Snowy Days at Camp

Snow has begun to fall here in Washington, DC. It’s the first of the season and forecast to be “significant,” which in our Nation’s Capital means about two inches.

Of course, it is still 2020, which means anything could happen, such as rabid polar bears floating downward from the heavens.

This makes today the perfect time to bring out one of my favorite entries in the “what’s the worst that can happen?” file.

Once upon a time, a troop of Intermediate Girl Scouts went to Camp Potomac Woods for a cozy weekend trip. It was February (February 1958, to be precise) and bound to be cold, but the hardy girls were staying in a lodge, not tents, and they would have an oil furnace to keep everyone toasty.

The girls of Troop 163 hauled their gear and rations to the lodge Friday night, made dinner and turned in for bed, after copious cups of cocoa, of course.

Saturday morning, everyone was up early. The absolute, best thing that can happen on a camping trip was right outside the lodge. SNOW!

SNOW!!!

BEST. TRIP. EVER.!!

The girls had a blast. They had dressed for February and spent the day outside. They made snow balls and snow Scouts. After dinner, the leaders sent them off to bed, but nobody could sleep. There was SNOW outside!

Each girl had brought a cup on a string as a standard part of their mess kits. Not only could these fine implements be used for cocoa, they could be silently tossed out a window and drug back in … full of snow … for an indoor snowball fight! Little sleeping was done that night.

Before the sun was up on Sunday the girls were praying that they would be snowed in another day.

But that was going to be a problem, as they’d only brought food for a two-night stay.

Mrs. Steeger and Mrs. Smith, the leaders, conferred with the camp’s resident caretaker. After several phone calls, they learned that the road to the camp, located in Lucketts, Virginia, was impassible.

What to do?

Relax, these are GIRL SCOUTS were are talking about. A group trained to be level-headed and resourceful.

They did what anyone would do in similar circumstances.

They called the US Army.

Helicopter pilots W.C. Hampton and Raymond Bowers flew in from Ft. Belvoir, alighting in a field partly cleared by the caretaker.

The troop was too large to all fit, so the pilots made two runs, taking all of 15 minutes each.

Troop 163 Evacuates Camp Potomac Woods (GSCNC Archives)

Safe on the ground, they posed for photos with their rescuers, before heading home.

You know they had a great story to tell their friends at school.

Safe on the ground with their rescuers (GSCNC Archives)

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Pants! We Want Pants!

What issue topped the agenda of the 1969 National Council session?

Pants. The membership spoke, and they wanted uniforms with pants.

Responding to waves of requests from girls, GSUSA announced that it would remain a uniformed movement and update girl uniforms. The most requested item? Pants. Active girls—not to mention their mothers—did not want to sacrifice movement for modesty. 

Official Uniform Catalog from 1963
Fashion Design, 1997-2011

Designing uniforms is a multifaceted process. The overall design needs to be visually unifying and reflect contemporary fashion without falling for passing fads that will shorten their appeal. The cut must flatter a wide range of body types, the fabric needs to be suitable for multiple climates, and the color palette needs to enhance skin tones ranging from very fair to very dark. Decorations and trims are kept to a minimum, both to keep costs down as well as to not compete with official insignia. 

Senior Uniform, 1960-1971

First up was the smallest age group—Senior Girl Scouts.  These high schoolers were still wearing the two-piece skirt suit introduced in 1960. Made out of a deep green sharkskin cotton fabric, the brightly colored uniform trim indicated the wearer’s area of concentration. Troops focused on International Friendship, for example, wore yellow ties and hat cords, Wing troops orange, and Homemaker troops turquoise. This iconic uniform, topped with an Overseas-style hat, was beloved by fans of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, but fell out of favor with the bell-bottom and suede fringe-wearing girls of the late 1960s. Girls had quickly nicknamed the suit the “Stewardess uniform,” but by now it was no longer a compliment. Besides, even the flight attendants had moved on to trendier styles. Seniors themselves had their own ideas about a uniform; they wanted pants—and mini-skirts, too.

After considering suggestions, designs, and even samples sent by girls, the National Equipment Service (NES) settled on two versions of a sleek step-in style A-line dress that buttoned up the front. For feedback, they took the uniform to the girls.

Manufacturers created samples in sizes 6 through 20 and shipped them to Rockwood National Camp and the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah. Visiting Seniors of all shapes and sizes tried on the samples and completed feedback cards. They had a definite preference for one version and one shade of green, but indicated that they wanted heavier fabric, a belt, and pants. Designers made more revisions and presented the result to the National Executive Committee for final approval. NES was still not convinced of the need for pants, but they conceded defeat on the matter. 

Senior Uniform, 1971-1980

Ultimately, the girls were rewarded with pants in the same green cotton poplin fabric, but the semi-flared legs hardly qualified as bell-bottoms. The ensemble included a soft beret made of the same fabric, a tab tie, and a formidable green leather belt that was 1.5” wide with adjustment holes running the entire length.

But the most notable feature was the dress’s hemline—or, rather, the lack of one. After endless debates among focus groups and survey responses, GSUSA gave up trying to settle on the appropriate length. The dress was sold unhemmed, with a hang-tag reading: “The Official GS Uniform with the Unofficial Hemline.” If girls wanted mini-skirted uniforms, Headquarters seemed to say, let parents deal with the matter.  Many Senior Girl Scouts were accustomed to sewing their own clothes and turned the new dress into a short tunic to be worn over the new pants. Just how many ditched the pants once out their front door is unknown. 

And to really be mod, GSUSA created a line of hippy, crunchy-granola inspired casual pieces at the same time. Can’t you just imagine Marcia Brady or Laurie Partridge in these funky frocks?

GSUSA pieces for the fashion-forward Senior Girl Scout in 1971

Nope, me either. And if you look closely at the 1973 image showing the new uniforms, that spiffy green cape is marked “SALE,” although it doesn’t come through well in the picture. Guess these duds were a dud.

The other age levels received new uniforms in 1973. Instead of a single dress, Brownies, Juniors, and Cadettes each had their choice of five or six mix-and-match pieces, that included jumpers, pants, shorts, cotton blouses, and hideous polyester double-knit turtleneck bodysuits that were hot, itchy, had a stiff plastic zipper that grabbed your hair, and featured a snap crotch that perpetually pinched your privates. 

Catalog descriptions of the new clothing reflected the lingo of the time, emphasizing choice, individuality, and liberation:

1973 Catalog Copy Introducing New Uniforms

New space-age materials meant less wrinkling and less ironing.

The new styles included several pieces for each age level, creating another point of consistency.

Each level had a tie that snapped together. No more arguments about how to tie a neckerchief or which way the ends should point. The polyester, turtleneck bodysuit was high fashion at the time, not to mention indestructible and UNCOMFORTABLE. Can clothing cause PTSD? Because if so, these bodysuits would have.

The new Cadette uniform included the very first vest, instead of a badge sash. They were made from dark green felt, and some people mistakenly think they were homemade.

This week a new collection of uniform pieces debuted. So far, they are targeted toward the older age levels.

Hopefully GSUSA will never repeat the snap-zip-bodysuit debacle of the 1970s.

©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian