Putting a Name to a Familiar Face

Recently I wrote about the disappointment in having to pass on an overpriced piece of local council history.

But that disappointment was short-lived. Shortly after the elusive eBay auction ended, a new donation arrived in the mail. The enclosed letter from a local estate attorney explained that her client, Betty Chapman, had left behind a scrapbook that she had compiled as a Washington, DC, Girl Scout in the late 1920s. As Chapman had no immediate family, the attorney thought we might like it.

The package contained a three-ring school notebook, with newspaper clippings and other papers pasted on lined notebook paper.

Kahler Scrapbook

The first clipping, on the first page, I immediately recognized:

Kahler Gollden Eaglet

This round-faced girl, with the slightly mischevious grin, is Elizabeth Kahler, one of Washington’s first Golden Eaglets. She appears in many of our early photos, including this one of the 1927 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Coolidge Raccoon

Elizabeth Kahler, top left, at the 1927 White House Easter Egg Roll with First Lady Grace Coolidge and Rebecca the White House Racoon.

Elizabeth has the same photo in her scrapbook, along with an autograph from the first lady. You can still see the creases from Elizabeth putting it in her uniform pocket for safekeeping.

Coolidge Autograph

The book is stuffed with more clippings, invitations, letters, and badge records.

Kahler Red Cross

Elizabeth carefully preserved her Red Cross home nurse certificate.

But perhaps the biggest find is nine issues of the Girl Scout Bugle — a publication that I did not even know existed!

GS Bugle 9 issues

GS Bugle InfoThese four-page publications from 1927 and 1928 were part of a journalism training program.  The first issue explains its purpose. I don’t know how long the program continued.

Stuffed in the envelope with the Girl Scout materials are other mementos of Elizabeth’s life, such as the programs from her college graduation. She attended the George Washington University, earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees before graduating from medical school, with distinction, in 1940.

Elizabeth married fellow physician Ervin Chapman and maintained a medical practice in Washington, DC. She passed away in 2007.

Eliz Kahler Chapman

Dr. Elizabeth Kahler Chapman

I guess those Red Cross courses made a significant impression on Miss Kahler.

© 2018 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.

Coolidge Raccoon

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.”

Bagby letter

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

 

Tea and Waffles with the Girl Scouts

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Samoa Waffles from Domestic Fits

Before Girl Scout cookie sales began nation-wide, local Girl Scouts raised money by selling waffles.

The Girl Scouts of Washington DC eagerly joined the tea room fad that swept the United States in the 1920s. The girls operated not one, but two popular eateries in the nation’s capital.

Willow Point/Hains Point

In 1919 the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia were allowed to open a “tea and refreshment” stand in East Potomac Park. A paved road, known as the “Speedway,” circled the perimeter of Hains Point, making the park a popular spot for leisurely summer drives. The Willow Point tea house began in an old street car under a large willow tree, with tables on the lawn. Many Washingtonians enjoyed the cool breeze from the waterfront while sipping a glass of cold ginger ale.

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The original Willow Point tea house. (Library of Congress photo)

The Willow Point tea house was a such huge success that in 1922 the Office of Public Buildings and Public Grounds asked Congress for permission to build a larger shelter complete with a “comfort station.” The request was approved, and in September 1924 the Girl Scouts moved into their new facility, known as the Hains Point Tea House. The classical white pavilion housed a restaurant, snack bar, and restrooms.

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Postcard of the Hains Point Tea House.

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The Willow Point Tea House was ideally located on the Hains Point speedway. A golf course was behind the building. (Library of Congress  photo)

President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding and, later, President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge were regular customers at the Willow Point tea house. President Harding (1921-23) was quite the waffle aficionado, and he usually ordered the breakfast dish at every opportunity. With his endorsement, the Girl Scouts became famous for their tea house waffles. (Although they served them with butter and syrup, not the president’s preferred topping: chipped beef gravy. Ewwwwww)

In fact, as the White House Waffle Maker, Florence Harding’s waffle recipe was widely published in 1920. It featured many ingredients that had been rationed during World War I and was part of a national campaign of “Back to Normalcy.”

