What Is a Chartreuse Buzzard?

What Is a Chartreuse Buzzard?

A camp song, a fundraiser, a bond connecting Macy alumni, the elusive Chartreuse Buzzard is a Girl Scout legend.

Girl Scouts of the USA faced huge budget deficits in the early 1970s, a product of slipping membership numbers and rising inflation.

In an effort to save as much money as possible, while cutting as few services as possible, GSUSA informed council presidents and directors in June 1974 that it would close the beloved Edith Macy Training Center in Briarcliff Manor, New York, for the 1975 season and possibly beyond. The sad news spread throughout the membership that summer.

The news arrived at Macy in August, during an “Innovative Training” workshop for adult volunteers. Upset and distressed by this development, students decided to take action. Led by Gloria Quinlan, Ginger Shields, and Betty Lankford McLaughlin from the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Council, the group believed that a grassroots fundraising effort might raise enough money to save Macy.

The women had just learned a new song, “Three Chartreuse Buzzards,” and unanimously agreed to bestow that name on their group.

FYI, It’s CHARTREUSE, not sharp-toothed or short-necked.

Get your buzzards straight.

Thus, the International Order of the Chartreuse Buzzards was born.  Why “international”? Because several of the students were Canadian Girl Guides.

Patches for Macy

The group designed a brightly colored patch meant to capture the “combination of fun, friendship, and serious purpose, which have always been part of the blend that appeals to enthusiastic Girl Scouts.” Members sent a patch and a brochure to every council president. Patches were sold for $2 and, to further save expenses, buyers were asked to include self-addressed, stamped envelopes with their orders. 

News of the group’s existence spread quickly. After all, no Girl Scouts worth her Thin Mints will pass up a unique patch.

Chartreuse Buzzard Patch 2
Chartreuse Buzzard Patch 2
Chartreuse Buzzard Patch 3
Chartreuse Buzzard Patch 3
Chartruse Spelling Error
Chartreuse Spelling Error

IOCB members ordered 1,000 patches, and all sold out before they were delivered. The design changed slightly before the next order. The word “Macy” was added the spelling of chartreuse fixed.

Donations Fly In

Macy opened for one weekend in June 1976 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The Buzzards chose that event to present a check to GSUSA for $2,200, earned from selling 8,000 patches.

In 1974, the Macy Lamp of Learning ignited a fire of learning under a dead tree. From the tree, the Chartreuse Buzzard took flight. The shadow of its wings has covered North America, Europe, Australia and other regions. This flight has spread the message of Macy Magic. The Chartreuse Buzzard RE-turns with a gift. The gift is to fuel the lamp of Macy.

edith macy lamp knowledge pin
edith macy lamp knowledge pin

Macy Saved

The Macy Center was taken off the endangered species list in October 1977, when the GSUSA Board of Directors designated it as the movement’s primary program and training center. A massive fund drive helped GSUSA convert the Edith Macy Center into a year-round facility suitable for training, conferences, and other meetings.

buzzard with a skillet cooking over a fire
Buzzard cookbook

That good news did not dampen enthusiasm for the patch. Sales continued by mail and at conventions, and a cookbook was produced as well.

As Macy expanded, Buzzards donations were earmarked for the Camp of Tomorrow, an experimental outdoor education area at Macy, and scholarships to attend Macy training events. By 1992 the Buzzards had raised $15,000 for Macy. 

Is the Chartreuse Buzzard Extinct?

What became of the Chartreuse Buzzards? The last recorded sighting was near the Seal of Ohio Girl Scout Council office in 1992. Patch orders then were directed to council publications manager Betty Rutledge. Betty passed away in 2006, but she was very proud of the Buzzards movement and what the scrappy little group had accomplished. She also wanted GSUSA to do more than cash Buzzard checks.

Writing GSUSA President Betty Pilsbury in February 1989, Betty noted that the group was still waiting for action on GSUSA’s promise to share the Buzzard story with the entire Girl Scout family.

When such an impressive amount of money has been accumulated in $2.00 purchases, an opportunity is being ignored to comment on tangible support for a special Girl Scout place from enthusiastic grass-roots membership.

Betty Rutledge letter to GSUSA President Betty Pilsbury, February 6, 1989

GSUSA ran a two-paragraph notice in the Summer 1989 issue of Leader.

Were you a Buzzard? Let me know!

