Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Coolest Thing in the World - 100 Years of Girls Scouts, Part 1

This is what my Junior Girl Scout uniform looked like, minus the knee socks.  I did have the beret and little tie, though.

When I was in first grade in the early 1970s, I was insanely jealous of my second grade friends.  They could read better, run faster, and knew more Partridge Family songs than I.  However, my jealousy reached its peak once a week, when they wore their Brownie uniforms to school.  I thought the brown dress, orange tie, and beanie represented the height of coolness.  (In my defense, I did know enough about coolness to pick the Jackson 5 over the Osmond Brothers, at least.)

This was the Brownie uniform I coveted, minus the white gloves!  I eventually got one, including the tie, belt, and beanie.  There were also brown knee socks that we sometimes used rubber bands to keep in place.
I was a Brownie and then a Junior Girl Scout for four years (funny to realize I've been a Girl Scout leader for more than twice that time).  I learned to sew and cook, but also to build a fire and identify poison ivy.  Some of my favorite memories include playing in the creek and roasting hot dogs on an overnight; weaving a belt and hiking at Day Camp; and performing at the annual Thinking Day program, in which each troop did a song or dance from a different country while dressed in the style of that country.  Of course, there were several activities in my Junior handbook we never got to do, much to my disappointment, such as... 
For some reason, I thought the Trail Signs were the coolest thing in the world.  In fact, when my younger daughter got to learn them on her first camp-out with her Junior troop, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy.

My troop never got to make Buddy Burners either, which is probably just as well.  As mentioned in the text above, these tuna can-housed cardboard-paraffin combos are best used with a vagabond stove (an inverted coffee can with vent holes punched in it).  One memorable afternoon, my neighbor and I were playing house with her older sisters.  To make our play more realistic, the middle sister got our her Buddy Burner and set it on the toy stove, which fortunately was outdoors on the patio.  I think we may have planned to boil water or something but as soon as match touched cardboard, the Buddy Burner went up like a torch.  Water wasn't enough to smother the flames, but dirt finally did the trick.  With my friend crying because her stove was ruined and her sisters arguing over how they'd explain the fat streak of black the thick smoke had left on the side of the house, I quietly slipped away.

Who knows - as soon as I got home from the Buddy Burner Incident, I may have holed up with my mom's old Girl Scout handbook.  I loved reading it as a kid (I am a nerd, after all) and was thrilled when my wonderful husband, the Nerd in Chief, brought one home from a thrift store last fall:
Copyright 1947

Unlike my handbook, my mom's was hardcover and compact.  And to a kid in the Seventies, the old-school activities - pasteurizing milk! making a lean-to! frying bacon and eggs on a rock! - were as exotic as the Jetsons' flying car and food capsules. 
I am still fascinated by Morse code and Semaphore signalling, but haven't yet made time to learn either.

Compared to the colored illustrations in my GS handbook, the ones from my mom's seemed retro and cool at the same time.
For some reason, the guidelines for ice safety (above) particularly fascinated me, maybe because I had only ever skated at indoor ice rinks.  All my handbook had to say on the subject was "Skate only on ice that has been tested," but both books describe how to rescue someone who has fallen through the ice, and what to do in the event that you fall through yourself.  The idea that kids would be entrusted with information that could save someone's life rather than reflexively being told to call on an adult to bail them out strongly appeals to me.  And I love that both handbooks encourage activities that seem slightly dangerous by today's standards - after all, encouraging girls to get outdoors and become self-reliant can't be accomplished without a few scrapes and bruises. 

My own time in Girl Scouts ended a year after my family moved from Maryland to Kansas.  At my new school, the girls who became my best friends were in Campfire Girls, so after fifth grade I traded in my badge sash for beads.  Sewing them onto my new Campfire vest was no problem - I'd learned how in Girl Scouts.


  1. Yay! Thanks for letting the girl scouts be known!

  2. Wow, the Head Nerd found you a copy of the handbook? Nerdlove is a beeyooteeful thing, ain't it? ;-)

  3. The cool thing is that he didn't even know I wanted a copy until he brought it home and saw my reaction :-)

  4. I know thousands of old duffers who would love to help you learn Morse code. very cool post

    1. Thanks, I will keep that in mind! My husband and younger daughter will take their Ham licensing exam on Saturday; if that leads either of them into Morse, I'd be a lot more likely to make time to learn.

  5. The Girl Scouts are a fine organization (even though I was a Boy Scout) and I love the cookies.

    Your post reminds me of my sister and I. Being a year older I was able to join the Cub Scouts. She was so anxious to join the Brownies that she could not understand why Mom left me be a year older. Kind of neat child think now looking back. I had great fun making known all the things we Cubs did, but when she joined the Brownies she got even many times over.

    Morse Code is fun. Download G4FON's Koch trainer (unless you are running Linux) and forget the dots and dashes. Now for the Semaphore flags you could join the Navy or find an old sailor.

    Code kept me out of Amateur Radio for about 40 years. Then I decided an old guy has no excuse for not learning at least 5 WPM to pass the General. So I finally learned. The difference was not my age, but the fantastic amount of training material out in cyberland that makes learning the code quite fun. Now I use CW about 90% of the time I am on the air and I no longer struggle at .... what was that slow speed? I'm no speed demon just a good solid 12 to 15 wpma.

    Great post.

  6. Forgot something: Good luck and all the best on your husband and daughter taking the test on Saturday.

    I'm sure there will be plenty of Elmers in the local club to help them with the code should they decide to learn it.
    Elmers are mentors and you will find they will help with all aspects of the hobby.

    1. Bill, thanks very much for your comments and advice on learning Morse. I will need to carve out some time to check into the online resources. My daughters are always finger-spelling words when they don't want us to know what they're saying; maybe I can convince Dwayne to learn Morse with me so we'll have our own secret communication :-)

      He passed his test; our daughter will need to try again. Fortunately, the club offers the exam once a month. They are already talking about equipment options, so I don't think she's too discouraged!