Written by Susana Cardenas-Soto
Every year at the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, council historians visit the Chicago Gathering Place and adorn the cases that line the hallways with artifacts of Girl Scouts’ past. Guide books, uniforms, badges and pins from the past 107 years of Girl Scouting now sit in display cases around the office for staff and visitors alike to admire and enjoy.
This year, the collection honors the vision of our favorite Daisy, Juliette Gordon Low, and the evolution of Junior Girl Scouts. It is a celebration of the triumphs, struggles, and transformations of the Girl Scouts from 1912 to now.
The Lady from Savannah
The display case dedicated to Juliette tells the story of her life. It features a pearl necklace similar to the dearly beloved one she sold to fund the fledgling Girl Guides organization in 1915. The “Lady from Savannah” was certainly devoted to her mission. It is a testament to her charitable nature, a value that has withstood the test of time and is ingrained in the Girl Scout philosophy.
Juliette Gordon Low herself was deeply embedded in the early history of the city of Chicago. As one historian said, Juliette and her family migrated to Chicago and resided in a building across the way from Fort Dearborn. It is fitting, then, that the council’s office is located not so far away!
The cases not only show J-Lo’s connection to Chicago, but also displays Girl Scout pride and history—through uniforms. The original Girl Scout uniforms were navy blue, as this fabric was more affordable than other colors in the early years of scouting. Eventually, as girls complained of the Alabama clay staining their uniforms, and the political climate of the United States changed, the uniforms were changed to the familiar khaki green.
The replica of the custom-made khaki green campaign Stetson Juliette favored also sits in the display case. This style of hat was typically worn by Girl Guides in her era. The hat can be seen on the beautifully detailed model of the Girl Scout founder, and on the girls in the photo in front of the Headquarters.
Juliette Gordon Low was, among other things, ahead of her time. She spearheaded the exploration of the new frontier of women leadership and empowerment, a tradition we continue to this day. The expression on the doll illustrates her legendary confidence and determination, qualities Girl Scouts continue to possess.
The Journey to Juniors
Did you know that the original Girl Scout troops were made up of teenagers? It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the Junior level was included. Among the fascinating early Junior artifacts is a collection of handbooks, one in Braille and one in large-print. The display case also features a photograph of a girl using the Braille book.
The 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s were times of rapid change within the Junior Girl Scout level, as uniforms and guidebooks transformed to suit the times. You will be able to spot a pair of vintage floral-printed uniform pants that certainly would have been popular in that era!
One rare artifact is particularly intriguing–– a doll of a Junior Girl Scout in her 1985 uniform, that can be seen on the top shelf of the display case shown above. This doll was part of a limited edition series of Avon collectible Girl Scout dolls of diverse races and ethnicities, all of which can no longer be found.
The personal history of the historian who owns the doll is ingrained in the doll itself. After her granddaughter gave the doll an unsolicited makeover: the doll now sports a choppy haircut and is missing her Junior handbook!
This doll is one of many pieces of Girl Scout history that not only reflects the larger rich-cultural time-period it is from, but tells the intimate personal history of an actual Girl Scout. What is so special about all of these precious mementos from Girl Scouts past is that each item has its own meaning, its own story to tell. They are not just pieces of history, but pieces of memory.
Those Who Learn From the Past
What, then, can we learn from the Girl Scouts of the past? What is the value in investigating and commending the efforts of Juliette Gordon Low and the countless other trailblazing Girl Scouts?
One historian answered succinctly: “It was Edmund Burke who said, ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.'”
Indeed, it is incredibly important for Girl Scouts to know not only their personal histories, but the history of the organization and the stages of growth it has undergone. By looking at the past, we can be inspired to look forward and continue to effect groundbreaking change. What we learn from history enables us to understand what we should maintain, and where we can grow.
Juliette was ahead of her time–– Girl Scouts across the nation continue to be just the same.
We would like to thank the research and effort of these wonderful historians! The cases are currently on display at the GCNWI Chicago office, so come on by and see the precious historical Girl Scout items!
Walk Through History
This display is currently at the Downtown Chicago Gathering Place! If you are a Girl Scout and either you or your troop is interested in visiting, you can make an appointment by calling the Chicago Gathering Place: 312-416-2500.