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/

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Clara Lisetor-Lane and the Girl Scouts of America

Please, never, ever, say “Girl Scouts of America” in front of me. Just don’t.

Why? BECAUSE IT IS WRONG. It falls on my editor-ears like nails on a blackboard.

I am a proud, lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of the USA, not some rogue “Girl Scouts of America” group. If you want to be ultra correct, it is Girl Scouts of the United States of America. That is the name printed on our Congressional Charter.

Cover of Leader Magazine, October 1950

Prior to that document, the formal name was “Girl Scouts, Inc.” That name was used when the movement incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1915. That’s how it appeared on early versions of the Girl Scout Constitution and By-Laws. That’s how it appeared on letterhead.

Letterhead from 1944

Actually some letterhead from the 1940s uses “GSUSA.” Perhaps that was purchased in advance of the charter announcement?

Please, be accurate. You’d get testy too if someone constantly got your name wrong.

But there’s another, even more important reason. There really was an actual “Girl Scouts of America.”

Journalist Clara Lisetor-Lane insisted that she had created the “Girl Scouts of America” in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1910; two years before Juliette Gordon Low’s first troop in Savannah.

Lisetor-Lane seemed to prefer working on publicity rather than recruitment. Newspapers of the era report her arrival in towns to organize troops, but no membership numbers were given.

Her program would encourage housekeeping and the outdoors. But some behavior was decidedly not for her Girl Scouts:

Sacramento Star, August 11, 1911.

In June 1911, her Girl Scouts of America, a few self-described “Girl Guides” and the Camp Fire Girls merged to become “Girl Pioneers of America.” The thoroughness of that merger is unclear; reports of the component organizations continued into 1912.

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1924

Lisetor-Lane eventually took up other causes. She founded “Crusaders for Decency,” group that promoted “clean literature and films.”

But she never renounced her claim to starting the Girl Scouts.

Lisetor-Lane even crashed the 1924 Girl Scout national convention and challenged Low to met with her. (She didn’t.)

Lisetor-Lane went to her grave in 1960 insisting that Juliette Gordon Low had stolen her idea.

When the Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated its 50th birthday in 1962, the story of Clara Lisetor-Lane was revived in her home town. A few former members came forward and a Des Moines Register article was picked up by other newspapers.

Although Clara certainly would have been pleased by the renewed interest in her organization, I can only imagine her horror if she had seen how it appeared in the Moline, IL, Dispatch.

©2020 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.

©2020 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!

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Senior Interests, Then and Now

Senior Interests, Then and Now

With the re-launch of Girl Scout Mariner and Trailblazer troops planned for 2020, it is a good time to revisit the original programs.

Senior Girl Scouts did not have their own proficiency badges until Interest Projects were introduced in 1980.

Instead, Senior troops concentrated on specific topics, with a particular emphasis on practical training for service roles. Girls earned small service bar pins, with the color indicating the focus.

Starting in 1955, troops and patrols could choose from five concentrations: Trailblazer, Mountaineer, Explorer, Wing, and Mounted. A “General Interest” path was added in 1958. Seniors wore a 3″ green bordered patch to indicate their focus.

The Mariner program, which launched in 1934, remained separate. The Wing program, dating to 1942, was not as popular as the Mariners and flew into the new framework as one of the five.

Personally, I think if the Wing groups had distinct, spiffy uniforms like the Mariners, they would have been more visible and likely more popular.

Based on girl feedback, the Senior program was tweaked in 1960. New interests were added, unpopular ones dropped, and patches slimmed down to 2.25″. Now Mariners were grouped with everyone else although their patch remained blue.

Senior Explorer patches, 1958 (left) and 1960 (right).

The biggest change came in 1963, when more paths were introduced, such as Community Action, Homemaker, and Arts.

Each focus now had a specific color that was used on the border of the emblem, but also on the tie and hat cord of the uniform.

The 1963 Senior Handbook shows girls with many interests.

But unlike the badges earned at younger levels, there was no earned insignia specific to this program. Instead, the large patches were simply an oversized troop crest.

A new set of four interest patches was introduced in 1974 along with a new Senior Handbook, Options.

The book marked the peak of Girl Scout efforts to be mod, hip, and crunchy granola. It practically came with a choker made of love beads and puka shells. Girls regarded the suggested activities, such as “Mysterious Musical Mood” and “Reading for Pleasure and Profit” as childish and condescending.

Finally, take a close look at the design of these patches. See the gold starburst design in the background? That was taken from the earlier special Senior membership pin.

