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

Seven Books Every Girl Scout Historian Should Have

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 realistic.

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.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Little House in the Nation’s Capital

Note: This entry was originally published on March 10, 2014, but somehow it was accidentally deleted.

No, it’s not a newly discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder book.   The Little House in Washington, DC, was the first in a series of model homes used by Girl Scouts across the country.  Sadly, the Washington Little House is long gone and one current Little House in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, is about to close.

Built behind the White House in Washington, DC, for the second Better Homes Demonstration Week in June 1923, the Little House was a fully working home, with a modern kitchen, breakfast nook, three bedrooms, and a nursery. Between June 4 and June 10, 2,500–3,500 people visited the house each day. After the exhibition, the Better Homes in America and General Federation of Women’s Clubs donated it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center. It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.

Moving the Little House to New York Avenue
Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 for the Little House to be moved from its exhibition site to its new location at 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone.

Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 to relocate the Little House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone, as Hoover watched.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Little House was THE place to go on Saturdays. There was always some badge activity to try or new skill to learn, and the First Lady, as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, might decide to drop by. After all, the White House was just around the corner.

These girls look a bit tired after preparing a luncheon for First Lady Grace Coolidge (in white).
These girls are preparing lunch while their guest of honor, Eleanor Roosevelt, observes.
A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

The Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia rented a room in the northwest corner of the second floor as its headquarters until it outgrew the facility in 1928. The Little House was used continuously for trainings and demonstrations of the domestic arts from June 1923 to April 1945. The building was used as a branch of Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, for the next decade then given to the landowners in May 1955. The Little House was torn down in the early 1970s. There is a commemorative plaque in the lobby of the office building that currently sits at the site. Update: We now have the plaque at our Frederick Archives and Program Center.

dollhouse version of the Little House has been on display at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

For more about the original Little House, see the pamphlet, “Girl Scouts Keep House in Washington.”

POSTSCRIPT: All of the photos used here are from the Harris and Ewing collection and may be downloaded FREE OF CHARGE from the Library of Congress.  You don’t need to buy the overpriced copies offered on eBay!!

©2014 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

Out with the Old and in with the New, part 1

Exhibits, that is. That probably isn’t the best headline for a history blog!

The Archives and History Committee recently changed the exhibit at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters.

After two months on exhibit, we dismantled “Badges and Biscuits.” This theme covered Girl Guide badges and product sales. It also coincided with our cookie sale and World Thinking Day (February 22).

Girl Guide Badges

The badges date to the late 1950s and early 1960s. They had originally been presented to the former Rockwood national Girl Scout camp by visiting Girl Guides. When that facility closed in 1978, GSUSA left them behind, and they made their way into our council’s collection.

I discovered them wrapped in paper and shoved in a box a few years ago, and I have been looking for an opportunity to share them.

Unfortunately, the foreign badges had been affixed to lengths of burlap with some sort of space-age polymer. I used heat, alcohol, acetone, a jackhammer, and sticks of dynamite to remove them. (OK, not the last two, but I was seriously contemplating it.)

After nearly a week, I had them all removed. I remounted them on 12″x12″ scrapbook paper so that they could fit into frames for display now and stored into scrapbook-sized envelopes after.

I was delighted with the results:

Girl Guide Biscuits

We filled one display case with the Girl Guide badges, the other was devoted to Girl Guide cookie sales. We also had some Girl Guide cookie patches to tie the theme together.

I learned a lot from Girl Guide websites and historians. I stuck largely to English-language sources, so the examples are drawn from a small number of countries.

UK and Ireland

Nope, not in the UK

British Girl Guides do not sell cookies. The Girl Guiding historians I contacted seemed quite proud of this fact.

In contrast, Irish Girl Guides only began selling packets of chocolate chip biscuits in fall 2017. Officials introduced the new program to help “change the imbalance of the number of women in decision-making position across the various sectors of society such as businesses, companies, and boardrooms around Ireland.”

Canada

Canadian Girl Guides have two categories of cookies (sandwich and mint). One is sold in the fall; the other in the spring.

They also have an impressive cookie badge curriculum that includes lessons on the history of their cookie sales and samples of vintage posters, cookie boxes, and other memorabilia.

Canadian Girl Guides

Australia and New Zealand

Australian Girl Guides have sold cookies for decades, but they are limited to one weekend across the entire country. Think of one mega booth sale.

Australian Girl Guide Cookies

Girl Guides in New Zealand kicked off their first biscuit sale in 1957, which grew to selling 28 million boxes per year. But March 2019 marked the last national Girl Guide biscuit sale in New Zealand. The organization plans to seek new fundraising programs for the future as biscuit sales provided one-third of its budget.

Vintage New Zealand Girl Guide poster

Keep following the Girl Scout History Project to see our latest installation!

©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