On the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, I’d like to share one of the more obscure collections in the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital archives: a history of Girl Scouting in the Panama Canal Zone.
Panama Canal Zone?
As part of the 1903 treaty allowing the United States to build the Panama Canal, the government of Panama ceded control over a 10 mile-wide strip of land alongside the canal. Washington used the land to house the workers who built and operated the canal. There was always a strong military presence in the zone.
Perhaps the most famous “Zonian” is former presidential candidate, John McCain (R-AZ). Senator McCain was born at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station hospital there on August 29, 1936.
A 1977 treaty abolished the Canal Zone effective October 1, 1979. A joint US-Panamanian commission administered the region as it was gradually turned over to local control over the next 20 years.
Lillian Mountford: Global Girl Scout
Our Panama Canal Zone connection is Lillian Mountford. An Army wife, Lillian worked with troops in San Francisco, Hawaii, Long Island, and Fort Monroe, Virginia. She was commissioner (president) of the Girl Scouts of the Canal Zone, Pacific Side. The Mountfords retired to Arlington, Virginia in 1945.
Because of her frequent travels, Lillian became a passionate advocate for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and its efforts to promote international friendship. While living in Arlington, Virginia, for example, she took charge of numerous Thinking Day events and encouraged donations to the Juliette Low World Friendship Fund. Today, Mountford Lodge at Camp Potomac Woods is named in her memory.
Girl Scouts React to Pearl Harbor Attack
Lillian’s Girl Scout papers are held at the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland. They provide a fascinating glimpse at life on a military base following the Pearl Harbor Attack. Lillian was especially concerned about the situation in Honolulu, as her husband had recently been posted there.
Upon receiving news of the attack, Lillian offered the immediate support of the Girl Scouts. Troops began immediate first aid training.
Girl Scouting in the Canal Zone
Girl Scouts in the Canal Zone were organized into two councils: Atlantic Side and Pacific Side. Their numbers decreased somewhat when most families, including Lillian, evacuated after Pearl Harbor, but they still numbered an impressive 545 girls in March 1942. Specifically, 23 troops (including two Mariners), distributed as eight on the Atlantic Side and 15 on the Pacific Side. They met in seven “Little Houses,” located in Ancon, Quarry Heights, Corozal, Pedro Miguel, Gamboa, Fort Davis, and Cristobal.
We have a delightful collection of letters, newspaper clippings, newsletters, meeting agendas and photographs from the brief time that Lillian Mountford was in the Canal Zone. They confirm the value of Girl Scouting in empowering girls in stressful situations and fostering friendships when far from home.
©2016 Ann Robertson