Meet Minnie Hill

Wednesday began as an ordinary work day at the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland.

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Girl Scout Uniform, 1917-1919

While chatting over recent trips and eclipse plans, committee members worked to update the badge and patch collection and to continue processing the extensive donation of vintage Girl Scout and Girl Guide uniforms that we received in April. (With over 100 uniforms, it is a long, but fascinating task.)

We focused on one of the vintage suitcases that came with the collection.  (Even the suitcases are in pristine shape.) There were about a dozen bags to go through.

First, we found the tiniest khaki uniform I’ve ever seen. Skirt, jacket, even the bloomers were included. It appears home-made.

Then I heard someone yell, “Look at the badges!” One sleeve of the uniform was covered with an impressive, colorful record of hard work.

Minnie Hill Sleeve

Elusive White Felt badges: (from top left clockwise): Clerk, Civics, Matron Housekeeper, Attendance, Signaling, Dairy Maid, and Laundress (GSCNC Archives)

Yes, those are seven White Felt badges–the rarest of rare Girl Scout badges, available only from 1913 to 1918. The seven new White Felts bring our total number to — 10!

But when we turned the jacket over, we got an even bigger surprise:

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Minnie Hill’s Golden Eaglet, Buttercup Troop Crest, War Service Pin, and US Treasury War Service Award (GSCNC Archives)

According to a tattered paper in the suitcase, the uniform belonged to Minnie Hill.

Of course, this called for more research.

The included paper had three typed paragraphs, two faded newspaper clippings, and one ripped photo. They reported that Minnie Hill attended Central High School in Washington, DC, and was a Girl Scout in Troop 9 from 1917 to 1919.

She received her First Class badge from Mrs. Woodrow Wilson at a White House ceremony 100 years ago — on June 21, 1917.

Two years later she was back at the White House, this time to receive her Golden Eaglet from Queen Elizabeth of Belgium on October 31, 1919. The Queen, her husband, and their son were touring the United States at the time, and her participation in the ceremony had a special significance for Minnie, as Troop 9 had practiced their sewing and knitting skills by making layette sets for newborns in Belgium.

A Washington Times article about the 1919 ceremony noted that Minnie had earned 19 badges; all of which are still on her uniform sleeve.

In between those awards, Minnie was recognized for selling Liberty Bonds during World War I. The Washington Post reported that she had sold eleven war bonds for a total of $900. In addition to a medal, high sellers usually were honored with a parade. Alas, the 1918 parade was canceled due to the Spanish flu outbreak.

Sadly, our photo of Minnie is torn, crumbling, and not terribly useful. Attempts to repair it have done more harm than good:

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I searched the electronic archives of three different Washington newspapers, but did not find the photo.

Then I had another idea. That ceremony in 1917 was well documented. In fact, it was the ceremony where two Washington scouts, Eleanor Putzki and Ruth Colman received their Golden Eagles of Merit. Could Minnie be in one of those photos?

Here is the group shot from after the Court of Awards:

 

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White House Court of Awards, June 21, 1917. That’s Ruth Colman front and center, with her sleeve full of badges and her Golden Eagle of Merit pin. (Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection)

 

Take a closer look at the young lady on the back row, far left. I think that is Minnie Hill.

History hasn’t lost her after all.

©2017 Ann Robertson

A Girl Scout in the White House?

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Girl Scouts is a non-partisan organization that promotes patriotism and citizenship education. While we cannot appear in uniform at partisan events or endorse candidates, we absolutely encourage girls and their parents to take an active part in election campaigns.

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Mary Rafter, women’s rights crusader and leader of first Girl Scout Troop in Washington DC

When Girl Scouting was founded in 1912, women in the United States did not even have the right to vote. Many of the early Girl Scout leaders were active in the suffrage movement, including Mary Rafter, leader of the first troop established in Washington, DC, in December 1913.

The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, and Girl Scouts stationed themselves outside polling places to watch children while their mothers cast their first ballots.

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A Girl Scout babysits while the infant’s mother casts her ballot (GSUSA).

Over the years, the Girl Scout program has offered many proficiency badges that promote citizenship, as well as patch programs to learn more about the election process.

Perhaps that emphasis has contributed to the impressive number of former Girl Scouts involved in governance today. Former Attorney General Janet Reno, who passed away yesterday, was a lifetime Girl Scout.

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Whatever happens in this election, the Girl Scouts will have a friend in the White House. Every First Lady since Edith Wilson has been honorary national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

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First Lady Florence Harding wears her uniform on the White House portico (GSCNC Archives)

 

First Lady Florence Harding (1921-1924) was a huge fan of the movement, telling visitors, “What I wish is that I were your age and could start life over again as a Girl Scout.”

