The Mount Rushmore Flag

How big is the largest US flag that you have ever seen?

Perhaps it is the one flown over the US Capitol? The famous “Star Spangled Banner” of 1814 on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History? There’s a car dealership near my House that claims to have the largest.

But for sheer size, the US Flags flown at Mount Rushmore towers over the contenders.

It’s one thing to observe an object from a distance, but to really appreciate it, you need to get up close and personal. You need to compare it to a known point of reference, such as your basic 5-foot tall, 12-year old American girl.

In 1990, a retired flag that had long flown at Mount Rushmore went on a grand tour of the United States as part of the US Interior Department’s “Take Pride in America” initiative. Nine 20×30 “Gettysburg Peace Flags” were also part of the tour. The nine had been dedicated on the Gettysburg National Battlefield in 1988.

Flag covers Lincoln before finished portrait is revealed on July 4, 1937. Note that work to create Theodore Roosevelt has just begun. (Rapid City Journal)

The giant flag went into service on July 4, 1987, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the massive US landmark. When the ceremony began, this flag covered the massive face of President Abraham Lincoln. Despite high winds, the flag was majestically raised to reveal Lincoln.

The flag was used for the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the 1989 Presidential Inauguration. When its tour ended, the flag returned to South Dakota, where in 1991 it was used to cover the face of President Theodore Roosevelt, during a ceremony to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of that presidential portrait.

The exhibit arrived in the Nation’s Capital in 1990, where it would teach youth to take pride in their country, as well as its many cultural and natural resources. Local Girl Scouts were invited to participate in the largest flag ceremony of their lives, using this massive banner.

On Saturday, October 20, 1990, more than 2,500 Girl Scouts assembled at the Potomac Polo Club in Poolesville, Maryland, on the border with the District of Columbia, for the occasion.

The girls quickly realized that it would take nearly all of them to maneuver the flag into position.

The large flag was difficult to maneuver.

The Mount Rushmore flag measures 45 feet by 90 feet and weighs 300 pounds. Girls formed two rows to begin removing the flag from its storage case. In addition to the girls holding the flag by the edges, a contingent of small Brownies and Daisies walked underneath the flag so it would not sag or touch the ground.

The Girl Scouts progressed down the length of the polo field and stopped in front of a large, telescoping crane. The girls solemnly passed the flag, hand over hand, toward an iron bar attached to the crane. Once it was firmly attached to the bar, the crane raised it into position.

The Mount Rushmore Flag is raised to its full height.

The ceremony, organized by Thelma Glowacki and Stephanie Gonos, took nearly the entire day. Local Congresswoman Connie Morella spoke, calling the event a “wonderful display of woman power.” Local news anchors, the Quantico Marine Corps Band, the Coast Guard Silent Drill Team, a majorette and drum corps, among many, many others, also participated.

As the day came to an end, the flag was slowly lowered and returned to its case. The girls then formed a giant friendship circle and began to sing “Taps.” Finally, a bugle call sounded, and everyone silently left the field.

An emotional, patriotic day was done.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Martha and the Stailey Sisters

No, it’s not a girl band from the 1960s. It’s a girl group from the 1910s!

My last post profiled Martha Bowers Taft, who began a Girl Scout troop at the Noel Settlement House in Washington, DC, in 1914.

Near the end of 1914, Martha married Robert Taft, son of President William Howard Taft, at St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square (and scene of protests this week).

My favorite part of Martha’s story is that her troop attended the wedding. The girls were mentioned by name in the plentiful news coverage of this enormous social event. Can’t you just imagine these little disadvantaged girls mingling with Washington’s elite?

Washington Post (October 25, 1914)

I thought some of the names seems familiar. The connection was something way, way back in my mind.

I was right. After a deep dive into our council’s archives produced two tintypes.

After a little cleanup with PhotoShop, I’m thrilled to present:

The Stailey Sisters!

I don’t know why Margaret, the fourth Stailey girl mentioned in the newspaper, was not included in the photo session. Alas.

But look at those proud girls in the Girl Scout uniforms! And they even brought their semaphore flags!!

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Who’s That Girl Scout? Martha Bowers Taft

The first Girl Scout troops were often an unusual combination of social classes.

The women who organized troops in a city could be described as “clubwomen.” They were upper-class matrons interested in social causes that could improve their communities.

Their backgrounds resembled that of Juliette Gordon Low, who brought Girl Scouting to the United States. To grow the movement, JGL reached out to her friends and boarding school chums and prodded them to start troops in their communities.

