The Brownie Elf   

You may remember an earlier blog, written by Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Historian Christine Caragher, about the ceremonies a Brownie participates in to become part of Girl Scouts.  

As troops are now forming for the new Girl Scout year, we’d like to further examine the history of becoming a Girl Scout Brownie and how the Brownie “elf” still lives on today.  

The Brownie program was inspired by the children’s book The Brownies, by Julia Horatia Ewing. In the book, Brownies were compared to fairies or elves (who were to help others by doing a “good turn”), and their uniforms often sported an elf in one way or another. It was only fitting that the first Girl Scout Brownie uniforms also had elf-like features.  One of their earliest hats was a peaked cap like an elf might wear, and their first uniforms had an elf patch stitched onto them.

In 1921, Brownie Girl Scouts were given a membership pin to wear on their uniform, which was in the shape of an elf. Eventually, the elf was placed inside a trefoil shape, which has been the Brownie membership pin ever since. 

The felt beanie, which is easily recognized as belonging to a Brownie Girl Scout, was introduced in 1941. Over the years, the color of the elf and the beanie changed to match the other accessories for the Brownie uniform, but the image of an elf remained. The elf was also found on a dress pocket, anklet cuff, uniform tie, blouse sleeve, and a belt purse. Even the official uniform buttons had an elf stamped onto them. In 1996, a baseball-style cap with the Brownie elf on it was introduced. Camp uniforms also had the Brownie trefoil printed, embroidered, or stamped.  

When everyone in your troop is wearing the same apparel or uniform, it makes you feel special. You are not only part of a group, but a sisterhood, too!  

 Stop by any of our Girl Scout shops, or look online to see what Brownie Girl Scouts wear today!  

Campfire Tales: The Evolution of Girl Scout Camp 

For more than 100 years, Girl Scouts have discovered outdoor adventures full of learning, challenges, friendships, and tons of fun by going to camp. Today, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana offer outdoor programming at four camps across Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Camp Palos and Camp Greene Wood are day camps where Girl Scouts spend the day at camp and return home in the evening. Camp Juniper Knoll and Camp Butternut Springs are resident camps where Girl Scouts can have an overnight camping experience.  With all summer camps now in full swing, our council historians and previous Girl Scout members have shared their fondest memories of attending and the history of former Girl Scout summer camps. 

Camp Timber Trails – Munising, Michigan

Camp Timber Trails was leased for nine weeks from 1928 to 1942 from Bay DeNoc Lumber Company. It was in the heart of the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was a pioneer camp for older Girl Scouts where they could roam over the entire National Forest from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan.  

Mary-Jane Ryan’s camp application for Camp Tiber Trails.

Girl Scouts who attended the camp came from Chicago and other surrounding councils. Some Girl Scouts were driven to camp, while others traveled from Chicago by train. Former Girl Scout Mary-Jane Ryan started her camping experience at Juniper Knoll, and at age 17, she attended Camp Timber Trails. Mary-Jane Ryan returned to Juniper Knoll as a staff member. Mary Jane Ryan’s daughter, Corkey Waite, said her mother’s Girl Scout experiences made her who she is today and that she always talks about Girl Scouts. 

Camp Cloverleaf – Sheridan, Illinois

Camp Cloverleaf was originally named Camp Sheridan until 1959 and was located on the Fox River.     By the spring of 1958, the winter house, which is seen in the above picture, was completed. It was the only building with hot and cold running water, central heating, and a stove. In the early 1960s, eight cabins that housed four Girl Scouts each and an outdoor kitchen were added. Eight platform tents were erected in 1962. In 1964, the Cloverleaf Council purchased another 44 acres adjacent to the original land. The next building to be built was the summer troop house; it had an indoor kitchen and fireplace. Between 1969 and 1972, the council purchased another 84 acres, bringing the total acreage to 198 acres. In 1979 and 1980, more platform tents were built. These had wooden roofs and canvas sides. Eventually, the original platform tents had wooden roofs added. The last building to be built on the property was a shower house. The camp also had two primitive camp areas, trails, an archery field, and a canoe launch area.   

