Girl Scout Exhibit at Rockwood Manor

The Girl Scouts have returned to Rockwood Manor Park!

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Uniform display in Rockwood’s Manor House (photo courtesy Montgomery County, MD, Parks)

Rockwood is, of course, one of my favorite Girl Scout topics.

I am nearly done writing a book-length history of this beautiful facility, which was a national Girl Scout camp from 1938 to 1978.  Its sale to developers in 1978 triggered a class-action lawsuit filed by the Maryland Attorney General and nine individual Girl Scouts. A pre-trial settlement resulted in roughly 75% of the property going to the developers (who created a subdivision with the terrifically uncreative name of “Woodrock”) and 25% to the local parks department.

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The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

While the settlement also called for the creation of a Girl Scout room filled with memorabilia and nature resources, the room’s prime location in the Manor House meant that it was gradually converted into a small office and storage area.

But out of the blue, I was contacted a few months ago by Jamie Kuhns, senior historian for the Montgomery County Parks. A uniform had recently been donated to her office, and she was in charge of creating a Girl Scout-themed display for the Manor House, Rockwood’s main building. Would I be interested in collaborating?

YES!!!!!!!!!!

(That’s actually my family’s reaction; they are SO glad I have someone else to talk Rockwood with.)

I met with Jamie, who told me the uniform had been donated by Barbara Lages. I reviewed the display text, answered questions about various people, buildings, and events; provided a photo or two; and replaced the missing yellow tie for the uniform.

Jamie also had several pictures she wanted to incorporate into the display.  I immediately recognized two of the photos, as they include Bobby Lerch, the beloved former president of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. Both images show Bobby investing  her granddaughter, also named Barbara, as a Brownie around 1964. Troop leader Jessie Bradley Lerch also took part in the investiture.

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GSCNC President Bobby Lerch, left, invests her granddaughter Barbara as a Brownie, c. 1964 (GSCNC archives)

Bobby remained an active Girl Scout until her death at age 104. She also wrote the Foreword to my book on the history of Girl Scouting in Washington, DC.

The display case was dedicated in late November 2016. Next, I look forward to consulting with Jamie as she creates new signage around the grounds of Rockwood.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

The Girl Advisory Committee: Girl-led in Action

After GSUSA asked councils to carry out special “Youth Serve Youth” service projects ahead of our 50th anniversary in 1962, they selected a 12-member Girl Advisory Committee to review the submissions and prepare a report for Congress.

Knowing that the Girl Scout program must always be sensitive to the contemporary needs and interests of girls, the national organization uses its Girl Advisory Committee to bring grassroots reactions to activities and events as a direct line from the girls themselves.

Register-Guard, Eugene OR (November 3, 1961): 7A.

Girl Scouts were asked to study youth in their communities and identify areas where they could help. Thousands of projects were carried out. Troops in Wisconsin’s Riverland Council pledged to make 1,000 dolls for less-fortunate families. Public safety was the focus in Asheville, NC, where Pisgah GS Council created emergency game kits for children aged 3-12. The kits taught civil defense lessons and were placed in disaster shelters. Troops in Tumbleweed Council in Kansas “adopted” two dozen girls at Parsons State Hospital, providing “useful items” and writing letters. Councils reported their projects to the national headquarters in late 1961.

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Lady B-P (right) with (maybe) Larie Blohm of Oregon.

On March 5, 1962, the national Girl Advisory Committee convened at Rockwood National Camp outside of Washington DC. The Committee was comprised of 12 girls, one selected from each administrative region of the country.

I’ve been able to identify seven of the dozen girls:

  1. Rea Ann Scoville (Portage, IN)
  2. Cheryle Bremer, (Cannon Falls, MN)
  3. Diane Young (Houston, TX)
  4. Larie Blohm (Eugene, OR)
  5. Rebecca Gainey (Charlotte, NC)
  6. Virginia Anne Meeker (NY)
  7. Anita Beth Cutler (MA)

The girls were given a daunting task: to review the submissions, select representative projects, then write and deliver a presentation on Capitol Hill, on March 12, the 50th birthday of the movement.

Between their work sessions, the girls enjoyed sightseeing in Washington and hiking to Great Falls, about a mile from Rockwood. They also attended the national 50th anniversary celebration in Washington and met World Chief Guide Olave Baden Powell.

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Members of the 1962 Girls Advisory Committee pose with Lady Baden Powell, Rockwood (GSCNC Archives)

On the morning of March 12, the girls traveled to Capitol Hill, where luncheon was scheduled for 12:30 pm in Room 1302 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. They were joined by 200 guests, including Senators, Representatives, and their Girl Scout wives, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters.

