While exiting the grocery store on Saturday, I came across a troop of Girl Scouts selling cookies. I got a box of thin mints and began an immediate hobble down memory lane. For eight years during my girlhood, I was a scout, and I joined up again for the years my daugher was one. I not only learned how to mark a trail, put up a tent, make a meal in a coffee can, and tie every knot imaginable, but I also learned to knit and sew, practice charm school behavior and babysit, all in my quest for merit badges. I still have my sash.
Then I learned that this very week marks the one hundredth anniversary of Girl Scouting in America. And I owe all of those happy memories and girlhood accomplishments to Juliette Gordon Low.
She was born Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon on Halloween, 1860, into a prominent Savannah, Georgia family. Her dad was a Confederate captain and after the war, a volunteer militiaman in Savannah. Her family’s prosperity permitted Juliette an outstanding education in top-notch private schools. Her aptitudes included sculpture and animal sciences.
Nicknamed “Daisy” she contracted a serious ear infection that was treated with silver nitrate. Unfortunately, the treatment caused significant hearing loss. In 1886, at her marriage to William Mackay Low, a grain of wedding rice lodged in her ear, the removal of which damaged nerves and caused complete deafness. She and “Willy” resided in his native England for the next 19 years.
Although she and her husband were members of high society, the marriage turned unhappy with Willy’s philandering and drinking. Divorce proceedings were instigated, but Willy died suddenly in 1905 before a final decree. Most of his money was left to his mistress, leaving Daisy despirited. For several years, she traveled throughout Eurupe and India.
At a luncheon in England in 1922, she met Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the British Boy Scouts, and her interest in the scounting movement was immediate and profound. That year, she organized a troop of “Girl Guides,” Britain’s female equivalent, at her estate in Glenlyon, Scotland. Her first outreach was for poor girls. Then she created two troops in London.
On March 12, 1912, Daisy established the first Girl Scout troop in her hometown of Savannah. Thanks to her ethusiastic promotion, the movement grew rapidly and officially became the Girl Scouts of America in 1913. In 1915, the organization was incorporated with a national headquarters in Washington D.C., with Daisy as president. In 1919, she was official representative at the first international meeting of the Girl Scouts and the Girl Guides, and in 1920, she was bestowed the title of “founder.”
Not only did Daisy devote her own time and finances to scouting, she tirelessly sought support and contributions from communities around the country. Her attempts to merge with the Campfire Girls, however, failed to materialize.
Daisy oversaw the first Girl Scout Handbook, and was so involved and “hands on” she was beloved by girls everywhere.
After a cancer diagnosis in 1923, Daisy kept her illness a secret and tirelessly continued her efforts. She helped organize the world Girl Scout camp in the U.S. in 1926. When she passed away in January, 1927, she was buried in the scout uniform. Membership in the Girl Scouts at that time numbered 168,000.
Were you or your daughters Girl Scouts or Campfire? What are your favorite memories of those times?