Last July Diane spoke with Financial Times columnist Edward Luce about his book, "The Retreat of Western Liberalism." A year later, we have invited him back for an update.
On the eve of the Girls Scouts’ centennial, Diane and her guest discuss the life of its founder, Juliette Gordon Low. Known as “Daisy,” Gordon Low wanted American girls to share in the independent skill-building activities that the British Girl Guides enjoyed. From her living room in Savannah, Georgia, Daisy recruited and formed troops for the organization that would eventually become a national movement.
- Stacy Cordery Professor of history, Monmouth College, Monmouth, Illinois
Read An Excerpt
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts by Stacy A. Cordery Copyright (c) 2012 by Stacy A. Cordery:
More than 50 million young women have been Girl Scouts at some point in their lives. Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. celebrates its centennial next month. Historian Stacy Cordery has written a new biography about its creator. The book is titled “Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts.”
First Interest In Low
Cordery was in the Brownies when she first learned about Low, and she was very impressed that Low had accomplished so much in spite of her disability (she was deaf). Low wasn’t born deaf; she had been plagued by ear infections and problems her whole life, and in her teens, a doctor attempted a treatment involving silver nitrate, which severely worsened her condition. On her wedding day, a piece of rice got lodged in her ear and caused further infection, worsening her condition even more.
Low’s Early Life
Low grew up in Savannah, Georgia, one of six children in a fairly wealthy family. Born in 1860, her early life was affected by the civil war. Her mother was from Chicago; her father, a proud Georgian who fought in the Civil War for the Confederates. “So her early years then were colored by the privations of war and the fact that her father was this, you know, larger than life romantic figure in this Confederate uniform. And all the glory to people around her were in these uniforms and I think that, like most children who are lucky enough to avoid the battle for it itself, she played games about war with her sisters and so forth,” Cordery said.
Low’s Married Life
Low married a young Savannah man with roots in England, Willie Low, but it was a difficult marriage. Low had a mistress, and Juliette threatened to divorce him. But he fell ill, and she felt she had to drop the divorce proceedings. When he died, he left his fortune to his mistress. Low learned that life is unpredictable.
The Start Of The Girl Scouts
Low had worked as a volunteer in settlement houses in England, and she e3ventually started a girl scout troop in Scotland, for poor girls. “So she saw how her guiding experiences helped these girls to, she believed, a better future. She gave them solid skills and fun and tea. You know, food is always helpful when you are bringing kids together,” Cordery said. “She thought these girls would be better served if they could get some kind of economic independence,” she said.
You can read the full transcript here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. More than 50 million young women have been Girl Scouts at some point in their lives. Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. celebrates its centennial next month. Historian Stacy Cordery has written a new biography about its creator. The book is title ''Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts."
MS. DIANE REHMStacey Cordery joins me in the studio. I hope you will join us as well, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, Stacy, it's good to have you here.
MS. STACY CORDERYGood morning, how are you?
REHMI'm fine, thank you. Stacey, were you a Girl Scout?
CORDERYI am a proud third-generation Girl Scout.
REHMReally, third generation, tell me about that.
CORDERYWell, my mother was a Girl Scout and her mother was a Girl Scout and so I have a family history that means something significant to me.
REHMWhat did you glean from your experience as a Girl Scout?
CORDERYI think I learned reinforcement for much of what my parents taught me at home. I learned, I think, to be more responsible as a Girl Scout. I think I remember lessons in kindness and caring, particularly for animals, which makes sense now that I know how much Juliette Gordon Low loved animals. And I think that the whole notion of tradition became important to me too because my mother kept her Girl Scout uniform, which I still have.
CORDERYAnd when I was a girl, we moved around a lot, I mean a lot, and my mother's rule was if you haven't used it or worn it for two years, get rid of it, donate it. But in the same box that she kept her wedding dress, she kept her Girl Scout uniform. And so even though she and I never had a long conversation about this, she passed away before I could do this, I knew that it meant something really profoundly important to her. And I do remember, I have wonderful memories of taking that box out with my Mom every now and then and looking at the uniform and looking at her badges and looking at her wedding dress too, you know, so I knew it was really important.
REHMHow about you? Are you married? Do you have a wedding dress you've saved?
CORDERYI am married. I'm married to another historian and I do have my wedding dress. And I have a son so I don't think he's going to care about my wedding dress or my Girl Scout's uniform.
