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.
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?
(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.
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.
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.
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:
Rea Ann Scoville (Portage, IN)
Cheryle Bremer, (Cannon Falls, MN)
Diane Young (Houston, TX)
Larie Blohm (Eugene, OR)
Rebecca Gainey (Charlotte, NC)
Virginia Anne Meeker (NY)
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.
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.
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.
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:
Know how to wash and iron a garment, clear starch, and how to do up a blouse.
Press a skirt and coat.
Know how to use soap and starch, how to soften hard water, and how to use a wringer.
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.
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.
Personally, I really like this laundry spoof badge I found on Etsy. Who knows what all those laundry symbols mean?
If anyone would like to do my ironing, I’ll gladly buy one for you!
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
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.
The 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.
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).
The 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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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 scrollincluded in this material, and I hope to find more information as I explore the contents.
Did you ever visit Rockwood, the GSUSA camp located in Potomac, Maryland, from 1938 to 1978?
Perhaps you camped at Weston Hill, took a training in the Manor House, or bunked in Carolyn Cottage when your troop toured Washington, DC? Or maybe you attended a language camp, a selection weekend for Our Chalet, or a Wider Opportunity?
I fell in love with the place when my daughter camped there as a Brownie. The more I learned about the history of Rockwood, about the amazing women who built the original estate, transformed a country home into a national camp, and filed a class-action lawsuit to prevent its sale, the more I became enchanted.
I’ve bloggedabout Rockwood several times, and I am now writing a book about the Rockwood story.
I’ve spent several weeks going through the files at the GSUSA National Historical Preservation Center in New York, and I have many documents and scrapbooks from Washington-area Girl Scouts.
I know the nuts and bolts of Rockwood. I have statistics on how many troops camped there month by month. I have diagrams of the woefully insufficient septic system. I have legal papers about the acquisition and sale of the camp and the process of turning part of it over to the Montgomery County, Maryland, park system.
But that is only part of the story. I need help from former Rockwood campers. What was the experience like? What memories have stuck in your mind over the decades? Was it the friends you made from other councils? A favorite meal in the dining room? Singing and skits in Brooke Hall? The sweltering cabins in August?
Most of all, I need photos. GSUSA has some photos, mostly exterior shots of buildings. Other than a few postcards and the images in the slideshow above, I’ve seen precious little of the interior. Few images have captions, either.
I’ve setup a Facebook page, Remembering Rockwood, with some of these photos. Please take a look and see if they trigger any memories. Add your recollections to the comments. Maybe you’ll recognize faces and places.
If you have photos, color slides, scrapbooks, or other related items, please contact me. I will cover shipping costs if you let me borrow and scan them. Rockwood is a wonderful part of Girl Scout history. Please help me tell it.
People often drop off donations for the council archives at my house. Usually it’s an old uniform piece or handbook, perhaps a pocketknife or handful of badges. I also have an enviable collection of random Girl Scout socks that regularly appear on my desk at the main office.
But buried inside the latest two boxes of musty, mildewed paper was a real treasure.
This hand-drawn paper scroll offers the camp report for 1960-1961. Think of it as an early PowerPoint. You unroll just enough paper to see the next illustration, then move to the next “slide.”
Each camp is listed separately, with attendance levels,
and property development detailed.
The delightful illustrations are hand-drawn with marker, and most of the draft pencil marks are still visible.
I have not measured the entire scroll, but it is at least 60 feet long.
The boxes came from the family of Anne Murray, who was on the National Capital Council Camp Committee in the late 1950s and early 1960s. (National Capital was one of five councils that merged to form Nation’s Capital in 1963).
The scroll will definitely have a featured place in the new Archives & History Program Center opening this fall.
Thank you Roxanne Beatty for arranging this donation!!
I just finished reading a delightful book, Empty Mansionsby Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., and was surprised to find it had a Girl Scout connection.
The book tells the life story of Huguette Clark, one of America’s wealthiest women, who died in 2011 at age 104. Huguette was decidedly eccentric. She was rarely seen in public, never met face-to-face with the lawyers, accountants, and household staff that she employed for decades, and spent the last 20 years of her life living in a hospital room, despite being quite healthy. She married briefly — it lasted barely a year — and never had children of her own. Her father, copper and railroad baron W.A. Clark, was nearly 70 years old when she was born and had five children from his first marriage. However, she insisted she had a contented life, filled with painting, music, developing exquisite dollhouses for her huge antique doll collection, and sharing her wealth with a variety of charities and friends.
She left an estate of $300 million that triggered a huge rush for treasure among her far-flung relatives, lawyers, accountants, and private nurses. Clark also left three luxury apartments (42 rooms) on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan; Bellosguardo, a 22,000 square foot estate in Santa Barbara that was kept staffed and ready for a visit at 48 hours’ notice, although she hadn’t been there since the 1950s; and Le Beau Chateau, a 42-room mansion in New Canaan, CT, that she never bothered to furnish, much less visit.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington also became ensnared in the complicated estate. Huguette and her father both were patrons of the gallery and serious art collectors. Clark left his enormous collection to the Corcoran upon his death. She left a portion of her estate to the Corcoran as well as the proceeds ($24 million) of the auction of Claude Monet’s Nympheas water lilies painting, which had hung in her home since 1926.
What is the Girl Scout connection?
I bought the book while I was in New York doing research at GSUSA. This was during the great blizzard of January 2015 and with all the dire warnings of lost power, I realized I had no actual book with me. If my computer lost power, I would be bored silly in my hotel room. I left GSUSA and walked up Fifth Avenue to a Barnes and Noble, where I purchased Empty Mansions. Little did I know that I had passed Huguette’s apartment building at 907 Fifth Avenue and came near the site of her childhood home at 77th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Pretty weak Girl Scout ties so far, right?
But perhaps you are familiar with Huguette’s older sister, Andrée Clark? As in Camp Andrée Clark, the first national Girl Scout camp?
It is the very same girl. As the story goes, Andrée was a quiet and withdrawn girl who joined the Girl Scouts. She’d had a hard time adapting to New York after living in Paris for many years. When she died a tragic death just shy of age 17, her parents read her diary and discovered how much Andrée loved her troop and the friends and activities it offered. In her memory, Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Huguette donated 135 acres of land in Briarcliff Manor, NY, for a camp.
As for Huguette, she never joined the Girl Scouts, and the biography does not explain why. Perhaps her life would have taken a different turn had she been a Girl Scout.
For more about Huguette and photos of her homes and artwork, see the ongoing series of articles by NBCor the book’s website.