Former Girl Scout Marty Devereux-Poch’s fondest memories of Camp Cloverleaf were that her grandma was one of her Junior troop leaders and loved camping in the little cabins. Each cabin had a name like Sleep Inn. There was space for activities and for having meals in the middle of the ring of cabins. 

“My troop was from Our Lady of the Mount Catholic School, so we always packed our Girl Scout uniforms when we went camping. On Sunday morning, we would all get dressed up and head down to Wedron, IL, to attend Mass, and then we would return to camp for breakfast before packing up for home. As a Cadette, I learned archery, and Mr. Whelen, who farmed part of the camp property, always found some arrows during harvest time. I learned to canoe at camp. Some trips on the Fox River were short, to Wedron and back to camp. Others were day-long trips from camp to Yorkville, stopping at Camp Merrybrook to eat our lunch in their meadow, then being picked up and driven back to camp,” said Marty.  

Former Girl Scout Gwen Novy Ferguson also has fond memories of Camp Cloverleaf. She camped there as a young Girl Scout and became a Junior troop leader and council trainer in the late 1970s.  

“My memories include times spent with Junior Troop #13, Cadette Troop #17, and Senior Troop #99. During my Junior and Cadette years, my mom, Gladys Novy, was my leader, and Erma Slovak was my Senior leader. We enjoyed outdoor cooking, badge-work, singing, stargazing, knot-tying, compass, lashing, crafts, nature lore, campfires, skits, service projects, hiking, long and short canoe trips on the Fox River, and exploring other places that were a short distance from camp. During the summer, we’d drive to the Pitstak Dairy, which had a small swimming lake with a beach and offered horseback riding. I remember we’d use the council van, named the Green Giant, for transportation. For added adventure in the evenings, we’d sometimes hike down the road to Camp Merrybrook and have a campfire with the Girl Scouts from the West Cook Council,” Gwen said.  

When the West Cook Council and the Cloverleaf Council merged, they decided to sell Camp Cloverleaf on April 1, 1994. The eight cabins and the outdoor kitchen were moved to Camp Merrybrook. Later, the platform tents were also moved, and the unit was named Cloverleaf. 

Camp Merrybrook – Serena, Illinois  

In 1954, the West Cook Council purchased 97.5 acres of wooded property near Sheridan, Illinois. It fronted on the Fox River and Mission Creek. The council originally named the camp: Camp Kiwanis-on-the-Fox, because the Kiwanis Club of LaGrange provided money for the down payment. An existing fishing lodge near the creek was named Kiwanis Club.   

The first campers arrived in 1955, and Mr. Bray, Sr. was the first camp caretaker. In 1956, the camp was renamed Camp Merrybrook. From 1957 to 1958, three platform tent units were added to the camp. In 1958, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad donated a huge steam engine bell to the council. It was installed on a concrete pillar outside Lenona Lodge and used in emergencies. The camp was dedicated on October 4, 1959, and the mortgage was burnt. From 1960 to 1961, the caretaker house and maintenance building were constructed. The Heritage House Lodge was built in 1964. At some point, more acreage was purchased, and the camp totaled 136 acres. At some time, a totem pole was displayed in respect for Native American tradition.    

In the late 1970s, electricity and running water were installed in Heritage House. It was renamed Bonnie Brae after a camp trainer and the first caretaker. In 1971, Idle-a-While Lodge was built between Lenona and Bonnie Brae. It was the first lodge to have flush toilets. The pool and pool house were built in 1976. In the early 1980s, a challenging adventure course for older girls was constructed. It was not maintained and deemed unsafe. Repairs were never made, so it was taken down. 

Camp River Trails – Sheridan, Illinois

In 1986, when the West Cook Council and the Cloverleaf Council merged, the board decided to sell Camp Cloverleaf and keep Camp Merrybrook. They renamed the camp: Camp River Trails. As mentioned above, the eight small cabins, outdoor kitchen, and platform tents were moved from Camp Cloverleaf to Camp River Trails. At the same time, the post office changed its address to Sheridan, Illinois.  In 1995, the old farmhouse was torn down, and the Dreamcatcher Room was added. The Lenona Lodge was renamed the Merrybrook Room.

