Mrs. Hoover Comes to Camp May Flather, part one

May Flather may have been the driving force in establishing Camp May Flather, but she had influential friends who helped as well. First among these was First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

Mrs. Hoover was a huge supporter of Girl Scouting. Not only was she honorary national president from 1929 to 1933, she also was the elected national president twice, 1922-1925 and 1935-1937.

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

President and Mrs. Hoover were neighbors of Camp May Flather, with Camp Rapidan, their private retreat, located nearby. When they sold Camp Rapidan in the 1940s, Mrs. Hoover donated much of the furnishings to Rockwood, the national camp outside Washington, DC.

Mrs. Hoover personally donated $100 to build a bridge over the North River, which runs through Camp May Flather. She was actively involved in the design of the bridge, commenting on sketches as they were presented to her. However, she did not want the bridge named for her, so it officially is “Shawnee Bridge.”

To the great delight of campers, volunteers, and staff, Mrs. Hoover agreed to come to camp to formally dedicate the bridge. She arrived on August 7, 1930, and spent the night in a tent.

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A coveted invite to the camp dedication (Hoover Presidential Library)

A coveted invite to the camp dedication (Hoover Presidential Library)

She spent a busy two days at the camp, filled with activities and demonstrations:

Dedication schedule (Hoover Presidential Library)

Dedication schedule (Hoover Presidential Library)

A nervous color guard prepares to post the colors for the first lady (GSCNC archives)

A nervous color guard prepares to post the colors for the first lady (GSCNC archives)

While other campers have their cameras ready (GSCNC Archives)

While other campers have their cameras ready (GSCNC Archives)

Finally, the dedication begins. Mrs. Hoover cut a rope of laurel branches and marched across the new bridge.

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Many Washington Girl Scout officials attended the event. May Cheatham, second from left, was married to US Army Quartermaster Major General B.F. Cheatham, who supervised construction of the camp.

VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH's former secretary) GSCNC Archives

VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH’s former secretary) GSCNC Archives

Then she waves farewell to Camp May Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Then she waves farewell to Camp May Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Which staff remembered fondly.

Clippings from scrapbook of 1930 Camp May Flather staff (GSCNC Archives)

Clippings from scrapbook of 1930 Camp May Flather staff (GSCNC Archives)

Ever the gracious host, Mrs. Flather promptly wrote Mrs. Hoover to thank her for the visit.

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After 85 years, the “Shawnee Bridge” still stands at Camp May Flather.

Mrs. Hoover's bridge today.

Mrs. Hoover’s bridge today.

Rolling Down the Street

Yesterday the oldest synagogue in Washington, DC, was seen rolling through the streets of the Nation’s Capital.

This wasn’t cheap entertainment provided during the federal government furlough–well, actually it WAS free and entertaining. The journey was a major step in the development of a new Capital Jewish Museum. A decent-sized crowd gathered to watch the wheeled building migrate down 3rd Street NW.

In fact, this was the third relocation for the peripatetic synagogue.

This latest motorized procession reminds me of a similar excursion made by the Girl Scout Little House in 1924. But that move was accomplished with actual horsepower, not heavy equipment.

Built behind the White House in Washington, DC, for the second Better Homes Demonstration Week in June 1923, the Little House was a fully working home, with a modern kitchen, breakfast nook, three bedrooms, and a nursery. Between June 4 and June 10, 2,500–3,500 people visited the house each day. After the exhibition, the Better Homes in America and General Federation of Women’s Clubs offered it to the Girl Scouts for use as a national training and innovation center.

The Girl Scouts were reluctant to accept. While it would wonderfully fit in with the Girl Scout program, accepting the gift would require a considerable investment. There were no funds for utilities, staff, insurance, and other operating costs. Most important, there were no funds available to relocate the building.

The clock began ticking on the fate of the model home. The exhibit permit expired on June 15.

