Meet May Flather

In the late 1920s, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia were trying to raise $25,000 to build a camp of their own. For nearly a decade, summer camps had rotated among several borrowed sites.

After an unsuccessful attempt to raise funds to purchase Fort Foote in 1927, the council’s attention turned to land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains, near North River Gap, between Grindstone and Lookout Mountains.

A new fund raising campaign began, asking donors to fund a specific building.  A sleeping cabin, for example, would cost $120, a latrine $100, and an infirmary for $400.

Camp May Flather Fund Raising Brochure (Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.)

Camp May Flather Fund Raising Brochure (Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.)

But the real breakthrough came in the form of a fairy godmother: Mrs. Henry H. Flather, known to her friends as “May.”

Mary Rebecca Mullan Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Mary Rebecca Mullan Flather (GSCNC Archives)

May Flather pledged $10,000 for the camp, on the condition that the council raise matching funds.  With that sizable start, additional donations rapidly followed. Edith Macy, for example, donated $600 for the director’s cottage. Mr. Julius Rosenwald donated $2,500.

May’s donation was used to build the picturesque Stone Lodge, she also secured a bank loan to complete the lodge’s roof.

Mary Rebecca Mullan was born on May 13, 1871, in San Francisco. Her father, Captain John Mullan, built the first military road in the northwestern United States. Mullan Pass near Helena, Montana, was named in his honor.

May married prominent Washington banker Henry H. Flather in 1916. Two years later, the Flathers purchased and restored Tulip Hill, an 18th-century estate in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. (George Washington really did sleep at Tulip Hill.)  She held open houses at Tulip Hill to raise money for the Girl Scout scholarship program.

May became active in the new Girl Scout movement, becoming commissioner (president) of the Washington Council in 1926. During her two-year term, she made acquiring a permanent camp her top priority. May also loaned the council a house at 1825 M Street NW, which served as council headquarters from 1929 to 1943.

After stepping down as commissioner in May 1928, May spearheaded the efforts to provide a permanent summer camp for Washington’s Girl Scouts.

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Girls and parents usually assume that Camp May Flather was named for a flower found in the area. But let’s not forget the generous woman who made the camp possible.

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

© 2015 Ann Robertson