REHMAll right. Now tell me then, did your interest, your experience in Girl Scouts turn you toward Juliette Low?
CORDERYYes. I think the first time I heard about Juliette Gordon Low, I was in the Brownie circle and I remember being fascinated by the notion that she was deaf and had founded this organization that meant so much to me and my mother and my grandmother. And I think I was probably at that age when perhaps we were learning about the senses at school or something because it really made an impression on me. And I went off after that to try to learn sign language because of that fact and so...
REHMShe wasn't born deaf?
CORDERYNo, she wasn't. She had an accident of sorts in her late teens. Well, let me back up and say, growing up, Juliette Gordon Low was plagued by ear infections her whole life, earaches. And at one point in time, she decided she would ask a physician to try this new treatment of silver nitrate in her ear. And so he put the silver nitrate in her ear and it burned terribly and in the book, actually there's a lot of detail about what it might have done, what it probably did, what silver nitrate was used for.
CORDERYIt was not an unusual remedy at the time, but it certainly worsened the hearing in that ear significantly.
CORDERYAnd then, it got worse on her wedding day.
CORDERYWell, an errant piece of rice went in the very same ear. It lodged in there, I think, because her mother gave a rather graphic description, which I will spare your listeners, of how inflamed and sore that ear was. She was in a carriage and so someone had presumably a straight shot at kind of ear level when they threw this rice, lodged in her ear, caused her tremendous pain and decreased her hearing in that ear.
REHMA lot of people these days use confetti instead of rice, good idea considering Juliette Gordon Low's experience. How did she grow up?
CORDERYShe was born in 1860 in Savannah, Ga. and she was one of six children in the family and the Gordons were a wealthy family so she didn't hurt for -- she didn't need any material thing when she was growing up. Her early days were affected by the Civil War. Her mother was a Yankee from Chicago. The Kinzies were the founding family of Chicago. Her father was a proud Georgian and not long after she was born, of course, went off to fight in the Civil War as a Confederate.
CORDERYSo her early years then were colored by the privations of war and the fact that her father was this, you know, larger than life romantic figure in this Confederate uniform. And all the glory to people around her were in these uniforms and I think that, like most children who are lucky enough to avoid the battle for it itself, she played games about war with her sisters and so forth. So when the war ended, the family finances got back on their feet and in pretty short order.
REHMI must say it had to have been difficult for her mother who was a Northerner to see her husband fighting for the Confederacy.
CORDERYEspecially since her mother had brothers who fought for the Union side so she, Nelly Gordon, Nelly Kinzie Gordon was one of those women who was torn right down the half.
REHMSo there was certainly a comfortable life...
REHM...for her as a child. What do you think it was about her that led her to want to want to encourage young girls to become strong women?
CORDERYOh, that's an interesting question and the traditional narrative that most Girl Scouts know, I think, is that Juliette Gordon Low, who was always known as Daisy, went on to marry a wealthy, young man with Savannah roots who lived in England. His name was Willie Low and they had a difficult marriage.
CORDERYWhen Willie fell in love with Daisy, she was a beautiful, outgoing, charming Savannah belle who had her hearing...
CORDERYNo, no problems.
CORDERYNo problems, exactly right. And when she fell in love with Willie Low, he was a dashing, elegant, young man, a gentleman and he stood to inherit a lot of money, but he did not have that money. By the time they got married, Daisy was quite ill, both with her hearing and with some other problems. And Willie's father had died so he inherited an enormous fortune and the money did not do good things for Willie.
REHMThey went back to England to live?
CORDERYThey did. And in England, Willie got connected with the crowd, around the Prince of Wales, Birdie, Prince Edward, right, and he was a gambling, hard-drinking, big-game hunting kind of tough-living sort of man and Willie was drawn to this. So they had horse racing in common and all the rest. And Juliette Low grew up, you know, a genteel young girl in Savannah, Ga. and raised in the Episcopal church and dedicated to the virtues of, you know, giving back and doing right and so I think their expectations were not met once they were married. And so that is, I think, the shorthand answer to your question of what went wrong in their marriage.
REHMHe began drinking fairly heavily. There were stories of his womanizing?
