The History of Our Own Badges

Regular readers know that I am a HUGE fan of the quirky, obsolete Girl Scout badges known as the Council’s Own. These limited edition badges were designed to add additional topics to the traditional Girl Scouts of the USA badge programs or to highlight resources unique to a particular council.

Their limited production and often very clever designs also have made them highly collectible. But the words “Council’s Own” have become a catch-all phrase randomly applied to a range of unofficial badges, often to increase their selling price.

I’ve fed my addiction by creating a digital archive of these delightful, obscure badges. Since 2014, I have accumulated the name, design, council, and requirements for over 1,500 badges: http://gscobadge.info.

Before including a badge, I have to decide whether or not it meets the definition of a Council’s Own. It can be confusing, because this name is loosely applied to four different programs.

Our Own Troop’s Badge (1958-2010)

The Troop’s Own option was introduced in the 1958 edition of the Intermediate Handbook. The program offered an answer to the many troop scribes who had written to Headquarters with suggestions for new badge topics. There were 12 steps to creating a Troop’s Own, including receiving permission from the program department of the troop’s council. The council approved the topic, but not the actual requirements.

The name of the badge indicated how it was to be earned:

The final requirements and their wording, the badge name, the design, and the actual symbols worn, must be the girls’ own work. While doing all this your leader will help you understand the meaning of badges and what different types of activity should be included.

No other girls in your troop or any other troop can use your work. Even if they choose the same subject, the must create their own requirements and design. It will truly be, “Our Own Badge!”

The topic would be inserted into the badge’s name: Our Troop’s Own Blogging Badge. Troops were asked to submit one badge to Headquarters, but that was for reference only.

Selection of Our Own Troop’s Badges

Leaders were cautioned to step back and let the girls take charge. “If we do these things for girls, then they must, in all honesty, call the badge ‘Our Own Troop Leader’s badge’!”

The “Our Troop’s Own” program split with the 1963 program reform. Now the gold-bordered blank badge was for Cadettes, and a new green-bordered one was introduced for Juniors. The May 1966 issue of Leader features a lengthy article about a Girl Scout troop in the Sudan that decides to create their own badge to learn more about their host country. (Sadly there is no photo of this badge!)

I’ve included some Troop’s Own in my digital archive, as they are extremely difficult to identify. Sadly, their requirements were often discarded when troops disbanded.

Our Own Council’s Badge (1980-2011)

The Worlds to Explore program of the 1980s added an Our Own Council’s Badge. GSUSA described this program as:

Innovative and educationally sound projects developed by the council, to make use of special topics of interest or unusual opportunities and resources within the council or to utilize the rich opportunities provided by council camps.

These badges were developed by adults; typically council staff. They represented the council as part of the national recognition system and therefore should “be developed by people representing a broad spectrum of the council,” according to 1990 GSUSA guidelines.

Most Council’s Owns focused on a specific topic, but a few were tied to a specific event, such as the 1982 World’s Fair (left) and the eruption of the Mount Saint Helen’s volcano in 1980.

Blank Badges Used for “Our Own” Badges

The border colors indicate the year the blank badge was issued, it is not related to the colors of the five worlds. Gold borders were used for COs, green for TOs. When the Worlds program phased out, each age level had one border color for all of their badges, including Troop’s and Council’s Owns.

Make Your Own Badge (2012-2014)

Under the Girl Scout Leadership Experience model, the Our Own options were replaced by a Make Your Own option. The program was discontinued after three years. Members considered the one-off, screen-printed badges to be expensive and unattractive. Plus, they were intended to be for one girl only, but leaders were creating them for entire troops. Guidelines for the program noted:

An important part of the Make Your Own badge is what girls find out about their own learning styles as they created a personalized plan to build a skill. If a girl does a badge designed by another girl, she doesn’t have this chance to learn about herself.

Make Your Owns did not need design or requirement approval from GSUSA, Councils, or even troop leaders. I do not track these in my digital archive.

