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/

©2022 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)

©2022 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!

©2022 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.

©2022 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!!

©2022 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.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Girl Scout EXPO 2019

The 2019 GSCNC Expo is History!

Green bordered patch reading Expo 2019, Girl Scouts Nation's Capital

The Saturday, November 16, 2019 event was truly one for the record books.

9,000 girls explored the Dulles Expo Center in three-hour blocks. There was singing, archery, tent-pitching relays, robotics, book signings, and, of course, history.

The Archives and History Committee ran a booth with history-themed games. Linda Paulson taught girls how to play “Name that Cookie,” answer council history questions, and match new badges with their vintage counterparts. Girls received a “vintage” patch prize from our surplus. Most were excited to realize that the patch was older than the girl!

History-themed games

The booth also had a collection of Girl Scout dolls and displays about founder Juliette Gordon Low. Our own Susan “Daisy” Ducey posed for photos with girls all day.

Girl Scouts met their “founder,” Juliette Gordon Low (photo by Lisa Jackson)

But the Council History team didn’t settle for just one little old booth. No, not us! We also provided international uniforms on mannequins for another booth.

We proudly watched Archives Program Aide Vivian moderate a presentation.

Archives Program Aide Vivian (left) hosted one discussion session (GSCNC)

We welcomed our own special guest, Margaret Seiler, who told stories about her Great Aunt Daisy. Her presentation helped younger Girl Scouts understand that Juliette Gordon Low was a real person, not just a character in a book.

Last, but hardly least, we organized three vintage uniform fashion shows, one show per session. Ginger Holinka fitted girl (and a few adult) models on the spot, while Julie Lineberry emceed the show. Members of the audience gave special applause for “their” childhood uniforms and came away understanding how uniforms changed in response to fashion trends, war-time shortages, new fabrics, and the need for girls to move, move, move.  

The Committee owes a deep debt to Lisa Jackson and Dena McGuiggan Baez, leaders who found replacement uniform models when others dropped out at the last minute. They saved the show!!

The last Council Expo was held in 2006. Many people have asked why it took so long to organize another. After Saturday’s experience, I know I will need at least 13 years to recover. But maybe I’ll pencil another one in on my calendar, just to save the date.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Life at Camp Rockwood

Lately I have been reading monthly reports from the directors of Rockwood, the former Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC.

The monthly reports run about five pages each and provide statistics describing the groups using the camp in a particular month.

Many of the included items are routine and rather boring–I’ve learned more than I probably need to about septic systems.

But mixed in with the monotony are some real gems. Including these:

RFK: Come see my house!

Robert F. Kennedy sits on the front steps of his home, Hickory Hill
https://bobbykennedy.tumblr.com

A group of Senior Girl Scouts in perfect uniform is a beautiful sight to behold and Mr. Robert Kennedy evidently thought so too. The girls were standing on the roadside in front of Mr. Kennedy’s home waiting for their stalled bus to be repaired when Mr. Kennedy drove to the main road. He stopped his car—greeted the girls and shook hands with many of them—asked where they were from and then invited them into his home for a tour. He apologized because his wife was not there and he had to go on to his work, but left them with a maid to act as a tour guide. Those girls are convinced that their uniforms helped them to have this experience. (July 1964)

An impromptu recording session

Recently a staff member began to play a tape recording made at Shadowbrook All States encampment. This recording was of the favorite songs of the campers. Gradually the Manor House Lobby and stair steps filled with girls and the girls began to sing with the record. Then they, too, made recordings. Two fathers and a bus driver joined in with the fun. One father acted as sound engineer and the other held the microphone. Forty of the sixty girls in camp attended the impromptu sing. (September 1963)

Not without our leader

A leader, as she got off the bus, said to the staff member standing nearby—“Watch those girls. They are trying to hide my  wheel chair as they take it off the bus. They think that I do not know  that they have it here. I did not realize that I had muscular  dystrophy when  we started planning this trip three years ago. When I refused to go on this long planned adventure they would have none of it and then, when I said I would stay on the bus and rest as they went sightseeing they did not want that either. I dislike holding them back and tiring them with pushing my chair, but-no one  could resist them. They even have a secret kaper chart scheduling aides to help me. They don’t  know that I know about that too.” What a wonderful troop of Seniors that group was! Mature, capable, dependable, and determined to keep their leader from becoming tired and frustrated. (July 1964)