These women handled the administrative and financial needs, but many considered themselves too old to lead a troop. Instead, they turned to their daughters: young women who had recently `graduated from college and sought meaningful work, at least until they married. Their participation also gave the new movement a stamp of respectability that would help recruit more members.

Daughters were also nearer the age of the girls, who mostly were teenagers in the early years.

Troop captains (as leaders were originally called) had to be at least 21 years old and a 1921 survey found that most were under 25 years old.

Martha Bowers exemplified the use of Girl Scouting to bridge extreme economic and social divides in Washington, DC.

Martha, age 25, was the daughter of Lloyd Bowers, the former U.S. solicitor general. She had attended the Rosemary Hall School in Connecticut, studied at Bryn Mawr and the Sorbonne, and made her society debut in the 1909-1910 season.

The sudden death of her father in late 1910 left her extremely wealthy.

Martha’s travels, wardrobe and activities were avidly followed in leading newspapers.

In 1914, when the GS national headquarters was in Washington, DC., JGL appointed ten prominent women, including Martha, to a new Advisory Board.

Martha was also instructed to form a troop at Noel Settlement House, which provided community and recreational services to some of Washington’s poorest residents. The staff was particularly proud of their dance program.

The object of this social organization is to keep the boys and girls away from the vicious dance halls, of which there are many in the northeast, and to keep them off the streets.

Washington Herald (December 17, 1911).

Located at 1243 H Street NE, Noel House already had several Boy Scout troops. Those had been organized by Mrs. Richard Wainwright, who chaired the new Girl Scout Advisory Board.

Troop 4, “White Rose” was very active, participating in several city events that spring and summer. They held a May Festival at Rosedale park, dancing in simple white dresses and carrying garlands of pink roses.

But the most exciting thing to happen to Troop 4 was the marriage of their leader to Robert Taft, son of President William Howard Taft. She was part of a group of wealthy young women who were all marrying around the same time.

Washington Times (June 21, 1914)

The October 14, 1914, ceremony took place at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House. It was undoubtedly a highlight of the 1914 social season.

Observers were especially anxious to see her dress.

The girls of Troop 4 were also invited to the wedding. Eight of them sat in the balcony, beaming in their crisp khaki uniforms. 

St. John’s interior. Imagine Troop 4 leaning over the balcony railing to watch their captain’s wedding below.

Forty years later, one of those girls sent a letter to the local Girl Scouts, still vividly remembering the wedding and the troop’s excitement.

Martha stayed active in local Girl Scouting, but not as a troop leader. She explained the value of Girl Scouting in a 1918 issue of The Rally, an early GS magazine:

Martha and her husband divided their time between Washington and Cincinnati, as her husband was elected a US Senator and, later, governor of Ohio. They had four sons, but she never lost her love for Girl Scouts, evidently.

As a child, her namesake granddaughter was known to introduce herself as follows:

My name is Martha Bowers Taft. My great-grandfather was President of the United States, my grandfather was a United States Senator, my daddy is Ambassador to Ireland, and I am a Brownie.

https://ivanmisner.com/tag/martha-bowers-taft/

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Clara Lisetor-Lane and the Girl Scouts of America

Please, never, ever, say “Girl Scouts of America” in front of me. Just don’t.

Why? BECAUSE IT IS WRONG. It falls on my editor-ears like nails on a blackboard.

I am a proud, lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of the USA, not some rogue “Girl Scouts of America” group. If you want to be ultra correct, it is Girl Scouts of the United States of America. That is the name printed on our Congressional Charter.

Cover of Leader Magazine, October 1950

Prior to that document, the formal name was “Girl Scouts, Inc.” That name was used when the movement incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1915. That’s how it appeared on early versions of the Girl Scout Constitution and By-Laws. That’s how it appeared on letterhead.

Letterhead from 1944

Actually some letterhead from the 1940s uses “GSUSA.” Perhaps that was purchased in advance of the charter announcement?

Please, be accurate. You’d get testy too if someone constantly got your name wrong.

But there’s another, even more important reason. There really was an actual “Girl Scouts of America.”

Journalist Clara Lisetor-Lane insisted that she had created the “Girl Scouts of America” in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1910; two years before Juliette Gordon Low’s first troop in Savannah.

Lisetor-Lane seemed to prefer working on publicity rather than recruitment. Newspapers of the era report her arrival in towns to organize troops, but no membership numbers were given.