CORDERYAnd that was, ultimately, what did it for Juliette Low. Anna Bateman was the name of the other woman and when Willie Low became less discreet about his time with Anna Bateman, Juliette Low took the unusual and fairly scandalous step of saying she was going to divorce him. And that just wasn't done in Willie's circle. You didn't divorce. You just lived with it.
REHMHow long had they been married by this time?
CORDERYOh, the marriage was not doing well. By at least seven or eight years into it, they were already having problems. And by 1900, they married in 1886, by 1900, the Anna Bateman affair was pretty well known. So Juliette Low decided to divorce him and the brief tale is he said, fine, we'll divorce. We'll separate. Then he got very ill and when Willie Low became very ill, Daisy said, well, I can't divorce you because you are ill and dying so she called off the divorce, was going to tend to him, to nurse him. And then he got better and was seen with Anna Bateman again.
CORDERYSo Daisy said, well, to heck with this, I shall now re-institute divorce proceedings against you. And in the midst of all this back and forth, it went on a long time, Willie Low died.
REHMAnd the money?
CORDERYThe money, he left all of his money to his mistress.
REHMWhich Juliette Gordon Low fought?
CORDERYYes, with Willie's sisters because they all understood how unfair this was, both to Willie's sisters and to Daisy.
CORDERYSo the lesson that Daisy learned from this, to answer the question about how did she come to want to be involved in an organization to help young women, is Daisy Low learned that life was not predictable. And even though you've done everything right, you'd grown up in good circumstances, you'd married the man you loved, you'd been faithful and loyal, sometimes you wound up cuckolded and then widowed.
REHMDid she win the lawsuit for the money?
CORDERYShe did not win everything. Mrs. Bateman inherited a good piece of it, but...
REHMWhy English law allowed that...
REHM...because she was his mistress?
CORDERYYes, and he had...
REHMWilled everything to her.
CORDERYYes, and worked with attorneys. He was very canny about it.
REHMCanny is one word, there are others I can think of. We're talking about a new biography of Juliette Gordon Low, the remarkable founder of the Girl Scouts. Stacy Cordery is professor of history at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill. We'll take a short break here. I see lots of callers coming in. We'll begin taking your calls soon, stay with us.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Stacy Cordery is the author of three Roosevelt biographies and she's also bibliographer of the National First Lady's Library.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Stacy Cordery is the author of three Roosevelt biographies and she's also bibliographer of the National First Ladies' Library. Her newest book is all about the remarkable founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
REHMWhen her husband died, Juliette Gordon Low, or Daisy as she was called, really didn't know what to do with herself. How did she find her way?
CORDERYShe had some options but they didn't seem to be options that were viable for her. She was interested in art her whole life long and could've been an artist. But it was very difficult to break into professional art for women then and now. She could've taken care of invalids and children in the family, in the extended family. That was a perfectly proper role for women at the time, but her hearing loss made her fear that if she cared for invalids, she would miss something and make their condition worse or something. So that was not a possibility.
CORDERYAnd then she could travel, and that is essentially what she did. She took nieces to exotic places that white American women of her background just generally didn't go. For example...
CORDERY...India, Egypt. She shot a tiger. She went big game hunting, which is something that Willie Low had done. So she traveled and I think she enjoyed the fact that travel took her mind off of her woes. See, Anna Bateman, the mistress, meant that Daisy Low had been a failure as a woman. She had failed at the only two things that women of her class and era were supposed to do, and that is to be a wife and a mother. And the Lows did not have children so she was really bereft and broken hearted because I think she did love Willie.
CORDERYSo what to do was a very difficult question. But one of the things I discovered in this book is as soon as Willie Low made public his relationship with Anna Bateman, or at least public to her, she took herself off and did the one thing that Willie Low told her she should not do and he would not countenance a wife doing, and that is to go work in a settlement home. So Daisy Low volunteered at the Talbot Street Settlement House in a very poor section of London.
CORDERYNow settlement house, that's like Hull-House, Jane Addams' Hull-House. And this connects up with a lifetime of charitable works that Daisy Low did. And while she was a wife she did many of them in secret because Willie Low said, I'm not going to have any wife of mine dragging her skirts through typhoid wards or, you know, mixing with the sorts of people you would mix with. So while they lived in England in Warwickshire, she did some volunteer work at the Stratford-on-Avon poorhouse, the workhouse there. She befriended a leper whom no one else would go visit.