When a CO Isn’t a CO

Girls and leaders today are demanding badges beyond those offered through GSUSA. Headquarters has responded with Girl’s Choice’ badges, robotics, cybersecurity and more.

But there are still patches available that claim to be a Council’s Own. My archive is intended to document official badges and to help Girl Scouts identify unusual badges. I include a list of known “Not-COs” because future Girl Scouts may be curious about a badge seen on many sashes but does not appear in an official handbook or catalog.

I approach this not as the “badge police,” but as an historian seeking accuracy.

Many pseudo-COs are described as remakes of discontinued Council’s Owns. While providers may redesign the badge, they often recycle requirements developed by other people, presumably without permission or payment. That is little different than putting a new dust jacket on an old book and claiming to be the author.

Similarly, badges developed by individuals are not official, no matter what shape they are. The name “Council’s Own” indicates that its content is council approved. It guarantees that these badges reflect the movement’s high standards and offer substantive, age-appropriate activities.

There Should Be a Patch for That

There are many quality, but unofficial, programs out there, but let’s use correct terminology. These should be patch programs, because they are not Council’s Own badges. Many councils now offer “Council’s Own Patch Programs,” a phrase that just offers more confusion.

Instead of sending me terse, desist messages about the “flood” of telephone calls from leaders seeking to purchase discontinued Council’s Own badges, perhaps councils should take the hint that there is a demand for quality recognitions on these topics. Yes, they could MAKE MONEY by turning these old badges into patch programs.

Some councils have made this change. Many more should consider it.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Four Years in Savannah

Last week my daughter graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design. (Summa Cum Laude in scriptwriting, I know you want to ask.)

When she opted for SCAD, I knew we wouldn’t get to see her very often, as the SCAD campus is some 600 miles away.

But I’m glad we made the effort to visit this beautiful city. My husband and I became regulars at a Hampton Inn near SCAD, and only partly because of their free waffles.

Husband (left) and daughter at commencement

Over time we walked around the historic district enough times that we no longer need a map.

As we drove over the Savannah River and into South Carolina and back to Maryland, it was easy to review what I’d learned these past years. Most are connected to Girl Scouts, which began in Savannah in 1912.

1. I was already familiar with the bridge when the Girl Scouts of Georgia lobbied (unsuccessfully) in 2017 to have it named for founder Juliette Gordon Low.

2. My daughter had the coolest college job ever, as a docent at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. I learned a lot from her about how to bring former residents “alive” in a house museum. After all, tours are just another form of script.

3. I was lucky to have a peek behind the curtain to see Birthplace operations, including the renovated library.

4. I learned more about museum strategies to humanize artifacts. Instead of just showing a uniform, add details about who wore it and what she did while wearing it.

5. I had a fancy dinner in the Birthplace dining room with two of JGL’s great-nieces. They were just as warm and friendly as you’d expect.

6. I learned that shrimp and grits are nature’s most perfect food.

7. And yes, Leopold’s ice cream really is that good.

8. I participated in a GSUSA Task Force on the future of the Birthplace.

9. I didn’t spend nearly enough time at the Girl Scout First Headquarters museum. I don’t remember how many rounds of phone tag the director and I had, but we seldom connected.

10. I learned that if you stand on a street corner and yell “It’s Girl Scouts of the USA” every time a tour guide says that JGL founded the “Girl Scouts of America,” tourists think you’re just a weird Girl Scout vigilante and ignore you.

I deliberately decided not to visit the Andrew Low House or Laurel Grove cemetery. I’m saving them as the reason to return in the future.

Farewell to the Birthplace!!
(and, yes, passing tourists stared)

These four years in Savannah were unforgettable. And yes, I got the patch. All of them!

A sample of my many Savannah patches

©2019 Ann Robertson

Out with the Old and in with the New, part 2

What’s cooking, Girl Scouts? The latest exhibit at the Nation’s Capital main office answers that question.

