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The Best Girl Scout Of The Mall
How Juliette “Daisy” Low, an unwanted child, a miserable wife, a lonely widow, finally found happiness as the founder of the Girl Scouts of America
June/july 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 4
There Daisy worked hard to charm Willy’s friends: she rode to the hounds, gave parties, paid calls. But she wasn t happy, and she felt isolated and increasingly neglected. Willy traveled all over the world, almost always alone. Daisy began to have mysterious stomach pains. The doctors told her she must give up hunting, one of the only activities she and Willy had in common. She took up painting, poetry, and sculpture, forged a huge pair of gates for her home, and collected throngs of miniature dogs and encouraged them to sleep on her bed. Her biographer Glady Denny Schultz speculates that she also had a miscarriage. In any case, she had no children, a signal failure in her own eyes.
After years of private misery Willy finally made Daisy’s unhappiness public by taking a mistress. He met Mrs. Bateman, a beautiful widow, in 1895, and eventually moved her into his and Daisy’s house, forcing his wife into a distant wing. “Happiness is not the sum total of life,” Daisy wrote her sister. “I am beginning to believe there is almost as much satisfaction in bearing pain bravely, as one grows older.”
This opened a series of sordid negotiations that continued for five years and might have gone on for a decade had not Willy suddenly died. He left his enormous fortune to Mrs. Bateman with the provision that she pay Daisy twenty-five hundred pounds a year. Even Willy’s lawyer urged Daisy to contest the will. She did and came away with a settlement of $500,000 and all of Willy’s valuable properties.
At forty-six Miss Low, as she had begun calling herself, faced the deadly combination of great freedom and no direction. She traveled like a possessed woman, back and forth across the Atlantic and all over the Continent. She was morbidly sensitive, full of self-disgust and restlessness.
It was in this state that Daisy met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, hero of the Boer War, veteran of India and West Africa, author of many books, and Chief Scout of the British Empire. If ne’er-do-well Willy Low had an opposite, it was the honorable, loyal, and dutiful B-P, as Daisy came to call him. “I appeal to the British spirit already ingrained in you of ‘playing the game,’ ” he once wrote to a friend, “that is, of doing your duty just as thoroughly when you are away from the eye of authority as when under it—not from fear of punishment for neglect to do it, but simply because it is ‘the game’ and is expected of you as a man of honor.” Such was the assumption of the value of discipline, on which B-P founded the Boy Scouts.
B-P was unmarried when, at fifty-four, he met Daisy. His plan of operations for handling women was to tell them right away that he was not going to ask them to marry him but that he would be glad, as a friend, to help them in any way he could. “That’s what I do and the matter being thus defined the girl confides in you and you have much better fun. ” To his mother he wrote that he wouldn’t marry till he was a major, “and then it will be a £50,000 girl at home.”
If B-P was considerably beyond majordom when he met Daisy in May, 1911, she was no girl from home either. At fifty she had a lined face with hooded eyes, a straight mouth, and a long, beakish nose. She was a solid, handsome woman, extremely hard of hearing, and somewhat overwhelmingly vivacious in compensation.
Daisy took to B-P with daunting enthusiasm. Like Daisy he was interested in theater and sculpture. But Daisy, who considered herself a failure in the dark jungles of conjugal love, was most thrilled by his uncomplicated and uncompromising vision of life. She invited him everywhere. She teased him about the future Mrs. Baden-Powell. She wrote him letters faster than he, a most punctilious letter-answerer, could reply. She read his palm. The lines, she recorded, “are very odd and contradictory. The impression he makes on one is equally contradictory. All of his portraits and all of his writings represent him in action, essentially a man of war, though never has any human given me such a feeling of peace. He rushes from one engagement to another, though he doesn’t strike me as restless or pushed or driven. It may be because in his own mind he is not personally seeking anything. His activities are for mankind and he has, perhaps, eliminated the effort to attain things for himself. To him his own life, as a saint, is apparently unimportant. ”
Daisy assumed that Baden-Powell was secretly miserable, but he gently resisted her interpretation. Finally seeing that, unlike Willy, B-P didn’t need her sympathy, Daisy concentrated on his spiritual meaning for her own life. “Today in the few moments I have had to myself, my mind has irresistibly dwelt on B-P. A sort of intuition comes over me that he believes I might make more out of my life, and that he has ideas, which if I follow them will open a more useful sphere of work before me in the future.”