Meet Minnie Hill

Wednesday began as an ordinary work day at the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland.

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Girl Scout Uniform, 1917-1919

While chatting over recent trips and eclipse plans, committee members worked to update the badge and patch collection and to continue processing the extensive donation of vintage Girl Scout and Girl Guide uniforms that we received in April. (With over 100 uniforms, it is a long, but fascinating task.)

We focused on one of the vintage suitcases that came with the collection.  (Even the suitcases are in pristine shape.) There were about a dozen bags to go through.

First, we found the tiniest khaki uniform I’ve ever seen. Skirt, jacket, even the bloomers were included. It appears home-made.

Then I heard someone yell, “Look at the badges!” One sleeve of the uniform was covered with an impressive, colorful record of hard work.

Minnie Hill Sleeve

Elusive White Felt badges: (from top left clockwise): Clerk, Civics, Matron Housekeeper, Attendance, Signaling, Dairy Maid, and Laundress (GSCNC Archives)

Yes, those are seven White Felt badges–the rarest of rare Girl Scout badges, available only from 1913 to 1918. The seven new White Felts bring our total number to — 10!

But when we turned the jacket over, we got an even bigger surprise:

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Minnie Hill’s Golden Eaglet, Buttercup Troop Crest, War Service Pin, and US Treasury War Service Award (GSCNC Archives)

According to a tattered paper in the suitcase, the uniform belonged to Minnie Hill.

Of course, this called for more research.

The included paper had three typed paragraphs, two faded newspaper clippings, and one ripped photo. They reported that Minnie Hill attended Central High School in Washington, DC, and was a Girl Scout in Troop 9 from 1917 to 1919.

She received her First Class badge from Mrs. Woodrow Wilson at a White House ceremony 100 years ago — on June 21, 1917.

Two years later she was back at the White House, this time to receive her Golden Eaglet from Queen Elizabeth of Belgium on October 31, 1919. The Queen, her husband, and their son were touring the United States at the time, and her participation in the ceremony had a special significance for Minnie, as Troop 9 had practiced their sewing and knitting skills by making layette sets for newborns in Belgium.

A Washington Times article about the 1919 ceremony noted that Minnie had earned 19 badges; all of which are still on her uniform sleeve.

In between those awards, Minnie was recognized for selling Liberty Bonds during World War I. The Washington Post reported that she had sold eleven war bonds for a total of $900. In addition to a medal, high sellers usually were honored with a parade. Alas, the 1918 parade was canceled due to the Spanish flu outbreak.

Sadly, our photo of Minnie is torn, crumbling, and not terribly useful. Attempts to repair it have done more harm than good:

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I searched the electronic archives of three different Washington newspapers, but did not find the photo.

Then I had another idea. That ceremony in 1917 was well documented. In fact, it was the ceremony where two Washington scouts, Eleanor Putzki and Ruth Colman received their Golden Eagles of Merit. Could Minnie be in one of those photos?

Here is the group shot from after the Court of Awards:

 

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White House Court of Awards, June 21, 1917. That’s Ruth Colman front and center, with her sleeve full of badges and her Golden Eagle of Merit pin. (Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection)

 

Take a closer look at the young lady on the back row, far left. I think that is Minnie Hill.

History hasn’t lost her after all.

©2017 Ann Robertson

Cookie Switch?

No, it’s not a new flavor or a blind taste test. It’s a delightful cookie incentive from Little Brownie Bakers in 1994:

IMG_4077 The switchplate matches the Volunteer patch from that year:

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That makes me think that it was an incentive for Volunteers. But who knows, there may be girls out there who love switchplates.

This exciting new addition to the Nation’s Capital archival collection is on display (and in use!) at our Frederick Archives and History Program Center.

This is one artifact that you can definitely touch!

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Egg Rolling with the Girl Scouts

The White House Easter Egg Roll has been a Washington, DC, tradition since 1878. While the event skipped a few years, local Girl Scouts have been an Egg Roll fixture since the 1920s.

Local troops remember meeting First Lady Grace Coolidge’s pet raccoon, Rebecca, in 1927.