CORDERYSo she worked with the Wellsburn (sp?) Nursing Association and some other things. And some of this he knew about and apparently a good bit of it he did not know. And again, this goes back to Juliette Low's upbringing, the family message of giving back. She comes from a long line of people who were civically engaged on both sides of her family.
CORDERYSo I think this is the reason that when she met Lord Baden Powell -- or at the time, General Baden-Bowell, she was so enthusiastic so quickly about his program of scouting.
REHMScouting. And what did that mean? To Juliette, what did it mean in England?
CORDERYBaden Powell was a war hero from the Boer War and he had been celebrated for the Siege of Mafeking so he was a common household name. And Juliette Low was determined she was not going to like this man. She knew that their paths would cross at some point and they did. But she thought that Baden Powell had gotten way too much press for what he did at Mafeking when she was extremely loyal. It was one of her greatest characteristics how loyal she was. And she thought one of her dear friends had done just as much, thank you very much, as Baden Powell and he should've had all the press and the heroism directed at him.
CORDERYSo she found herself at lunch across the table with Baden Powell in May of 1911 and said to herself, I'm not going to like this man. I'm not going to like this man. I'm not going to like this man. But apparently his charm and charisma won the day and she found herself really infatuated both with him and with his program of boy scouting, which was new, and grew out of his own expertise in the military. He was a military scout.
CORDERYAnd because he was so well known, a book he had published got enormous legs with the British public, particularly with boys who said, I want to do the great things that scouts do. I want to go tracking. I want to learn what a bent leaf means. I want to go learn why the moss only grows on one side of a tree. And so Baden Powell came back to England from the Empire where he was serving and found that there were lots and lots of boys imitating him. And in short order it became clear that he needed to either firm up these boys, right, make them into some kind of a group or dissuade them completely.
CORDERYBut at some point, there was no dissuading the boys. So he then created this organization which came to be called the Boy Scouts. And Baden Powell noticed that every time the Boy Scouts gathered, there were girls. And then to his shock and horror, these girls were also wearing uniforms that looked just like their brothers'. Well, you can't have girls in uniform. You can't have girls doing what boys were doing exactly. And you surely can't call them scouts.
CORDERYSo Baden Powell foisted these girls who were earnest and enthusiastic and energetic and thrilled at this program off on his sister. So by the time Juliette met Robert Baden Powell, the Girl Guides were up and running and...
CORDERY...the Guides, yes, because he was not going to have the girls called scouts.
CORDERYSo girls could stand behind Guide but they couldn't be scouts. Scouts was a military term and that couldn't be applied to women. So Agnes Baden Powell, his sister, ran the Girl Guides in the early days. And Juliette Low was interested and attracted by the myriad purposes of scouting and saw how it could help girls, probably not unlike the girls that she had helped at the Talbot Street Settlement.
REHMSo it all went with her own values.
REHMIt all coincided beautifully. So what next? How did she export that idea to the United States?
CORDERYI left off the most important product of Girl Scouting or guiding at this time and I know that Girl Scouts who are listening will call it. So I have to just say that what Juliette really loved about this program as much as anything else was that it was supposed to be fun. Scouting and guiding was supposed to be fun. Educational, yes. Military preparedness or at least a sense of self-sufficiency and we should help the Empire, yes. But fun overall. And that was -- Daisy loved the fun.
CORDERYSo what she did was to start a Girl Guides troop in Scotland where she had a home. And she started this troop for the very poor girls in the valley. And, again, I think it makes sense having now discovered the work she did in the settlement houses. So she saw how her guiding experiences helped these girls to, she believed, a better future. She gave them solid skills and fun and tea. You know, food is always helpful when you are bringing kids together.
REHMWhat kinds of skills was she helping them develop?
CORDERYWell, she thought these girls would be better served if they could get some kind of economic independence. And she knew there were a lot of hunting lodges around that area of Scotland because she, in fact, with Willie had rented hunting lodges there. So she helped them rationalize eggs. They had chickens and eggs and they sold these eggs to the hunting lodges. She also taught them out to spin and weave and work with yarns so that they could sell their products in shops in London. And she facilitated that so that the Scottish products from these girls and she sold it in London. She had a house in London so connections there.
REHMWas there any kind of religious element involved here?
