On my honor I promise..…to try not to write so much in one week! But Monday the 12th marks the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting and as a blog (mostly) devoted to expounding on Nature, I wanted to express gratitude for an organization that nurtured my love of Nature. It also nurtured a young girl named Ruth. Mom did not have many opportunities growing up, church activities and Girl Scouts were her primary social outlets. At school she felt the self-consciousness of not having the latest style skirts and sweaters other girls wore, or being able to go places they went, but in Girl Scouts she worked diligently on badges that gave her knowledge, experiences, and a quiet pride. If you ask her now she may laugh nervously and tell you she only got a few badges, or she may tell you that everything past 125th street (in Seattle) was woods and that’s where they went hiking. One of the many things she learned in Scouts was identification of plants. She says in high school she didn’t want to take a language course, but took instead botany and through that got her plant badge. Home life was not easy, her father, and osteopathic doctor during the depression, often was not paid in cash, but in trades or not at all, creating sparse meals and tensions at home and resulting in a divorce that was difficult on a young teen-age girl. Though she always worked full-time, later in life she found time to be an active adult Girl Scout.
It took awhile for me to realize how much Mom knew about plants, maybe because we moved east when I was five, away from that which was familiar to her, though on family camping trips she would casually mention the name of this or that plant. Living back in Washington, she seemed to know more names of the local flora. Several years ago she asked me to give her a sheet of pictures I’d taken of wildflowers, with the names. I think she wanted to hold on to that knowledge she gained as a Girl Scout and which gave her a sense of accomplishment. Today, it is I who am telling her the names of plants, forgotten in her mind, but taught to me by her.
Girls Scouts was founded by a widow, Juliette Low, whose husband died while she was on the verge of granting him a divorce after he moved his mistress into the their home. He left his estate to the mistress, with an allowance to Low, managed by the mistress. Talk about a woman ‘done wrong’! Low fought back and received her widow’s inheritance. She then turned her attentions to establishing Girl Guides in the United States, having started a group while living in Scotland after meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Boy Scouts.
Daisy (Low’s nickname) called her good friend and cousin one day and said “Come right over! I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!” And she did! From the beginning Daisy saw Girl Scouts as an organization for girls to experience the outdoors, learn to be self-reliant, learn about the arts, and prepare for working in different professions. Perhaps due to her own deafness in one ear, at a time when people with disabilities were often excluded, she saw no difference between them and those without disabilities. Girl Scouts has always been inclusive – race, religion, nor sexual orientation prevents girls, or women, from being active in scouts. This inclusiveness has caused some to criticize Girl Scouts.
My first Girl Scout Handbook is the 1953 – 55 edition. I’m sure then I did not think about how young the organization was! When mom was a Scout I’m not sure she had a handbook. By the time I was an adult Girl Scout one book had become three. These guidebooks changed over the years. As the role of women became more complicated, scouting responded with deeper, richer programs and guidebooks with more information.
Girl Scouts is not about this month’s ubiquitous cookie sale, it’s about opening worlds, especially the world of Nature, teaching self-reliance, nurturing self-esteem. Thanks Daisy, not just for my memories of summer camps and camp songs, but also for guiding a young girl through her difficult years during the depression. You are still guiding girls through difficult times while teaching them to grow into successful women.
Do you have Girl Scout memories? I’d love to hear them! Share them in the comments section below, or perhaps you were a Camp Fire Girl, or Marine Scout! How did these impact your life?