The Best Girl Scout Of The Mall

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DAISY’S NOTION OF THE SELF -sufficient, accomplished girl is first dramatized in the pro' motional film made for the Girl Scouts, The Golden Eaglet . The story opens with two fussily dressed girls sauntering down the street to the soda parlor in Central Valley, New York, 1918: “Nothing to do, nowhere to go,” reads the subtitle. The girls’ languid manner suggests that they are mere hours away from a life of sin. Suddenly a troop of Scouts quick-steps by them, raising a haze of dust. “They look like they have something to do, ” one says to the other enviously. In the next scene the girls have become “neatly pony-tailed” and uniformed, flourishing in Scout boot camp, looking the very picture of moral health.

Quickly the movie becomes a thriller. A girl gets a message while on maneuvers that her mother is sick. She runs ten paces, walks ten paces (Scout style), fords a river, and makes it safely to the train depot. There she finds the station master robbed and wounded. With Girl Scout first aid she brings him around, and with Morse Code learned from Girl Scouts she informs the next station of her plight. When asked who she is, she allows herself a small Lone Ranger smile and taps out, “I am just a Girl Scout.” The last scene seems rather like a sop to those who found the first half suggestive of too much adventure for girls. A group of girls marches into the house of a woman who works in a factory and whose husband is a soldier. The house and yard are a mess, the baby is dirty, and the older daughter is sick. The Scouts visit relentless cleanliness on house, yard, baby, and patient. The subtitle explains, “Housework is not so bad when you do it for your country.” At this point the only man in the film makes his appearance to compliment his wife and the Scouts on his spotless house and family. The girls give the soldier a stiff salute and march out discreetly.

 
 

THAT SALUTE WAS NO MERE whimsy: like every other military aspect of the Girl Scouts, it was the result of endless worry and refinement on Daisy’s part. Perhaps most touching of all her oddities was her love of uniforms. It took her years to get the Scout outfit just right. She brooded over questions of

scarves, badges, bars, shoes, stockings, and materials. Typical of her deep concern with details of dress is a letter written in 1916 about a decoration to be worn “over the heart, and the cords looped up to a point left of shoulder & pinned on top of left shoulder twisted so that the ends hang within the circle of cords thus,” and there follows a complicated illustration of the cord properly tied. As the film maker Josephine Daskam Bacon noted perceptively after working with Daisy on the first Girl Scout movie, “It suddenly dawned on me that she loved that big hat; she loved that ridiculous whistle; she loved her whole uniform! She wasn’t wearing them, as some of us were, because it was necessary or because it seemed best: she loved to wear them! …”

America was taking to Daisy’s notion. Carried along on the momentum of progressivism and the war, Girl Scouting provoked relatively little controversy and grew rapidly. From eight girls in 1912, the organization increased to five thousand in 1915 and to approximately forty-two thousand in 1920.

In that year, at the National Girl Scout Convention, Daisy resigned from the presidency, taking the title of founder. She declared her purpose to promote the movement worldwide, thus allowing herself, in her personal and somewhat erratic way, to work without the limitations of routine. By now she had become something of a hazard in the young bureaucracy. For instance, she is reported to have organized her bills into stacks under the categories “This Year,” “Next Year,” “Sometime,” and “Never.” As founder she worried about an unrelated variety of problems—trying to get the unwilling Mrs. Herbert Hoover to speak at the international meeting, the problem of creating Hungarian Girl Scouts against the opposition of the Catholic Church, and dealing with the charge that Girl Scouts had reduced the number of Boy Scouts by debasing the Scout name.

Her relationship with Baden-Powell remained on its high spiritual level. Every now and then he wrote her letters of moral uplift, retiring her dedication to her task. But even B-P’s inspirational communications didn’t keep her from feeling increasingly out of touch. In 1925 she wrote to her dear friend and Scout executive Jane Rippin: “I appreciate your writing to me—I feel so often that I am drifting away from the heart of the organization. Therefore when I am taken into your confidence, it rejoices me. ”

The Fourth International Conference was Daisy’s last major effort. It brought together Scout leaders from all over the world for the first conference held outside England. Daisy fought hard to prevent it from taking place in Switzerland, eventually paying for one delegate from each country to come to America. As much as her failing health permitted, Daisy welcomed dignitaries, participated in ceremonials, and worried over details. Agnes and Robert Baden-Powell presented her with a silver fish, the highest Girl Guide decoration.