Her program would encourage housekeeping and the outdoors. But some behavior was decidedly not for her Girl Scouts:

Sacramento Star, August 11, 1911.

In June 1911, her Girl Scouts of America, a few self-described “Girl Guides” and the Camp Fire Girls merged to become “Girl Pioneers of America.” The thoroughness of that merger is unclear; reports of the component organizations continued into 1912.

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1924

Lisetor-Lane eventually took up other causes. She founded “Crusaders for Decency,” group that promoted “clean literature and films.”

But she never renounced her claim to starting the Girl Scouts.

Lisetor-Lane even crashed the 1924 Girl Scout national convention and challenged Low to met with her. (She didn’t.)

Lisetor-Lane went to her grave in 1960 insisting that Juliette Gordon Low had stolen her idea.

When the Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated its 50th birthday in 1962, the story of Clara Lisetor-Lane was revived in her home town. A few former members came forward and a Des Moines Register article was picked up by other newspapers.

Although Clara certainly would have been pleased by the renewed interest in her organization, I can only imagine her horror if she had seen how it appeared in the Moline, IL, Dispatch.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Surviving the Big Trip

Surviving the Big Trip

Many Girl Scout troops spend several years working toward a “Big Trip.”

Often it is to one of the World Centers, located in London, Switzerland, Mexico, and India. Perhaps the destination is New York City, Washington DC, or Savannah, Georgia.

The Trip guides badgework, fundraising, camping and field trips that gradually build skills and cooperative behavior.

Planning a Big Trip to Washington DC, from Rockwood Film Strip

For the troop leaders, excitement is tempered by anxiety. How do you take twenty or so girls to the other side of the country; or the world?

(Plus, Girl Scout regulations specify that you must bring home the same number of girls that departed with you. Same number, I suppose you could swap some girls. Or at least threaten to.)

But relax, other volunteers and staff members will help you prepare the girls and yourself. At one time, trip plans had to be approved by the local Girl Scout council.

The Big Trip will make memories that last a lifetime, most of them good!

So, in a belated nod to Leader Appreciation Day, here is 1955 poem composed by a New York leader who took 64 seventh graders on a three-day trip to Washington, DC. And she survived!

Washington 1955 (Leaders’ Ditty)

Washington when Spring is here, to some may seem to be
A gay time, a play time, a time that’s fancy free.

With the blossoms and the buildings and the beauty of the city
To wander o’er and ponder o’er; and it really seems a pity

Or so you’d think, to have to steer wherever you may go
A gaggle of, or straggle of, Girl Scouts both fast and slow.

How very wrong such thoughts would be, the girls add to the fun,
But have no doubts, 64 Girl Scouts can keep you on the run.

They lose their buddies, sing strange songs and roam far and near
And history is a mystery to most of them I fear.

Senior Girl Scouts at Mt. Vernon, from Rockwood filmstrip

They stroll around Mount Vernon, while you revel in it too,
The FBI stands way high in their list of things to view.

Memorials and monuments and museums, where they see
Two-headed babies, gems of rubies – strange things you will agree.

But those they rank as equal to the homes of famous men,
Or the Capitol. They lap it all up – want to go again.

But see these green-clad forms stand still when the Guard is changing o’er
Way, that’s a sound of girls you’re proud of, now and evermore.

And though they give you headaches, if you’re honest, you must say
You’re glad you went, not sad you went, and you loved just every day.

Heading Home, 1950s (Rockwood Collection)

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scout Cookies, 1957

Girl Scout Cookies, 1957

It’s Girl Scout Cookie time in the Nation’s Capital, as well as around the country.

Troops will still deliver in person, like these girls from Fairfax County Virginia in 1957, or they can arrange to mail them to you.

Fairfax Virginia Girl Scouts hit the road to deliver cookies in 1957 (GSCNC archives)

Can’t wait that long? Enter your Zip code on the Girl Scouts of the USA website to locate a booth near you!

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Senior Interests, Then and Now

Senior Interests, Then and Now

With the re-launch of Girl Scout Mariner and Trailblazer troops planned for 2020, it is a good time to revisit the original programs.

Senior Girl Scouts did not have their own proficiency badges until Interest Projects were introduced in 1980.

Instead, Senior troops concentrated on specific topics, with a particular emphasis on practical training for service roles. Girls earned small service bar pins, with the color indicating the focus.

