Tomorrow, January 20, 2018, Montgomery County Parks will host an open house at Rockwood Manor Park in Potomac, Maryland, from 11 am to 3 pm. Open Houses are offered several times a year for brides and other people considering the venue for an event.
The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.
Rockwood was a national Girl Scout camp from 1938 to 1978. The neighborhood was largely rural in the camp’s early years, but as new houses and neighborhoods expanded, Rockwood staff reached out to make new friends. One open house was held in 1950.
Washington Post, March 17, 1950.
Visitors in 1950 might have found a troop preparing meals, a family camping together, or perhaps Brownies splashing in the stream.
While some neighbors were not pleased to discover latrines near their homes (and they are long gone!), many groups near the camp considered it an asset. Boy Scouts, church groups, and schools all used the facilities for meetings and occasional retreats.
One of the most successful Rockwood-community partnerships began in 1959, when a group of five women from the town of Potomac asked if they could use Rockwood’s commercial kitchen to mash potatoes for the 1,000 guests expected to attend their church’s yearly community dinner.
Staff working in Rockwood’s Kitchen, 1950s (GSUSA/NHPC)
The meetings of the “Potato Mashers Guild” became so popular that many of the ladies offered to be on “stand-by” to volunteer as needed at the camp. The ladies hosted birthday parties for Guild members at Rockwood and even picnicked one summer at Rockwood director Ida May Born’s beach house.
Rockwood kitchen equipment abandoned in June 1983. Is that the potato peeler in the center? (Photo by Patricia Cornish)
Another strong relationship developed with Potomac Elementary School. Students would come to Rockwood for science lessons and nature walks, while Rockwood’s kitchen staff would pitch in at the school cafeteria if needed.
After weeks of sub-freezing temperatures here in Washington, DC, tomorrow is forecast to reach nearly 60º. Seems like an ideal day to visit Rockwood, located at 11001 MacArthur Blvd, Potomac, Maryland 20854.
After GSUSA asked councils to carry out special “Youth Serve Youth” service projects ahead of our 50th anniversary in 1962, they selected a 12-member Girl Advisory Committee to review the submissions and prepare a report for Congress.
Knowing that the Girl Scout program must always be sensitive to the contemporary needs and interests of girls, the national organization uses its Girl Advisory Committee to bring grassroots reactions to activities and events as a direct line from the girls themselves.
Register-Guard, Eugene OR (November 3, 1961): 7A.
Girl Scouts were asked to study youth in their communities and identify areas where they could help. Thousands of projects were carried out. Troops in Wisconsin’s Riverland Council pledged to make 1,000 dolls for less-fortunate families. Public safety was the focus in Asheville, NC, where Pisgah GS Council created emergency game kits for children aged 3-12. The kits taught civil defense lessons and were placed in disaster shelters. Troops in Tumbleweed Council in Kansas “adopted” two dozen girls at Parsons State Hospital, providing “useful items” and writing letters. Councils reported their projects to the national headquarters in late 1961.
Lady B-P (right) with (maybe) Larie Blohm of Oregon.
On March 5, 1962, the national Girl Advisory Committee convened at Rockwood National Camp outside of Washington DC. The Committee was comprised of 12 girls, one selected from each administrative region of the country.
I’ve been able to identify seven of the dozen girls:
Rea Ann Scoville (Portage, IN)
Cheryle Bremer, (Cannon Falls, MN)
Diane Young (Houston, TX)
Larie Blohm (Eugene, OR)
Rebecca Gainey (Charlotte, NC)
Virginia Anne Meeker (NY)
Anita Beth Cutler (MA)
The girls were given a daunting task: to review the submissions, select representative projects, then write and deliver a presentation on Capitol Hill, on March 12, the 50th birthday of the movement.
Between their work sessions, the girls enjoyed sightseeing in Washington and hiking to Great Falls, about a mile from Rockwood. They also attended the national 50th anniversary celebration in Washington and met World Chief Guide Olave Baden Powell.
Members of the 1962 Girls Advisory Committee pose with Lady Baden Powell, Rockwood (GSCNC Archives)
On the morning of March 12, the girls traveled to Capitol Hill, where luncheon was scheduled for 12:30 pm in Room 1302 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. They were joined by 200 guests, including Senators, Representatives, and their Girl Scout wives, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters.
1962 Postage Stamp, from Postal Museum
Other dignitaries included Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, GSUSA President Marjorie Culmer, and Postmaster General J. Edward Day, who announced a new stamp to commemorate the anniversary.