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First Lady Grace Coolidge shows Rebecca the raccoon to Girl Scouts in 1927 (Library of Congress, National Photo Company)

In 1928, their duties were spelled out in a letter from Captain (leader) Adah Bagby. Three years earlier, Grace Coolidge had replaced White House police officers with Girl Scouts and assigned them to locate “lost parents.”

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Easter plans for Girl Scouts in 1928 (GSCNC Archives)

Also in 1928, Mrs. Coolidge noticed the rose troop crest on the girls’ uniform and gave each girl a rose from the Rose Garden.

The Girl Scouts performed a May Pole dance during the 1929 Easter Egg Roll, much to the delight of First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

May Pole

The dancing Girl Scouts must have been a hit. They performed a square dance during the rainy 1931 event.

Square Dance

Hoe Down on the South Lawn! (GSCNC archives).

In recent decades, Girl Scouts have returned to their child-wrangling role.

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Photo call for a Junior troop, late 1970s (GSCNC archives)

Has your troop ever worked at the Easter Egg Roll? We need some newer photos!

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Back to the Birthplace

Last weekend, I finally visited the renovated library at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia. I had not toured the house since the library’s controversial redo in April 2015.

Based on the criticism I’d read, I expected to step into a high-tech Apple Store, with rows of gleaming iPads, computer monitors, and glaring fluorescent lights. The reality was quite different.

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez (right) discusses the theory behind the new library (photo by Mark Bowles)

I watched a Cadette troop swarm into the room and head straight for the activity table in the middle of the room. Most of them passed right over the iPads—that’s something they see every day. What they really liked was the stereopticons. Everyone had to try out the “vintage virtual reality glasses.”

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The stereopticons were extremely popular (photo by Mark Bowles)

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Birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez, front view (I forgot to take her picture!)

 

I spent over an hour in the library with Lisa Junkin Lopez, the executive director of the Birthplace. She arrived in November 2015, shortly after the new library was unveiled and instituted several modifications in response to a range of feedback. We had an excellent discussion about the purpose of various museum features.

Honor the Past, Serve the Future

The interactive table is the focus of the library and provides hands-on activities that allow girls to physically connect with the past. After a series of “do not touch” displays in other rooms, the girls welcome the change. The activities are grouped around the themes of Poems, Songs, Speeches, and Storytelling.

 

The exhibit has also been designed for maximum accessibility. Girls can feel Braille letters, for example. Girls are encouraged to compose poetry about their Girl Scout experiences, and they can leave their own mark on history by adding their favorite book to the memory journal. At one point, they could use a beautiful blue vintage typewriter to record their thoughts, but it was so popular that the machine would jam and congest the room. As the last stop on the tour, the library also offers a transition between past and present.

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This desk once held a vintage typewriter, a technology that proved too popular to remain on display  (photo by Mark Bowles)

Community Service

The library is now stocked with books by and about women, which builds on the Gordon family’s love of reading and learning. Troops are encouraged to bring contributions for the library, and returning girls often search the shelves for “their” books. Surplus books will be donated to Loop It Up, a local literacy charity.

There are also traditional Girl Scout handbooks and fictional stories on view, but these are for display only. It might be nice to have scanned excerpts of the older books available to browse on the iPads.

For All Girls

While the Birthplace is one of the holiest shrines of Girl Scouting, it also is one of the best-known house museums among the many restored mansions in historic Savannah. It is also the only house museum that has an elevator, making the upper floors accessible to visitors with physical disabilities.

Lisa explained that the Birthplace has an opportunity to expand on Juliette Gordon Low’s principle of inclusion. It can serve as a model and resource for other historic house museums seeking to improve the accessibility of their facilities without compromising their historical integrity. That seems like an outreach effort worth pursuing.

The Girls’ House

Overall, I did not find the new library as horrific as often portrayed. I’d feared isolated girls with earbuds roaming about, following a pre-recorded tour.

Instead, I was delighted to watch girls eagerly experience both the old and the new technology. We need to use the tools and technology available to help modern girls connect with the past. I’m sure I’m not the only Girl Scout historian who has referred to semaphore as “vintage texting.” That translates into something the girls understand, something more appealing than waving an old rag on a stick.