Ready for the Rascal

For two days in succession a tent was raided and the contents of suitcases thrown about. We feared that neighborhood boys were up to mischief. On the third day members of the staff took turns sitting quietly in the unit doing office work. The vandal was found and identified. It was one of those attractive and annoying rascals-a raccoon. Our campers enjoy hearing about their escapades. The owners of the raided suitcases now know that we mean it when we say that food should be kept in covered containers. 

Girl Scout postcard, 1946

This happened the third week of August.  Another troop from the same city arrived the fourth week of the month and were to live in the same unit. One girl immediately asked to be placed in the tent visited by the raccoons because she had a camera with a flash attachment. (August 1963)

The Expert

The Caretaker’s granddaughter came for a Brownie Holiday with her troop. They stayed at Carolyn Cottage and she immediately claimed a top bunk. This troop had few questions to ask since the granddaughter had already furnished all the necessary information. (May 1961)

Brownies on Bunk Beds, 1954

Do you have a Rockwood story? Please let me know.

I have already heard from that confident Brownie, who wanted to share her version of that weekend!

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Do You Know These Badges?

It doesn’t happen very, but there are a few Council’s Own badges that I can’t identify.

I list them in the “Mysteries” section of my online archive of these delightfully quirky badges. They are the elusive unicorns of the Girl Scout world.

Here’s your Friday challenge: Can you identify these badges?

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

Can anyone help me track down these badges?

Note: None of these are for sale.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Letters from Camp, #3

As summer camp winds down for the season, it is time to reflect on the experience. Girls’ letters home often provide insights and anecdotes about camp life.

Lois Milstead (right) attended Camp May Flather in its first summer. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital has run May Flather as its flagship camp since 1930. A temporary camp operated nearby in 1929, and Lois attended that as well.

Her letter appeared in the Washington Post on September 7, 1930.

My Camping Trip

I have just returned. from a four weeks’ stay at the Washington Camp, May Flather, situated in the mountains near Harrisonburg. Va., to which I also attended last summer. This camp is for Girl Scouts.

Although I am not yet a Girl Scout, I enjoy the ways of their life. I hope to become one in the very near future.

The whole four weeks to me were but an enjoyable time. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute while there. I am fond of all kinds of athletics and sports and camp life naturally appeals to me. I play golf and tennis a lot at home, and although I had neither of these sports at camp, there were many interesting pastimes to fully make up for the lack of them.

I will give a brief outline of our daily routine. Revielle, breakfast (just before breakfast we have flag raising), kapers (that is little tasks from each cabin), inspection, classes (forestry, camp craft), swimming, court of honor, dinner, rest hour, classes (handcraft, nature), retreat, supper, camp fire, taps.

I took many overnight hikes and one three-day hike. These were loads of fun.

While at camp this year, I met many of the: girls with whom I was acquainted last year.

Mrs. Hoover visited the camp while I was there. Mrs. Cheatham and Mrs. Flather also came with her. They spent two days and a night with us. They were present for the formal dedication of the new camp site. Mrs. Hoover dedicated a picturesque little bridge and Mrs. Flather, for whom the camp is named, donated much toward it.

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
Dorothy Greene, Camp May Flather director, 1930 (GSCNC archives).

Miss Dorothy Greene, the director of our camp, has done much to the bettering of it, making the girls feel at home, and they are trying to live up to the high standards and morals which she has set for them. I had lots of fun at camp, but I was rather glad when the time came to go home, for I missed my mother and daddy.

Lois A. Milstead (age 12), Dahlgren, Va.

Girls prepare for a hike at Camp May Flather, 1930s (GSCNC Archives).

I don’t know if Lois ever joined the Girl Scouts. She graduated from the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1938.

Lois worked on the school newspaper, the Commercial Echoes. She married George Goodwin, a reporter, two years later and moved to Georgia.

©2019 Ann Robertson