The vice president called on the Girl Scouts to promote citizenship during their next 50 years. He warned that too many Americans avoided learning about their government because they believe “politics are dirty business.”
[The Girl Scouts should] put increasing emphasis on encouraging our young people to learn everything they can about their Government at all levels….I feel sure the culture will belong to the free, the educated and to those who care, those who want to help, those who feel a responsibility for doing their share.
–Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson
The Committee selected Scoville, Bremer and Young to present their findings. The three 17 year-olds addressed the distinguished guests with ease, poise, and confidence. While they spoke, reported the Washington Post, the Vice President hand wrote gold-edged Senate gallery passes for the girls.
Luncheon concluded with a round of “Happy Birthday” led by Lady Bird Johnson, and everyone blew out candles on the three-tier cake or individual cupcakes.
Reviewing the event for the October 1962 issue of Leader magazine, national Program Department staffer Marian F. Wells reflected on the process she had witnessed at Rockwood. She praised the girls for their maturity, organization, cooperation, and collaborative approach. National staff were present, but generally unneeded. “The most remarkable thing about the 1962 GAC,” she wrote, “was not that it had an important job to do in connection with our Fiftieth Anniversary; but that, having been given the responsibility, the girls were allowed to carry it out.”
Is it possible that in an organization dedicated to the encouragement of girl initiative, we sometimes stifle it instead? Do we, too often, short-change our Senior Scouts by failing to recognize their capabilities; by doing for them instead of helping them to do for themselves; and by overlooking the fact that, although teenagers don’t have all the answers, they frequently have ideas that are worth listening to? If this is the case, the time has come for more than Program Change! We need to change our attitude toward girls as well, or the basic premise of Girl Scouting–that girls govern their own troops and manage their own affairs under adult guidance–will be nothing but an empty phrase.
The District of Columbia Council’s flagship resident camp, Camp May Flather, quietly desegregated in the summer of 1955.
The Council’s Camping Committee had made the following recommendation to the Council Board of Directors, which voted for the change in January 1955:
The Committee on Camping recommends that there be no restrictions in any camp based on race. This means that in troop camping we will continue the present practice of camping as troops, but when council-wide encampments are held, there is no segregation.
Day camps will continue to be operated by District Committees and attendance will be limited by District jurisdiction.
Established camps will be open to all girls in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County [Maryland] regardless of district jurisdiction.
There was no big fanfare, no press release, just an invitation to members of a highly experienced troop of African American girls from the Charles Young School in Washington, DC. Troop 35 was led by Pansy Gregg, a second-grade teacher at Charles Young.
Intermediate Troop 35 (GSCNC Archives)
Camp May Flather ran from June 27 through August 22, 1955, and five girls attended two-week sessions at camp: Beverly Pyles, Sandra Smith, Norma Turner, Sheila Gross, and Theresa Dorsey.
Council staff and members of the Camp Committee went to the bus stop as girls prepared to depart for Mt. Solon, Virginia, that summer. The women announced that from this day forward, Camp May Flather was open to all girls. Camp Committee chair and future council president Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch” waved a council checkbook and said that she would provide immediate refunds to any family that objected to the new policy. None did.
The campers later wrote about their experience for their school newsletter:
Sixth-grader Sheila Gross recalled:
I had a lot of fun at Camp May Flather last summer. I learned how to swim and how to make earrings and bracelets. I was in a group that played games and sang funny songs. We went on an overnight hike and slept out in the open. I had such a good time that I would like to go back next summer.
Prior to 1955, local African-American troops had primarily camped at Rockwood, just outside of Washington. As a National camp, Rockwood was open to all Girl Scouts.
Virginia McGuire (GSCNC Archives)
At the time, District VII, the administrative designation for African-American troops in the District of Columbia, had been raising funds to purchase their own camp. Leaders voted to donate that money toward a new administrative building at Camp May Flather. That building was named for Virginia McGuire, the original organizer of District VII in 1934. McGuire later became the first African American member of the council board.
Camp May Flather’s desegregation came one year after the US Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision. It would take another four years before Virginia began to desegregate its public school system.
At the end of the summer 1955 camp season, the Camp Committee sent a letter to parents of girls who had attended Camp May Flather “to get their reactions as to their likes and dislikes and things they would like to have done or would like to do when they return another summer.”
Members of the Camping Committee, October 1956. Bobby Lerch is second from left. (GSCNC Archives)
Information for this post was greatly aided by a recent donation from the family of Anne Murray, who was a member of the Camp Committee at the time of desegregation. I’ve already written about the wonderful camp scrollincluded in this material, and I hope to find more information as I explore the contents.
