Pittsburgh’s Troop 47

Being a Girl Scout archivist is always an adventure. Donations come in bags and boxes, via the mail or literally left on a doorstep. We know to go through the donations carefully. We get lots of old uniform socks, the occasional 20-year old cookie box (with the cookies still inside!), not to mention the potentially hazardous old first aid kits.

One recent donation included a shopping bag full of assorted papers: flag ceremony diagrams, permission slips, the typical troop records. But among the packing lists and kaper charts was this photo:

 

Pitt Girls

Captain Irma Gorton and Troop 47 of Pittsburgh, c. 1923

 

At first I thought it was a photocopy,  but no, it is the real thing.  There is some damage to the photo, but it is in remarkably good shape for being nearly 100 years old.

According to the caption written in pencil on the back, this is Troop 47, sponsored by Latimore Junior High School in Pittsburgh. Irma S. Gorton was captain, and the date is estimated as 1923.

But wait…there’s more! These documents were in an envelope in the same bag of random papers:

 

Gorton Card

Irma Gorton’s membership card

 

 

Gorton Certificate

Irma Gorton’s appointment certificate

 

The appointment certificate needs some preservation attention. It has been folded for decades, all four borders are present but delicate. You can also see the official stamp/seal in the lower left corner.

It is only fair to send these items to the Girl Scout Council of Western Pennsylvania, but I wanted to share them first!

©2017, Ann Robertson

 

Cookie Switch?

No, it’s not a new flavor or a blind taste test. It’s a delightful cookie incentive from Little Brownie Bakers in 1994:

IMG_4077 The switchplate matches the Volunteer patch from that year:

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That makes me think that it was an incentive for Volunteers. But who knows, there may be girls out there who love switchplates.

This exciting new addition to the Nation’s Capital archival collection is on display (and in use!) at our Frederick Archives and History Program Center.

This is one artifact that you can definitely touch!

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

A Brief History of the Cookie Pin

2017 cookie pinI don’t understand Girl Scout cookie pins.

I know cookie t-shirts, cookie toys, and I have a large collection of cookie patches. I’m even making a cookie patch quilt.

 

But somewhere between my years selling cookies and my daughter’s cookie season, the cookie pin appeared. Why?

The first cookie pin debuted in the fall 1998 Girl Scout catalog. The requirements are in separate activity guides available from GSUSA.

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1998-38 text

The pin is a different color each year, but the year is not part of the pin’s design, which guarantees confusion.

In the 2005-2006 guide, then-CEO Kathy Cloninger explains that the cookie pins focus on Girl Scout core values. I can’t complain about that purpose, but it would be nice if those core values were explicitly listed in that guide. (Fortunately they are on the cookie boxes.)

  1. Goal setting
  2. Decision making
  3. Money management
  4. People skills
  5. Business ethics

I also think that it’s nice to have a cookie prize available to all Girl Scouts. Each baker has their own annual theme, which means rival slogans and different cute cartoon animals across the country.

But isn’t that what the various cookie badges do?

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Clockwise from top: Cookie Connection, Cookie Biz, Cookies & Dough, Cookies Count

Three cookie themed badges–Cookies Count (Brownies), Cookie Connection (Juniors), and Cookies and Dough (Cadettes and Seniors)–were introduced in 1997. Why add a repetitive set of ugly pins the next year? How are they different? A second badge for Juniors, Cookie Biz, was introduced in 2004.

Introduced in 2011, the current Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE) program also has two cookie badges per level. They are the soulless silkscreened variety, using words as a lame design effort.  The requirements overlap with the cookie pin requirements, and now some councils are offering their own patch programs with similar requirements and names. The badge in the left is for Juniors, on the right is a patch for multiple levels.

Confused yet?

But what I really don’t get is why are cookie pins such expensive pieces of junk? I have gotten higher quality jewelry out of gum ball machines.  These pins aren’t worth a quarter, much less $2.

I haven’t actually counted, but it certainly seems like the number one item that parents are trying to replace in the various Facebook Girl Scout groups is a cookie pin. The pin backs snap off within days of putting one on a vest. Perhaps they jump off and flee in embarrassment.

How can a girl possibly earn a cookie trifecta–badge, baker patch, and pin–without double-dipping?* There are just so many ways to practice a sales pitch.

Like I said, I just don’t get the cookie pin program.

And I’m not going to put them on my patch quilt!

Quilt

My patch quilt. It was supposed to be 100 patches for 100 years but I got carried away.

*Double dipping = using one activity toward requirements for two awards.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Egg Rolling with the Girl Scouts

The White House Easter Egg Roll has been a Washington, DC, tradition since 1878. While the event skipped a few years, local Girl Scouts have been an Egg Roll fixture since the 1920s.

