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

 

 

Girl Scout Exhibit at Rockwood Manor

The Girl Scouts have returned to Rockwood Manor Park!

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Uniform display in Rockwood’s Manor House (photo courtesy Montgomery County, MD, Parks)

Rockwood is, of course, one of my favorite Girl Scout topics.

I am nearly done writing a book-length history of this beautiful facility, which was a national Girl Scout camp from 1938 to 1978.  Its sale to developers in 1978 triggered a class-action lawsuit filed by the Maryland Attorney General and nine individual Girl Scouts. A pre-trial settlement resulted in roughly 75% of the property going to the developers (who created a subdivision with the terrifically uncreative name of “Woodrock”) and 25% to the local parks department.

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The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

While the settlement also called for the creation of a Girl Scout room filled with memorabilia and nature resources, the room’s prime location in the Manor House meant that it was gradually converted into a small office and storage area.

But out of the blue, I was contacted a few months ago by Jamie Kuhns, senior historian for the Montgomery County Parks. A uniform had recently been donated to her office, and she was in charge of creating a Girl Scout-themed display for the Manor House, Rockwood’s main building. Would I be interested in collaborating?

YES!!!!!!!!!!

(That’s actually my family’s reaction; they are SO glad I have someone else to talk Rockwood with.)

I met with Jamie, who told me the uniform had been donated by Barbara Lages. I reviewed the display text, answered questions about various people, buildings, and events; provided a photo or two; and replaced the missing yellow tie for the uniform.

Jamie also had several pictures she wanted to incorporate into the display.  I immediately recognized two of the photos, as they include Bobby Lerch, the beloved former president of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. Both images show Bobby investing  her granddaughter, also named Barbara, as a Brownie around 1964. Troop leader Jessie Bradley Lerch also took part in the investiture.

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GSCNC President Bobby Lerch, left, invests her granddaughter Barbara as a Brownie, c. 1964 (GSCNC archives)

Bobby remained an active Girl Scout until her death at age 104. She also wrote the Foreword to my book on the history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.

The display case was dedicated in late November 2016. Next, I look forward to consulting with Jamie as she creates new signage around the grounds of Rockwood.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

Shoes? Girl Scouts Had Shoes?

Here is another quirky eBay find that wound up in the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center: a sign advertising Girl Scout shoes.

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Get your Official Girl Scout Shoes!! (GSCNC Archives)

Shoes?  Girl Scouts had shoes?

Yes siree, we did. And we’re talking about some very sturdy, very sensible footwear.

In 1921 the national Girl Scout leadership signed an agreement that allowed outside vendors to produce and sell “official” Girl Scout shoes. Each pair sold raised 25 cents for the national organization. Most shoes featured a Trefoil on the sole.

The shoes were available through the National Equipment Service catalog and through the hundreds of stores across the country authorized to sell Girl Scout uniforms, books, and other equipment.

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From Girl Scout Collector’s Guide. Note the address; GSUSA today is located at 420 Fifth Avenue, New York City. 

Several equally practical designs appeared in the annual catalog over the decades, including green rain boots and canvas sneakers. Some were for “official” wear with uniforms, other were intended for casual outfits. None would make Carrie Bradshaw or any other shoe aficionado swoon.

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Alas, none appeared in the catalog after the mid-1960s.

For more pictures of Girl Scout shoes (even shoe boxes!) stroll over to the Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum.

©2016 Ann Robertson

Brownie Badges: We Tried It, Girls Loved It!

How much do you know about the Brownie Try-It?

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Girl Scouts Ways

Happy 30th Birthday!

The fall 1986 Girl Scout catalog contained a major surprise: new badges … for Brownies! That means the Try-It has been around for 30 years.

The “Try-It” name reflected the non-competitive emphasis on fun. Brownies did not have to become proficient in a skill, they just had to Try It. Girls had to complete four of six requirements to earn the recognition.

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Try-Its debuted in the  1986 Girl Scout catalog.

 

Bicentennial Byproduct

Try-Its satisfied a growing demand for more Brownie program content, especially after the program expanded from two years (2nd and 3rd grades) to three (1st grade) in 1973.

Many councils issued special badge programs to celebrate the American Bicentennial in 1976. Brownies could earn these, leading many to ask why they didn’t have badges of their own. Some councils responded with their own patch programs. Today these are known as “Pre-Try-Its.”

Official Patches and Wedges

Before Try-Its, GSUSA introduced the Brownie Bs program in 1977. The program encouraged troops to create well-rounded programs that reflected the Brownie Bs:

  • Be a Discoverer
  • Be a Ready Helper
  • Be a Friend-maker

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Upon completing a year in the program, Brownies received a triangular patch to wear on the front of their sashes.  Each wedge represented one year: Yellow (1st year), Red (2nd), and Blue (3rd). (The bridge and Junior Aide bar were Junior recognitions, but you almost always see them grouped together.)