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Girl Scouts has long embraced technology. These campers from the 1920s are using “vintage GPS systems,” also known as a compass (GSCNC Archives).

I also don’t think the redesign of the library has damaged the historical integrity of the building. The rooms have not been structurally modified, just the contents changed. Any house museum will have to make compromises to meet modern building codes. I’m fairly sure the gift shop and public restrooms were not part of the original layout either, but I don’t hear complaints about those.

I find that when girls connect with Girl Scout history, when they discover their place in this venerable movement, they come away with a deeper appreciation of Girl Scouting. That’s what I saw happening in the Birthplace library, and I have no problem using the occasional iPad to help that process along.

©2017 Ann Robertson

Don’t Buy Cookies from an Aardvark

I found this treasure in one of our cookie boxes at the GSCNC Archives & History Program Center in Frederick, MD. (An archival box of cookie sale materials, not a box of actual cookies, although I could use one right now…)

It is a letter-size sheet of paper, folded and printed as a booklet, that tells the story of Girl Scout cookies:

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(GSCNC Archives)

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(GSCNC Archives)

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(GSCNC Archives)

The back cover, in tiny print, reads “J. Moore, 51-4 GSCNC.” I assume that this is the work of Jean Moore, who was once an active member of Nation’s Council (and a plaintiff in the Rockwood case).

I suspect there’s a good story behind this delightful tale.

If it has made you half as hungry as it’s made me, try out the Girl Scout Cookie Locator to find cookies close to your location. Look for the girls in green, blue, brown, or khaki, and beware any aardvarks.

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

Who’s That Girl Scout? Virginia Hammerley

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Virginia “Ginger” Hammerley, ca. 1932

Virginia Hammerley is one of the most important women in the early years of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.

“Ginger” wasn’t one of Juliette Gordon Low’s debutante friends. She wasn’t a wealthy socialite who could donate buildings with a single check.  She didn’t organize troops in poor neighborhoods.

She was simply a Girl Scout; a teen-age girl who loved her sister scouts and the activities they did together. But she preserved her memories in a series of scrapbooks that provide some of the most extensive documentation of Girl Scout troop life during the Great Depression.

About 10 years ago, a relative of Ginger’s contacted Nation’s Capital. They had five of her scrapbooks; would we like them?  You bet we did!

These five albums are chock full of newspaper clippings, photos, holiday cards, invitations to friends’ weddings, and souvenirs of all kinds.

She was an active troop member, taking part in events held around Washington (click images to enlarge):

 

Earning her Golden Eaglet award:

Visiting the Little House, attending a national convention, and buying a brick for a new national headquarters building:

Ginger was one of the first campers at Camp May Flather when it opened in 1930, attended regular camp reunions, and became a counselor herself.

 

Like any teen-ager, she also saved holiday cards, celebrity photos and more:

Born in 1913, Virginia Hammerley was the only child of Charles and Mabel Hammerley. She grew up at 1819 Ingleside Terrace, NW, Washington, DC.

After graduating from McKinley Technical High School, she took a job with the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia, but she apparently was let go in 1941.

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Hammerley ObitI did a little research to find out what became of Ginger and was so sad to discover that she did not live happily ever after.

After the Girl Scouts, she took a clerical post with the Department of Agriculture.

Her father passed away in 1935 and Ginger and her mother moved. first to Iowa Avenue NW, then into an apartment together at 721 Fern Place NW. Mabel died in 1953.

Two years later, on the night of October 17, 1955, Ginger locked her front door, engaged the night chain, picked up a pistol, and took her own life.

I can only imagine what circumstances led to that fateful night in 1955. After spending so much time reading and handling hundreds of items that she carefully clipped, pasted, and preserved, it feels like losing a dear friend.

Ginger likely had no idea that her memories and mementos would still be around decades later, treasured records used by Girl Scouts and historians. Just this summer a graduate student spent days viewing scanned copies of the scrapbooks for a research project.

Virginia Hammerley may be gone, but she is hardly forgotten.

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©2016 Ann Robertson