Florence Harding’s Waffle Recipe

Serves Four
INGREDIENTS:
2 eggs.
2 tbls. sugar.
2 tbls. butter.
1 teaspoon salt.
1 pt. milk.
Flour to make thin batter. (I used about 2 cups flour)
2 large teaspoons baking powder
INSTRUCTIONS:
Separate the eggs
Beat yolks and add sugar and salt
Melt butter then add milk and flour and stir to combine.
Beat egg whites until stiff (but not dry) peaks form
Stir one spoonful of whites into the mixture to lighten and then fold remainder of egg whites and baking powder
Bake in a hot waffle iron.

(Atlanta Woman’s Club Cookbook, 1921)

Congress restructured park management in 1925, and took over the tea house on January 1, 1926. The Parks Service operated the restaurant until 1962, when it became a visitor’s center, and it was later used as office space. The building suffered from frequent flooding and was razed in 1987.

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The tea house was swallowed by flooding in 1985. The “Awakening” statue is visible at the bottom of the photo (Library of Congress).

Peirce Mill

The second Girl Scout tea house proved more enduring, and the proprietors knew exactly what menu item to feature:

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Washington Post (November 20, 1921): 6.

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Peirce Mill around 1934, with the tea house addition. (Streets of Washington blog)

On November 16, 1921, the Girl Scouts of Washington DC opened a tea house at Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park.

 

coolidge-peirce-mill

DC Commissioner Evalena Gleaves Cohen, May Flather, First Lady Grace Coolidge, and Mrs. W. Bowyer Pain visit the Peirce Mill Tea House, March 25, 1925 (Knox History, GSCNC Archives).

The mill had housed a restaurant before, but the Girl Scouts redecorated it with pale yellow walls, blue tables and chairs, yellow curtains trimmed with blue fringe, and yellow and blue candles on each table. Menu favorites included coffee, muffins with marmalade, waffles with maple syrup, and gingerbread. Though not a financial success, the Council used Peirce Mill for meetings and training sessions for years to come.

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Teen Troop 2890 visited Peirce Mill in October 2013.

Peirce Mill still stands (2401 Tilden St. NW) and even without a restaurant, it remains a popular stop for hikers, bicyclers, and my own Girl Scout troop. It is about a mile from the Nation’s Capital headquarters at 4301 Connecticut Ave. NW.

Girl Scout Cookie Waffles

For a “traditional” Girl Scout breakfast, try making waffles with Girl Scout cookies!

 

do-si-do-waffles

(Girl Scout Council of Chicago and Northwest Indiana)

And for those amazing Samoa waffles in the first photo, visit the Domestic Fits blog to get the recipe.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

 

Rolling Down the Street

Yesterday the oldest synagogue in Washington, DC, was seen rolling through the streets of the Nation’s Capital.

This wasn’t cheap entertainment provided during the federal government furlough–well, actually it WAS free and entertaining. The journey was a major step in the development of a new Capital Jewish Museum. A decent-sized crowd gathered to watch the wheeled building migrate down 3rd Street NW.

In fact, this was the third relocation for the peripatetic synagogue.

This latest motorized procession reminds me of a similar excursion made by the Girl Scout Little House in 1924. But that move was accomplished with actual horsepower, not heavy equipment.

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 offered it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center.

The Girl Scouts were reluctant to accept. While it would wonderfully fit in with the Girl Scout program, accepting the gift would require a considerable investment. There were no funds for utilities, staff, insurance, and other operating costs. Most important, there were no funds available to relocate the building.

The clock began ticking on the fate of the model home. The exhibit permit expired on June 15.

Lou Henry Hoover immediately saw the value in accepting the house and began working to persuade the Girl Scouts to accept. As national president of the organization, she began a barrage of letters and telegrams to national board members that lasted all summer. On September 20, the national board voted to decline the proposed gift.

But Hoover refused to let the issue drop. She even offered to personally pay any deficit that might accrue in the first two years of operation.

Hoover offered several new arguments to try and sway the reluctant board members.

First, the house had historical significance as it was the last building dedicated by President Warren G. Harding before his sudden death on August 2.

Second, operating programs from the Little House would silence other groups who accused the Girl Scouts of being more interested in hiking than homemaking:

Considering the opposition we have had to meet in many quarters, particularly with the Camp Fire Girls and the Boy Scouts on this very matter of our home making propensities,—or the lack of them,—I feel that we must accept this, our justification, if possible.

