the fun, all the friendships! At first, I didn’t know where to start, and now I don’t know where to end. But it was an incredible time and it’s amazing to meet another Roundupper. It’s like meeting an old friend and sharing many great memories. The conversation usually goes – – “You went to Roundup? Which one? Me, too!”

–Kathy Seubert Heberg

Stop by the Nation’s Capital main office at 4301 Connecticut Ave., NW in Washington, DC, to see an exhibit of items from the various Roundups.

Why were the Roundups canceled? Read about it here!

 

 

 

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.