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

Cheaper by the Dozen and the Girl Scouts

Cheaper by the Dozen and the Girl Scouts

Disney studios released a new version of the movie Cheaper by the Dozen on March 18, 2022. Who knew that the story has an impressive Girl Scout connection?

The original movie, released in 1950, tells the story of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their 12 children. It was based on a book written by two of their children, Ernestine and Frank Jr.

Frank Gilbreth came from a blue-collar background and built a thriving construction business. Lillian was one of nine children herself and earned BA and MA degrees in literature from the University of California. She met Frank while pursuing her PhD and became fascinated with the time-saving techniques that he had developed to make his construction crews more efficient.

TheGilbrethsCom Family in Foolish Carriage
The Gilbreth Family in their “Foolish Carriage,” via thegilbreths.com
Cover of first edition of Cheaper by the Dozen
First edition, published in 1948

She also became fascinated with Frank. Despite a 10-year age difference, the couple married in 1904. Lillian became a partner in Frank’s engineering firm and switched her studies to psychology at Brown University.

Their partnership combined psychology and business management to develop the new field of time-and-motion studies. Along the way, they had 12 children and she earned a doctoral degree in psychology.

Group portrait of the Gilbreth family, the real-life family in Cheaper by the Dozen
The Gilbreth family in 1924, shortly before Frank Bunker Gilbreth Sr’s death, with all eleven children who survived to adulthood. Standing are Fred, Dan and Jack. Seated are Frank Jr, Martha, Dr. Lillian Moller Gilbreth, Frank Sr, Ernestine and Anne. On laps are Jane and Bob. Seated in front are Bill and Lillian Jr. (Original image from Purdue University archives via http://www.thegilbreths.com)

With busy careers and a large household to manage, the Gilbreths applied their time-saving techniques to their family. According to daughter Ernestine, “They believed that what would work In the home would work In the factory, and what would work in the factory would work in the home.”

Like most of Dad’s and Mother’s ideas, the Family Council was basically sound and, although it verged sometimes on the hysterical, brought results. Family purchasing committees, duly elected, bought the food, clothes, furniture, and athletic equipment. A utilities commit­tee levied one-cent fines on wastes of water and electricity. A projects com­mittee saw that work was completed as scheduled. Allowances were de­cided by the Council, which also meted out rewards and punishments. Despite Dad’s forebodings, there were no pon­ies or roadsters.

“The Amazing Lillian Gilbreth,” Leader (summer 1984): 20-22.

Widowed at age 46, Lillian popularized her managerial psychology as a highly-sought-after lecturer.

First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, who twice served as GSUSA national president, asked Dr. Gilbreth in 1930 to be an unpaid consultant to the Girl Scouts. Lillian was reluctant, but few people could resist Mrs. Hoover.

I went over to national head­quarters and found that they felt perhaps the Personnel Department was just the one that would be of most in­terest to me and one that needed my help. That was where I began to work. I went into the Personnel Department as a member of the Personnel Committee and found the committee and Agnes Leahy, the director, so congenial to work with that I was very happy. I needn’t tell you that once a Girl Scout. you’re always a Girl Scout. I remember going to meetings even before I made my Promise.

“The Amazing Lillian Gilbreth,” Leader (summer 1984): 20-22.

Lillian Gilbreth in her Girl Scout uniform
Lillian Gilbreth in her Girl Scout uniform

Dr. Gilbreth set high standards for various Girl Scout role, both professional and volunteer. Former GSUSA President Marjorie Culmer (1956-1963) recalled:

Dr. Gilbreth felt very strongly that the only difference between volunteers and staff was that the staff got paid for their work. She drew no distinc­tion between the calibre of per­formance expected from volunteers and staff; she believed that the volunteers should get the same satisfaction from their work.

“The Amazing Lillian Gilbreth,” Leader (summer 1984): 20-22.

She also believed that professional staff and the national board should forge a strong partnership to achieve common goals.

Lillian soon dedicated herself to Girl Scouts, serving in a range of volunteer positions:

  • Per­sonnel Committee
  • Interna­tional Committee
  • Finance Committee
  • Con­stitution Revision Committee
  • Committee on National Personnel
  • National Board of Directors
  • Exec­utive Committee
  • Program Com­mittee
  • National Advisory Council

Gilbreth also deployed her well-earned respect and credibility when the Girl Scouts were (erroneously) accused of promoting communism in 1954.

