Henrietta Bates Brooke: Comments

I received a stunning comment on my most recent blog post.

Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing from readers. But this particular comment made me scream, swoon, and burst into tears.

Last week I wrote about the origins of the District of Columbia Girl Scout council. I naturally mentioned the council’s organizer and first president, Henrietta Bates Brooke.

Mrs. Brooke, known as “Texas” to her friends, is a major figure in the history of all Girl Scouting. She was the national president in the 1930s and instrumental in acquiring Rockwood National Center. This mini resume appeared in the April 1983 Rockwood Rally newsletter.

But back to the comment. An “Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks” wrote, “Henrietta Brooke was my great aunt!”

Whew, almost fainted again.

So who is this mysterious Ms. Brooke-Willbanks?

One of my oldest Girl Scout friends!! We were in the same Cadette/Senior troop in Paducah, Kentucky, in the early 1980s.

 

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Elizabeth and I at the legendary Centennial party during the 2011 convention.

 

Elizabeth became a professional Girl Scout, working in councils in Kentucky and Massachusetts, and is still in the non-profit world now.

We both attended the 2011 National Council session in Houston, where we had brunch with our own leaders. They just happened to be in Houston, saw all the Girl Scout signs, and tracked us down.

(If you remember Robin Roberts opening her speech by mentioning that she had just met an adult Girl Scout on her way to brunch with her childhood leaders, that was Elizabeth.)

 

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Mini-troop reunion: Me, Mary Henry, Margaret Purcell, and Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks

 

Small world, isn’t it?

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

The Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia

You might assume that the Girl Scout Council of Washington, DC, began with a formal meeting of prominent women concerned with youth issues. Perhaps Juliette Gordon Low trotted across Pennsylvania Avenue from her office to meet with the first lady at the White House.

But in reality, the Washington Council was the product of an auto accident, a case of appendicitis, and a brief kidnapping.

The first Washington DC troop formed in December 1913. With the national headquarters located in the Munsey Building, near the White House, national staff initially handled matters related to local troops.

 

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Washington DC Troop 1 with Juliette Gordon Low 

 

But when JGL moved the headquarters to New York City in 1916, Washington Girl Scouts had to take charge of their own affairs. With more than 50 active troops, it was time to get their files in order and apply for a charter.

LHH in Uniform Portrait

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

The first question was who would be the commissioner (president) of the DC Girl Scouts. The obvious choice was Lou Henry Hoover, an old friend of Daisy’s, but she was too busy for the amount of work necessary to seek a charter. After thinking about civic-minded  women in Washington, she came upon the solution by accident–literally.

In 1916, Mrs. Hoover had been in a fender bender with Henrietta Bates Brooke. Mrs. Brooke was well known in Washington for her various charitable endeavors. She had met JGL years earlier in Savannah and seemed ideal. Mrs. Hoover called on Mrs. Brooke, only to find her confined to her bed with a severe attack of appendicitis.

 

Being in no physical condition to deny any request, [Mrs. Hoover] quickly persuaded me to build a council, so when I got well, I had that to do.

Memoirs of Henrietta Bates Brooke

 

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Portrait of Henrietta Bates Brooke that hung at Rockwood National Center

 

Mrs. Brooke turned to her friend Edith Macy, the head of the New York council, for advice. They decided to invite a group of like-minded women to tea at Mrs. Macy’s apartment in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. As an added incentive, they promised a viewing of Mrs. Macy’s art collection.

This was a plum invitation. Mrs. Macy lived in the newly built McCormick Apartments at 1785 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The luxury Beaux Arts building had five stories and only six enormous apartments.

Edna Coleman, director of Girl Scouts in Washington, invited Mrs. Hoover to attend the tea, but, unfortunately, the future first lady was traveling at the time. That invitation is preserved at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.

In any case, there was a huge turnout for the Thursday afternoon tea. About one dozen women admired the paintings, nibbled on cookies, and exchanged pleasantries.

After tea was served, I simply locked the doors. Learning that they would only be permitted to depart after accepting places on the Washington Girl Scout Council, they all accepted and always stayed in scouting.

Memoirs of Henrietta Bates Brooke

On July 17, 1917, the Girl Scout Association of the District of Columbia became the eighth council chartered by the national headquarters.

From these humble and haphazard beginnings, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia has grown in include parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. One hundred years later, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital is the largest council in the United States, with over 87,000 members.

We rarely kidnap volunteers anymore.

©2017 Ann Robertson