Lou Henry Hoover immediately saw the value in accepting the house and began working to persuade the Girl Scouts to accept. As national president of the organization, she began a barrage of letters and telegrams to national board members that lasted all summer. On September 20, the national board voted to decline the proposed gift.

But Hoover refused to let the issue drop. She even offered to personally pay any deficit that might accrue in the first two years of operation.

Hoover offered several new arguments to try and sway the reluctant board members.

First, the house had historical significance as it was the last building dedicated by President Warren G. Harding before his sudden death on August 2.

Second, operating programs from the Little House would silence other groups who accused the Girl Scouts of being more interested in hiking than homemaking:

Considering the opposition we have had to meet in many quarters, particularly with the Camp Fire Girls and the Boy Scouts on this very matter of our home making propensities,—or the lack of them,—I feel that we must accept this, our justification, if possible.

–Lou Henry Hoover

Third, some costs could be mitigated by renting out a room or two to the local council for its offices.

Meanwhile, the Parks Service was continually pleading for someone to get the house off of government property.

Ultimately, Mrs. Hoover grew tired of the back-and-forth and took matters into her own hands. She contacted Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, of the Phillips Art Collection, who agreed to loan a plot of land that they owned at 1750 New York Ave. NW. The new home for the Little House would be two blocks southwest of the White House and across the street from the famous Octagon House.

Hoover wanted her financial contribution to be anonymous, so she arranged for Henrietta Bates Brooke to sign the moving contract, as member of the National Executive Board. Edward G. McGill of Cumberland, Maryland, oversaw a crew of men who hoisted the house onto rails and pulled it to the new site. McGill charged $3,000 for transporting the house. Hoover also paid for a basement, utility connections, and landscaping, for a total cost of $12,000.

Much to the relief of Colonel Sherrill, the Little House arrived at its new home in March 1924—nine months after the original exhibition. First Lady Grace Coolidge helped re-dedicate the building in a ceremony on March 25, as a beaming Mrs. Hoover watched. Dressed in a broad-brimmed hat, long dress, fox-trimmed cloak, and dark leather gloves, Mrs. Coolidge gamely picked up a mason’s trowel and slathered on a layer of cement to seal the cornerstone placed under the breakfast nook. Inside the stone was a handbook, several other Girl Scout publications, and that day’s newspaper.

Lou would have pulled it herself

 

 

Moving the Little House from its exhibition site to 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House.

Moving the Little House from its exhibition site to 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House.

Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 for the Little House to be moved from its exhibition site to its new location at 1750 New York Avenue, NW, across from the Octagon House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone.

Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the secretary of commerce and national president of the Girl Scouts, paid $12,000 to relocate the Little House. First Lady Grace Coolidge (right) laid the cornerstone, as Hoover watched.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Little House was THE place to go on Saturdays. There was always some badge activity to try or new skill to learn, and the First Lady, as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, might decide to drop by. After all, the White House was just around the corner.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Little House was THE place to go on Saturdays. There was always some badge activity to try or new skill to learn, and the First Lady, as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, might decide to drop by.

These girls look a bit tired after preparing a luncheon for First Lady Grace Coolidge (in white).

Eleanor Roosevelt cooking_1024

These girls are preparing lunch while their guest of honor, Eleanor Roosevelt, observes.

A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House

 

It became the first of many “Little Houses” across the country, where Girl Scouts practiced their homemaking and hospitality skills.

The Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia rented a room in the northwest corner of the second floor as its headquarters until it outgrew the facility in 1928. The Little House was used continuously for trainings and demonstrations of the domestic arts from June 1923 to April 1945. The building was used as a branch of Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, for the next decade then given to the landowners in May 1955. The Little House was torn down in the early 1970s.

There is a commemorative plaque in the lobby of the office building that currently sits at the site.

For more about the original Little House, see the pamphlet, “Girl Scouts Keep House in Washington.”

 

©2019 Ann Robertson