According to daughter Ernestine,

She loved everything about this organization and all of its associates and opportunities for fur­ther new experience with young peo­ple. This tie-in became one of the key joys of her life. On her professional trips, she gave repeated lectures to Girl Scout groups and vice versa.

“The Amazing Lillian Gilbreth,” Leader (summer 1984): 20-22.

So grab a bucket of popcorn–even better, a box of Girl Scout cookies–and enjoy the latest version of Cheaper by the Dozen. Wouldn’t it be a great STEM tie-in for your troop?

For more on Lillian Gilbreth see:

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

RIP Rockwood Warrior Stephen H. Sachs

Former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs passed away on January 12, 2022. His Washington Post obituary cites his prosecution of the “Catonsville Nine” as one of the highlights of his career. Personally, I think his advocacy on behalf of the “Rockwood Nine” was instrumental in saving part of Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp.

The Catonsville Nine

The Catonsville Nine case dates to May 1968, when two Catholic priests and seven Catholic activists stormed a Draft Board office in Catonsville, Maryland, to destroy draft records. Sachs, then US Attorney for Maryland, successfully prosecuted the nine, arguing that, however just their cause might have been, their actions were illegal.

The Rockwood Nine

While it is hard to top the mental image of cat-burglar priests carrying out some Mission Impossible style caper, I can top that.

Imagine several dozen Junior Girl Scouts, all in uniform, marching into the Montgomery County, Maryland, Courthouse on January 29, 1979, to file a class-action lawsuit against the Girl Scouts of the USA. Two attorneys, brandishing giant, overstuffed briefcases accompanied them, as did an elderly woman who had been in the very first Girl Scout troop. The media had been tipped off about the procession, and photographers were on hand.

Photo of girls and attorneys with legal papers
from the January 30, 1979, Washington Post

One of the attorneys, Maryland Assistant Attorney General Koontz, stepped in front of brandished microphones to explain the scene. Stephen H. Sachs, who had just been sworn in as Maryland Attorney General, had joined the girls’ lawsuit as the tenth plaintiff, citing an obscure law from 1931 that obligated the Attorney General to protect the interest of a charitable trust.

Wait, What???

Rockwood had been the country estate of Washington philanthropist Carolyn Caughey, who left her considerable wealth to the Girl Scouts of the USA upon her death in 1936. Caughey created a trust that gave the Girl Scouts the 67-acre Rockwood immediately, while her other properties and investments would be liquidated and distributed to the Girl Scouts over time–provided the Girl Scouts used Rockwood for “character-building purposes.” When GSUSA sold Rockwood to a residential developer in 1978, a group of adult volunteers argued that the sale violated the terms of Mrs. Caughey’s bequest. GSUSA officials brushed off their inquiries, saying the national office dealt with councils, not individuals. Frustrated, seven adults and two girls (those in the photo above) went to court to block the sale.

Photo of stately brick home
Postcard of Camp Rockwood’s two main buildings in the mid-1950s

Back to the Courthouse

When AG Sachs entered the fray, GSUSA could no longer dismiss the Rockwood opposition as a mere nuisance. Now they had to take notice.

The lawsuit unfolded over the next two years, in court filings, document requests, and depositions. Rockwood supporters created a formal organization, Friends of Rockwood, and raised money for legal fees through donations, bake sales, yard sales, and other grass-roots efforts. GSUSA tried as much as possible to ignore the Rockwood Nine and their attorney and communicate only with Sachs.

Both sides were hampered by poor-record keeping at GSUSA. There were plenty of rumors and legends about Mrs. Caughey and the acquisition of Rockwood, but neither side could come up with hard evidence. At one point Sachs even complained that GSUSA had ignored his requests for information.

Time to Settle, Folks

Ultimately, Sachs decided that neither side had a particularly strong case and that settlement would be in the best interests of all. The Attorney General’s Office approached the Montgomery County Parks office about turning part of Rockwood into a county park. The answer was favorable–provided that the deal include funds to improve the land and buildings.

By the time of the sale, Rockwood had grown to 93 acres.

Stephen Sachs man in white shirt and tie
Stephen Sachs

The process of getting everyone on board with the compromise is too long for a blog post; the important part is that Sachs did. GSUSA sold the land, but had to pay the Rockwood Nine’s legal costs ($60,000) and seed money to Montgomery Parks (almost $1 million).

Today’s Rockwood Manor Park sits on 30 acres, and iconic buildings, especially the Manor House, remain. It is a popular venue for weddings and small group meetings.

