A Brief History of Troop Crests

Troop Crests are some of the oldest official insignia. Originally, each patrol (sub-group) within a troop had a different crest. The first troop in Savannah, for example, had White Rose, Carnation, Red Rose, and Poppy patrols. Over time, crests began to encompass the entire troop.

Original Savannah Girl Scouts (Georgia Historical Society)

Early troops were identified by their crest, not troop number, as in this Washington Post article from 1914.

Clipping from the Washington Post (March 29, 1914).

Similarly, members of this troop were the “Surrey Poppies.”

Washington, DC’s “Surrey Poppies” troop, 1931

In May 1913, Juliette Gordon Low brought a selection of English Girl Guide crests for the earliest American troops to use. The English crests were circles of black felt, embroidered with bright colors and a red border.

The Girl Scouts adopted many of the English crests in 1920. They soon realized that the Blackbird crest was almost invisible when embroidered on black felt. The girls decided to use blue thread instead and renamed it “Bluebird” in 1922.

Chart based on John Player and Sons, Patrol Signs and Emblems trading cards

Traditionally, once girls chose a crest, it was used for the lifetime of the troop.

Excerpt from 1947 Handbook

But there are exceptions to every rule. Estelle Kelso, owner of this uniform, was either in a troop that picked a new crest each year or perhaps she changed troops.

Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and Poppy Crests

Contrary to popular belief, meanings have only been ascribed to crests in recent years. The early crests were all flowers, trees, waterfalls, stars and other non-floral designs came later. Between 1923 and 1930, troops were encouraged to

choose the names of famous women, either from real life or literature, and “build up troop traditions around them. … select women “who have done conspicuous service or pioneer work in professional and scientific fields, or who were associated with our early American life, either in the colonies or in the Westward moving border lands.”

–Blue Book of Rules
Contemporary Troop Crest Meanings, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland

From 1918 to 2011, troops could also design their own crests. They chose images that reflect their interests or perhaps a local landmark or significant culture. The meanings of many, however, are known only to the girls.

Whatever the design, fabric, or official status, crests can always be identified by shape. Crests are oval, all badges are (or were) round. That’s a difference that is easily overlooked by even the best historians. The rare fuchsia crest at right was mis-identified online by the Georgia Historical Society.

Designs have come and gone over the years. In 2011 the oval shape was replaced by a shield shape. Yet some designs have remained nearly unchained for over 100 years.

What new designs will be added in the future?

©2019 Ann Robertson

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!

©2019 Ann Robertson

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