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1962 Postage Stamp, from Postal Museum

Other dignitaries included Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, GSUSA President Marjorie Culmer, and Postmaster General J. Edward Day, who announced a new stamp to commemorate the anniversary.

The vice president called on the Girl Scouts to promote citizenship during their next 50 years. He warned that too many Americans avoided learning about their government because they believe “politics are dirty business.”

[The Girl Scouts should] put increasing emphasis on encouraging our young people to learn everything they can about their Government at all levels….I feel sure the culture will belong to the free, the educated and to those who care, those who want to help, those who feel a responsibility for doing their share.

–Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson

The Committee selected Scoville, Bremer and Young to present their findings.  The three 17 year-olds addressed the distinguished guests with ease, poise, and confidence. While they spoke, reported the Washington Post, the Vice President hand wrote gold-edged Senate gallery passes for the girls.

Luncheon concluded with a round of “Happy Birthday” led by Lady Bird Johnson, and everyone blew out candles on the three-tier cake or individual cupcakes.

Reviewing the event for the October 1962  issue of Leader magazine, national Program Department staffer Marian F. Wells reflected on the process she had witnessed at Rockwood. She praised the girls for their maturity, organization, cooperation, and collaborative approach. National staff were present, but generally unneeded. “The most remarkable thing about the 1962 GAC,” she wrote, “was not that it had an important job to do in connection with our Fiftieth Anniversary; but that, having been given the responsibility, the girls were allowed to carry it out.”

Is it possible that in an organization dedicated to the encouragement of girl initiative, we sometimes stifle it instead? Do we, too often, short-change our Senior Scouts by failing to recognize their capabilities; by doing for them instead of helping them to do for themselves; and by overlooking the fact that, although teenagers don’t have all the answers, they frequently have ideas that are worth listening to? If this is the case, the time has come for more than Program Change! We need to change our attitude toward girls as well, or the basic premise of Girl Scouting–that girls govern their own troops and manage their own affairs under adult guidance–will be nothing but an empty phrase.

–Marian F. Weller, GSUSA Program Department

50th-cake

 

©2016 Ann Robertson

Laundry Day with the Girl Scouts

It’s laundry day at the Robertson household. No, I’m not going to tackle that teeming basket of ironing, I’m going to look at Girl Scout laundry badges!

The first handbook, How Girls Can Help Their Country included the Laundress badge. Girls had to:

laundress 1917

Laundress, 1917

  1. Know how to wash and iron a garment, clear starch, and how to do up a blouse.

  2. Press a skirt and coat.

  3. Know how to use soap and starch, how to soften hard water, and how to use a wringer.

 

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After 1938, laundry-related skills were incorporated into other badges, such as Housekeeper. Intermediate Girl Scouts of the 1940s had to learn how to remove a variety of stains (milk, coffee, ink, rust, etc.) and :

 

Assist in a weekly laundering by gathering and assorting the clothes and linens, by washing and ironing some articles with your mother’s permission, and by assorting and putting away the clean laundry.

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Since the 1980s, badges involving clothing have focused more on design and cost than care and cleaning.

One thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find in my Rockwood research is how nice campers managed to look, especially while touring Washington, DC. Whether in a tent or lodge, girls managed to keep their white uniform blouses clean and crisp.

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Girl Scouts ironing at Skyview Lodge, Rockwood (NHPC)

 

 

Personally, I really like this laundry spoof badge I found on Etsy.  Who knows what all those laundry symbols mean? laundry badge

If anyone would like to do my ironing, I’ll gladly buy one for you!

©2016 Ann Robertson

If I Were CEO of GSUSA

With the search underway for a new Chief Executive Officer at GSUSA, I started thinking about what I would do if I were CEO.

1. Relocate Headquarters

Earlier this year GSUSA announced its intention to sell part of its suite of floors at 420 Fifth Avenue in New York. Why not sell all of it? Let’s relocate to a less expensive, more centralized city, how about Chicago or Memphis or Kansas City? Personally I vote for bringing HQ back to Washington DC.

In addition to corporate offices, archives, and an expanded museum, let’s include a conference center and hostel facilities for traveling troops. Girl Scouting promotes active citizenship, which is enhanced when girls tour the Nation’s Capital and see how our government works. The Rockwood National Program Center served a similar purpose for decades but today still suffers from a lack of public transit options. A better model might be that of the National 4-H Conference Center. Nice, affordable space near public transit.