Many troops simply kept using their trusty 1963 handbook and related interest patches.

In 1980, Options was officially declared dead. Few noticed.

An entirely new set of earned recognitions for Cadettes and Seniors (Ambassadors date only to 2008) came with the Worlds to Explore program. The program retained the “interest project” name, although the name changed several times: Interest Project Award, Interest Project Patch, and Interest Project.

The new program also launched a new highest award for Girl Scouts, the Gold Award.

Now, dear readers, take a good look at the images above. Did you ever notice the sunburst design carried through to the current Gold Award design?

Thank you to members of the Facebook Girl Scout historian community for sharing their experiences with these programs.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Those Adventurous Girl Scout Dolls

Those Adventurous Girl Scout Dolls

Usually we have to come up with ideas for our vintage exhibits at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters. But sometimes we get lucky, and a display comes together on its own.

That’s what happened last fall when we received a donation of Girl Scout dolls. People often contact us saying that they or a friend has some items they’ve held onto to for years, would we like them.

Of course, the answer is yes!

And when we had such a query about dolls, we said yes and suggested the donor drop them at a council field office. They would make their way to the archives eventually. So we knew some dolls were coming and we assumed it was perhaps four or five.

This is what arrived:

Sandy Alexander sorts through donated dolls.

They were all in pristine condition, most even labeled with manufacturer, date, and the relevant page from the doll handbook!

We have displayed dolls in chronological before, so this time we tried thematic grouping. We staged the dolls doing typical Girl Scout things.

Proudly Wearing Their Uniforms

Whenever Girl Scouts of the USA issued a new uniform, doll uniforms were updated as well. 

Evolution of Girl Scout Junior Uniforms since 1963

Embracing Diversity

Girl Scout dolls, like actual Girl Scouts, come in many shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.

The first African-American Girl Scout doll was available in the mid-1940s, although she did not appear in the official equipment catalogs.

More skin tones became available in the 1990s, especially with the Adora collection shown

Advertising and packaging of Girl Scout doll clothes began featuring dolls  with mobility challenges, although there has not been a Girl Scout doll that comes with her own wheelchair—yet!

Making New Friends!

Girl Scout friendships have always been reflected in the range of Girl Scout dolls. Dolls celebrate troop friends as well as Girl Guide friends abroad.

Autograph hound, friendship dolls, and Girl Guide dolls alongside a Girl Scout bus (with four finger puppet girls aboard) and a camping play set.

Camping

Girl Scout dolls love being outdoors as much as real girls do! Many dolls come with their own camping gear.

These Brownies and Juniors are ready for camp in their camp uniforms and swimsuits.

Following Trends

From Barbie to Beanie Babies and Build-a-Bear, popular characters and toy lines have signed up with the Girl Scouts.

Daisy dolls, along with Build-a-Bears, Barbies, and Groovy Girls have all become Girl Scouts
Belly Beans were the Girl Scout version of Beanie Babies

Learning Their History

Many dolls have been issued to honor Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts. Whether an expensive collector’s piece or a soft, snuggly cloth friend, girls can be close to Daisy day or night. 

Learning Skills; Giving Service

Sewing and gifting dolls has long been a popular service project.


Members of Junior Troops Nos. 434 and 472 of Prince George’s County put their sewing skills to work for others, sewing and stuffing dolls that would be Christmas gifts for the needy. 
Mattel created pattern kits for Barbie-sized uniforms ranging from Brownie through Adult. The kits appeared in Girl Scout catalogs and shops from 1995 to 2001. 

The full exhibit can be seen at the Girl Scout office at 4301 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite M-2, Washington DC.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Update

One reader asked for a better look at the Mariner doll in the first photo. She is wearing a homemade Mariner uniform.

New Year Greetings!

Girl Scout National President, poet, and suffragist Birdsall Otis Edey penned the following message to Girl Scouts for 1925:

Leader Magazine (January 1925): 1

Mrs. Edey (and was there EVER a better name than “Birdsall Otis Edey”) is referring to the Girl Scout headquarters at 670 Lexington Avenue in New York City. Funds for the building came in part from the “buy-a-brick” campaign associated with “Dorothy,” the yellow brick girl.

Birdsall Otis Edey at a Girl Scout Rally in Central Park, 1920 (GSUSA NHPC)

A future post will profile the marvelous Mrs. Edey.

Happy New Year from the Girl Scout History Project!!

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian