Who’s That Girl Scout? Oleda Schrottky

I have long been fascinated by former GSUSA staff member Oleda Schrottky. But when I recently found this vintage photograph, I was in love.

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Oleda Schrottky in costume (presumably), Macy Center, 1928 (Acme Newsphoto)

From 1921 to 1964, Schrottky was the Girl Scout “play lady.” She reluctantly took this position and over time crafted a one-of-a-kind job description uniquely tailored to her talents and convictions.

Why is Oleda Schrottky the coolest Girl Scout ever?

First, there is her name: Oleda Schrottky. Try saying it aloud a few times. Doesn’t it feel and sound fascinating?

From the Midwest to Massachusetts and Manhattan

Oleda Schrottky was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1894. She was a highly educated woman for the era, attending Lawrence College, the University of Minnesota, and New York University.

She established herself as a well-regarded speech and drama instructor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She frequently performed in professional productions, especially with the Provincetown Players.

She Admitted to Misunderstanding the Girl Scouts

In 1921, the Provincetown troupe debuted a new play in New York City, The Inheritors, written by Susan Glaspell and directed by Jasper Deeter. Twenty-seven Oleda memorably played the lead character’s grandmother.

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Jane Deeter Rippin (GSUSA)

After one show, Jasper introduced Oleda to his sister, Jane Rippin, who had greatly enjoyed her performance on several evenings.

Oleda was later astonished when Jasper commented that his sister was the executive director of the Girl Scouts. She could not believe that the aristocratic theater patron, dressed in an evening gown and furs, could possibly be a Girl Scout. She protested:

 

 

 

They wear khakis; they wear black khaki stockings; they wear the most awful-looking hats; they wear great big belts; they have got stuff hanging around like ropes and knives and they march. They are always marching and they are camping, they sleep in the poison ivy, they knock trees down, they dig holes, they cook meals. They are dreadful!

Leader (Winter 1985)

Obviously, she eventually changed her mind.

She Forged Her Own Path

Jane Deeter Rippin sought to hire professionals in the fine arts to train troop leaders in drama, music, and more. She offered Oleda a salary of $150 per month “and a lot of opposition.”

As promised, many volunteers and staff resisted the new initiative, but Oleda stood firm and eventually gained respect and her programs were praised. She originally meant to stay just a year, but 12 months rapidly turned into 40 years.

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Play written by Oleda Schrottky

As Secretary of Plays and Pageants, Oleda wrote scripts, guidebooks, and ceremonies, and she travelled across the country helping adults and girls perform.

Her training courses included lessons on set construction, costume design, and the importance of understanding a play’s context. She published guides for Scout’s Own ceremonies, “Simple Dramatics for Girl Scout Troop Meetings,” and plays such as “Lend a Hand,” “Milestones: A Girl Scout Pageant in Seven Episodes Based on the Life of Juliette Low,” and “A Pot of Red Geraniums: A Christmas Play in Two Acts.”

While she insisted that any number of girls, even a handful, were sufficient for a dramatics program, Oleda preferred to stage her own pageants on a grand scale.

The photo above was taken during a dramatics course for leaders given at the Edith Macy Training School in 1928. All 150 students participated in “Nottingham Fair,” a pageant based on the Robin Hood story.

Oleda became an in-demand speaker across the United States. Her presentations were noted for their insight, humor, and ability to mobilize civic clubs and parent-teacher groups to support youth recreation and community theater.

She Helped Dedicate Rockwood

Oleda organized the dedication of Rockwood National Camp in 1952, combining it with a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Girl Scouting. She wrote a new pageant for the event and found a unique way to include thousands of Girl Scouts in a ceremony held at a relatively small venue.

Councils across the country were encouraged to hold their own community-wide campfire ceremony over the summer, make a bundle from the remains of the fire, attach a special message, and send it to Rockwood. No detail was left to chance:

These bundles of sticks should not exceed 12” in length; each piece of wood approximately one inch in diameter. We experimented and the simplest way is to make a cloth bag, of unbleached muslin or light-weight duck, with a draw string, then use mailing tape.

Twenty-nine bundles arrived in time for the dedication.

Schrottky Bundles

Oleda Schrottky examines bundles of sticks mailed to Rockwood National Camp (GSUSA archives)

She Retired from Work, But Not from Her Mission

Oleda officially retired from GSUSA in 1957. But she continued to work with young women and maintained a busy schedule as a guest speaker.

Too many of our children today just sit and want to be entertained. They must learn that they themselves have resources for entertaining.

–Oleda Schrottky, 1964

She passed away in August 1969, after giving presentations as recently as that May. She also had a speaking engagement booked for November 1969.

She Believed in the Importance of the Liberal Arts

I wonder how Oleda would fare in today’s Girl Scouting. We supposedly are fighting against a public image of preferring crafts over camping. Increasingly, Girl Scouting is focusing on developing skills in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math.

These are undoubtedly valuable skills, especially in the 21st century.

But as a social scientist married to an architect and with a daughter in art school, I cannot ignore the value of non-STEM topics as well.

I hope we can find a balance that includes all of these subjects.

Otherwise, maybe I’ll have to wear my own floaty Maid Marian dress to the next Maker Fair.

©2018 Ann Robertson

Favorite Pin Identified

Three years ago I shared my favorite piece of Girl Scout memorabilia. It is a sterling silver and brass brooch that I found on eBay.

 

 

The pin is engraved “Suncoast Girl Scout Council,” but the seller had no information about its origins.

A few weeks ago I received an email from Terri Costello, the special events manager for Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. Suncoast was one of the councils that merged to create West Center Florida during realignment.

Terri had recognized the pin immediately. It is presented each year to the council’s Women of Distinction. Many councils have similar programs to recognize inspiring women.

This event is held each year to honor and celebrate local women who have achieved success in their chosen fields and serve as inspiring role models for girls and other women in our local communities, each exemplifying ethical leadership and a commitment to making a difference in the lives of their fellow citizens through community service.

GSCWCF website

While the Suncoast program dates to 1992, the pin, designed by Tampa artist Karen Arch,  and was introduced in 2002.

I am delighted that even though I am not a “Woman of Distinction,” Terri has given me permission to continue wearing it with pride. In fact, I think I’ll wear it today!

©2018 Ann Robertson

When a Girl Scout Passes Away

There are no words to adequately acknowledge the tragedy suffered by our Girl Scout family this weekend. In Wisconsin, a pickup truck plowed into a Junior troop gathering trash on a roadside, killing three girls and an adult and seriously wounding another girl.

How can we possibly comment on this loss?  How do Girl Scouts grieve?

My first thought was to share part of some traditional Girl Scout song, but none seemed quite right.

I also remembered an odd set of photos from the Nation’s Capital archives. It seems to be a Girl Scout honor guard at a funeral in the 1920s.

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Girl Scouts carry the casket of a friend, circa 1920 (GSCNC Archives).

But then I thought of something else. Something much simpler, a ritual that a 9 or 10-year old’s troop mates would understand.

It is a ceremony known as “Our Last Friendship Circle.”

Last_Friendship

UPDATE: This ceremony was created by Mary Burdett of the Western Ohio legacy council.

Please share. This tradition should not be stored away in the depths of an archive.

©2018 Ann Robertson

So That’s In Your Bag, Girl Scout

Last week I shared photos of our exhibit of pocket-sized Girl Scout memorabilia. We had photos of various Girl Scout bags and what girls and adults might have carried over the years.

As promised, here are the four main photos, with the various items labeled. Did you recognize all of them?

Enjoy!

Girl Purses 1970s Labels2

Girl purses then

Girl Purses today Labels2

Girl purses now

Leader Purse 1950s Labels2

Leader purses then

Leader Purses today Labels2

Leader purses now

 

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

What’s In Your Bag, Girl Scout?

Scouting Bag T-Shirt

I had this t-shirt from the late 1970s!

When we changed the history display at the council headquarters recently, I realized that I hadn’t shared our summer exhibit online.

The theme came from a non-Girl Scout source: a regular feature in Us Magazine. Each week, the magazine has a celebrity dump out her bag; usually a purse, but sometimes a diaper bag, backpack, or shopping bag.