The entire construction included: 

  • Two kitchens joining the two-unit rooms. 
  • Multiple leader rooms. 
  • A handicap ramp. 
  • A stone wall for sitting around the fire ring. 
  • A washroom and shower house with a storage basement and storm shelter beneath. 

 The entire complex of new buildings became known as the Lenona Complex.  In 2000, a Friendship Pole was installed, and a challenge course called The Challenge of the Castle Garden was installed near the pool.  Then, in 2014, an Ambassador troop from Lyons, IL, donated the materials and built an archery course near the camp manager’s house. Other troops built and painted a map of the camp and archery rules that were installed on the outside of the maintenance building. 

Near the manager’s house, there were two landmarks: Smokey Bear and his two cubs, added by a Senior troop in 1958, and a sign that read, Camp Built by Cookies. Both landmarks are now at Camp Greene Wood.  Over the ravine on one of the trails, there was a footbridge over a stream called River Kwai. Senior Girl Scouts made and repaired the bridge using logs, and branches lashed with twine.    

Lifetime Girl Scout member Kathi Krankoski shared some Camp Merrybrook tall tales and traditions that carried over to Camp River Trails: 

Friendship Pole: One of the traditions was to place “wishing rocks” around the Friendship Pole. The rocks were painted with environmentally safe paint, and when spring came, the magic happened, and the rocks and their messages were carried out via the Mission Creek, Fox, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers, and eventually into the ocean. 

Sparkler pencils: At checkout from camp on a weekend, if your site or cabin met inspection, each girl received a camp sparkler pencil. 

Cadette roundup:  During a special week when only Cadettes could attend camp,the Cadettes never used the words “poison ivy.” They just said, “PI.” 

Daisy Bridge: If a Girl Scout didn’t make the Girl Scout sign before crossing the bridge, it would collapse.   

Old wagon:  There was an old wagon abandoned as a group was heading west. It was left behind after the group was attacked by Native Americans. When excavating the area, clothing and other items were found.  

The Legend of Hernando’s Hideaway: Legend has it that Hernando was a local bandit river private. He and his group stole from farmers and hid the treasures along Mission Creek. From the beginning of Camp Merrybrook until 2013, Girl Scouts would walk the creek and investigate caves to see if they could find a treasure. Early on, wagon wheels and broken pottery pieces were found. 

The Legend of the Crying Princess: Behind the area where Bonnie Brae stands, there are bluffs that form what we call the Crying Princess. It’s a sandstone formation that weeps out a trickle of water. Legend has it that long ago, a young Native American woman, while running to escape an undesired suitor, fell to her death there. Her tears are what are seen to this day.  

Becoming a Girl Scout Brownie 

Told by Council Historian, Christine A. Caragher 

A friend of mine is a Daisy leader and is now getting the troop ready for their bridging ceremony. This event has inspired me to look back on the tradition of becoming a Brownie and share a bit about the Brownie Program and its origins. 

At the beginning of Girl Scouting, there were only Girl Scouts, which started at age 11. Only one complication: the Girl Scouts were often responsible for their little sisters, as they often had to babysit the little ones. To solve this problem, the first official Brownie Program was created.  

The program and its principles were inspired by the children’s book, The Brownies by Julia Horatia Ewing. In the book, the Brownie is a quiet, clever fairy helper who helps the mortals in their homes by doing “good turns.” Early Brownies had traditions like making a Brownie Promise and being “obedient and helpful to other people, especially those at home.” They had a motto: “Be Prepared,” and a cry: “L. A. H.” which stood for “Lend A Hand.” The Brownies became little versions of their big sister Girl Scouts. They also went by the nickname “Junior Scouts.” 

The leaders were lovingly called Brown Owl and Tawney Owl. The leaders had a guidebook, The Brown Book for Brown Owls. (Note: the council historians have this book in our collection. You may request to see it. You may request any book in the collection if you ask by emailing customercare@girlscoutsgcnwi.org

Only Brownie Girl Scout leaders had a handbook titled Leader’s Guide to the Brownie Scout Program. Some topics were: Service Brownie Scouts Can Give, The Brownie Song, Brownie Scout Troop’s Own Special Days, Suggested Activities for Brownie Scouts in the Outdoors – Three Years of Progressive Activities, and lots more! The handbook also included tests and requirements to lead the Brownies to awards and become Girl Scouts! 