The easy way to create the exhibit would be to pull all relevant items from our collection. But I like to have some organization and a common theme running throughout. I decided to use this passage from the 1926 handbook:

The Girl Scout who has earned the Cooking Badge may be a great help at home if she has learned to work quickly and neatly and may get much amusement both at home and on camping parties. If the first trial of a process is not a success, the Scout should have patience to try again and again until her result is satisfactory. If she has learned to prepare a few simple dishes well she should have courage to try unfamiliar recipes which are found in any good cook book. If she is to be ready to take responsibility when it is necessary, she should be able to plan the meals in such a way that nothing is wasted and that the family is satisfied and well-nourished.

When working in the kitchen, the Scout should wear a clean, washable dress, or a washable apron which covers her dress. She should be sure that her hair is tidy, and she should remember to wash her hands before beginning work. She should try to use as few dishes as possible and not to spill or spatter. She should remember that her cooking is not finished until she has cleaned up after herself, has washed and put away the dishes, washed the dish towels and left the kitchen in order.

I divided up the quote into chunks of one or two sentences, then illustrated with pictures taken from old handbooks and vintage postcards.

Then we added a few more instructions from various handbooks and photos.

We used this opportunity to mention the Little House, a model home in Washington, DC, from 1924 to 1945, and the two tea houses once operated by the local Girl Scouts.

Finally, we included requirements for several vintage cooking badges and captions on recipe cards.

These only show the bottom half of the exhibit. To see it in person, visit the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital office, 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC.

Bon Appetit!

©2019 Ann Robertson

Narwhals, Leopards, and Cookies, Oh My!

The 2019 season is nearing its end, with a heated contest for the Narwhals and Clouded Leopards.

Am I talking about NCAA basketball? The Super Bowl, World Series, or some national team mascot showdown?

No, it’s time to wrap up Girl Scout cookie season for 2019.

Each cookie baker has an annual theme with a mascot that shows up in promotional materials, cookie patches, and other incentives that girls earn for selling various amounts of cookies.

This year it was the ABC Narwhals against Little Brownie Bakers’ Clouded Leopard.

ABC Narwhal
Little Brownie Baker’s Clouded Leopard

Each baker has a motivational theme associated with its yearly sale (Inspire, Imagine, Innovate! and Go for Bold!), but you need a mascot to use for a cute plush incentive. (Although I do wonder about that horn on the narwhal, seems more hazardous than cuddly.)

The mascots even have names!

Nellie Narwhal has an identity crisis. Some councils call her “Sparkles”

Tradition of Prizes

Cookie incentives are almost as old as cookie sales themselves, but most councils originally applied cookie profits to summer camp fees. Some councils offered patches or charms to sellers. I still remember the goal I set for my first cookie sale–enough to attend day camp free. The pride of “earning it yourself” is behind all incentive programs.

Cookie prizes from the 1960s (author’s collection)

When Girl Scouts of the USA consolidated the cookie program into a handful of national bakers in the 1970s, the companies introduced annual themes and mascots. Burry-LU’s animal series is perhaps the best known, not just for its bright colors and easily recognizable design, but for a few “what were they thinking?” selections.

My poster “wall of shame,” according to my family

Prize Proliferation

The number of patches has grown exponentially since the 1990s, as councils, bakers, and some third-party vendors have jumped on the bandwagon with offerings related to the annual theme.

Visually similar patches with absolutely nothing to do with cookies, such as early registration, have been added to create a yearly set of patches.

Compare, for example, 1972 with 2015-16.

Cookie patches from 1972 (Cookie Crumbs)
Cookie patches from 2015-2016 (Cookie Crumbs)
and they keep coming!! (Cookie Crumbs)

And there are patches for adults, too!

Girls’ Choice

The patches and other prizes are fun and appealing to many Girl Scouts. Many consumers may not realize that the girls have a say in the marketing program as well.

In most councils, older Girl Scouts (middle school and high school age) can opt out of the incentive program in return for a higher profit per box. This is especially appealing for girls and troops saving up over several years for a big trip. After all, a girl can use only so many sparkly pens. (Opt-out girls usually still receive some patches.)