2. Return to a Skills-based Program

4 levels cover

The October 1963 issue of Leader magazine highlighted new handbooks for all levels.

Girls learn by doing activities, not by reading about them. They like challenges and stretching themselves. Let’s dump the Journeys and emphasize learning by doing with a rich range of badges. Put them all in ONE handbook, available in print and online. As Miss Frizzle always says in the Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” (Wouldn’t Miss Frizz make a great troop leader?) She had great field trips and knew the importance of getting outside.

 

3. Invest in Staff Stability

Girl Scout councils have become pass-through workplaces. Few staff stay as long as two years, regarding the jobs as temporary stages in their careers. But younger doesn’t necessarily mean better in terms of employees; it simply means cheaper. How do we get them to put down roots? We could ask new hires to make a two-year commitment. We could also recruit from another demographic—current volunteers. Would empty-nesters, long-time volunteers whose troops have graduated, be interested? They are already  familiar with the program, so they would have less of a learning curve. We can’t build strong relationships and continuity with fleeting partners.

4. Promote a Culture of Collaboration

The various components of our movement must commit to improving communication, treating others with respect, and not going off to pout in our tents. This is OUR movement. It is up to us to find ways to perpetuate it.

APR23AR07The old recipe for Brownie Stew applies in the conference room as well as the campsite: everyone brings something to the table—new ideas, hard-earned experience, and enthusiasm, to name a few. Just because an adult wasn’t a member as girl doesn’t mean they can’t contribute today.

We must eliminate the fear of being expelled or fired that intimidates leaders and staff into silence.

Staff must learn to value the contribution of volunteers—that means recognizing the hours they serve as well as the dollars they give. Both forms of contribution are equally vital to the future of our movement.

National, council, staff, volunteer, girl—we’re all part of the same big troop.

5. Promote Girl Scout Pride

The Girl Scout uniform is a symbol of an internationally respected organization devoted to the development of girls. Wearing your uniform identifies you as a member of Girl Scouts of the USA and of a worldwide movement rich in tradition. It shows Girl Scout pride and provides for recognition and visibility. (“The Girl Scout Uniform,” Leader Magazine Fall 2003).

TakomaParkUnifThe best way to improve our visibility is to, duh, BE VISIBLE. Part of that means wearing a uniform. The public won’t know what we’re doing if they don’t realize who we are. This includes staff, perhaps just one or two days a week, but we’re all in this together. Plus, uniforms are one segment of merchandise whose profits go to GSUSA. Is it a coincidence that the budget deficits swelled when uniforms were all but eliminated?

Getting off my soapbox now. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the members or staff of my council, my family, or even my cats.

GSUSA Executive Search Team: Interested? You know where to find me.

©2016 Ann Robertson

Roundup 1962 in Pictures

Just after my recent post on Girl Scout Roundups, I saw a collection of Roundup photos for sale on eBay.

No one bid on them, so I snapped them up at the last minute. Even if they aren’t of Nation’s Capital people, they are part of Girl Scout history and should be saved.

There were two dozen black and white snapshots, most stamped “August 1962,” which coincides with the Button Bay Roundup in Vermont.

The seller lives in Ohio, and one of the girls in some of the photos (not included here) seems to be wearing an Ohio State University sweatshirt.

I’ll share some of the photos here, perhaps readers can help with captions?

Whoever these ladies are, they seem to be having tremendous fun.

Next up: What happened to the Roundups?


 

1962 Roundup 1

Photo 1: Pyramid

1962 Roundup 13

Photo 2: Tent city

1962 Roundup 12

Photo 3: Cooking in curlers

1962 Roundup 10

Photo 4: Patrol meeting

1962 Roundup 8

Photo 5: Church

1962 Roundup 5

Photo 6: Is that a goat? No, it’s a calf!

1962 Roundup 4

Photo 7: Crowd shot

1962 Roundup 11

Photo 8: Group shot with hats

1962 Roundup 2

Photo 9: “You can take your hats off, now.”

1962 Roundup 14

Photo 10: Smokey, leave the Pilgrim alone!

1962 Roundup 9

Photo 11: Guitars

 

1962 Roundup 7

Photo 12: Rehearsal

1962 Roundup 6

Photo 13: Helicopter

Remembering Roundups

Before there were Destinations, before Wider Opportunities, Senior Roundups were often the highlight of a Girl Scout career.

These two-week encampments brought together high school-age Girl Scouts from around the country plus a few Girl Guides as well. They lived together in small groups, engaged in special programs and activities, and generally experienced the scope of the Girl Scout movement.