CORDERYNo. In fact, the biggest difference between Baden Powell and Juliette Low was their take on religion. Because Juliette Low grew up and was her whole life long a devout Episcopalian. So her Protestant Christianity was very important to her. And Baden Powell said, I see God in nature. I see God all kinds of places. And so while they had art -- they were both artists -- in common, they were both interested in similar books, they had all sorts of points of connection, religion was the one that they did not share.
CORDERYAnd so when the Boy Scouts were formed, yes, it was originally I would say Christian in focus, but Baden Powell was never -- Christianity was never a big part of it for him.
REHMSo from Scotland then where?
CORDERYShe took the experiences from the rural poor girls in Scotland to London and began a troop of urban wealthier girls and urban poor girls. So she had three Girl Guide troops before she came to Savannah, her hometown, which she loved in 1912. So in early 1912, she took a boat, Baden Powell was on that same ship, and she came to Savannah. And as she said in a famous phone call to her cousin, I have something for the girls of Savannah and all America and we're going to start it tonight.
REHMWow. Where'd she get the money?
CORDERYWell, she funded the Girl Scouts in the United States from her own pocketbook.
REHMSo what are we talking about?
CORDERYI don't know because she was a terrible record keeper.
REHMSo we have no idea.
CORDERYNo. I do know that she paid for everything. She paid for the typewriters that the secretaries used. She paid for the secretaries' salaries. She paid for the stationery. She paid for all of it. She paid for the curtain that hung across the basketball court and the tennis court in Savannah where the girls in the early Girl Guiding Savannah troops played sports. She paid for it all. And eventually it became self-supporting, but...
REHMDid she call them Girl Guides even after they got to Savannah?
CORDERYYes, because she was very deeply committed to Robert Baden Powell and committed to his program. And he had decreed they would be Girl Guides. So when she came to Savannah in early 1912, she began girl guiding here. And it wasn't too long before Juliette had to go back to England because of her property, but also because when she came over to start this thing for the girls of America, she had exactly one handbook. That is all she had. And so as the girls got more excited and more joy and they had to share this handbook or they had to go find Daisy to discover what to do next.
CORDERYSo she went back to England, got more handbooks, got some badges, got some pins, got, you know, more experience and more connections with the Girl Guide leaders there. By the time she came back to Savannah the girls themselves had been calling themselves Girl Scouts.
REHMInteresting. They took it upon themselves.
CORDERYThey did. And Juliette Low did not fight them, although she had to battle it with Robert Baden Powell. But this is the genesis, I think, of one of the most important parts of Girl Scouting that is still consistent today. And that is Juliette Low always said, you can trust the girls to know what is right. And if they don't like it, it won't fly.
REHMStacy Cordery. She is professor of history at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill. Her new book is titled "Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts." We have many callers. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Kokomo, Ind. Good morning, Mark, you're on the air.
MARKGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
MARKI'll try to be brief. Remarkable founder, no doubt. And I believe that the scouting program back in the day was very relevant and useful, however, today, I believe it's obsolete. And I know a personal pet peeve of mine is when a lady or a gentleman brings in the office the cookie signup sheet and everybody feels obligated to buy X-amount of boxes of cookies that the mothers or fathers are selling for Girl Scouts. Grocery stores in Kokomo, Ind., it's the moms sitting behind the tables pushing the sales.
MARKSo I'm uncomfortable with the whole lack of involvement of the young ladies who should be knocking on those doors and making the pitch. But...
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. This Girl Scout cookie tradition, do you have any idea how and why that got started, Stacy?
CORDERYJuliette Low was very interested in local control for Girl Scouting. And she was a believer that the local community needed to support the girls of that community. And in that way there'd be more community involvement, more community buy-in and so forth. So the cookie sales actually began in 1917 from a troop in Muskogee, Okla. And is Muskogee in Oklahoma? Do I have that right?
CORDERYI think so. Okay. Anyway it began because somebody had a good idea about this. And the girls for the early years actually made all the cookies themselves, baked them themselves. Eventually it became such a great idea and people responded so amazingly well to the cookie sales that they had to hire them out to commercial bakers, because the girls themselves just simply could not keep up with the demand. So today, the cookie sales teach girls about any number of important skills that are difficult for girls to get at that age and even later.