Camp sales continue to be a point of contention between Girl Scout councils and members. I’m often asked what was the Rockwood difference? What advice can I offer?

I firmly believe the Rockwood difference was Stephen Sachs. His participation made the stakes much higher for GSUSA. With the Attorney General watching, volunteer complaints could no longer be ignored.

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

The Girl Scouts and Pearl Harbor

The Girl Scouts and Pearl Harbor

Oahu Office Sign
Oahu Office Sign, Girl Scouts of Hawaii

When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended, 80 years ago today, all of Oahu sprang into action, including the Girl Scouts.

Although Hawaii did not become a US state until 1959, Girl Scout troops were organized on Oahu in 1917, later expanding to other islands and consolidating into one council (briefly called the Girl Scout Council of the Pacific) in 1963. Hawaii, therefore, is the second-oldest council west of the Mississippi River.

Queen Liliuokalani personally sponsored the first two troops on Oahu and presented them with her own silk flag in 1917.

The Hawaiian troops were a combination of local girls and daughters of US servicemen stationed in the islands. Some girls wore the regular khaki uniform, but the troops had their own special uniforms made of white, tropical weight fabric.

Hawaii Large Group of Girl Scouts their unique white uniforms
Hawaii Large Group of Girl Scouts
Early Hawaii Girl Scout
Early Hawaiian Girl Scout, 1917

The council’s main office was at Pearl City, Oahu, and it purchased land for Camp Haleopua (“House of Flowers”) in 1926.

Camp Haleopua, attractively located on the windward side of the Pearl City Peninsula, is without doubt the only Girl Scout Camp with the fleet of the United States Navy in the front yard (as it were). All Summer, the battle­ships, destroyers and submarine chasers presented an interesting picture during the day and at night, the “floating city” was a mass of light. Blackouts on the ships were also fascinating to watch and the “talkies” [movies] could be plainly heard in camp.

Camp Haleopua Director’s Report, June 15-July 31, 1941

Camp Haleopua letterhead
Camp Haleopua letterhead

Camp Haleopua was busy in summer 1941, with 174 girls participating in one of four week-long sessions. Nation’s Capital has a seven-page report by the camp director, who described a successful season with “sold out” sessions, a new tent unit, and no serious illnesses or accidents. (Because so many military families retire to the Washington area, Nation’s Capital occasionally receives documents related to distant Girl Scout troops.)

Camp Director Edna Reese planned to leave Hawaii before summer 1942, so she left careful instructions and suggestions for her successor. Fate had other plans.

The Japanese attack ended around noon. Local Girl Scout officials were told to vacate their Pearl City office ASAP because the US Navy had commandeered the building for its use.

Pearl Harbor Color Map
Pearl Harbor Showing Girl Scout office in Pearl City

Oahu Council President Margaret Fritschi ignored her husband’s insistence that she stay safe at home and drove to the office herself. Barbara Fritschi Dew remembers her mother returned hours later with the council’s treasured silk Hawaiian flag, presented by Queen Liliuokalani. They stored the flag until the war ended.

Girl Scouts of all ages took on tasks that would free up adults for demanding roles. The girls were not centrally deployed, they arrived on their own. They went to schools and other locations and asked how they could help. Girls washed linens, moved furniture and scrubbed floors at the Kaimuki Intermediate School, for example, so that rooms could be turned into hospitals, operating rooms, and refugee housing.

The Oahu Girl Scouts had been preparing for war for over a year.

All Senior troops … had been trained in first aid, mass feeding, care of young children, assistance in evacuation of civilians from danger zones, and organizing messenger service to outlying plantations and communities.

Leader (February 1942): 4.

During the first week after the attack, Girl Scouts worked in four-hour shifts feeding volunteers at an emergency kitchen set up at Central Union. They hand washed all of the dishes used by hundreds of hungry people.

Brownies entertained young children while their parents registered with officials. High-school age Seniors typed, filed, and performed other clerical work. All ages baked cookies (500 per week) for hospital patients and decorated hospital trays. They made quilts for wounded servicemen and pillows to cradle broken bones. Reflecting on the Girl Scouts’ wartime service decades later, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser noted that girls kept home air raid shelters neat and well stocked and even played patients for first aid training and bomb drills.

Collection of empty glass bottles
Shutterstock #89849179

The Great Scouts’ greatest contribution addressed the critical need for glass bottles for local blood banks. The girls collected nearly 3,000 bottles from homes and businesses, removed the labels, washed and sterilized them.