Four Roundups were held: 1956 in Detroit; 1959 in Colorado Springs; 1962 in Vermont; and 1965 in Idaho.

Roundup_Line

 

The Roundups were before my time, so I asked a member of the GSCNC Archives and History Committee, Kathy Seubert Heberg, to share her memories:

Fifty years since the last Girl Scout Roundup! It’s hard to believe that much time has passed. Anyone who attended one of the Roundups knows what a wonderful experience it was.

I was thrilled when I received my selection notice in December 1961 for the July 1962 Roundup, scheduled for two weeks in Vermont!

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GSUSA President Olivia Layton calls Rounduppers to dinner in 1957 (GSCNC archives).

The excitement had been building since mid-May of 1961 when all the Washington Metropolitan Area Roundup applicants met for an orientation meeting. This included Senior Scouts from five Councils that were merging to become the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital – Alexandria, Arlington, National Capital, Northern Virginia, and my council, Southern Maryland. Each of these Councils selected their own representatives to Roundup; Southern Maryland was sending two patrols of eight girls each.

In early July, we formed initial patrols, elected patrol leaders, and started to meet on a regular basis. After a rigorous process, the Southern Maryland Council made their selections, and the two patrols were finalized. In the following months, we honed our camping skills and worked on our demonstration and swaps – we became a close-knit patrol and were ready to go. On the evening of July 17, 1962, all the area patrols gathered on the Washington Monument Grounds and received a grand send-off from family, friends, and Council officials. At that time, we each received a waterproof ID (think old-fashioned hospital wristband) that we wore at all times until we got back home.

We boarded three buses and headed north. We were excited, we talked, and we sang – there wasn’t much sleeping on the bus! We arrived late morning on the following day and located our patrol equipment and personal belongings. Tents, cooking utensils, and individual duffel bags, with all the important things – our clothing, swaps, stationery for letters home (this was long before cell phones!) – had been shipped a month beforehand.

We then headed to our designated spot to pitch camp. The entire encampment was divided by Section, Camp, and Troop, with each Troop containing four Patrols of eight girls each. All patrol items were marked with our specific number – 2F82. Each of us had an added number indicating our position in the patrol so all my clothing and personal items, for example, were marked 2F82-1. We settled in and met our Troop Leader, Jerry, and the other three patrols that made up our Troop – from upstate New York, western Illinois, and southwestern Minnesota.  We got to work building our patrol picnic table, which was a bit challenging – I think we used a whole box of nails to hold it together! One day it collapsed – it didn’t fall apart – it just sank to the ground. It was easy to fix – just needed more nails.

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Tents pitched at the first Roundup, Detroit, 1956 (GSCNC archives).

There was always something to do! In addition to preparing food, eating, and cleaning up, there were patrol meetings to let everyone know what was happening that day. Sometimes, we had assignments, such as being part of the flag ceremony on the Avenue of Flags. There were demonstrations by each patrol about something related to our home area. Because jousting is the Maryland State Sport, our patrol demonstrated a jousting tournament – with cardboard horses. The demonstrations were always interesting and fun to watch and, if you were lucky, perhaps you could get a taste of rattlesnake meat – really! In the evenings, we joined other patrols at Troop or Camp programs – perhaps folk dancing by Girl Guides, singing (of course), and Arena events.

The official camp uniform was “greenies” – dark green shorts and knee socks, and white camp shirt. It was very sharp looking but we could only take so many sets along – that meant hand laundry and line drying. Roundup was open to the public and we had a lot of visitors – the first day that Roundup was open to the public, over 4,000 people visited and that number increased. The patrol areas also had to be ready for visitors during certain hours of the day. Any wet laundry had to be out of sight during those times and, combined with almost daily thunderstorms, clothes took a while to dry! There were career counseling sessions, visits with Burlington College language students, and exhibits. Vermont is a big dairy state, and the cows and milking machines were a big hit! There were even milk dispensers scattered throughout the area. We drank a LOT of milk!

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Regulation camp uniform (GSCNC archives).

Whenever, wherever, we exchanged swaps! Every State was represented and Girl Guides from 15 member countries attended. Meeting them was simply terrific! The best place to put all those swaps was on your Roundup hat – until you ran out of space and then you safely packed the rest away. Our patrol’s swap was a small, thin, pointed wooden dowel – like a jousting lance – slipped through a round piece of material (Pellon®) with Southern Maryland Council written on it and, of course, our own name and address.