CORDERYIt teaches them about entrepreneurship. It teaches them about bookkeeping. It teaches them about the importance of community involvement and buy-in. And that local control that Daisy was so concerned with may play a role in what Mark's all about, the mothers involved in cookie selling. But I will say this. Girl Scouting engenders a tremendous loyalty among the women who have been Girl Scouts. Fifty-million women in this country have been Girl Scouts.
CORDERYAnd so it may be that the mothers are involved to a degree that Mark sees because of their own love for Girl Scouting and their own fond memories of Girl Scouting when they were a girl. And I don't think that it's a bad thing for girls to see their mothers involved in Girl Scout cookie sales. And I don't think that what Mark sees at the supermarket where he mentioned is necessarily the whole story about cookie sales.
REHMYou know, it did used to be that the girls went from door to door to door in the neighborhoods. I agree with Mark that quite frequently the parents -- it's not just the mothers, it's the fathers, too...
REHM...come into the office and say, are you interested? And some of those cookies are so divine and, of course, people buy them. They buy them because they like them, but they buy them to support the Girl Scouts. That's all there is to it. Wasn't there some problem with some of the finances of the cookies being, I don't know, going elsewhere for a while and they had to sort of clean that up?
CORDERYIn Juliette's time or recently?
REHMNo, more recently.
CORDERYYou know, that could be. I am a pretty good expert on Juliette Gordon Low and she died in 1927. And after that probably the best thing to do would be to bring on Anna Maria Chavez who's the CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. and she'd help out.
REHMStacy Cordery. Her new book is titled "Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts." Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd we'll go right back to the phones as we talk about the life and legacy of Juliette Gordon Low, the remarkable founder of the Girl Scouts, with her biographer, Stacy Cordery. We'll go to Seattle, Wash., good morning, Joseph, thanks for joining us.
JOSEPHGood morning. I'm (word?) to -- though, you're talking about the Girl Scout or the Girls Guides as we used to call it in the Commonwealth. But Baden Powell's name has come into the conversation and I want to bring a lot of historic perspective as to where the Boy Scouts started. Baden Powell, I heard the lady talking about empower, but the empower that Baden Powell was part of was the British war against the Ashanti people of West Africa, now called Ghana in 1900.
JOSEPHAnd Baden Powell learn about the scouting of the Ashanti army, which actually had wood signs and all those things that he learned because the British army find it very, very difficult to trace the military commander of the Ashanti army.
REHMAll right, that's very interesting. What do you say, Stacy?
CORDERYBaden Powell got a lot of his ideas from the people he observed while he was fighting, but there's also a long chain that goes back, believe it or not, to the United States. He was interested in the scouts, American scouts, in the American West. People like -- well, I'm not even sure their names would matter, but he was a follower of everybody from Frederick Remington to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
CORDERYAnd he knew about people like Dan Beard and Ernest Seton Thompson and how they were helpful to the -- some of them helpful to the United States military in tracking Native Americans during the Indian wars in this country. So Baden Powell had a very great infatuation with the American West so there are military scouts in every military and he had his own training in his own days as a British officer.
REHMAll right. To Merritt Island, Fla., good morning, Peggy, you're on the air.
PEGGYGood morning, Diane and Stacy. I cannot wait to read your book.
PEGGYI have been a Girl Scout leader for 25 years. My youngest daughter earned her Silver Award, her Gold Award and we live in Washington, D.C., but I come to Florida in the winter. And she actually won the Ethel G. (word?) Award -- the President's Award in Washington, D.C. But my granddaughter is now a Daisy Scout and I just want to say that I think scouting is the best organization that girls join.
REHMThat's a lovely endorsement of the Girls Scouts and all through the hard work and vision of our subject today, Juliette Gordon Low. Thanks for calling, Peggy. Here's an email from Qui who says, "I was delighted to find out that Girl Scouts have always been a racially integrated organization considering Low's background. I was wondering if your guest would elaborate on this."
CORDERYJuliette Low was, I think, remarkable in her understanding that Girl Scouting could help girls of every class, every religion, every ethnicity. She was, however, a product of her time and she grew up in the democratic south when the democrats were committed to state's rights and local rule. So I know that there was a troop of African American girls from the very, very early days in 1912. Officially, the organization did not take a stand on integrated troops or even African American troops until the 1920s.
CORDERYAnd at that point in time what Juliette Low said is we need to let the local councils make up their own mind or it needs to be a regional decision or state decision.