Local troops remember meeting First Lady Grace Coolidge’s pet raccoon, Rebecca, in 1927.

Coolidge Raccoon

First Lady Grace Coolidge shows Rebecca the raccoon to Girl Scouts in 1927 (Library of Congress, National Photo Company)

In 1928, their duties were spelled out in a letter from Captain (leader) Adah Bagby. Three years earlier, Grace Coolidge had replaced White House police officers with Girl Scouts and assigned them to locate “lost parents.”

Bagby letter

Easter plans for Girl Scouts in 1928 (GSCNC Archives)

Also in 1928, Mrs. Coolidge noticed the rose troop crest on the girls’ uniform and gave each girl a rose from the Rose Garden.

The Girl Scouts performed a May Pole dance during the 1929 Easter Egg Roll, much to the delight of First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

May Pole

The dancing Girl Scouts must have been a hit. They performed a square dance during the rainy 1931 event.

Square Dance

Hoe Down on the South Lawn! (GSCNC archives).

In recent decades, Girl Scouts have returned to their child-wrangling role.

WhiteHouseEasterRoll004

Photo call for a Junior troop, late 1970s (GSCNC archives)

Has your troop ever worked at the Easter Egg Roll? We need some newer photos!

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Archives at Annual Meeting

Saturday, April 8, was the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. The Archives & History Committee always creates a display for the event.

This year we featured vintage adult uniforms and uniform kits. As usual, I visited with so many people that I forgot to take many pictures, but here are a few:

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Vintage adult Girl Scout uniforms.

IMG_3787The uniform display was so popular that we had people lining up to take photos with them!

Troops can check out vintage uniform kits for meetings or events. Each kit is a suitcase containing about seven uniforms and handbooks. We have all-age samplers, as well as Brownie, Junior, and Teen kits. We will be adding an adult kit soon.

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Uniform Program Kits

We were delighted to receive a new donation just a few days before the Annual Meeting. Not only did the donation include many adult uniforms in near-pristine condition, there also were nearly 50 international uniforms from the 1950s.  Once we get them inventoried, we will also create a WAGGGS uniform sampler kit.

We brought a few of the international uniforms to display at the Annual Meeting as well. This Brownie dress from the Philippines may be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. The hand-embroidered badges are sewn on the waistband. (I’ll get a better photo later.)

Committee members also wore vintage uniforms. I picked the Stella Sloat dress from 1968. I think we should bring back gloves.

Council members can check out vintage uniforms to wear for the National Conference Session this October. Contact me if you are interested.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Buying the Birthplace

I have had the good fortune to make two trips to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah in the past month. In between, I decided to learn more about the history of the building. How did it become a Girl Scout National Center?

Leader June 1954

Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, purchased the home from the Gordon family in 1953.  The Birthplace became the third national Girl Scout center, joining Camp Edith Macy in New York and Rockwood outside of Washington, DC. The Savannah home would become

a unique center for Girl Scouting in this country — a place where ideas for new troop activities can be tried out, where there will be records of the past and plans for the future of Girl Scouting where girls from all over the world may come together to find friendship and inspiration.

–Lilly Macintosh, chair of Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Committee in 1954

The GSUSA Board of Directors advanced the purchase price ($500,000), intending to launch a national fundraising campaign to pay for the building and its renovation.

Girls were asked to contribute pennies equal to the cost of an ice cream cone.

However, the campaign did not go as smoothly as hoped. Only $88,450 had been raised by late 1954; $100,000 was needed before restoration could begin.

To date, contributions to the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace fund have been very slow. As a report will be made at the regional conference of Girl Scouts in October, it is asked that any adult or troop wishing to make a contribution to this fund do so as soon as possible.

Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman (October 5, 1954): 18.

Other indications of trouble were sprinkled throughout local news columns on Girl Scout activities, such as “the local quota of $105 for the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace restoration” and “each troop be contacted and made acquainted with the plan of contributing one dollar or more for restoration.”

Birthplace Gift Form

Coupons like this ran in Leader magazine in 1955.

If the Girl Scouts were to meet their target grand opening in 1956, they needed a new strategy. So they turned to a time-tested fundraiser: baked goods.

One year earlier, Helen Duprey Bullock, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, had begun adapting “classic” cake recipes for Dromedary Heritage Series cake mixes. Not only were the recipes based on family traditions from historic American homes, but a portion of the profits went to restore the related home. Dromedary was a division of the National Biscuit Company

The company’s first mix, First Lady Martha Washington’s “Great Cake,” was a flop (perhaps because it required 40 eggs), but her gingerbread recipe was a hit.

