By Karen Schillings, Council Historian at Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana
In July of 2017, I traveled with my husband and another couple throughout England and Wales. During our journey through the English countryside, we had the good fortune to visit Juliette (Daisy) Gordon Low’s country estate, Wellesbourne House. Little did I know at the time when we started this trip that it would set into motion my personal Take Action project as a Girl Scout volunteer and historian. However, to understand my project, one must first understand the history of Wellesbourne House as it pertains to Juliette.
Most individuals connected with Girl Scouts, either as girl members or adults, have knowledge of Juliette’s birthplace in Savannah, Georgia, a National Historic Landmark. Although there were many places important to Daisy during her lifetime, the one that was truly her delight was the Wellesbourne House in the county of Warwickshire, England. So how did it come to pass that this young woman from Savannah became the lady of such a stately home on the “other side of the pond”?
They began their adventure as newlyweds in Savannah; however, her husband William (Willy) Mackay Low wanted to own a country home inspired by his father’s upbringing in the United Kingdom, with the hopes of befitting his own social position. To that end, in 1889 he purchased the gran, a fifty-five-acre estate of Wellesbourne House in rural Warwickshire, England, with the help of his inherited 750,000 pounds from his father’s fortune. The estate grew to twenty bedrooms with a stable for forty horses, a cottage for the gardener, a separate laundry facility, a greenhouse, and a garage where the first automobile in Wellesbourne was housed. This was a home for entertaining and living the good life. From all accounts, Daisy was elated with Wellesbourne House and relished being the lady of this splendid home fit for grand entertainment.
Their life at Wellesbourne House was busy entertaining celebrities like that of Prince Edward of Wales and Rudyard Kipling. Willy spent his days presiding at the Wellesbourne Cricket Club and Warwickshire Yoemanry Cavalry Unit, while Juliette fulfilled her days as “Woman of the House.” As the years passed, Juliette found that she and Willy were growing apart. She branched into other endeavors, acquainting herself with metal working and portrait artistry. Before their divorce was finalized Willy passed away of a stroke in 1905. Not long after she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell who inspired her to create the Girl Scouts, and the rest is history!
Fast forward to 2017, when my husband’s plans for us to tour England and Wales were being finalized. As Denny was completing his research on the places we would visit, one day it dawned on me that perhaps our travels would take us near Juliette’s Wellesbourne House. Here is where my quest began.
Even though I have been a Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GSGCNWI) council historian for over a dozen years, there was nothing on the internet or in any of the books I have read about Juliette which reveals the exact location of Wellesbourne House. I realized that I needed to contact someone locally to help me know its whereabouts. After sending emails to several sites, I finally received a response from Benjamin Earl, the web editor of the Our Warwickshire website. Since this website posts historical information concerning the county where Wellesbourne is situated, Benjamin was intrigued about the history of Juliette’s time at Wellesbourne House and provided us with useful information both on the history of the house as well as its location.
Seeing the house, in person, both thrilled and saddened me at the same time. Juliette’s beautiful home had been converted to an office complex and asphalt now covered her once lovely garden. However, just seeing this place that meant so much to Daisy was very moving to me. Still, the one thing that bewildered me was the lack of anything that acknowledged the incredible woman who once lived there. Although there is a plaque on the gate post which identifies it as the Wellesbourne House, nothing associated with Juliette was evident.
When I returned home, I immediately took action to lament a plaque for the house which would indicate its association to Juliette Gordon Low. I contacted various historical societies and groups provided by Benjamin, but I became discouraged by the rejection. In a last-ditch effort I contacted the village of Wellesbourne to see if anyone there could give me a lead and I was then pointed to the Wellesbourne Local History Group. I was informed by their webmaster Michael that the house had recently changed hands and was being renovated into apartments. With his help we contacted the new owners who approved our plaque request!!!!!
The overwhelming support and generous donations from not only the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana historians, but also the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois historians, as well as Michael’s part in researching local plaque manufacturers, made it possible for Juliette’s plaque to be purchased. The installation will take place in the near future.
From July 2017 to July 2018, I spent many hours trying to determine how I could achieve my goal of acquiring a plaque for Daisy’s Wellesbourne House. I realized that the Girl Scout in me would not let detours along this journey impede my progress. Finding the right people to help in this quest was key. Thanks to Ben, Michael, and my sister historians of GSGCNWI, we accomplished this as a team. I feel that Juliette Gordon Low would be proud to know that her beloved home will now be identified properly. She was passionate about starting an organization for girls that would allow them to reach their full potential in whatever they chose to do. This experience has taught me that you are never too old to follow Juliette’s ideals. So, if you are really passionate about something, you WILL find a way to discover, connect, and TAKE ACTION.
Take Action is designed to elevate traditional Girl Scout community service from meeting an immediate need to advocacy projects that make change happen. Girls identify a cause they feel passionate about, and with advocacy and action, make a change. Girls can receive a Girl Scout Bronze, Silver and Gold Award after completing a Take Action project.
Learn more about the highest awards Girl Scouts can earn!