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)
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.
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)
A nervous color guard prepares to post the colors for the first lady (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.
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
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)
Ever the gracious host, Mrs. Flather promptly wrote Mrs. Hoover to thank her for the visit.
After 85 years, the “Shawnee Bridge” still stands at Camp May Flather.
Did you ever visit Rockwood, the GSUSA camp located in Potomac, Maryland, from 1938 to 1978?
The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.
Perhaps you camped at Weston Hill, took a training in the Manor House, or bunked in Carolyn Cottage when your troop toured Washington, DC? Or maybe you attended a language camp, a selection weekend for Our Chalet, or a Wider Opportunity?
I fell in love with the place when my daughter camped there as a Brownie. The more I learned about the history of Rockwood, about the amazing women who built the original estate, transformed a country home into a national camp, and filed a class-action lawsuit to prevent its sale, the more I became enchanted.
I’ve bloggedabout Rockwood several times, and I am now writing a book about the Rockwood story.
I’ve spent several weeks going through the files at the GSUSA National Historical Preservation Center in New York, and I have many documents and scrapbooks from Washington-area Girl Scouts.
I know the nuts and bolts of Rockwood. I have statistics on how many troops camped there month by month. I have diagrams of the woefully insufficient septic system. I have legal papers about the acquisition and sale of the camp and the process of turning part of it over to the Montgomery County, Maryland, park system.
But that is only part of the story. I need help from former Rockwood campers. What was the experience like? What memories have stuck in your mind over the decades? Was it the friends you made from other councils? A favorite meal in the dining room? Singing and skits in Brooke Hall? The sweltering cabins in August?
Most of all, I need photos. GSUSA has some photos, mostly exterior shots of buildings. Other than a few postcards and the images in the slideshow above, I’ve seen precious little of the interior. Few images have captions, either.
I’ve setup a Facebook page, Remembering Rockwood, with some of these photos. Please take a look and see if they trigger any memories. Add your recollections to the comments. Maybe you’ll recognize faces and places.
If you have photos, color slides, scrapbooks, or other related items, please contact me. I will cover shipping costs if you let me borrow and scan them. Rockwood is a wonderful part of Girl Scout history. Please help me tell it.
People often drop off donations for the council archives at my house. Usually it’s an old uniform piece or handbook, perhaps a pocketknife or handful of badges. I also have an enviable collection of random Girl Scout socks that regularly appear on my desk at the main office.
But buried inside the latest two boxes of musty, mildewed paper was a real treasure.
Camp history scroll
This hand-drawn paper scroll offers the camp report for 1960-1961. Think of it as an early PowerPoint. You unroll just enough paper to see the next illustration, then move to the next “slide.”
Each camp is listed separately, with attendance levels,
and property development detailed.
The delightful illustrations are hand-drawn with marker, and most of the draft pencil marks are still visible.
I have not measured the entire scroll, but it is at least 60 feet long.
The boxes came from the family of Anne Murray, who was on the National Capital Council Camp Committee in the late 1950s and early 1960s. (National Capital was one of five councils that merged to form Nation’s Capital in 1963).
The scroll will definitely have a featured place in the new Archives & History Program Center opening this fall.
Thank you Roxanne Beatty for arranging this donation!!
Over the 1954 Independence Day holiday, the attacks on the Girl Scouts spread to the US Congress, courtesy of B.J. Grigsby. Again, the Girl Scouts were accused of promoting communism and internationalism in the 1953 Intermediate handbook.
Grigsby, a Chicago businessman, had read the LeFevre article and reprinted it in his own vanity newspaper, the Spoon River Journal. He also wrote to GSUSA expressing his concern over the new handbook and noting that he had contributed to the Girl Scouts in the past. The response from Leonard Lathrop, head of public relations at GSUSA, did not satisfy him, so Grigsby contacted his Congressmen.
On July 2, Illinois Congressman Timothy P. Sheehan read LeFevre’s article into the Congressional Record. Sheehan added his own concern that one badge in the new Intermediate handbook “requires a knowledge of the United Nations, but nowhere among the merit badges did [LeFevre] find one that required the Girl Scouts to memorize part of the Declaration of Independence or a statement from the Constitution.” [Those were required for the My Government badge.]
Ten days later, Illinois Congressman Edgar Jonas introduced Grigsby’s response to LeFevre into the Congressional Record. While Grigsby dismissed some of LeFevre’s charges, he agreed with others. Jonas also included Lathrop’s response to a letter of concern sent to GSUSA by Grigsby.