It was not until 1951 that Brownies got their handbook. It was titled Brownie Scout Handbook. The book was all about Girl Scouts and traditions, and, in those days, a girl had to attend four meetings, pay $1.00 for national membership dues, and recite the Brownie Promise before becoming an official Brownie.  

I became a Brownie in 1957, and we still used the 1951 handbook. My mom was one of the troop leaders. We had a huge troop and three leaders. It was great! I went through Girl Scouts until I reached Cadettes in 1962. I later became my two daughters’ Girl Scout leader until they became Seniors. And now, I am a Girl Scout historian! Thanks, Mom!  

Today, the Daisy Program starts in kindergarten, and when Daisies reach second grade, they can become Brownies through a special bridging ceremony.   

You may be wondering: what is a bridging ceremony? 

A bridging ceremony is when troop members, volunteers, and family gather to recognize those who are ready to move up a level in Girl Scouting. They are a time to reflect on the past and look toward the future with confidence, courage, and character. 

Bridging ceremonies happen between all levels of Girl Scouts. Each level of the bridging ceremony is unique, but all ceremonies are a key part of the life of a Girl Scout.  

For a bridging to Brownie ceremony, the words are special. The ceremony relates to the same children’s book that the Brownie Program was inspired by. 

The leader states, “To prepare for bridging today, our troop read “The Brownie Story,” a story about girls who went to a forest in search of “very helpful persons” called Brownies. There they met a wise old owl who told them that they could find the Brownie if they looked upon the magic pond and finished a magic rhyme. Now we, too, will perform a little magic. I’d like to call all new Brownies to stand around the magic pond and listen carefully while I read this poem. 

Cross your little fingers, stand up on your toes,  

That’s a bit of magic that every Brownie knows.  

Now we all are standing inside a forest glade,  

Listen very carefully; see the magic made.  

And tucked inside this great big wood,  

You’ll find a pond that’s pure and good.  

Then turn yourself around three times, 

Gaze into the pond; complete the rhyme.” 

One at a time, each new Brownie walks to the pond and is met by a co-leader or helper who turns her in a circle while the Girl Scout says, “Twist me and turn me and show me the Elf; I looked in the water and saw myself!” The Girl Scout then receives a Brownie Membership Pin pinned upside down and returns to her fellow Girl Scouts. The leader explains that Girl Scouts must perform three good deeds for their family for their pin to be turned right side up.  

After the three good deeds are done, the Girl Scout is now ready for new adventures, new badges, new skills to learn, and new trails to blaze as an official Girl Scout Brownie.  

The History of Girl Scout Week

Girl Scouts take pride in recognizing the traditions and special days that make up Girl Scouting. Girl Scout Week is a perfect example of how Girl Scouts and Girl Scout volunteers come together and showcase their Girl Scout spirit. Girl Scout Week 2023 started on March 12 and concluded on March 18. Girls had a great time participating in the many fun activities throughout the week, including birthday parties, outdoor activities, ceremonies, community service, exploring Girl Scout traditions, and much more.

The tradition of celebrating Girl Scout Week is lively, but did you know that from 1919 to 1953, Girl Scout Week was observed in the fall? It included Juliette Gordon Low’s birthday (October 31), and each day of the week had a different focus:

Sunday         Girl Scout Sunday

Monday        Homemaking Day    

Tuesday        Citizenship Day      

Wednesday   Health and Safety Day       

Thursday      International Friendship Day

Friday          Arts and Crafts Day

Saturday       Out-of-Doors Day

During the National Council Session (NCS) in 1953, it was decided to combine Girl Scout Week with Girl Scouts’ birthday and celebrate during the week that includes March 12.

Why March 12?

On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low held the very first Girl Scout meeting in Savannah, Georgia, making March 12 Girl Scouts’ birthday.

Since the NCS in 1953, Girl Scout Week has started with Girl Scout Sunday and ended with Girl Scout Jummah/Sabbath/Shabbat Saturday.