CORDERYSo she could have, but did not impose from her place as founder and president. She did not say we will not let in African American girls.
CORDERYWhen her mother, who was much more racist, I think, and traditionally racist than Juliette Low was, her mother at one point said, look, you need to make sure that these African American girls are not a part of your scouts because that's just wrong. And Juliette Low said absolutely not, mom, not doing it that way. Again, in two important ways, she said, we will not deny African American girls the possibility.
CORDERYSome of the earliest troops were Jewish troops and some of the earliest Girl Scouts were Catholic. So she was very inclusive in that way, Native American troops also very early in the teens. So it was a marvelous undertaking of fun and education and Juliette Low wanted to make, as she put it, she said our purposes are analogous to those of the Boy Scouts. They aim to make better men, we to make better women. They are made better housewives if they have to remain in the home for they are taught practical and useful things or if they have to go out into the world they will learn self reliance as well as being helped to a means of livelihood. And she thought that applied to every girl.
REHMAnd, of course, you've got a chart here that shows that 80 percent of women business owners were Girl Scouts. Sixty-nine percent of female U.S. Senators were Girl Scouts. Of course, we haven't had very many of those.
REHMSixty-seven percent of female members of the House were Girl Scouts and virtually every female astronaut who's flown in space was a Girl Scout.
CORDERYGirl Scouts are very interested right now in STEM programs for their girls, science, technology, math, and so this is perfectly consistent with the statistics you just counted. And I think, also, it goes against what your first caller said about how Girl Scouting is irrelevant today. I think girls still learn ideas. They get to do projects and meet all sorts of people they would never meet in any other way.
REHMAll right, to Boston, Mass., good morning, Susan.
REHMHi, go right ahead, Susan.
SUSANWell, I'm a Girl Scout and my mother is a Girl Scout leader and I would just want to talk about a bit of what we do at Girl Scouts because it's a lot more than just selling cookies.
REHMOf course, tell me how old you are, Susan.
REHMAnd how long have you been a Girl Scout?
REHMOkay, tell me what you do.
SUSANWell, we do the sales, of course, and our troop, in particular, we do a lot of camping and we do a lot of special activities. We did some surfing last year. We did a snow shoeing trip. We do camping at least twice a year and later this year, we're going to go to D.C. for the 100th anniversary.
REHMGood for you. And how do you think that being a Girl Scout has helped you?
SUSANWell, it really helps to think about -- I think I've really learned about traditions a lot and doing the ceremonies when we, like, award girls with badges and when we move up a level. It's really empowering. And I really like to think about how we're doing this and we're another generation of Girl Scouts and it really motivates me and I really love Girl Scouting.
REHMSusan, I'm so glad you called. Good luck to you. Thanks for joining us.
REHMBye-bye. What a wonderful testimony to the Girl Scouts themselves. Tell me what happened between Juliette Gordon Low and the founder of the Boy Scouts in England.
CORDERYOoh. Oh, the founder of the Boy Scouts in England.
CORDERYI thought you were going to ask about the adversarial relationship with the Boy Scouts leader in the United States.
REHMOh, tell me about that, too.
CORDERYWell, she was plagued from the very early days in the United States by the Boy Scout leader whose name was -- he was essentially the CEO. His name was James West and it was his belief that girls calling themselves scouts, dressing in uniforms, going camping, doing the things that boys did would somehow sissify his boys. And he said, you and your girls are going to cause my boys to quit Boy Scouting early.
CORDERYAnd Juliette Low said, oh, that's just stuff and nonsense. So he tried for decades to get her to call the Girl Scouts Girl Guides and she fought him at every turn. So that was the adversarial side of the Boy Scouts on this side of the pond. Her relationship with Baden Powell was an interesting one because they were friends and maybe more. She says that he proposed to her. He had never married and the family belief is that Juliette Low said no. Even though I'm fond of you, no, I love you, I will say no to you because I can't provide children for you.
CORDERYI'm 50 years old, 51 by the time she starts the Girl Scouts and so I can't do for you what every man wants, you know, children. So on that ship, I mentioned where when Juliette Low boarded to come to Savanna to start the Girl Scouts here, on that ship was a young woman in her 20's named Olive and Baden Powell and Olive fell in love and were married not long after.
REHMBoy, that was quick.