After the accusations from the Illinois delegation, GSUSA mobilized supporters in Congress. At the request of GSUSA, Representative Robert Kean of New Jersey inserted an article into the July 21, 1954, Congressional Record written by Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, then at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Gilbreth, a member of the national program committee, was best known for her studies of time management in the household and as the inspiration for the book and movies, Cheaper by the Dozen. Gilbreth argued:
We cannot take comfort in the thought that everyone accepts us as spiritually minded, as patriotic, as trying to be constructive in every thought and deed. We must therefore reaffirm our beliefs, reiterate our pledges. As we think of our motto, “Be prepared,” we must be able to answer for ourselves for others the question, “Prepared for what?”
Today the world needs individuals and organizations prepared to meet the challenge of communism. As Girl Scouts we are prepared to do so because we are imbued with the responsibilities and the privilege of following our Promise and Laws day by day, as best we can. […]
What can communism really offer as it challenges all this? Nothing. What should Girl Scouts do to meet the challenge? Keep busy at our work of service with serenity of spirit. Try to attain the educated mind, the educated hands, the educated heart which will help us to keep our Girl Scout promise and prove ourselves assets to God, our country, and our fellow men. Girl Scouts try.
Kean agrees to help GSUSA
Gilbreth’s article also ran in the October 1954 edition of Leader magazine.
The tide began to swing in favor of the Girl Scouts, with Indiana Congressman Charles Brownson introducing a rebuttal from Indianapolis civic leader John Burkhart on July 26. The next day, Sheehan seemed to backtrack a bit and read into the Congressional Record a statement from GSUSA President Olivia Layton outlining revisions already underway.
Discussion over submitting Burkhart letter to Congress.
Another pro-Girl Scouts statement was made by Congressman Victor Wickersham of Oklahoma. In preparing this post today, I realized that I did not have a copy of his remarks. I searched the Washington Post online and, to my surprise, discovered that two years earlier, Wickersham had sold 20 acres of land to GSUSA for $30,000 — land that was used to enlarge the entrance to the Rockwood camp outside of Washington, DC.
But, as it turned out, the skirmish on Capitol Hill was merely a lull before an even bigger storm.
In part three, the American Legion escalates the controversy…
Summer resident camp registration began last week at Nation’s Capital, as thousands of parents signed in to the online system. Hundreds of girls will make their first pilgrimage to Camp May Flather, Potomac Woods, Winona, and Coles Trip this summer, following in the footsteps of their sisters, mothers, and grandmothers.
Recently I found a wonderful GSUSA statement on the value of camping tucked away in one of our Rockwood history boxes and this seems a good time to share it:
Camping, the chance to live away from home, in the out-of-doors, with its offer of primitive life and woodland adventure, is part of the dream of every girl who becomes a Girl Scout … the tent, the campfire and all those things connected with the romantic adventure of simple living in the out-of-doors, continue to lure American children ‘to the camps of known desire and proven delight.’
Scouting’s great appeal to girls and boys — and leaders too — is in its promise of outdoor adventure. It is this assurance that those who ‘come along with us’ will have many opportunities for camping and hiking that has attracted and will continue to attract young people to Scouting. None of the other interesting and worthwhile things that Scouts may do have this paramount importance of camping. To the girl and boy, Scouting IS camping.
This has been true since the beginning of the movement. In his earliest writings, Baden-Powell made it very clear that one of Scouting’s important aims was to give young people abundant opportunities to go camping. He saw the camp situation as the troop leaders’ greatest opportunity to train young people in Scouting.
… The camp experience should not be something separate and apart from the troop’s other activities. Rather, it should be a continuation, and perhaps the most important part, of the troop’s year-round program. The troops that are able to progress through camping experiences of increasing interest and difficulty, last longer and do the most effective work. It is the camping troop that girls flock to join.
The statement comes from Guideline 5B of the 1959 GSUSA Council Administrative Series, authored by Julian Harris Salomon. Trained as a landscape architect, Mr. Salomon designed the grounds and camp sites at Rockwood, the Macy Center, even Camp David. He worked for the National Park Service and later was property manager for GSUSA. Mr. Salomon testified in the dispute over the proposed sale of Rockwood in 1981 (and I hope to get a copy of his deposition one day). His efforts to preserve Rockwood for future Girl Scouts were recognized by naming one of the Manor House rooms in his honor in 1987.
The book shares 100 years of Girl Scout memories in the greater Washington, DC, region and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. GSCNC was created in 1963 upon the merger of the Arlington, Alexandria, National Capital, Northern Virginia, and Southern Maryland councils.
Girl Scouting came to Washington, DC, in June 1913 when Juliette Gordon Low decided her new girls empowerment movement needed a national headquarters. Although the headquarters moved to New York City in 1916, the council in Washington, DC, is still actively involved in the programs. Girl Scouts of the Nations Capital includes some 200 photographs that will rekindle memories of making new friends, earning badges, spending summer nights at Camp May Flather, taking road trips to Rockwood, attending freezing inaugural parades, hiking along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and participating in enormous sing-alongs around the Washington Monument.
Thirty-five years ago, on May 22, 1978, GSUSA announced it would sell the Rockwood Girl Scout National Center to developer Berger-Berman for $4.1 million. The developer planned to build 180 luxury homes on the site.
At the time, membership had fallen from 3 million to 2 million nationally, and the movement faced a $300,000 annual budget shortfall. Ultimately, the national board decided that one of the four national centers must be sacrificed. Rockwood was chosen because it duplicated many services provided by the Edith Macy National Center in New York state. “We had these two centers serving the same area and needs and we were incurring a six-figure loss on our properties,” said GSUSA spokesman Richard Knox. “The difference between them is substantial. Rockwood has 92 acres and is in the midst of suburban development. Macy has some 270 acres with 114 adjacent acres being leased to the New York Girl Scout Council for a camp. We could not maintain both.”
Local Girl Scouts disagreed. Loudly. Very loudly.
They argued that the sale violated the provisions of Carolyn Caughey’s will, which stipulated that should the Girl Scouts “abandon” the property or cease to use it for a “character building” purpose, it would revert to the Esther Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. (GSUSA paid the Esther Chapter $150,000 for its rights to the property.)
They also argued that the sale violated the Girl Scout Law’s commitment to “protect and improve the world around me” and “to use resources wisely.”
They further argued that Rockwood and Macy were not interchangeable, as “It is difficult to show girls the people and buildings of the Nation’s Capital while encamped in New York.”
But above all, they argued that the decision to sell should not have been made without consulting individual Girl Scouts.
Rockwood fans banded together as the “Rescue Rockwood Committee” to save the camp. (The name later changed to “Friends of Rockwood, Inc.”)
In October 1978, GSUSA President Gloria Scott and CEO Frances Hesselbein met with concerned local citizens at a forum in Bethesda, Maryland. A few weeks later, delegates to the National Council Session voted 907-736 to ask GSUSA to “cease negotiations and reconsider the sale of the Rockwood property.” GSUSA continued with plans for the sale.
Nine Nation’s Capital Girl Scouts filed a class-action lawsuit against GSUSA in Montgomery County, Maryland, court in January 1979 to block the sale. The Rockwood nine included seven adults (Anne Pomykala, Jean Moore, Jo Reynolds, Wilma Jean Crompton, Patricia Cornish, Charlotte Myklebust, and Dorothy Heisey) and two girls (Kendra Moore and Christina Cornish). Maryland State Attorney General Stephen Sachs soon joined the suit on behalf of the nine Scouts. The local council, Nation’s Capital, was not part of the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the developer applied to the Montgomery County Council for sewer and water service for the camp. The Council deferred a decision until the lawsuit was resolved.
As legal fees mounted (over $25,000), Committee members raised funds through garage sales, letter-writing campaigns, bake sales, and selling patches and other items. Marian Corbin Aslakson, a member of Juliette Gordon Low’s original Savannah troop who had moved to Bethesda, Maryland, donated a pair of antique leaded glass windows and a dozen sterling silver goblets to be auctioned off. Actress Elizabeth Taylor, then married to Virginia Senator John Warner, donated a framed, autographed photo to be auctioned.
In May 1979, the Rescue Rockwood group marched in front of the White House to attract the attention of First Lady Rosalyn Carter, Honorary GSUSA President.
As the trial date approach, Helen Zelov (see part one) planned to travel to Maryland to testify.
Instead, an out-of-court settlement was reached in 1981, whereby 20 acres and most of the buildings went to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the rest to Berger-Berman Builders. Before the deal was final, the Montgomery County Council needed to approve the developer’s request to rezone the land for residential use. The park commission and local Girl Scouts also had to work out arrangements that would allow both Girl Scouts and the public to use the facilities.
Today, Rockwood is a popular venue for weddings and other events. Girl Scouts can camp overnight in the dormitories, but there are no cooking facilities available to them. Next door is Woodrock, the neighborhood of homes built on former Girl Scout land.