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.
Early troops were identified by their crest, not troop number, as in this Washington Post article from 1914.
Similarly, members of this troop were the “Surrey Poppies.”
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.
Traditionally, once girls chose a crest, it was used for the lifetime of the troop.
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.
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
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.
The Saturday, November 16, 2019 event was truly one for the record books.
9,000 girls explored the Dulles Expo Center in three-hour blocks. There was singing, archery, tent-pitching relays, robotics, book signings, and, of course, history.
The Archives and History Committee ran a booth with history-themed games. Linda Paulson taught girls how to play “Name that Cookie,” answer council history questions, and match new badges with their vintage counterparts. Girls received a “vintage” patch prize from our surplus. Most were excited to realize that the patch was older than the girl!
The booth also had a collection of Girl Scout dolls and
displays about founder Juliette Gordon Low. Our own Susan “Daisy” Ducey posed
for photos with girls all day.
But the Council History team didn’t settle for just one
little old booth. No, not us! We also provided international uniforms on
mannequins for another booth.
We proudly watched Archives Program Aide Vivian moderate a presentation.
We welcomed our own special guest, Margaret Seiler, who told
stories about her Great Aunt Daisy. Her presentation helped younger Girl Scouts
understand that Juliette Gordon Low was a real person, not just a character in
Last, but hardly least, we organized three vintage uniform fashion shows, one show per session. Ginger Holinka fitted girl (and a few adult) models on the spot, while Julie Lineberry emceed the show. Members of the audience gave special applause for “their” childhood uniforms and came away understanding how uniforms changed in response to fashion trends, war-time shortages, new fabrics, and the need for girls to move, move, move.
The Committee owes a deep debt to Lisa Jackson and Dena McGuiggan Baez, leaders who found replacement uniform models when others dropped out at the last minute. They saved the show!!
The last Council Expo was held in 2006. Many people have asked why it took so long to organize another. After Saturday’s experience, I know I will need at least 13 years to recover. But maybe I’ll pencil another one in on my calendar, just to save the date.
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!
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.
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 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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
These four years in Savannah were unforgettable. And yes, I got the patch. All of them!
7. Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries, Jessica Lacher-Feldman (2013)
Intended for repositories with far larger budgets than most Girl Scout archives, but the basic info on exhibit design will benefit any reader. Extensive illustrations and examples.
Expensive; look for used copies.
6. The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository Christina Zamon (2012)
Excellent go-to reference book. Provides clear instructions and succinct definitions for the amateur archivist. A standard work for “Intro to Archives” courses. Also expensive. Look for used copies.
Bonus Points: Clever title
5. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty (2010)
The back cover says it all: “A comprehensive handbook for
those interested in investigating the history of communities, families, local institutions,
and cultural artifacts.” Great tips on
how to plug Girl Scouts into local history.
4. Saving Stuff: How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions Don Williams (2005)
This 2005 book from the Smithsonian Institution can be difficult to
locate, but it’s worth the effort. There are few things that the book does not
cover. Need to preserve macaroni art? It’s in here. Also covers
fundamentals of storage such as light and temperature.
3. Scouting Dolls Through the Years: Identification and Value Guide Sydney Ann Sutton (2003)
Take the dolls chapter out of the Collector’s Guide and quadruple it in length and the result is this
comprehensive guide. Extensive color photos make identification quick, and the
book includes licensed dolls not necessarily available from the Girl Scout
catalog. The book was published in 2003, so the estimated values are not
Bonus Points: Published in my home town, Paducah, KY
Covers 100 years of Girl Scouting in the Washington DC area. Also includes Girl Scout basics and GSUSA events and buildings in the capital city. More than just a pictorial history, the captions provide detailed information about programs, camps, and more.
Bonus Points: Yes, I wrote it.
1. Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, 3rd edition
This book is the primary reference work for Girl Scout historians, with detailed information about uniforms, badges, publications, and more. My copy is full of comments, notes, and post-it flags. Unfortunately, the most recent edition was published in 2005. There is no 3rd edition.
Did history stop in 2005? Hardly. What has happened since 2005?
The Girl Scout Leadership Experience program, journeys, an entirely new series
of badges, troop crests, and handbooks. Two CEOs, three national presidents, five
conventions, and our 100th birthday. Realignment, anyone?
A girl born when the most recent Guide was published would now be on the brink of bridging to the Ambassador level. But wait, there’s no mention of Ambassadors in the Guide because that level was only created in 2008.
The Collector’s Guide
never hit the best-seller lists, but its value to the movement should not be
dismissed. A new volume could be subsidized, grant-funded, or perhaps live online.
Girl Scouts are supposed to use resources wisely. Hopefully
these reference works will provide some guidance for the women (and men) tasked
with preserving our past.