CORDERYIt was very quick and I believe Daisy's heart was, you know, probably pretty bruised, if for no other reason than the speed of it.
CORDERYHow quickly he had transferred his affections to this young woman.
CORDERYOn the other hand, you know, she did her duty, right, by this man she cared for and said, it's all right, I'll say no to you so that you can go have children.
REHMDid she remain single for the rest of her life?
CORDERYShe never remarried.
CORDERYShe remained single.
REHMHere's an email from Jan who says, "Unitarian universalists consider Juliette Low to be one of us. We're very proud of her as one of our Unitarian saints along with Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale and many others. Your guest indicated she was Episcopalian. Can you clarify this apparent contradiction?"
CORDERYThe Unitarian universalists have many, many extraordinary people among their members, but Juliette Gordon Low is not one of them. She was -- her mother was a long time Episcopalian, a cradle Episcopalian, and she was a cradle Episcopalian. And when she died, her funeral was at Christ's Church in Savanna, Georgia and she was an Episcopalian to the end.
REHMInteresting, all right, to Fadra (sp?) in New Port Richey, Fla., good morning, you're on the air.
FADRAGood morning. Yeah, I was just wanting to comment on what Stacy had said about years ago Juliette Gordon Low was saying to trust the girls. And if they like it, you know, that's something that they want to do. And it's pretty cool. I'm in Girl Scouting now as an adult and have been with it for 14 years as a leader and now I just -- I'm in character and stuff like that.
FADRABut we tell our leaders let the girls plan their activities. Let them decide what they want to do. And some of the older troops, especially, they will plan events start to finish. And it's really neat to see them going through each step and budgeting and everything they need to do to do it.
REHMBoy, talk about empowering. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." That whole concept is so strong, Stacy.
CORDERYLeadership skills, very, very important part of what Girl Scouting did then and does today.
REHMYou know, I have to say to you I'm going to be interested to hear from others. My mother and father could not afford to have me be a member of the Girl Scouts, the uniforms, the weekly or monthly dues, the transportation to meetings, that sort of thing. I know that she founded it in 1911. A long way -- she, herself, did not want to see lots of money involved.
CORDERYRight. Juliette Low believed that Girl Scouting, as I have said, would help every girl. And she meant poor girls. The first Girl Scout troop in Savanna was probably at the Savanna orphanage and orphanage in Savanna. And so she was acutely aware of the fact that money might stand as a barrier between some girls and Girl Scouting. So she fought valiantly to keep dues very, very low, no more than a quarter.
CORDERYWhen she stepped down from the presidency of the Girls Scouts in 1920 then things changed, but in the early days the uniforms were handmade so girls could make their own. There was no law that said you had to have the entire uniform. So this has happened as Girl Scouting has gotten larger and, you know, logically there's a bigger bureaucracy now than there was in 1912 or '13.
REHMThat's interesting. All right, and, finally, to St. Louis, Mo., good morning, Marilee.
MARILEEOkay, I'll see you at 1:00.
REHMMarilee, you're on the air.
MARILEEHi, thank you very much. I just wanted to let you know how important the Girl Scouts were to me. I was a member of a Girl Scout troop in the St. Louis area. Our leaders, Virginia Carr and Sally Wilson, started the troop in 1949. We were all in second grade. We all stayed together through the eighth grade. They were extremely strong mentors to all of us. They taught us strong moral values. They taught us leadership. They taught us organization. We would -- and besides selling the Girl Scout cookies, we put on a marionette show, which we all made marionettes. We have reunions every several years.
REHMOh, that's great.
MARILEEAnd our leader was very important to the Girl Scouts. Her name was Virginia Carr and she started the troop, as I said, in 1949 and in the 1950s she went to Europe with the Girl Scouts. She was on the National Girl Scout Board from 1963 to '72. She was a regional committee for six states and a training instructor for new leaders. And it was just a wonderful experience to be part of that.
REHMI'm so glad you called. Somebody has asked about the Campfire Girls. Quickly, are they related to the Girl Scouts or a totally separate organization?
CORDERYNo, totally separate organization. And Juliette Low tried desperately to -- essentially to take them over when she was first starting the Girl Scouts because she didn't want to see the resources split.
REHMStacy Cordery, her new book about the remarkable founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low. Thank you and congratulations.
CORDERYThank you very much.
REHMAll right and thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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