Girls also have a say in selecting the mascot for the next cookie season. Some councils allow all girls to vote, others may use a more limited random sample, but the principle of girl-led carries through.

Little Brownie Bakers ballot for 2018-2019. Are Macaws and Frogs really “furry”?
Cookie mascot options for 2019-2020 from ABC Bakers

For more on cookie patches and prizes over the years, see Cookie Crumbs, my web archive.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Thin Mints and Nutella?

News this week that Girl Scout cookie supplier Little Brownie Bakers has been sold to an Italian company proved to be no April Fool’s joke.

Girl Scout cookies from Little Brownie Bakers

In a deal valued at $1.3 billion, Ferrero Group purchased select properties from Kellogg, including Little Brownie, Keebler, and Famous Amos.

I found out from a Wall Street Journal reporter who called me for background on the history of Girl Scout cookie sales. Although I was surprised by the news, I’m not alarmed. Flavors, food trends, and bakers have come and gone for years, but Girl Scout cookies aren’t going away.

The Pooh Tree at Camp Potomac Woods

Despite the Keebler connection, Girl Scout cookies have never been made by elves in hollow trees. Besides, our hollow trees are full of girls.

Girl Scouts in Oklahoma began selling homemade cookies in 1917. Their popularity led other troops to fire up their ovens. As the volume of cookie sales increased, in 1934 Girl Scouts in Philadelphia turned to Keebler-Wyl, a commercial baker, to produce shortbread cookies.

From Many Bakers to Two

Other councils followed the Philly girls’ lead and negotiated contracts with regional companies. Volume and demand increased exponentially, until there were 29 authorized bakers by 1948. Another 14 were added in the 1960s.

All bakers made the signature shortbread cookie, and by the 1960s many had introduced mint and sandwich cookies. Most bakers also offered one or two of their own flavors.

As part of a brand standardization effort, the national Girl Scout organization limited production to four bakers starting in 1978. GSUSA provided graphics and program information, although the individual bakers picked their own annual theme, usually with a cute animal mascot.

By the early 1990s, the number of bakers had narrowed to two: Little Brownie Bakers, based in Louisville, and ABC Bakers of Richmond, Virginia. (Who bakes for you? Click here.)

I never made it to the bakery, but I got a patch 30 years later.

(Disclosure: As a born-and-raised Kentucky girl, I’ve always been partial to Little Brownie. When my Cadette troop visited Louisville years ago, we wanted to arrange a tour. I couldn’t find “Little Brownie” in the phone book so I called information. The operator thought it was a prank call and hung up on me.)

While the bakers have changed over the years, the basic recipes have not. Hopefully that will continue to be the case with Ferrero.

Other Foreign Connections

I can’t imagine Ferrero moving production overseas as it would prohibitively drive up shipping costs. But even if they did, it would not be the first time that some Girl Scout cookies were not made in the USA.

In 1984, sharp-eyed consumers noticed “Made in Belgium” written on boxes of Kookaburras. Representatives from the baker, Burry-LU, explained that that they were still testing the flavor. Because US-based factories did not have the proper equipment, this one flavor was temporarily being made in Belgium. It the cookie made the cut, Burry-LU would need to fork over $2 million for new production equipment.

Source: Mental Floss (March 4, 2016)

And if anyone wants to get very picky, ABC Bakers is a subsidiary of the Toronto-based Weston Foods.

Change is the Secret Ingredient

What makes Girl Scout cookies so popular? It is a combination of tradition, quality, adorable vendors, and flexibility.

Each baker is required to offer four traditional cookies (Mint, Samoa, Trefoil, Tagalong) plus up to four more flavors. Over the years, these elective varieties have often reflected changing tastes and dietary concerns. Past offerings have been low-fat, crunchy granola, gluten free, 100-calorie packets, and even crackers, such as the Golden Yangles of the 1980s.

Source: Mental Floss (March 4, 2016)

Perhaps it is easier to justify scarfing down a box of Thin Mints if you balance them out with such healthier options.