Mrs. E.E. Black, elected council president in January 1942, immediately explained the role of Girl Scouts in wartime:

Girl Scouts [should] assume Red Cross responsibility in their neighborhoods. Our job is to keep up morale of those with whom we come in contact. I am very certain that girls 13, 14, and 15 are just as clever with their fingers as many women.

Honolulu Advertiser (January 16, 1942): 2.

When the Girl Scouts of Oahu celebrated the 30th anniversary of the movement in March 1942, the Honolulu Advertiser paid tribute to their work:

The Girl Scout motto, “Be Prepared” was ably demonstrated shortly after December 7 by troops and individual Girl Scouts and leaders.

Honolulu Advertiser (March 14, 1942): 6.

The Hawaii Council website contains many rich history resources. Most of the photos used here came from the site.

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

Snowy Days at Camp

Snow has begun to fall here in Washington, DC. It’s the first of the season and forecast to be “significant,” which in our Nation’s Capital means about two inches.

Of course, it is still 2020, which means anything could happen, such as rabid polar bears floating downward from the heavens.

This makes today the perfect time to bring out one of my favorite entries in the “what’s the worst that can happen?” file.

Once upon a time, a troop of Intermediate Girl Scouts went to Camp Potomac Woods for a cozy weekend trip. It was February (February 1958, to be precise) and bound to be cold, but the hardy girls were staying in a lodge, not tents, and they would have an oil furnace to keep everyone toasty.

The girls of Troop 163 hauled their gear and rations to the lodge Friday night, made dinner and turned in for bed, after copious cups of cocoa, of course.

Saturday morning, everyone was up early. The absolute, best thing that can happen on a camping trip was right outside the lodge. SNOW!

SNOW!!!

BEST. TRIP. EVER.!!

The girls had a blast. They had dressed for February and spent the day outside. They made snow balls and snow Scouts. After dinner, the leaders sent them off to bed, but nobody could sleep. There was SNOW outside!

Each girl had brought a cup on a string as a standard part of their mess kits. Not only could these fine implements be used for cocoa, they could be silently tossed out a window and drug back in … full of snow … for an indoor snowball fight! Little sleeping was done that night.

Before the sun was up on Sunday the girls were praying that they would be snowed in another day.

But that was going to be a problem, as they’d only brought food for a two-night stay.

Mrs. Steeger and Mrs. Smith, the leaders, conferred with the camp’s resident caretaker. After several phone calls, they learned that the road to the camp, located in Lucketts, Virginia, was impassible.

What to do?

Relax, these are GIRL SCOUTS were are talking about. A group trained to be level-headed and resourceful.

They did what anyone would do in similar circumstances.

They called the US Army.

Helicopter pilots W.C. Hampton and Raymond Bowers flew in from Ft. Belvoir, alighting in a field partly cleared by the caretaker.

The troop was too large to all fit, so the pilots made two runs, taking all of 15 minutes each.

Troop 163 Evacuates Camp Potomac Woods (GSCNC Archives)

Safe on the ground, they posed for photos with their rescuers, before heading home.

You know they had a great story to tell their friends at school.

Safe on the ground with their rescuers (GSCNC Archives)

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

Nix on Partisanship

Girl Scouts of the USA strives to create conscientious future voters who appreciate the unique qualities of the American political system.

From the founding of Girl Scouts in 1912, girls could earn badges that involved learning about their government, laws, and elections.

After women received the right to vote 100 years ago, Girl Scouts stepped in to help anyway they could. Sometimes an act as simple as holding a baby while mother goes into the voting booth can make a difference in turnout.

There are clear limits on political involvement. The Blue Book–GSUSA’s collection of bylaws, policies, and the corporate constitution–states the following:

Blue Book, 2020 edition, page 20

Individual Girl Scouts may engage in partisan political activities, but only as civilians. They cannot appear in uniform, as that would suggest the organization has endorsed a particular candidate or expressed an opinion on a public issue.

A Little Too Active

Sometimes good intentions may get out of hand, as happened during the 1960 Presidential Election.

It seems that Intermediate* Troops 670 and 702 from Bethesda, Maryland, loved to do community service projects. When their leader, Mrs. Smith heard that the Volunteers for Nixon-Lodge headquarters needed help, she immediately signed the girls up. The field trip to 1000 16th Street NW in Washington did not raise any red flags among parents, as most were Republicans themselves.