GSUSA also issued Brownie Bs fun patches that were worn on the back of the sash.  They came in several shapes and colors.

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Brownie Fun Patches from 1978. They usually weren’t this dirty!

Try-Its Influenced the Uniform

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Brownie fun wear with a Try-It design became available in 1999.

Now that Brownies could earn recognitions, they needed a place to display them. The sash was introduced in 1977 and the vest in 1991. Mothers everywhere rejoiced when iron-on Try-Its were introduced in 2004.

 

Most Popular

The original Try-Its had borders that matched the Worlds to Explore program: Arts, Out-of-Doors, People, Today and Tomorrow, and Well-Being. The program was wildly popular and members immediately asked for more options. A blank “Our Own Council’s” version was introduced in 1988, followed by 20 new Try-Its in 1989, six in 1993, and five in 1997.

The most popular early Try-Its were:

(1) Girl Scout Ways, (2) Play, (3) Food Fun, (4) Music, and (5) Dance.

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The top five Try-Its of the Worlds to Explore era.

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Top Brownie Try-Its, 1999-2004.

The Worlds to Explore program was phased out, and by 1999 all Try-Its had brown borders.  The 2001 Brownie handbook included 57 Try-Its, many updated versions of existing ones. The most popular were:

(1) Cookies Count, (2) Girl Scout Ways, (3) Manners, (4) Art to Wear, and (5) Caring and Sharing.

Of course, my personal favorites are the various Council’s Own Try-Its.

Yes, It’s Hyphenated

It’s Try-It, not Try It. (I’m an editor, I care about such things!)

Try-Its Inspired Today’s Girl Scout Way Series

The first group of Try-Its included “Girl Scout Ways.” Now each level (except Daisies) has their own version of this basic badge.

 

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Ambassador Girl Scout Way badge

Now Officially “Badges”

The Discover, Connect, Take Action program included a new set of Brownie recognitions in 2012, and the Try-It name was dropped. Now Brownies earn “badges,”  but the old name is still frequently used.

 

Learn more by visiting the exhibit at the Nation’s Capital main office, 4301 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

 

Seeking the Silver Fish

“I found a bunch of silver fish!” I recently announced to my family.

“Call the exterminator,” my husband replied.

Then, as a good Man in Green, he corrected himself. “Oh, you mean the other one.”

Indeed, this is what I found in the bargain bin at Jo-Ann Fabrics:

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It’s a string of silver-colored, fish-shaped beads. Each is about 1″ in size. I thought they would be perfect additions to a Juliette Gordon Low costume or a Daisy-themed Kim’s Game.

The Silver Fish was the highest award available to Girl Guides. It could be considered the first highest award for Girl Scouts, because it was listed in the 1913 handbook, How Girls Can Help Their Country, along with the list of the 20 badges needed to earn it. But no Girl Scouts ever did. In fact, some of the “required” badges were not even available in the United States.  Instead, Daisy created a US equivalent: the Golden Eagle of Merit.

In October 1917 Girl Guides redefined the Silver Fish as an adult-only award recognizing outstanding contributions to the movement.

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Helen Storrow (Wikipedia)

Originally the award depicted a whiting with its tail in its mouth. It changed to a swimming fish on a dark blue/light blue striped ribbon in October 1917.

Today the fish is an Atlantic salmon. According to the Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, Lord Baden Powell suggested this species, “a salmon swimming up a river, overcoming every water fall, boulder, and other obstacle in order to reach a quiet place in which to spawn.”

Lady Baden Powell received a specially created golden Silver Fish in 1918.

Three Americans received the prestigious Silver Fish. Lord Baden Powell personally presented the first to JGL at the 1919 national convention in Washington, DC. Anne Hyde Choate and Helen Storrow received theirs at the 1921 national convention in Cincinnati. Choate, JGL’s goddaughter, was national president from 1920 to 1922. Storrow led the effort to build Our Chalet.

 

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Anne Hyde Choate (l) and Juliette Gordon Low wear their Silver Fish (Harris & Ewing photo)

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Anne Hyde Choate’s Silver Fish at GSUSA

Daisy was buried in her Girl Scout uniform, including her Silver Fish, at Laurel Grove cemetery in Savannah.

Anne Hyde Choate’s Silver Fish was donated to GSUSA. Earlier this year, it was on display in the lobby of the 17th floor of national headquarters, 420 Fifth Avenue in New York.

Today Storrow’s fish lives at the Cedar Hill Museum in Massachusetts. 

Thank you to the Cedar Hill staff and volunteers who confirmed the location!

©2016 Ann Robertson

Flying the Flag for 9/11

As we mark the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, take a moment to look at your right shoulder. Specifically, look at the flag waving atop your uniform sash or vest.

The US flag was not part of the official Girl Scout uniform until after 9/11. Even today, the flag technically is optional, although most girls wear it.

The straight flag was introduced in the 2002 catalog, although no girl pictured in the catalog was wearing one. The wavy flag was introduced in 2008.