That’s a Lot of Cookies

Simply stated, the Girl Scout cookie jar is too big to loose. With total revenue from both bakers estimated at $800 million annually, including Little Brownie Bakers undoubtedly sweetened the deal for Ferrero.

I don’t see a need to begin hoarding Girl Scout cookies–not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Instead, I see the new owners as offering some tantalizing opportunities.

Two words: Nutella cookies. I’m just saying…

For more cookie history fun, see Cookie Crumbs, my online archive of cookie prizes past and present.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Flying with Girl Scout Cookies

This poster hangs on a wall at our Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland. Bright yellow and 28×22″, it always attracts comments.

However, we didn’t know the story behind the picture. We found it in the back of a closet, in a ratty old frame held together with Scotch tape.

Based on the uniforms and the fact that it says “70th Anniversary,” the image is obviously from the early 1980s, presumably 1982.

But the mystery was solved thanks to an old Nation’s Capital newsletter. For Girl Scout Week 1982, Delta Airlines replaced their normal peanut snacks with packets of Trefoil shortbread cookies. Delta bought and distributed 800,000 cookies March 7-13, 1982.

This was the second time an airline joined the national cookie sales. In 1981 United made what was then the largest corporate cookie purchase in history. United included a packet of two Trefoils on every meal tray.

The success of the United program encouraged Delta to participate. Delta went one step further, having their own company artist, Brad Diggers, commemorate Girl Scouts’ 70th birthday with a special painting.

Limited editions of the painting were presented to 15 Girl Scout councils served by Delta. Nation’s Capital has print number 10 of 34.

Close-up of artist’s signature

Happy Birthday, Girl Scouts!!

© 2019 Ann Robertson

The Volunteer Legacy at the Birthplace

This week a new Birthplace Advisory Committee convenes in Savannah to consider renovations and other changes for the coming decade.

The Girl Scouts of the USA purchased the childhood home of founder Juliette Gordon Low in 1953. I’ve previously written about the fund drive to raise money for the purchase and subsequent renovation.

I have always been curious about the Birthplace and how it compares to other national properties, specifically the Little House, (acquired in 1922), and Rockwood National Camp (1936).

Both the Little House and Rockwood were generous, but unanticipated, gifts reluctantly accepted by the national Girl Scout headquarters (GSUSA). National’s reticence related to the costs associated with these surprise bequests.

Imagine that I give all readers a new car. (Emphasis on imagine.) The prize sounds like a windfall at first, but your excitement dims when you realize that you must suddenly come up with cash to pay taxes on the gift, registration fees, insurance, and even gasoline.

After accepting Rockwood, GSUSA vowed to never again accept such a gift without an accompanying endowment.

Indeed, when the Girl Scouts had the opportunity to purchase the Andrew Low House in 1943, Daisy’s marital home in Savannah, they declined for this very reason—the total cost would be much higher than just the purchase price.

Nine years later, the Savannah Council called again. An historic property was about to come on the market. The council could not afford it, so representatives contacted the national headquarters. This time the property in question was a Regency mansion on the corner of Bull and Oglethorpe Streets; the Gordon family home and Daisy’s birthplace.

Dedication of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, GSUSA photo

Both the house and the neighborhood had deteriorated over time, and some Gordon descendants wanted to raze the house and sell the land. Savannah’s commercial district was expanding, and the Gordon corner lot would be attractive to business developers.

Daisy’s niece Eleanor Wayne Macpherson was appalled at the idea of tearing down the house. It held wonderful memories from her childhood. Losing it, she lamented, “would be a tragedy, because, over and above its historic value, it is associated with everything I hold dear.”

Macpherson launched a three-pronged strategy to save the Gordon house.

Persuading the Family

The house was owned and managed by an informal trust set up among Daisy and her siblings. The six children had received equal ownership shares upon the death of their parents. These shares were subsequently further divided and sold or swapped among descendants.

Macpherson knew that the trustee, her nephew, favored demolition, so she began quietly acquiring house shares from distant relatives so that she would gain a majority and be able to block moves toward demolition.