Girl Scout Jammah/Sabbath/Shabbat Saturday, as a part of Girl Scout Week, was established to spread awareness of Girl Scouting at places of worship, to share the Girl Scout legacy of service to others, and deepen girls’ connection to their faith and Girl Scouting.

Everything in Girl Scouting is based on the Girl Scout Promise and Law, which include many common principles and values found across religions. Therefore, during Girl Scout Week, faith partners join us to help girls celebrate the connections between their faith and Girl Scouts.   

Girl Scout Week connects Girl Scouts across the globe.

We hope you had an unforgettable experience celebrating this historic Girl Scout tradition.

The National Council Session – A Sustained History of Girl Scout Governance

Starting in 1915 in Washington, D.C., the democratic process has been continually promoted by our organization through the National Council Session (NCS), a.k.a. the National Convention. 

Orlando, Florida, will host the 56th National Council Session from July 18-20, 2023, followed immediately with Phenom by Girl Scouts from July 20-22, 2023. This triennial meeting, comprised of delegates from each council, is charged with giving clear direction to the future of the Girl Scout Movement. It is the central link between Girl Scout councils and GSUSA. Each local council is allotted delegates on an adjustable formula to keep the National Council close to the optimal size of 1,500 delegates. Once elected by their local councils, the delegates serve a three-year term.

So, what do these National Council delegates do once they are elected to their positions? During NCS, National Delegates represent their local councils as voting members. They gather input, debate, and vote on proposals that impact the future of the Girl Scout Movement, including changes to the Constitution and the Blue Book of Basic Documents. In addition, National Delegates elect the National Board of Directors and the Board Development Committee. However, during the interim three years between each NCS, the National Delegates can also develop and submit proposals to the National Board for consideration as agenda items. In Girl Scouting, a proposal is a leading motion to bring a recommendation before the National Council for a vote. The National Board of Directors decides whether each submitted proposal is worthy of being on the agenda. 

However, if any proposal developed by a local council receives support from 15 percent or more of the Girl Scout councils, then the National Board of Directors is obliged to have that proposal on the agenda so the National Council can act upon it.

This may sound boring and mundane, but the National Council Sessions are vital to keeping the movement forward-thinking. There has been a wide range of proposals since that first Girl Scout convention in 1915, and it’s quite interesting to look back on what has transpired at NCS.

My first encounter with the National Council Session occurred in 1990 in Miami Beach. At that convention, I was the chaperone for the two girls from legacy South Cook County Council who were sent as visitors. Since I had no previous association with NCS, I didn’t realize how many councils would actually send girls as delegates. I then began to lobby for a change to any subsequent South Cook County delegations to include at least two girl delegates.

After Miami Beach, I attended all but one NCS either as a delegate, a girl chaperone, or often both! However, Miami Beach was an experience I will never forget. The keynote speaker was the author and poet Maya Angelou who captivated and inspired the attendees. The Spring 1991 Leader Magazine described her address in this manner: “. . . she held everyone spellbound. In song, in prose, in poetry, she captivated one and all with her wisdom, her insight, and her humor.”

The Miami Beach Convention Center during the 1990 NCS.

An additional highlight of the Miami Beach convention was the launching of GSUSA’s national service project on literacy with the help of an unexpected visit from our Honorary President at that time, First Lady Barbara Bush. Leader Magazine depicted it this way: “The excitement of the First Lady’s visit began with the arrival of the Secret Service people who checked the arena thoroughly. A surprise for those stern-visaged gentlemen must have been the immediate silence resulting from our Girl Scout quiet sign!”

First Lady Barbara Bush at the 1990 NCS.

The 1990 NCS is memorable for another reason, too. At this triennial meeting, the National Council passed a proposal to establish the designation Girl Scout “Gold Award” as the highest award to be earned by a girl member. After having the name of the highest award change several times in our Girl Scout history, this proposal dictated that the name “Gold Award” could not be altered.