 

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Singer Meghan Trainor’s bag, Us Magazine (August 25, 2018)

Magazine editors tag various items, usually providing a handful of product names and purchase information. I think a little pruning happens before the actual photo shoot, as you never see dirty tissues, used gum, and other unmentionables that you’d find in my purse, at least.

I didn’t fully photograph this exhibit due to lighting issues. Instead, I tried to recreate parts in my tabletop photo studio.

We created paired “now-and-then” vignettes for girls, leaders, and campers.

How many items do you recognize?

I’m not going to label these pictures today. I will update with labels on October 1.

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Girl, 1950s-1970s

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Girl today

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Leader, 1950s-1960s

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Of course, the first Girl Scouts didn’t need a purse. They carried all of their essentials on their utility belt or in their pockets.

Utility Belt

Here’s a quick look at the entire display. You can bet I took plenty of photos as we installed our fall exhibit!

Bag Display

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

 

Badge Mysteries Solved

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Marvelous Mystery, Black Diamond Council

Regular readers of the Girl Scout History Project know that I am obsessed with the former Council’s Own badge program. From the 1950s until the Girl Scout Leadership Experience was introduced in 2011, troops and councils could create badges on topics not already covered by the national Girl Scout program. (More history will come in another post.)

I used my Council’s Own collection as the basis for a website (gscobadge.info) that archives the images and requirements for over 1,000 badges. My intention is to help identify mystery badges and to provide inspiration for new patch programs.

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Look, a Council’s Own bug!

Other Girl Scout adults have been bitten by the CO bug, and many people have helped expand the website contents. I see “my” photos across the internet.  Of course, the biggest surprise was seeing one of my website photos (unattributed, of course) appropriated for a presentation former CEO Anna-Maria Chavez made at the 2014 National Council Session. (Now I watermark most photos, just in case.)

 

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Why are they showing a photo of my desk?

It is an especially thrilling moment (at least for me) when I finally identify a mystery badge. I’ve cracked the code on several this summer and decided to share them here.

If a mystery badge is on a sash, that provides some major clues: specifically, a council and a rough date. The council indicated on an ID strip may not have created the badge, but it is a start. In addition to knowing the years a particular sash or vest was in use, don’t forget to look at cookie and event patches that have a specific year or two.

I also regularly troll eBay and sometimes I’ll see the mystery badge there. If it’s on a sash, then there are a few more clues.

Next, I do some keyword searches on Newspapers.com. I use the state and year clues to limit the results, and, lately, I’ve had some really good luck.

Tennessee History TrioSearching for “Girl Scout,” badge, and “Tennessee history” gave me 32 results. But when I limited it to the 1970s, based on the badge fabric and design, I found that a troop of girls in Reelfoot Council had created their own Tennessee History badge in 1977.

The design description is a little different, but it is reasonable to think that when the badge was manufactured on a larger scale, the design became more elaborate.

Tennessee History

I also have this patch, which is likely another incarnation of this program.

Tennessee Reelfoot

OprylandStaying with the Tennessee theme, I was delighted to acquire this badge around the same time. Opryland USA was a theme park in Nashville from 1972 to 1997. I grew up in Kentucky, about 2.5 hours away, and Opryland was a frequent destination for school, church, and other field trips.

Another search on Newspapers.com turned up several clippings about Girl Scout troops going to Opryland. According to one, there was an annual Girl Scout weekend that included a badge. It sounds like girls had to complete a scavenger hunt across the park’s attractions to earn it.

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1982 World’s Fair

I never attended the Opryland Girl Scout weekend when I was a girl, but my troop did go to the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. I didn’t know at the time there was a World’s Fair badge, but better late than never!

This castle badge has long been one of my favorite mystery badges, and I assumed it was something about fairy tales. Then I saw TWO of them on a single sash from Central Maryland. Someone had added a date to one of them with a pen.  Hmmmm…

Back at Newspapers.com, I tried a search using “Girl Scout,” cookie and castle. That came up with over 12,000 hits. When I restricted the findings to 1982 and Maryland, the database returned a much more manageable four articles.