GSUSA: “No Thanks”

Macpherson approached national Executive Director Dorothy Stratton about purchasing the home. The reply was a swift “No.”

Anne Hyde Choate

Macpherson was not completely surprised by this refusal. In fact, she had already contacted Anne Hyde Choate about the situation. Choate, Daisy’s goddaughter who had succeeded Low as national president in 1920, agreed on the need to preserve the house.

Choate advised Macpherson to not condemn national leaders for their veto, as “One cannot blame those overburdened people for wanting to avoid more responsibility.”

Rally the Troops

Choate encouraged Macpherson to persevere. Specifically, it was time to rally the membership behind this cause.

Somehow we must get into our Nat. Hdqrs’ mind the idea that one of their chief functions is to encourage local or other Girl Scout groups to take responsibility and carry out their own good ideas, — in fact, to treat their experienced members as grownup people!

–Anne Hyde Choate

She encouraged Macpherson to contact Louise Dawe, an influential Girl Scout in Richmond, Virginia, and the women began assembling an informal panel of volunteers to save the Birthplace.

The Board Bends

When the national Board of Directors met in October 1952, Choate formally proposed creating a committee to study the implications of purchasing the Gordon home. Board members agreed they should not to dismiss the issue outright. The motion passed, and an “Ad Hoc Committee to Consider Purchase of the Birthplace” was created from Choate’s list of proposed committee members. She reported to Dawe that the motion had passed “definitely against” the advice and wishes of top GSUSA officials.

Committees Begin

The Ad Hoc Committee visited Savannah in February to inspect the Birthplace and offered their preliminary impressions to the Board in March. At that point, the Board expanded the committee, creating subcommittees to focus on finance as well as restoration, operations, maintenance, and program. The latter subcommittee was to include representatives from Savannah.

The national Board also instructed headquarters to pay $500 for an option to purchase the house for $65,000. This would prevent the building from being razed or sold to another buyer until after the October Board meeting, when the Dawe report would be presented.

The Committee worked at a frantic pace throughout the summer of 1953 to assess the financial implications of purchasing and restoring the Gordon home. They looked at a range of expenses and consider what programming could be offered at the house.

Not Just Another Expense

Volunteers spent the summer trying to convert key leaders to their cause.

National President Olivia Layton sent Dawe a list of other properties that had recently been offered to and refused by GSUSA, trying to establish that a precedent existed for such matters. Dawe, for her part, insisted that none of these cases were relevant because “none of them belonged to the Girl Scout history nor offered a reason for the girls’ participation in the project.” Furthermore, she cited bankers and real estate experts who believed the property would be “not alone a sentimental or emotional [purchase] … [but] a very good investment.”

Dawe went on to compare the Girl Scouts to the United Nations as both sought “to build the defenses of peace in the minds and hearts of children.” Just as the UN complex has a small chapel dedicated to the founder, she thought the Gordon house could provide a similar focal point for Girl Scouts. “It might offer that sense of the beginning of an idea and the continuity of its great purpose.” Office locations might change, but the house would remain a fixed anchor.

Layton took note of Dawe’s lofty ideals, but plainly stated that finding a new national headquarters building and developing Camp Macy should take precedence over buying an old home in Savannah. Dawe acknowledged these priorities, but

“With the house, it is now or never. … Is that also true of headquarters, and of Macy?”

–Louise Dawe

Mission Accomplished

The Committee’s findings were assembled into an extensive report, which Dawe presented at the October meeting of the national Board of Directors. In a nail-biting vote, the board approved the purchase, 32–24.

The Ad Hoc Committee to Consider the Purchase was dissolved and a new “Special Committee on the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace” created. This new group included members of the initial committee, as well as individuals representing Savannah, and Girl Scout Region VI, among others.

Macpherson was also a part of this original committee. Although I have seen no provision requiring a Gordon family member to be on such an advisory group, typically someone has. That is true for the latest incarnation, as well.

As the Birthplace continues to evolve, let us remember that volunteers can have a lasting impact on key decisions determining the direction of our movement.

©2019 Ann Robertson