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SWAPS!!!  (GSCNC archives)

For our meals, we received recipes and bags of food. We had enough for nine people because we always had a guest – usually a Troop Leader or Staff Member. We cooked on charcoal and had made many, many fire starters soaked in paraffin which were safe, lightweight, and easy to pack. We celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Girl Scouting with a special meal of grilled chicken. We received 4 ½ chickens – 4 were whole. Only one of us had the foggiest clue of what to do with a whole chicken. We ended up with a total of 90 pieces of chicken – some were a little small but it all tasted great!

The 1962 Roundup focused on the 50th Anniversary of Girl Scouting – “Honor the Past, Serve the Future.” The 50th Anniversary stamp was issued from Roundup, and we all kept the on-site Post Office busy by mailing First Day covers. One of the Arena Events was a special celebration of the 50th birthday, with special guest of honor Maria von Trapp visiting from nearby Stowe. The arena, a natural hillside, was a perfect setting and could handle 10,000 people. You can image 10,000 Girl Scouts on the move!

There’s so much to tell you about – all the fun, all the friendships! At first, I didn’t know where to start, and now I don’t know where to end. But it was an incredible time and it’s amazing to meet another Roundupper. It’s like meeting an old friend and sharing many great memories. The conversation usually goes – – “You went to Roundup? Which one? Me, too!”

–Kathy Seubert Heberg

Stop by the Nation’s Capital main office at 4301 Connecticut Ave., NW in Washington, DC, to see an exhibit of items from the various Roundups.

Why were the Roundups canceled? Read about it here!

 

 

 

Camp May Flather Desegregates in 1955

The District of Columbia Council’s flagship resident camp, Camp May Flather, quietly desegregated in the summer of 1955.

The Council’s Camping Committee had made the following recommendation to the Council Board of Directors, which voted for the change in January 1955:

The Committee on Camping recommends that there be no restrictions in any camp based on race. This means that in troop camping we will continue the present practice of camping as troops, but when council-wide encampments are held, there is no segregation.

Day camps will continue to be operated by District Committees and attendance will be limited by District jurisdiction.

Established camps will be open to all girls in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County [Maryland] regardless of district jurisdiction.

There was no big fanfare, no press release, just an invitation to members of a highly experienced troop of African American girls from the Charles Young School in Washington, DC. Troop 35 was led by Pansy Gregg, a second-grade teacher at Charles Young.

Intermediate Troop 35

Intermediate Troop 35 (GSCNC Archives)

Camp May Flather ran from June 27 through August 22, 1955, and five girls attended two-week sessions at camp: Beverly Pyles, Sandra Smith, Norma Turner, Sheila Gross, and Theresa Dorsey.

Council staff and members of the Camp Committee went to the bus stop as girls prepared to depart for Mt. Solon, Virginia, that summer. The women announced that from this day forward, Camp May Flather was open to all girls. Camp Committee chair and future council president Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch” waved a council checkbook and said that she would provide immediate refunds to any family that objected to the new policy. None did.

The campers later wrote about their experience for their school newsletter:

Sixth-grader Sheila Gross recalled:

I had a lot of fun at Camp May Flather last summer. I learned how to swim and how to make earrings and bracelets. I was in a group that played games and sang funny songs. We went on an overnight hike and slept out in the open. I had such a good time that I would like to go back next summer.

 

Prior to 1955, local African-American troops had primarily camped at Rockwood, just outside of Washington. As a National camp, Rockwood was open to all Girl Scouts.

Virginia McGuire (GSCNC archives)

Virginia McGuire (GSCNC Archives)

At the time, District VII, the administrative designation for African-American troops in the District of Columbia, had been raising funds to purchase their own camp. Leaders voted to donate that money toward a new administrative building at Camp May Flather. That building was named for Virginia McGuire, the original organizer of District VII in 1934. McGuire later became the first African American member of the council board.

Camp May Flather’s desegregation came one year after the US Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision. It would take another four years before Virginia began to desegregate its public school system.

At the end of the summer 1955 camp season, the Camp Committee sent a letter to parents of girls who had attended Camp May Flather “to get their reactions as to their likes and dislikes and things they would like to have done or would like to do when they return another summer.”

Members of the Camping Committee, October 1956. Bobby Lerch is second from left. (GSCNC Archives)

Members of the Camping Committee, October 1956. Bobby Lerch is second from left. (GSCNC Archives)

Information for this post was greatly aided by a recent donation from the family of Anne Murray, who was a member of the Camp Committee at the time of desegregation. I’ve already written about the wonderful camp scroll included in this material, and I hope to find more information as I explore the contents.

©2015 Ann Robertson