Soon Bullock created mixes for James Monroe’s white cake,Thomas Jefferson’s pound cake, Mary Todd Lincoln’s yellow cake, and Theodore Roosevelt’s devil’s food cake, among others.

For Juliette Gordon Low, she created an angel food cake mix. Thankfully, the required 13 egg whites came with the mix.

JGL Cake Mix

The result, according to advertisements, was

Angel Food light as a moonbeam, fluffy as a summer cloud, white and moist as a fresh snowfall. And with a delicate crust and flavor all its own.

Dromedary kicked off the deal with a $500 token payment. Going forward, the company would pay royalties of three-fourths of one cent per case of angel food cake mix. They anticipated selling six million cases per year and pledged an advertising campaign worth $1 million.

I haven’t found the total amount raised, but the cake mix strategy was evidently a recipe for success. The  beautifully restored Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low re-opened in 1956.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Back to the Birthplace

Last weekend, I finally visited the renovated library at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia. I had not toured the house since the library’s controversial redo in April 2015.

Based on the criticism I’d read, I expected to step into a high-tech Apple Store, with rows of gleaming iPads, computer monitors, and glaring fluorescent lights. The reality was quite different.

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez (right) discusses the theory behind the new library (photo by Mark Bowles)

I watched a Cadette troop swarm into the room and head straight for the activity table in the middle of the room. Most of them passed right over the iPads—that’s something they see every day. What they really liked was the stereopticons. Everyone had to try out the “vintage virtual reality glasses.”

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The stereopticons were extremely popular (photo by Mark Bowles)

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez, front view (I forgot to take her picture!)

 

I spent over an hour in the library with Lisa Junkin Lopez, the executive director of the Birthplace. She arrived in November 2015, shortly after the new library was unveiled and instituted several modifications in response to a range of feedback. We had an excellent discussion about the purpose of various museum features.

Honor the Past, Serve the Future

The interactive table is the focus of the library and provides hands-on activities that allow girls to physically connect with the past. After a series of “do not touch” displays in other rooms, the girls welcome the change. The activities are grouped around the themes of Poems, Songs, Speeches, and Storytelling.

 

The exhibit has also been designed for maximum accessibility. Girls can feel Braille letters, for example. Girls are encouraged to compose poetry about their Girl Scout experiences, and they can leave their own mark on history by adding their favorite book to the memory journal. At one point, they could use a beautiful blue vintage typewriter to record their thoughts, but it was so popular that the machine would jam and congest the room. As the last stop on the tour, the library also offers a transition between past and present.

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This desk once held a vintage typewriter, a technology that proved too popular to remain on display  (photo by Mark Bowles)

Community Service

The library is now stocked with books by and about women, which builds on the Gordon family’s love of reading and learning. Troops are encouraged to bring contributions for the library, and returning girls often search the shelves for “their” books. Surplus books will be donated to Loop It Up, a local literacy charity.

There are also traditional Girl Scout handbooks and fictional stories on view, but these are for display only. It might be nice to have scanned excerpts of the older books available to browse on the iPads.

For All Girls

While the Birthplace is one of the holiest shrines of Girl Scouting, it also is one of the best-known house museums among the many restored mansions in historic Savannah. It is also the only house museum that has an elevator, making the upper floors accessible to visitors with physical disabilities.

Lisa explained that the Birthplace has an opportunity to expand on Juliette Gordon Low’s principle of inclusion. It can serve as a model and resource for other historic house museums seeking to improve the accessibility of their facilities without compromising their historical integrity. That seems like an outreach effort worth pursuing.

The Girls’ House

Overall, I did not find the new library as horrific as often portrayed. I’d feared isolated girls with earbuds roaming about, following a pre-recorded tour.

Instead, I was delighted to watch girls eagerly experience both the old and the new technology. We need to use the tools and technology available to help modern girls connect with the past. I’m sure I’m not the only Girl Scout historian who has referred to semaphore as “vintage texting.” That translates into something the girls understand, something more appealing than waving an old rag on a stick.

vintage-texting

Girl Scouts has long embraced technology. These campers from the 1920s are using “vintage GPS systems,” also known as a compass (GSCNC Archives).

I also don’t think the redesign of the library has damaged the historical integrity of the building. The rooms have not been structurally modified, just the contents changed. Any house museum will have to make compromises to meet modern building codes. I’m fairly sure the gift shop and public restrooms were not part of the original layout either, but I don’t hear complaints about those.

I find that when girls connect with Girl Scout history, when they discover their place in this venerable movement, they come away with a deeper appreciation of Girl Scouting. That’s what I saw happening in the Birthplace library, and I have no problem using the occasional iPad to help that process along.

©2017 Ann Robertson