©2016 Ann Robertson

Who’s That Girl Scout? Leah Burket

Seventy-five years ago, in June 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Washington, DC.  Girl Scout Leah Burket was selected to present the Queen with a bouquet of flowers as the royal couple left the White House en route to a garden party at the British Embassy.  Her Majesty was enchanted by Leah and paused the procession for a closer look at one of Leah’s badges.

Girl Scout Leah Burkett, left, tells Queen Elizabeth about one of her awards.

Girl Scout Leah Burkett, left, tells Queen Elizabeth about one of her awards.

Today, June 8, 2014, Washington Post columnist John Kelly recalled “Their majesties’ magical tour of Washington 75 years ago.” He included a version of this photo, but the print version cropped out poor Leah. That is a shame, as she was an outstanding  Girl Scout.

Queen Elizabeth asked Leah about her Book Finder badge.

Queen Elizabeth asked Leah about her Book Finder badge.

Leah was a member of Takoma Park, Maryland, Troop 51.  She was in the same troop as Jean Boyer Porter, who remained an active Girl Scout in the Washington area until her death last year.  Jean’s children generously donated her Girl Scout memorabilia to the Nation’s Capital Council, including scrapbooks and photo albums full of Troop 51’s exploits in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Girl Scout troops were to assemble at 3:45 on June 8, 1939, for the royal visit.

Girl Scout troops were to assemble at 3:45 on June 8, 1939, for the royal visit.

Leah, 15, became quite the celebrity.  She told the Evening Star newspaper that after she presented Queen Elizabeth with a bouquet of forget-me-nots, sweet peas, and lilies of the valley, the royal asked to shake her hand.

“Then she asked how many badges I had, and I said there were 15 on this uniform. She asked about one in particular. That is the book-finder badge. She told me that her daughter Elizabeth [now Queen Elizabeth II] is working for her badges.”

The photo of Leah and the royals was reproduced around the world. She recalled getting letters containing the clipping from people across the United States, as well as from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and India.  She became pen pals with several of them and learned about the hardships many people faced in war-torn Britain.

Leah put her Girl Scout leadership skills to work to organize a “Bundles for Britain” dance at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Bundles for Britain sent packages of warm clothing, first aid kits, and other items to British families. Inspired by Leah, the Silver Spring Young Men’s Democratic Club and the Indian Springs Country Club also held similar dances.

Three cheers for Leah Burket!

 

The Road to the White House Is Lined With … Girl Scouts!

In honor of President Barack Obama’s second inaugural on January 21, the display cases at GSCNC headquarters feature items from past inaugurations and photographs donated by former First Ladies.

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Click image to enlarge.

Girl Scouts have had close ties with the White House from the movement’s earliest days. Every First Lady since Edith Wilson has served as Honorary National President.

Lou Henry HoIMG_5996over is doubly tied to Girl Scouts, serving as both Honorary President while First Lady (1929–33) and as National President twice (1922–25 and 1935–37). We have original photos personally inscribed to the Girl Scouts from Mrs. Hoover, Grace Coolidge, Mamie Eisenhower, and Bess Truman, among others, as a wonderful portrait of Mrs. Coolidge wearing her Girl Scout uniform outside the White House.

Girl Scout units have been involved in Inaugural activities since President Woodrow Wilson was sworn in for a second term in March 1917.*

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The 1917 parade was the first to allow women to march. First, however, the Girl Scouts had to prove they were up to the task. The Washington Post reported on February 24, 1917, that 400 girls “went through a practice drill yesterday morning on the ellipse of the White House grounds. The girls were khaki uniforms, khaki hats, black shoes and black or dark brown stockings.” Following their rehearsal, Col. Robert N. Harper, head of inauguration committee, concluded, “The fair Scouts will be a credit to the great procession.” Once accepted, the Girl Scouts used the Post to invite “All Girl Scouts of Washington who have uniforms” to march. “No coats of sweaters will be permitted.  Black shoes and stockings and white gloves are also to be worn,” according to the instructions.

More recently, Girl Scouts have served as parade ushers, helping with crowd control, offering directions, helping lost visitors find their bearings. Some 122 girls came out for Jimmy Carter in 1977 and 500 teen Girl Scouts trained for Ronald Reagan’s freezing second inauguration in 1985. President Reagan also arranged for the Girl Scouts to work at Inaugural Balls, where they help open limo doors for lucky ticket holders. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s the girls donned special capes and berets for the event.

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On display at GSCNC are a yellow windbreaker from the 1989 ceremonies, a blue knit cap worn by Boy Scout volunteers in 2009 and the red knit cap Girl Scouts will wear on January 21, 2013. We also have a selection of ribbons, patches, and buttons given to Girl Scout and Boy Scout volunteers.  (Thank you to the National Capital Area Boy Scout Museum for lending some of these items!!)

This display will remain in place through mid-March.  Please stop by GSCNC and see what’s new from the archives!IMG_5997

 

 

*In 1933 the 20th Amendment moved presidential swearing-in ceremonies from March to January.