Starting in 1955, troops and patrols could choose from five concentrations: Trailblazer, Mountaineer, Explorer, Wing, and Mounted. A “General Interest” path was added in 1958. Seniors wore a 3″ green bordered patch to indicate their focus.

The Mariner program, which launched in 1934, remained separate. The Wing program, dating to 1942, was not as popular as the Mariners and flew into the new framework as one of the five.

Personally, I think if the Wing groups had distinct, spiffy uniforms like the Mariners, they would have been more visible and likely more popular.

Based on girl feedback, the Senior program was tweaked in 1960. New interests were added, unpopular ones dropped, and patches slimmed down to 2.25″. Now Mariners were grouped with everyone else although their patch remained blue.

Senior Explorer patches, 1958 (left) and 1960 (right).

The biggest change came in 1963, when more paths were introduced, such as Community Action, Homemaker, and Arts.

Each focus now had a specific color that was used on the border of the emblem, but also on the tie and hat cord of the uniform.

The 1963 Senior Handbook shows girls with many interests.

But unlike the badges earned at younger levels, there was no earned insignia specific to this program. Instead, the large patches were simply an oversized troop crest.

A new set of four interest patches was introduced in 1974 along with a new Senior Handbook, Options.

The book marked the peak of Girl Scout efforts to be mod, hip, and crunchy granola. It practically came with a choker made of love beads and puka shells. Girls regarded the suggested activities, such as “Mysterious Musical Mood” and “Reading for Pleasure and Profit” as childish and condescending.

Finally, take a close look at the design of these patches. See the gold starburst design in the background? That was taken from the earlier special Senior membership pin.

Many troops simply kept using their trusty 1963 handbook and related interest patches.

In 1980, Options was officially declared dead. Few noticed.

An entirely new set of earned recognitions for Cadettes and Seniors (Ambassadors date only to 2008) came with the Worlds to Explore program. The program retained the “interest project” name, although the name changed several times: Interest Project Award, Interest Project Patch, and Interest Project.

The new program also launched a new highest award for Girl Scouts, the Gold Award.

Now, dear readers, take a good look at the images above. Did you ever notice the sunburst design carried through to the current Gold Award design?

Thank you to members of the Facebook Girl Scout historian community for sharing their experiences with these programs.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Those Adventurous Girl Scout Dolls

Those Adventurous Girl Scout Dolls

Usually we have to come up with ideas for our vintage exhibits at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters. But sometimes we get lucky, and a display comes together on its own.

That’s what happened last fall when we received a donation of Girl Scout dolls. People often contact us saying that they or a friend has some items they’ve held onto to for years, would we like them.

Of course, the answer is yes!

And when we had such a query about dolls, we said yes and suggested the donor drop them at a council field office. They would make their way to the archives eventually. So we knew some dolls were coming and we assumed it was perhaps four or five.

This is what arrived:

Sandy Alexander sorts through donated dolls.

They were all in pristine condition, most even labeled with manufacturer, date, and the relevant page from the doll handbook!

We have displayed dolls in chronological before, so this time we tried thematic grouping. We staged the dolls doing typical Girl Scout things.

Proudly Wearing Their Uniforms

Whenever Girl Scouts of the USA issued a new uniform, doll uniforms were updated as well. 

Evolution of Girl Scout Junior Uniforms since 1963

Embracing Diversity

Girl Scout dolls, like actual Girl Scouts, come in many shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.

The first African-American Girl Scout doll was available in the mid-1940s, although she did not appear in the official equipment catalogs.

More skin tones became available in the 1990s, especially with the Adora collection shown

Advertising and packaging of Girl Scout doll clothes began featuring dolls  with mobility challenges, although there has not been a Girl Scout doll that comes with her own wheelchair—yet!

Making New Friends!

Girl Scout friendships have always been reflected in the range of Girl Scout dolls. Dolls celebrate troop friends as well as Girl Guide friends abroad.

Autograph hound, friendship dolls, and Girl Guide dolls alongside a Girl Scout bus (with four finger puppet girls aboard) and a camping play set.

Camping

Girl Scout dolls love being outdoors as much as real girls do! Many dolls come with their own camping gear.

These Brownies and Juniors are ready for camp in their camp uniforms and swimsuits.

Following Trends

From Barbie to Beanie Babies and Build-a-Bear, popular characters and toy lines have signed up with the Girl Scouts.

Daisy dolls, along with Build-a-Bears, Barbies, and Groovy Girls have all become Girl Scouts
Belly Beans were the Girl Scout version of Beanie Babies

Learning Their History

Many dolls have been issued to honor Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts. Whether an expensive collector’s piece or a soft, snuggly cloth friend, girls can be close to Daisy day or night. 