You probably already know that the Girl Scout Promise and Law have been changed several times. However, you may not realize that some changes were voted upon during a National Council Session. The first-time changes were made at NCS took place in 1972 in Dallas. The delegation voted to approve this wording of the Promise and Law:

The Promise

On my honor, I will try:

To serve God,

My country and mankind,

And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

The Law

I will do my best:

—to be honest

—to be fair

—to help where I am needed

—to be cheerful

—to be friendly and considerate

—to be a sister to every Girl Scout

—to respect authority

—to use resources wisely

—to protect and improve the world around me

—to show respect for myself and others through my words and action

The Promise was again revised by the NCS delegation in Detroit in 1984 to its current form:

On my honor, I will try:

To serve God and my country,

To help people at all times,

And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

However, The Law did not undergo additional changes until the Fort Worth NCS in 1996, which is the version we use today:

I will do my best to be

honest and fair,

friendly and helpful,

considerate and caring,

courageous and strong, and

responsible for what I say and do,

and to

respect myself and others,

respect authority,

use resources wisely,

make the world a better place, and

be a sister to every Girl Scout.

Perhaps the most misunderstood proposal concerning the Girl Scout Promise was passed by the National Delegates in 1993 at the Minneapolis convention. The proposal was titled “Flexibility in Wording for Spiritual Beliefs in the Girl Scout Promise.” It stated:

THAT, since the Girl Scout organization makes no attempt to interpret or define the word “God” but encourages members to establish for themselves the nature of their spiritual beliefs, it be the policy of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. that individuals when making the Girl Scout Promise may substitute wording appropriate to their own spiritual beliefs for the word “God.”  

Having attended the 1993 National Council Session, I still remember the headlines of that time declaring that the Girl Scouts had taken “God” out of their Promise. The intent of the proposal was to promote inclusivity for girls of various faiths whose religious beliefs might have a different terminology for “God,” such as Allah or Yahweh. Many media outlets totally misrepresented what had transpired, so GSUSA had to do damage control and make numerous explanations on what the proposal intended to do.

Members of the South Cook County Council delegation wearing their convention casual attire during the 1993 Minneapolis NCS.

At other National Councils Sessions, the delegates have reviewed the request to increase dues. The Constitution was amended in 1975 during that year’s Washington NCS, giving this authority to the delegates. It stated: Decision on annual membership dues shall be by ballot and shall require a majority of votes cast. However, the wording in the GS Constitution concerning membership dues was somewhat altered at the 2008 NCS in Indianapolis. Within its rationale for the changes, the National Board included the statement that after the 2008 NCS, it would be the one to set dues amounts going forward and included a lengthy explanation as to why it felt it had the authority. At their January 20, 2012, meeting, the National Board raised annual membership dues from $12 to $15, effective with the 2014 membership year. This was the first time since the 1975 amended Constitution that the National Board raised annual membership dues without the National Council’s approval. Then in 2016, the National Board raised the dues again, going from $15 to $25. A lawsuit initiated by the Farthest North Council against GSUSA claimed that the dues increase violated the Constitution. The lawsuit went all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the Farthest North Council.

This controversy on who has the authority to raise the membership dues caused the delegates of Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GSGCNWI) to write a proposal for the 2020 NCS that would create a compromise between the National Board and the National Council. The proposal inserted into the Constitution has this wording:

The National Board of Directors must seek approval from the National Council whenever planned dues increase will increase by more than 25% in any triennium. This amendment to the Constitution passed, making it one of the two proposals submitted by GSGCNWI in 2020 to be approved.

Delegate Marty Poch (right) served as a resource person for the GCNWI dues restriction proposal at the 2020 virtual NCS

Another proposal associated with membership dues was passed at the Houston NCS in 1981. However, it was at this time the Lifetime Membership category was established. Then in 1999, at the Kansas City NCS, a vote was taken to have a special Lifetime Membership dues be offered to any girl who was a registered Senior Girl Scout at the time of her high school graduation or equivalent. In 2017 in Columbus, the delegates approved the elimination of the multiplier formerly used to establish the cost of a Girl Scout Lifetime Membership and voted for a flat rate of $400 or, for alums under age 30 and currently registered volunteers with ten or more years of service, a $200 cost. This change was supported by the GSGCNWI delegation.

GCNWI Delegation at the 2017 Columbus NCS.

There have been other significant proposals passed during NCS, such as those concerning the National Board. For instance, the Denver National Council session in 1978 reduced the number of National Board Members from 65 to 51. This number of National Board members was again reduced in 1996 in Fort Worth to 35. During the Atlanta NCS in 2005, the number of members of the National Board of Directors was amended to 25, which is the number that is in place today. Also, in 2005, the number of consecutive terms for the National President was reduced from three to two.

As I mentioned before, GSGCNWI had two proposals pass during the virtual NCS of 2020. Besides the proposal to restrict any dues increase to not exceed 25% in a triennium unless voted upon by the National Council, the GSGCNWI delegates also developed a proposal for the movement to establish a feasibility task group to research the formation of a National Gold Award Scholarship Foundation. When both proposals received positive outcomes, the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana made NCS history. We were the first local council to have two proposals pass during a single NCS. As one of the authors of the National Gold Award Scholarship Foundation proposal, I was asked to sit on the feasibility task group. Our findings will be shared at the NCS in Orlando this coming July. Stay tuned!

Karen Schillings at the virtual 2020 NCS presenting the proposal to initiate a task group to research the feasibility of a National Gold Award Scholarship foundation.

The GSGCNWI delegation is really looking forward to attending the Orlando NCS this July. After having the 2020 NCS held virtually due to the pandemic, it will be so satisfying to be in a convention hall once again with Girl Scouts from across the country. Being a National Delegate is a huge commitment with the numerous meetings before and even after the National Council Session. However, it’s extremely gratifying to know that this work is tremendously important to the vitality of the Girl Scout Movement.

Finally, I want to share a uniquely GSGCNWI tradition that was started for NCS in 2011. As a National Delegate who is also a Council Historian, I have had the capability to acquire vintage uniforms for our girl members who attend NCS as either delegates or visitors. The girls always feel special when delegates from other councils can identify the era of the uniforms they are wearing. Because 2020 was virtual, this tradition was suspended during that NCS, but it will definitely be brought back for 2023!

An Inside Look at How Council Historians Preserve Our Girl Scout Treasures

Who are the Historians you might ask? The Historian Team at GSGCNWI is made up of 26 volunteers who are interested in the history of Girl Scouts and actively work to preserve and present the story to our community.

History of the movement

Begun by Juliette Gordon Low on March 12,1912, Girl Scouts quickly spread throughout the country. Girl Scouts offered young women the opportunity to learn important life skills, as well as to live by the values of the Promise and Law – unselfishness, patriotism, loyalty and truth. Our current Council was formed in 2008 from seven councils in the Chicago media market following the guidance of Girl Scouts of USA (GSUSA). Those seven councils were the result of over 40 smaller councils that had been established, functioned and eventually combined over the years.

In the early days of the movement, individual towns were set up as councils that governed and guided their girl and adult members. Logistics, better governance and the opportunity to bring a better program to the girls brought these smaller councils together. What it also created was story after story about the local Girl Scout program.

Enter the Council Historian Team.

Historical Treasures

Some members of the team have been actively involved in preserving our memorabilia and stories since the 1980’s. GSUSA encouraged historians to step forward and provided professional level training in the preservation of all aspects of the history of Girl Scouts. Many of our team members have traveled to the Macy Program Center in New York, as well as multi-day programs held before National Council Sessions to learn the proper techniques to accession and store all the bits and pieces of history donated to us by our local community. Members of our team hosted “Learn to Preserve” in 2014 and were privileged to have experts from GSUSA and volunteer historians from throughout the Midwest attend our training.

When the words Girl Scout history come up, most people think of the uniform they wore and the handbook they used. We have all that and so much more. Each item that is donated to us is recorded and then passed along to the team member responsible for accessioning that category of material. We use simple excel spreadsheets to record our work and have over 70 categories of physical items in the council collection. Yes, we have magazines, dolls, camp canteens, mugs, postcards, volunteer gifts, tins, cameras, pens and pencils, membership cards…and the list goes on.

The collection is currently housed in the annex at the Joliet and Vernon Hills Gathering Place (GP). Team members meet on Mondays and Tuesdays each week at one of the GPs to process the literally thousands of pieces of historic memorabilia that have been donated to us over the years.

Over those same years, we have opened the gray archival boxes and shared the collection with our local communities. Sometimes it’s smaller displays at libraries, community meetings and events. We have produced fashion shows of uniforms for Alumnae and Service Unit events, as well as large scale shows at local malls. To celebrate our special anniversaries, we have held programs at Navy Pier (90-year anniversary) and at some of Chicago’s premier museums in 2012 to commemorate the 100 years of Girl Scouting. Currently there are displays in the Gathering Places in Chicago, Joliet and Woodridge. The displays are changed regularly to showcase just some of the treasures from the collection.

The team has offered Victorian themed tea parties throughout the council, taken books and uniforms to troop and Service Unit meetings, and participated in other council events, such as Trunk or Treat. We have put together kits that can be checked out by troops for use at their meetings – ranging from tea parties to history themed book and uniform bins from the 1960s and 1980s.

Take Home a Piece of History

This upcoming September 29 (10am – 4pm), 30 (10am – 6pm) and October 1 (10am – 2pm) will be our first sale of excess historical items from our inventory. We are always grateful for any donations, but we have limited storage space and must be selective about which items we accession. We invite you to the Joliet Gathering Place to shop for books, uniforms, badges and patches, and many of those extras that might be new to you.

Most of us are Lifetime Members of Girl Scouts and have served in many volunteer positions over the years. Our love of Girl Scouts and her history keeps us active in the movement and having fun. If you are interested in learning more about the team or donating some Girl Scout treasures, please contact our Archivist, Rosemarie Courtney at rdcourtney1940@gmail.com.

The History of Bridging in Girl Scouts 

Bridging is the term that Girl Scouts use to identify the work that a girl or troop does to get ready to move to the next level.  This work is not mandatory but is meant to give a girl an idea of what is waiting for her at the next level.  Bridging insignia are worn on the next level uniform, not the level where earned.  For example, the bridge to Juniors is worn on the Cadette uniform, not the Junior uniform. 

The first bridging was started about 1927 when Brownie wings became available. Since Brownies were at one time called Brown Owls, the idea was for them to “fly-up” to Girl Scouts.  The first wings were red, green and white embroidered on brown cloth and were used until 1935.  In 1931 the wings were brown embroidered on gray-green Girl Scout cloth.  With two types of wings, Brownies who had earned the Golden Bar were awarded the brown wings, while Brownies who had earned the higher award of the Golden Hand were awarded the multi-color wings. In 1935, both types of wings were discontinued.  The new wings were bright yellow embroidery on dark green felt that we still have today

In 1977, the Bridge to Juniors patch was introduced.  The original patch was a green arch with Bridge To Juniors embroidered in gold.  The arch was meant to go over the three Brownie B’s that were earned by Brownies at that time.  In 1980, the Bridge to Cadettes patch was introduced.  The patch was a yellow rectangle with a small trefoil embroidered in yellow in the middle. In 1987, both of these patches were changed to coordinate with the new Five Worlds program.  The Bridge to Juniors patch was still an arch but was embroidered in the colors of the five worlds (red, yellow, blue, green, orange).  The Bridge to Cadettes remained a rectangle but was embroidered in the same manner as the Bridge to Juniors. 

In 1987, the Bridge to Seniors patch was introduced.  It was a chevron embroidered with the same rainbow as the Junior and Cadette patches.  The Bridge to Adults was also introduced at this time.  It was a small rectangular pin with the rainbow colors surrounded by a green border. 1993 saw the introduction of the Bridge to Brownies patch for Daisies.  This patch was an arch shaped top over a rectangular bottom. 

With the new program changes in 2008 the girl bridging patches were redesigned. They all are arches but with different multicolored designs. The Bridge to Ambassadors patch was introduced in 2013.  The Bridge to Adults pin was not changed. 

The requirements for earning the bridging patches have changed in number over the years but the intent has remained the same.  Girls are to find out about the level the are going into and meet with the older girls, then they are to share what they learned with younger girls-planning their bridging ceremony at the end of their work.