*In 1963, the Intermediate level was divided in Juniors (grades 4-6) and Cadettes (grades 7-9).

A dozen girls, in their green uniforms, yellow ties, and jaunty berets, had a blast at the campaign office. They stuffed envelopes; assembled press releases; and filled campaign kits with buttons and bumper stickers.

Vice President Nixon’s press secretary, Herbert G. Klein called the Washington Post to suggest that there was a great photo opportunity happening at campaign headquarters. A campaign staffer had tipped off Klein and said the girls might be working at the Kennedy-Johnson office another day.

A witty local reporter asked the girls whether “some people might not regard Nixon’s defeat as a community service,” the girls giggled and confidently stated, “Kennedy isn’t going to be elected.”

The girls had put in about four hours of work when a telephone rang; the caller asked for Mrs. Smith. In fact, the caller was Helaine Todd, executive director of the National* Capital Area Girl Scout Council.

*Also in 1963, the National Capital Girl Scout Council and four other councils combined to form the Nation’s Capital Girl Scout Council.

Todd was a tad upset. She informed Mrs. Smith that “Partisan political activity is absolutely against local and national Girl Scout policy. ” Todd also declared that the girls could not count the day toward service hours. (That seems a bit over the top, in my opinion.)


CanStockPhoto, Inc.

Mrs. Smith, a relatively new leader, was “flabbergasted and aghast.” She grabbed the girls and swiftly exited. At the next troop meeting, she turned the experience into a learning opportunity, explaining what she had done wrong.

Of course, Nixon lost in 1960. Much could–and has–been said about Richard Nixon. But I must give the Nixon family credit for being strong supporters of Girl Scouts–before and after their White House years.

Both Nixon daughters, Julie and Tricia, were active Girl Scouts and future First Lady Pat Nixon was their co-leader.

Mrs. Nixon greets Cadette Girl Scouts at GSUSA Headquarters (Nixon Foundation)

Mrs. Nixon greatly enjoyed her time as honorary national president of GSUSA, welcoming girls to the White House and visiting the national headquarters in New York.

Since Edith Wilson in 1917, all First Ladies have been invited to serve as honorary national president. All Most accept it graciously and participate in unique ways.

Mrs. Nixon’s affection for the Girl Scouts endured until her death.

Pat Nixon welcomes Girl Scouts to the Nixon Library, July 1990 (Nixon Foundation)

The Nixon Foundation has honored her work with a special exhibition.

Check the GSUSA Blog for information about the current honorary national president and her involvement with Girl Scouts.

Or maybe not ….

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

Pants! We Want Pants!

What issue topped the agenda of the 1969 National Council session?

Pants. The membership spoke, and they wanted uniforms with pants.

Responding to waves of requests from girls, GSUSA announced that it would remain a uniformed movement and update girl uniforms. The most requested item? Pants. Active girls—not to mention their mothers—did not want to sacrifice movement for modesty. 

Official Uniform Catalog from 1963
Fashion Design, 1997-2011

Designing uniforms is a multifaceted process. The overall design needs to be visually unifying and reflect contemporary fashion without falling for passing fads that will shorten their appeal. The cut must flatter a wide range of body types, the fabric needs to be suitable for multiple climates, and the color palette needs to enhance skin tones ranging from very fair to very dark. Decorations and trims are kept to a minimum, both to keep costs down as well as to not compete with official insignia. 

Senior Uniform, 1960-1971

First up was the smallest age group—Senior Girl Scouts.  These high schoolers were still wearing the two-piece skirt suit introduced in 1960. Made out of a deep green sharkskin cotton fabric, the brightly colored uniform trim indicated the wearer’s area of concentration. Troops focused on International Friendship, for example, wore yellow ties and hat cords, Wing troops orange, and Homemaker troops turquoise. This iconic uniform, topped with an Overseas-style hat, was beloved by fans of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, but fell out of favor with the bell-bottom and suede fringe-wearing girls of the late 1960s. Girls had quickly nicknamed the suit the “Stewardess uniform,” but by now it was no longer a compliment. Besides, even the flight attendants had moved on to trendier styles. Seniors themselves had their own ideas about a uniform; they wanted pants—and mini-skirts, too.

After considering suggestions, designs, and even samples sent by girls, the National Equipment Service (NES) settled on two versions of a sleek step-in style A-line dress that buttoned up the front. For feedback, they took the uniform to the girls.