Learning Skills; Giving Service

Sewing and gifting dolls has long been a popular service project.


Members of Junior Troops Nos. 434 and 472 of Prince George’s County put their sewing skills to work for others, sewing and stuffing dolls that would be Christmas gifts for the needy. 
Mattel created pattern kits for Barbie-sized uniforms ranging from Brownie through Adult. The kits appeared in Girl Scout catalogs and shops from 1995 to 2001. 

The full exhibit can be seen at the Girl Scout office at 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite M-2, Washington DC.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Update

One reader asked for a better look at the Mariner doll in the first photo. She is wearing a homemade Mariner uniform.

New Year Greetings!

Girl Scout National President, poet, and suffragist Birdsall Otis Edey penned the following message to Girl Scouts for 1925:

Leader Magazine (January 1925): 1

Mrs. Edey (and was there EVER a better name than “Birdsall Otis Edey”) is referring to the Girl Scout headquarters at 670 Lexington Avenue in New York City. Funds for the building came in part from the “buy-a-brick” campaign associated with “Dorothy,” the yellow brick girl.

Birdsall Otis Edey at a Girl Scout Rally in Central Park, 1920 (GSUSA NHPC)

A future post will profile the marvelous Mrs. Edey.

Happy New Year from the Girl Scout History Project!!

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Whooo Earned These Pins?

Whooo Earned These Pins?

Does anyone remember the golden pins offered for adult service? There were two programs available between 1987 and 2005.

The Leadership Development Pin was introduced in 1987. A similar Volunteer Development Pin was released in 2003. Both were designed to emphasize long-time service and to be worn for many years.

Leadership Development Pin

The Leadership Development Pin featured a brown owl on a gold metal circle. Five holes had been punched at the bottom of the pin in anticipation of future attachments. Green, silver, and gold leaves could be attached as leaders accumulated credentials.

Basic Requirements

There were four steps to earning the basic, golden circle pin.

  • Complete one year as a troop leader or co-leader.
  • Complete basic leadership training.
  • Attend at least two meetings or events beyond the troop, such as service unit meetings, council annual meetings, or Thinking Day celebrations.
  • Secure camp certified and first aid trained adults for the troop.

Once the basic pin was completed, leaves could be awarded for additional training. One green leaf signified ten hours. Five green leaves could be exchanged for one silver leaf; five silvers (250 hours) merited one gold leaf.

The big problem with the “Owl Pin” was the leaves. They were tiny; no larger than a grain of rice. The main pin itself was less than an inch in diameter. Thus, by the time members accumulated silver and gold leaves, they needed reading glasses.

At least one of my leaves was possessed by demons. That’s the only explanation for the chaos that ensued the last time I tried to attach a new leaf:

Step 1: Gather pins, leaves, and jewelry tools.

Step 2: Recoil in horror as one leaf flies out of your fingers.

Step 3: Shake keyboard vigorously to remove leaf now lodged between keys. Retrieve and repeat.

Step 4: Attach leaf. Scowl as pinback snaps off, leaving a useless disc.

Fly Away, Fly Away

Like too many Girl Scout programs, the Leadership Development pin was never officially discontinued. It was last seen in the 2005 Girl Scout catalog.

Volunteer Service Award

The 2003 catalog introduced a new recognition, the Volunteer Service Award. Dubbed the “key pin,” it was even more complicated (and expensive) than the owl pin series.

From the 2003 Girl Scout catalog

Basic Requirements

The Volunteer pin continued the pin + dangles concept but focused on non-troop service. The main pin could be earned by completing one year:

  • On a board committee
  • On an appointed task group
  • On a service unit management team
  • On an association team or
  • As a GSUSA National Operational Volunteer.

After earning the main pin, volunteers could earn keys for additional service:

  • White: GS Mentoring Award
  • Black: GS Executive Award
  • Gold: GS Diversity Award
  • Silver: GS Community Cultivation
  • Copper: GS Fund Development

I could provide more detailed explanations of these categories, but typing them out would require more time than the pin was in existence. It also disappeared after 2005.

Alas, I am leafless and keyless

After the Great Leaf Debacle, I didn’t bother with the key pin. I don’t think many other volunteers did either.

Some programs never die, they just get stuck in the nooks and crannies of keyboards, junk drawers, backpacks, and couch cushions.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian