Six Things You Don’t Know about Agnes Baden-Powell

Six Things You Don’t Know about Agnes Baden-Powell

World Thinking Day is a time to reflect upon on the global community of Girl Scouting and Girl Guiding and to examine issues faced by girls everywhere.

This February 22nd, let’s think about scouting’s forgotten ancestor, Agnes Baden-Powell.

Who is Agnes Baden-Powell?

The real Agnes Baden-Powell

Agnes Smythe Powell was born on December 16, 1858, in London. She was the ninth of fourteen children, and the only surviving daughter.

She was two years old when her father, the Reverend Baden Powell, died. Her grief-stricken mother soon announced that she was changing the family name in her husband’s honor. Thus, Agnes Powell became Agnes Baden-Powell.

In life and history, Agnes was overshadowed by her gallant older brother, Robert Baden-Powell, born in 1857. According to the familiar story, Robert created the Boy Scouts in 1909. When girls clamored to become scouts themselves, Robert instructed Agnes to create a similar, but more genteel version, the Girl Guides.

Despite overseeing the formative years of Girl Guiding, Agnes has been eclipsed by her sister-in-law, Olave. Many people mistakenly identify photos of Olave as Agnes.

Her Involvement Made Guiding Appear Suitable and Proper

Public opposition to the idea of “Girl Scouts” always focused on the concern that such girls would be tomboys and not proper homemakers. This minister’s daughter had a full range of domestic skills to offer, but she had more to offer.

She was an accomplished musician, proficient on violin, piano, and organ. She also had a curious streak and pursued a range of interests, including cycling, swimming, and steel engraving.

According to one acquaintance:

Anyone who had come into touch with her gentle influence, her interest in all womanly arts, and her love of birds, insects, and flowers, would scoff at the idea of her being the president of a sort of Amazon Cadet Corps.

https://peoplepill.com/people/agnes-baden-powell/

She Embraced STEM before STEM Was Cool

Agnes was fascinated by science and explored many dimensions. She was a respected apiarist, kept a flocks of birds, bees, and butterflies. She maintained a long friendship with radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi.

She was fascinated by astronomy, weather, and aeronautics. Agnes and another brother, Baden Baden-Powell (yes, not a very creative name) built and flew hot air balloons. They later designed very early airplanes.

Agnes was granted honorary membership in the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1938.

She Wrote the First Guide Handbook

Agnes wrote the first Girl Guide Handbook, which Juliette Gordon Low later adapted for the Girl Scouts.

She was Under-Appreciated and Pushed Aside

Agnes would later be remembered as an able administrator, but in her lifetime she put family loyalty ahead of assertiveness, often to her detriment.

She is remembered as the first Girl Guide, but her own brother doubted her abilities. Robert enlisted Agnes’ help only after being turned down by various first aid societies.

But the worst treatment came from her sister-in-law. Olave St. Clair Soames met Robert on an ocean voyage in 1912. Despite their 32-year age gap, the two married on October 30, 1912.

With Robert’s encouragement, Olave systematically assumed the leadership position held by Agnes and marginalized her new sister-in-law.

Olave began as a lowly county Guide officer in 1916 and before the end of the year had become Chief Guide. Agnes was offered the new, honorary post of President as a consolation prize. But the very next year, Agnes was told that Princess Mary would now be president; she would move down to vice-president. She was not happy, but dutifully stepped aside.

Olave explained her reasoning in her memoirs:

[Agnes] was a very gifted woman and extremely clever but thoroughly Victorian in outlook. She organized a Committee from her elderly friends [Agnes was 57 in 1916] … these ladies did their best but they were not really in touch with the younger generation; their ideas were based on the old-fashioned women’s organizations.

Quoted in Proctor, Scouting for Girls, pp. 33-34
Digital Image Created by Scouting Brazil

Agnes tried to remain involved in Guiding, but was regarded as a relic and nuisance at Guide Headquarters. She was well-received on a two-week tour of Canada in 1931, although Robert had written Canadian and US officials that her trip was unofficial. “Eventually,” writes historian Tammy Proctor, “Agnes was barred from Guide functions and dismissed from all official roles.”

While Olave argued that the shift was necessary to bridge the widening generation gap within Guiding, she had no such qualms about maintaining the generation gap between her husband and herself.

She is Buried in an Unmarked Grave in London

Agnes died on June 2, 1945, and was buried in the family plot at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. The Agnes Baden-Powell Guild has been established to raise funds to restore the family plot and to include Agnes on the monument. Members also maintain a Agnes Baden-Powell Appreciation Society page on Facebook.

The next time you attend a World Thinking Day event, tell them that Agnes sent you.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Brownies in the Philippines

I promised a better look at our newly acquired, hyper-adorable uniform for Brownies in the Philippines.

Ta da!

IMG_3867

I don’t have many hard facts about this uniform, but there are plenty of clues.

The dress has no labels or manufacturing marks, so it likely was homemade. It is pale brown linen.

A card in the pocket says it was donated by Mildred “Connie” Conrad in March 1987, but it is obviously much older.  This was part of a large donation that included flags for every country represented; the US flag included only has 48 stars, suggesting the 1950s or earlier.

The Philippines is an exception to the “Girl Guides” naming pattern used by most countries in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The first troops in the Philippines were established by families of US servicemen stationed there.  They were registered in New York as Girl Scouts, much like Troops on Foreign Soil. The original charter for the Philippines was issued in May 1940, but the organization had to be significantly reorganized and revived after World War II.

The dress has several patches, badges, and insignia:

IMG_3869

These look like the Golden Hand and Golden Bar emblems used by American Brownies between 1926 and 1937. The Girl Scout Collector’s Guide explains,

The Golden Bar rank represented a bit of the Golden Ground that the Brownie stands on ready to lend a hand. The Golden Hand rank showed that the Brownie could really lend a hand.

IMG_3868

The other shoulder has a Brownie Six emblem, council strip, and troop number.

This looks like the “Little People” emblem, which was introduced in 1929.

The dress includes eight badges, sewn around the waistband. These resemble badges earned by Girl Guides, especially as US Brownies did not earn badges before 1986.

 

Now, for the hard part, can anyone identify the badges?

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Based on current and vintage Girl Guide badges, my best guess is:

Writer, Knitting, Swimmer

 


Swimmer, Housekeeper (or cooking?), Jester (Blue Skeletor? He’s kinda creepy.)


Jester, Toymaker, Discoverer

 

 

IMG_3874 (1)Badge #8 is on the back of the dress. Perhaps Softball? Athlete?

I’ll share some of the other vintage uniforms, but don’t promise to do all 50!

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

 

 

 

Thinking About the World Centres

In honor of World Thinking Day on February 22, the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Committee has created a display highlighting the four World Centres.  (Since the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is located in London, “centre” is the official spelling.)

Many committee members have visited one or more of the centres and shared some of their souvenirs.  (Alas, I haven’t been to any…yet!)  Most of the items came from Sandra Alexander, a member of the Friends of Our Cabana, and Joan Paull, who was the WAGGGS liaison in Washington, DC, for many years.

Committee members Joan Paull (left) and Ginger Holinka select items for display.

Committee members Joan Paull (left) and Ginger Holinka select items for display.

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our display highlights four original pen and ink sketches of the World Centers. They are signed “Chris Bachofer,” but I’m afraid I don’t know the story behind them, or how they came to be part of our collection. (Please let me know if you do!)

For more on the World Centres, see their websites: Pax Lodge, Our Cabana, Our Chalet, Sangam.