Who’s That Girl Scout? Eleanor Ault

In the final days of World War II, the Girl Scouts of the USA dispatched six professional workers to war-torn Europe. Their official status was “on loan” to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA).

Girl Scout worker Eleanor Ault

Two of the six women worked for the national organization. By far the best-known of the group, Catherine T. Hammett was a renowned expert in camping. She was joined by Katherine McCullough a GSUSA field adviser.

The other four women had been council executive directors: Eleanor Ault, (Albany, New York); Dorothy Donnell (Orange, New Jersey); Grace Hast (Lincoln, Nebraska); and Marion Sloan (Kansas City, Missouri).

Hammett became director of social services at a Greek refugee camp in Palestine. She wrote a lengthy article in the December 1944 issue of Leader, with vivid descriptions of the terrain, flora, and fauna. The author of Campcraft ABCs, Hammett also wrote about the tents, makeshift stoves, and more in the refugee camps.

Six Girl Scout professionals working with the UNRRA program. (Leader Magazine)

Ault, Donnell, and Hast took charge of welfare needs at smaller refugee camps, reporting to Hammett. McCullough and Sloan were posted to Yugoslav refugee camps in Egypt.

While international relief organizations set up schools, hospitals, sewing rooms, the Girl Scouts organized recreation and vocational training for refugee children. In time, they laid the groundwork for establishing Girl Scout and Boy Scout programs in the region.

On September 29, 1945, Eleanor Ault and 2nd Lt. Arlene Waldhaus of the US Public Health Service were aboard a 3,330-ton British ship, the Empire Patrol, accompanying 562 Greek refugees, including 200 children, across the Mediterranean Sea.

Around noon, as Eleanor locked the recreation room, she heard a commotion on a lower deck. She rushed to the scene to see flames sprouting from the starboard side of the ship.

The Empire Patrol begins to burn (http://www.empirepatrol.com)

Instead of paraphrasing the ensuing events, I will reprint the cable that UNRAA sent to GSUSA following the incident:

Immediately [Eleanor] began directing refugees in use of fire extinguishers. Flames starred coming from starboard side. Ault was one of those who prevented panic among refugees by calming, answering questions, distributing lifebelts, helping load lifeboats. Fire spread rapidly.

Captain asked Ault to accompany refugees in lifeboat and therein take charge. Line jammed on her boat as it was lowered, pulley had to be knocked off and boat dropped into sea. At this time whole ship was blazing.

At short distance from ship she picked up old man, young man and boy. Little farther off found several more and overtook another lifeboat overloaded with survivors. She transferred some, instructed others how to bail, get out oars. …

Altogether she rescued 35 — many been clinging defective rafts. Sea was very rough, consequently there was danger capsizing. At 4:oo P.M. Aircraft Carrier Trouncer arrived near burning ship; but as darkness fell lifeboats and rafts drifted apart, Ault being steadied by refugee men at oars.

As red distress lantern in boat failed, Ault improvised flare from kapok ripped out of life preserver which she soaked in kerosene and hung on boat hook which led plane circling overhead locating position of lifeboat. At 8:oo P.M. searchlights of Afghanistan picked out lifeboat and after Ault and man and boys climbed aboard, baskets were lowered for women and children. Afghanistan was one of first to reach Port Said [Egypt]

Leader (November 1945): 11.

Of the 913 passengers, only 57 perished.

Empire Patrol passengers scramble to safety (http://www.empirepatrol.com)

Wow. Let’s pause and take that in for a moment ….

Makes surviving cookie season pretty tame, doesn’t it?

The Girl Scouts were extremely proud of Eleanor, awarding her a citation reading “For distinguished service rendered in the saving of lives on the ill-fated “Empire Patrol.”

Born in Chicago in 1909, Eleanor graduated from De Pauw University. She became a Girl Scout professional in 1932. Following her stint with UNRRA, she moved to England, where she became one of the first participants in a US-UK trainer exchange program. During that time, she also attended the International Training Conference at Our Chalet, Switzerland.

Eleanor returned to the United States in 1947, taking a volunteer development post in Oklahoma. She eventually returned to Albany, New York, where she died in 1994.

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

Life at Camp Rockwood

Lately I have been reading monthly reports from the directors of Rockwood, the former Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC.

The monthly reports run about five pages each and provide statistics describing the groups using the camp in a particular month.

Many of the included items are routine and rather boring–I’ve learned more than I probably need to about septic systems.

But mixed in with the monotony are some real gems. Including these:

RFK: Come see my house!

Robert F. Kennedy sits on the front steps of his home, Hickory Hill
https://bobbykennedy.tumblr.com

A group of Senior Girl Scouts in perfect uniform is a beautiful sight to behold and Mr. Robert Kennedy evidently thought so too. The girls were standing on the roadside in front of Mr. Kennedy’s home waiting for their stalled bus to be repaired when Mr. Kennedy drove to the main road. He stopped his car—greeted the girls and shook hands with many of them—asked where they were from and then invited them into his home for a tour. He apologized because his wife was not there and he had to go on to his work, but left them with a maid to act as a tour guide. Those girls are convinced that their uniforms helped them to have this experience. (July 1964)

An impromptu recording session

Recently a staff member began to play a tape recording made at Shadowbrook All States encampment. This recording was of the favorite songs of the campers. Gradually the Manor House Lobby and stair steps filled with girls and the girls began to sing with the record. Then they, too, made recordings. Two fathers and a bus driver joined in with the fun. One father acted as sound engineer and the other held the microphone. Forty of the sixty girls in camp attended the impromptu sing. (September 1963)

Not without our leader

A leader, as she got off the bus, said to the staff member standing nearby—“Watch those girls. They are trying to hide my  wheel chair as they take it off the bus. They think that I do not know  that they have it here. I did not realize that I had muscular  dystrophy when  we started planning this trip three years ago. When I refused to go on this long planned adventure they would have none of it and then, when I said I would stay on the bus and rest as they went sightseeing they did not want that either. I dislike holding them back and tiring them with pushing my chair, but-no one  could resist them. They even have a secret kaper chart scheduling aides to help me. They don’t  know that I know about that too.” What a wonderful troop of Seniors that group was! Mature, capable, dependable, and determined to keep their leader from becoming tired and frustrated. (July 1964)

Ready for the Rascal

For two days in succession a tent was raided and the contents of suitcases thrown about. We feared that neighborhood boys were up to mischief. On the third day members of the staff took turns sitting quietly in the unit doing office work. The vandal was found and identified. It was one of those attractive and annoying rascals-a raccoon. Our campers enjoy hearing about their escapades. The owners of the raided suitcases now know that we mean it when we say that food should be kept in covered containers. 

Girl Scout postcard, 1946

This happened the third week of August.  Another troop from the same city arrived the fourth week of the month and were to live in the same unit. One girl immediately asked to be placed in the tent visited by the raccoons because she had a camera with a flash attachment. (August 1963)

The Expert

The Caretaker’s granddaughter came for a Brownie Holiday with her troop. They stayed at Carolyn Cottage and she immediately claimed a top bunk. This troop had few questions to ask since the granddaughter had already furnished all the necessary information. (May 1961)

Brownies on Bunk Beds, 1954

Do you have a Rockwood story? Please let me know.

I have already heard from that confident Brownie, who wanted to share her version of that weekend!

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