–Lou Henry Hoover

Third, some costs could be mitigated by renting out a room or two to the local council for its offices.

Meanwhile, the Parks Service was continually pleading for someone to get the house off of government property.

Ultimately, Mrs. Hoover grew tired of the back-and-forth and took matters into her own hands. She contacted Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, of the Phillips Art Collection, who agreed to loan a plot of land that they owned at 1750 New York Ave. NW. The new home for the Little House would be two blocks southwest of the White House and across the street from the famous Octagon House.

Hoover wanted her financial contribution to be anonymous, so she arranged for Henrietta Bates Brooke to sign the moving contract, as member of the National Executive Board. Edward G. McGill of Cumberland, Maryland, oversaw a crew of men who hoisted the house onto rails and pulled it to the new site. McGill charged $3,000 for transporting the house. Hoover also paid for a basement, utility connections, and landscaping, for a total cost of $12,000.

Much to the relief of Colonel Sherrill, the Little House arrived at its new home in March 1924—nine months after the original exhibition. First Lady Grace Coolidge helped re-dedicate the building in a ceremony on March 25, as a beaming Mrs. Hoover watched. Dressed in a broad-brimmed hat, long dress, fox-trimmed cloak, and dark leather gloves, Mrs. Coolidge gamely picked up a mason’s trowel and slathered on a layer of cement to seal the cornerstone placed under the breakfast nook. Inside the stone was a handbook, several other Girl Scout publications, and that day’s newspaper.

Lou would have pulled it herself

 

 

Moving the Little House from its exhibition site to 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House.

Moving the Little House from its exhibition site to 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House.

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.

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.

These girls look a bit tired after preparing a luncheon for First Lady Grace Coolidge (in white).

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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

 

It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.

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.

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

 

©2019 Ann Robertson

Tea for Teen Troop at Peirce Mill

A few weeks ago my teen troop visited the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital main office, where they learned about career opportunities for professional Girl Scouts, discussed how exhibits are curated, and discovered some of the treasures held in our archives. Then they went south on Connecticut Avenue, made a left onto Tilden Street NW, and visited Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park. Barely a mile from the Council office is a delightful retreat that is a perfect place to relax after a rough week of exams.  It is also an important landmark in the history of Girl Scouts in Washington, DC.

Rock Creek runs behind the mill along a popular jogging and biking trail.

Rock Creek runs behind the mill along a popular jogging and biking trail.

On November 16, 1921, the Girl Scouts of Washington DC opened a tea house in the old stone mill. Grace Coolidge, wife of Vice President Calvin Coolidge, was on hand for the ribbon cutting.  Peirce Mill operated as a grain mill from the 1820s until 1897, when the main shaft broke.  Park administrators permitted the first tea house on the site in 1905, and several different ladies operated the concession before it was offered to the Girl Scouts rent free in 1921. The main floor was used as a tea room, while the cook lived on the second floor.

Peirce Mill, circa 1940s.

Peirce Mill, circa 1940s.

I am yet to find any photos of the inside of the tea house, but the May 1922 issue of American Girl described the charming decor:

The interior of the Mill has been entirely done over, with the walls a colonial yellow and the tables and chairs painted a dull blue.  Trim little curtains of yellow edged with blue fringe, and yellow and blue candles on the tables give a cozy effect to the big room. … Coffee chocolate, toasted muffins and marmalade, hot waffles and maple syrup are among the delicacies which are serviced at the Tea House.

Newspaper accounts especially praised the tea house for its “Harding waffles.”  Apparently presidential “waffling” has not always been a cause for criticism!

The tea house patio was located on this side of the mill.

The tea house patio was located on this side of the mill.

The interior is small and dark, but comfortably cool even in a Washington August.

The interior is small and dark, but comfortably cool even in a Washington August.

Unfortunately, the Peirce Mill tea house was not as successful as the one operated at Haines Point, but the council continued to use the building for leaders’ meetings and training sessions for many years.

Today, Peirce Mill is operated by the National Park Service.  Teen Troop 2890 thanks the staff of Peirce Mill and Steve Dryden of Friends of Peirce Mill for their hospitality.  For more information, see Steve’s book on the history of Peirce Mill.