Juliette Gordon Low & The Girl Scouts

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Savannah's Favorite Girl Scout:
Juliette Gordon Low
by Kelli Nottingham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Called a brilliant eccentric by her brother, Juliette Gordon Low lived a life full of energy, determination, joy and kindness. She raised peacocks at her home, drove on the right side of the road while in England (proudly proclaiming that she would do so because she was American), and often used her loss of hearing as a convenient way to involve people in helping her causes. She is one of Savannah's most beloved daughters, her memory a precious one to Girl Scouts the world over.

But who was this woman renowned for her determined efforts at creating the Girl Scouts? Born on October 31, 1860, Juliette Gordon Low, called Daisy by friends and family, grew up in a close-knit community in Savannah. Her ancestry was a point of pride, her forebears being frontiersmen and pioneering women. As a child, she was regaled with stories of her great-grandmother being kidnapped by Native Americans and held hostage for a brief time. The importance of scouting and wilderness survival skills indelibly imprinted itself onto her young mind.

Although her early adult life ranged from happiness to despair, as she suffered through a difficult separation and divorce, Daisy Low found her life's calling in London. It was in her developing friendship with General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, an English war hero and founder of the Boy Scouts, that Daisy's eyes were open to the world of scouting. Her friendship with Baden-Powell became one of the most important of her life, and his support for her to expand the world of scouting to American girls spurred her on to great accomplishments.

During a season spent in Scotland soon after meeting Baden-Powell, Daisy organized the first of her scouting troops to assist the poor girls of the area. Seven girls showed up weekly for tea and scones, and Daisy taught them about the Girl Guides, the existing British scouting organization created by General Baden-Powell and his sister. She also taught them practical lessons, like tying knots, cooking, first aid, and knitting.

When Daisy saw how the young people of the area left for bigger cities to find work, she searched for ways to enable her seven girls to earn money with the resources they already possessed. They began growing chickens to sell, and after Daisy taught herself to card and spin wool, she taught the girls the same skills. Daisy then found a market for the girls to sell their items in London, thus providing a sustainable financial path. Daisy strongly believed that scouting was for both rich and poor, and would enable girls of all social classes to better themselves, and therefore the world at large.

Upon returning to Savannah, Daisy focused her attention on setting up scouting for girls in the United States. On March 12, 1912, she organized two small troops of 16 girls to be Girl Guides, the precursors to the modern Girl Scouts. Daisy signed up her niece and namesake, Daisy 'Doots' Lawrence, as the first American Girl Scout, a title which Doots enjoyed with pride throughout her life. The movement grew, encouraged by girls who were excited to participate in activities outside the normal realm of the "feminine" that girls were forced to adhere to at the time. Instead of the activities that society expected from young girls, Daisy's Girl Scouts enjoyed hiking, camping, cooking over campfires, even playing basketball!

Many of the girls joined because they were allowed to wear the official khaki uniforms, which Daisy also wore with pride. It was often said by Daisy's colleagues that the only reason many old Savannah families allowed their daughters to participate in the Girl Scouts was because, despite her eccentricities, Daisy was a member of the venerable Gordon family, and was, therefore, a lady.

World War I provided a dramatic boost in the Girl Scouts' membership, as many young women felt a driving need to contribute what they could to help the war effort. They did not fail. The Girl Scouts helped with food conservation programs, planting gardens for food. They also helped in sewing rooms, in canteens at railroad stations, as messengers, and as relief for overworked nurses during a flu epidemic. Perhaps as a precursor to selling cookies, the Girl Scouts also provided a tremendous service to the war effort by selling an impressive amount of Liberty bonds.

Daisy Low worked tirelessly, both in America and around the world, to advance the cause of scouting for girls, and her efforts were greatly rewarded. She set up camps around the U.S., published a handbook for the Girl Scouts, organized the headquarters in New York City, and hosted international envoys of other scouting organizations, all while maintaining close contact with "her girls" in Savannah. Her words at an organizational meeting sum up her life's focus: "We mustn't lose sight of the girls. The girls must always come first."

In Daisy Low's life, the girls did come first. By giving young girls responsibilities beyond the trust normally placed in them, Daisy encouraged them to become leaders in society and to have faith in their own abilities. Her sister, concerned that Girl Scouts would hold Daisy up as the image of the "Perfect Girl Scout", stated that "Daisy was far too warm and human and lovable for that. Her life was a series of adventures. And she was one of the most delightful and maddening people that ever lived, as well as being lovable and good. It is wiser that Girl Scouts should learn to admire her for her charm and gaiety and self-sacrifice, than that she should be set upon a pedestal of impossible perfection." One thing is for certain: by leading by her own eccentric and charming example, Daisy demonstrated how to be true to oneself.

Membership in the Girl Scouts today encompasses over 2.7 million girls, and extends to 90 countries through USA Girl Scouts overseas programs. Each year, groups of green clad Girl Scouts come to Savannah to see Juliette Gordon Low?s home, open as a museum and testament to the indomitable spirit of Daisy Low. Her aim for the Girl Scouts remains intact in the organization's present day mission statement: "Girls develop qualities that will serve them all their lives, like leadership, strong values, social conscience, and conviction about their own potential and self-worth." Daisy's indomitable spirit and determination have created a worldwide network in which girls can flourish, explore, and see the possibilities that lay before them.

For further information about the Girl Scouts and Juliette Gordon Low?s home, please see www.girlscouts.org.

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