Manufacturers created samples in sizes 6 through 20 and shipped them to Rockwood National Camp and the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah. Visiting Seniors of all shapes and sizes tried on the samples and completed feedback cards. They had a definite preference for one version and one shade of green, but indicated that they wanted heavier fabric, a belt, and pants. Designers made more revisions and presented the result to the National Executive Committee for final approval. NES was still not convinced of the need for pants, but they conceded defeat on the matter. 

Senior Uniform, 1971-1980

Ultimately, the girls were rewarded with pants in the same green cotton poplin fabric, but the semi-flared legs hardly qualified as bell-bottoms. The ensemble included a soft beret made of the same fabric, a tab tie, and a formidable green leather belt that was 1.5” wide with adjustment holes running the entire length.

But the most notable feature was the dress’s hemline—or, rather, the lack of one. After endless debates among focus groups and survey responses, GSUSA gave up trying to settle on the appropriate length. The dress was sold unhemmed, with a hang-tag reading: “The Official GS Uniform with the Unofficial Hemline.” If girls wanted mini-skirted uniforms, Headquarters seemed to say, let parents deal with the matter.  Many Senior Girl Scouts were accustomed to sewing their own clothes and turned the new dress into a short tunic to be worn over the new pants. Just how many ditched the pants once out their front door is unknown. 

And to really be mod, GSUSA created a line of hippy, crunchy-granola inspired casual pieces at the same time. Can’t you just imagine Marcia Brady or Laurie Partridge in these funky frocks?

GSUSA pieces for the fashion-forward Senior Girl Scout in 1971

Nope, me either. And if you look closely at the 1973 image showing the new uniforms, that spiffy green cape is marked “SALE,” although it doesn’t come through well in the picture. Guess these duds were a dud.

The other age levels received new uniforms in 1973. Instead of a single dress, Brownies, Juniors, and Cadettes each had their choice of five or six mix-and-match pieces, that included jumpers, pants, shorts, cotton blouses, and hideous polyester double-knit turtleneck bodysuits that were hot, itchy, had a stiff plastic zipper that grabbed your hair, and featured a snap crotch that perpetually pinched your privates. 

Catalog descriptions of the new clothing reflected the lingo of the time, emphasizing choice, individuality, and liberation:

1973 Catalog Copy Introducing New Uniforms

New space-age materials meant less wrinkling and less ironing.

The new styles included several pieces for each age level, creating another point of consistency.

Each level had a tie that snapped together. No more arguments about how to tie a neckerchief or which way the ends should point. The polyester, turtleneck bodysuit was high fashion at the time, not to mention indestructible and UNCOMFORTABLE. Can clothing cause PTSD? Because if so, these bodysuits would have.

The new Cadette uniform included the very first vest, instead of a badge sash. They were made from dark green felt, and some people mistakenly think they were homemade.

This week a new collection of uniform pieces debuted. So far, they are targeted toward the older age levels.

Hopefully GSUSA will never repeat the snap-zip-bodysuit debacle of the 1970s.

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

Who’s That Girl Scout? Martha Bowers Taft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Herald (December 17, 1911).

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

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

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

Washington Times (June 21, 1914)

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

Observers were especially anxious to see her dress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those Naked Leaders?

Those Naked Leaders?

I received this announcement from GSUSA today:

GSUSA Message, February 25, 2020

The new scarf looks lovely. But what really caught my attention was the statement that I underlined:

“In 1968, our first adult uniform…”

Oh my. No adult uniforms for the first 56 years? Really?

That gives a whole new dimension to exploring the great out-doors.

Perhaps what was meant in this release was that 1968 was the first time a well-known designer created an adult uniform?

Wrong again.

In 1948 the American designer Mainbocher created new uniforms for Intermediates, Seniors, and ADULTS.

GSUSA eagerly announced the new garments in its own publications:

1948 National Equipment Catalog

… and press releases.

Lancaster New Era (September 8, 1948)

Before the Girl Scout uniforms, Mainbocher was best known for outfitting the WAVES (women serving in the US Navy) during World War II.

A retrospective exhibition of Mainbocher’s work was held in Chicago in 2016. Vogue magazine described the man as “The Most Important American Designer You’ve Never Heard Of.” (And it’s pronounced Main-Bocker)

Tsk. Tsk. Next time, run it by a Girl Scout historian. Better yet, an editor/Girl Scout historian.

©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