 

GSUSA also introduced three new badges that emphasized flag etiquette, history, and patriotism: Wave the Flag for Brownies, United We Stand for Juniors, and American Patriotism for Cadettes and Seniors.

As troops form and begin meeting this fall, take the opportunity to explain the importance of that small flag on her shoulder.

©2016 Ann Robertson

The Girl Advisory Committee: Girl-led in Action

After GSUSA asked councils to carry out special “Youth Serve Youth” service projects ahead of our 50th anniversary in 1962, they selected a 12-member Girl Advisory Committee to review the submissions and prepare a report for Congress.

Knowing that the Girl Scout program must always be sensitive to the contemporary needs and interests of girls, the national organization uses its Girl Advisory Committee to bring grassroots reactions to activities and events as a direct line from the girls themselves.

Register-Guard, Eugene OR (November 3, 1961): 7A.

Girl Scouts were asked to study youth in their communities and identify areas where they could help. Thousands of projects were carried out. Troops in Wisconsin’s Riverland Council pledged to make 1,000 dolls for less-fortunate families. Public safety was the focus in Asheville, NC, where Pisgah GS Council created emergency game kits for children aged 3-12. The kits taught civil defense lessons and were placed in disaster shelters. Troops in Tumbleweed Council in Kansas “adopted” two dozen girls at Parsons State Hospital, providing “useful items” and writing letters. Councils reported their projects to the national headquarters in late 1961.

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Lady B-P (right) with (maybe) Larie Blohm of Oregon.

On March 5, 1962, the national Girl Advisory Committee convened at Rockwood National Camp outside of Washington DC. The Committee was comprised of 12 girls, one selected from each administrative region of the country.

I’ve been able to identify seven of the dozen girls:

  1. Rea Ann Scoville (Portage, IN)
  2. Cheryle Bremer, (Cannon Falls, MN)
  3. Diane Young (Houston, TX)
  4. Larie Blohm (Eugene, OR)
  5. Rebecca Gainey (Charlotte, NC)
  6. Virginia Anne Meeker (NY)
  7. Anita Beth Cutler (MA)

The girls were given a daunting task: to review the submissions, select representative projects, then write and deliver a presentation on Capitol Hill, on March 12, the 50th birthday of the movement.

Between their work sessions, the girls enjoyed sightseeing in Washington and hiking to Great Falls, about a mile from Rockwood. They also attended the national 50th anniversary celebration in Washington and met World Chief Guide Olave Baden Powell.

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Members of the 1962 Girls Advisory Committee pose with Lady Baden Powell, Rockwood (GSCNC Archives)

On the morning of March 12, the girls traveled to Capitol Hill, where luncheon was scheduled for 12:30 pm in Room 1302 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. They were joined by 200 guests, including Senators, Representatives, and their Girl Scout wives, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters.

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1962 Postage Stamp, from Postal Museum

Other dignitaries included Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, GSUSA President Marjorie Culmer, and Postmaster General J. Edward Day, who announced a new stamp to commemorate the anniversary.

The vice president called on the Girl Scouts to promote citizenship during their next 50 years. He warned that too many Americans avoided learning about their government because they believe “politics are dirty business.”

[The Girl Scouts should] put increasing emphasis on encouraging our young people to learn everything they can about their Government at all levels….I feel sure the culture will belong to the free, the educated and to those who care, those who want to help, those who feel a responsibility for doing their share.

–Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson

The Committee selected Scoville, Bremer and Young to present their findings.  The three 17 year-olds addressed the distinguished guests with ease, poise, and confidence. While they spoke, reported the Washington Post, the Vice President hand wrote gold-edged Senate gallery passes for the girls.

Luncheon concluded with a round of “Happy Birthday” led by Lady Bird Johnson, and everyone blew out candles on the three-tier cake or individual cupcakes.

Reviewing the event for the October 1962  issue of Leader magazine, national Program Department staffer Marian F. Wells reflected on the process she had witnessed at Rockwood. She praised the girls for their maturity, organization, cooperation, and collaborative approach. National staff were present, but generally unneeded. “The most remarkable thing about the 1962 GAC,” she wrote, “was not that it had an important job to do in connection with our Fiftieth Anniversary; but that, having been given the responsibility, the girls were allowed to carry it out.”

Is it possible that in an organization dedicated to the encouragement of girl initiative, we sometimes stifle it instead? Do we, too often, short-change our Senior Scouts by failing to recognize their capabilities; by doing for them instead of helping them to do for themselves; and by overlooking the fact that, although teenagers don’t have all the answers, they frequently have ideas that are worth listening to? If this is the case, the time has come for more than Program Change! We need to change our attitude toward girls as well, or the basic premise of Girl Scouting–that girls govern their own troops and manage their own affairs under adult guidance–will be nothing but an empty phrase.

–Marian F. Weller, GSUSA Program Department

50th-cake

 

©2016 Ann Robertson