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.

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