It turns out that Central Maryland sponsored an annual Cookie Castle Contest, with specific themes like fairy tales and famous landmarks. Every Girl Scout who entered received this cute castle badge.

A little more searching turned up photos of some of the creations, especially as more and more councils held their own competitions.

Finally, let me repeat that THESE BADGE PROGRAMS ARE DISCONTINUED. Do not contact Council shops asking to purchase them, because that triggers snippy emails asking me to take down the reference site or portions of it.

Perhaps instead of getting annoyed, council shopkeepers should take the hint and reinstate or update their programs.

©2018 Ann Robertson

Driving Miss Daisy

One of the joys of a high-school level Girl Scout troop is watching the girls pass a major milestone: earning their drivers’ licenses.  You see it at the end of troop meetings. The same parents arrive, but scoot to the passenger seat so their daughter drives them home. Next, the girls drive themselves, and, finally, girls take on carpool duties themselves.

The Girl Scout program has always encouraged girls to master this important life skill, even when motoring was not considered a suitable endeavor for young women.

That might be because founder Juliette Gordon Low was not the most accomplished driver herself. Perhaps it was because she divided her time between two countries and two sets of road rules. According to Daisy’s niece:

She’d drive on the left-hand side of the road in Savannah “because I am English” and the right-hand, side in England “because I am an American.”
–Peggy Gordon Seiler, niece of Juliette Gordon Low
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Automobiling, 1916-1919

The Automobiling badge was introduced in 1916, a time when only one out of every five US households owned a car.

In 1920, the badge was renamed Motorist and manufactured in the new khaki fabric used for uniforms.

GSUSA highlighted the Motorist requirements in a short video from 2015.

 

I’ve heard many times that earning a driver’s license was a requirement for the prestigious Golden Eaglet award, but Motorist does not appear on any list of required badges that I’ve seen.  (If you have, please let me know!)

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Transportation, 1938-1947

From 1938 to 1947, Intermediate-age Girl Scouts could earn the Transportation badge. It took a broader look at the many forms of transportation, and girls were encouraged to take rides on trains, trolleys, buses, and whatever else their communities had to offer.

In the 1950s, when the auto industry responded to the rising number of female drivers by introducing pink vehicles such as the Dodge “La Femme,” the Girl Scouts had been teaching young women to get behind the wheel and under the hood for decades.

Apparently, troops missed having driving instruction in their handbooks, so the national headquarters issued a separate booklet geared to driver education.

 

 

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Auto Maintenance, 1980-1996

The Worlds to Explore program introduced in 1980 featured badges that both Cadettes and Seniors could earn. (Seniors had not had their own badges for years.) Many of these badges broke gender stereotypes by encouraging girls to explore technology and science.  One of the most popular was Auto Maintenance.

I remember my Senior troop decided to earn the new Auto Maintenance interest project award. Kim, a girl in our troop, was taking auto shop, so she led us as we tinkered with our leaders’ cars during meetings.

(I also remember having to push start our leader’s pickup truck around that time. Presumably those two facts are unrelated.)

The new program wasn’t just Girl Scouts of driving age, either. Junior Girl Scouts (grades 4-6) got their own Car Care badge in 1990. (It changed to a green border in 2000).

 

 

The focus stayed on maintenance instead of actual driving when Cadette and Senior badges were updated in the mid-1990s (Car Sense, blue border).  The ill-fated Studio 2B program briefly had a car care On the Road Focus Award (a charm), which was available for barely two years and was never produced in badge form. A Car Care badge for Seniors was introduced in 2011.

 

Girl Scouts may also participate in workshops offered by local car dealerships and insurance companies. These programs are organized by individual councils and vary from year to year.

 

 

 

Women in Trucking

Women in Trucking patch

Two years ago, the Girl Scouts partnered with the Women in Trucking association to expose girls to career opportunities in the transportation industry.

Thus, for 102 years, Girl Scouts have encouraged young women to embrace technology, cultivate personal independence, and challenge social norms.

©2018 Ann Robertson