Girl Scouts: More than Thin Mints

By Libby Motika
Palisades News Contributor

“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.”

Wow, if everyone strove to live by that, what an amazing community we would have. Sounds like a song, sounds naïve, but this philosophy has not only sustained but also guided the worldwide girls’ organization for 105 years.

“The Girl Scouts is a story of survival,” said Lisette Gold, speaking in conjunction with the recent exhibition “The Journey of Girl Scouts: Empowering Young Women” at the Santa Monica History Museum.

Now serving as Santa Monica Girl Scouts Service Unit Manager, Gold has a long association with the organization, as a troop leader and adult Girl Scout.

Palisades Troop 11875 Gold Award winner Emma Wollitz distributes blankets to women and children at the Unatti Home in Nepal. Photo courtesy Troop co-leader Debra Wollitz with Linda Rosen

Palisades Troop 11875 Gold Award winner Emma Wollitz distributes blankets to women and children at the Unatti Home in Nepal. Photo courtesy Troop co-leader Debra Wollitz with Linda Rosen

“Our mission today is the same as it has always been: to give girls the courage, confidence and character to make the world a better place,” she said. “But to make our mission real today, it has to be fluid, has to be dynamic to appeal to girls in 2017, who are media-savvy.”

What was it like in 1912, when Juliette “Daisy” Low founded Troop 1, registering 18 girls in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia?

It was an unlikely mission for Low, who like those in her elite class was prepared for a life as wife and mother in Southern society. She was well spoken; she could cook, couldn’t vote, couldn’t own property and couldn’t deal with money.

Former First Lady Lou Hoover was featured speaker at the 1935 “Big Trees” Girl Scout conference in Temescal Canyon. Photo courtesy Santa Monica History Museum, Bill Beebe Collection

Former First Lady Lou Hoover was featured speaker at the 1935 “Big Trees” Girl Scout conference in Temescal Canyon. Photo courtesy Santa Monica History Museum, Bill Beebe Collection

Yet for Low, this expected life trajectory was disrupted by unfortunate events. She fell in love with William Mackay Low, a strikingly handsome Englishman whose family had property and status in Savannah and London. The couple married, but as time passed, Willy’s sizable inheritance allowed him to divert himself with a circle of friends surrounding Edward, the Prince of Wales, before the latter ascended the throne.

Childless, the marriage sputtered until Willy’s extramarital affair finally prompted divorce, soon followed by his premature death in 1905.

Rudderless but liberated, Daisy was left at 45 facing the next chapter in her life. Money was no worry, but at her age, what could she try to accomplish? While she remained in London, Daisy spent several months in Savannah each year and traveled extensively, often inviting a niece, nephew or the child of a friend to accompany her.

In 1911, she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, with whom she shared a common interest. She admired the scouting movement and soon began working with the Girl Guides, the Boy Scouts’ sister organization in Great Britain. With Baden-Powell’s help and encouragement, she made plans to start a similar association for American girls.

At age 51, Low had found her life’s work.

Girl Scout founder Juliette “Daisy” Low in 1923. Photo courtesy Santa Monica History Museum, Bill Beebe Collection

Girl Scout founder Juliette “Daisy” Low in
1923. Photo courtesy Santa Monica History Museum, Bill Beebe Collection

What Low had in mind was an organization structured on training and having fun. “Girls need to be independent and have skills for survival,” she famously told her cousin. “I’ve got something for girls, for Savannah, for the nation and the world.”

From the beginning, the Girl Scouts has been open to all girls or leaders without regard to ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, national origin, physical or developmental disability or sexual orientation.

Low’s first 18 Girl Scouts included girls from influential Savannah families as well as girls from the Female Orphan Asylum and congregation Mickve Israel.

As early as 1917, the first African-American troops were established, and one of the earliest Latina troops was formed in Houston in 1922. Girl Scout troops supported Japanese-American girls in internment camps and, this February, Troop 6000 was established for homeless girls in New York City.

Using her connections, Daisy was able to raise enough money within two years to establish a headquarters in Washington, D.C. By 1925, there were more than 90,000 active Girl Scouts in the United States.

Today, there are 2.7 million members in the U.S. and active troops in 92 countries. Within our own neighborhoods, from Malibu to the 405, there are 50 troops, which comprise girls from kindergarten up to 12th grade: Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors (11-12th grades).

Palisadian Lynn Mack-Costello, who next year will celebrate 35 years of involvement with the organization, cofounded with Debbie Ebert her first Palisades troop in 1994 when her elder daughter, Kelley, was in second grade.

Mack-Costello, who is the Service Unit Manager for the Palisades-Malibu-Brentwood SU, extolls the organization as being a safe harbor for girls; a place where a girl can learn how to make a plan, gather the necessary resources, recruit help, and see it to completion.

Girl Scout uniforms have come a long way from the early days. Photo: Bart Bartholomew

Girl Scout uniforms have come a long way from the early days.
Photo: Bart Bartholomew

“This is also a safe place to fail,” she says. “If you try it and if it doesn’t work out, you can think about what can we do next time.

The girls learn and try things that they don’t get in school, and the activities are geared to their interests: camping, sailing, star-gazing, robots, cooking, and more, all of which offer opportunities for leadership.”

The Girl Scout sash patches tell the story of what the troop is all about, whether it be backpackers or athletes, plus the girls’ honors and accomplishments. Actions speak louder than words.

A Bronze, Silver or Gold award recognizes a project that follows a similar struc- ture: discover, connect and take action.

The exhibit at the S.M. History Museum, guest curated by Ciara Dalling and Olivia Kienzle of the Marina Service unit (encompassing Santa Monica and West L.A.), merited a Silver award. The girls developed the theme and layout, gathered the items for display, assisted in marketing and promotion, and hosted an opening celebration event for the local Girl Scout community.

As a result of sugar and butter rationing in 1944 during World War II, local Girl Scouts sold bags of oranges door to door to raise money for troop activities. Photo courtesy Santa Monica History Museum, Bill Beebe Collection

As a result of sugar and butter rationing in 1944 during World War II, local Girl Scouts sold bags of oranges door to door to raise money for troop activities.
Photo courtesy Santa Monica History Museum, Bill Beebe Collection

Palisades Troop 11875 member Emma Wollitz’s Gold award project developed from a mission with the Unatti Foundation in Nepal. The organization is committed to uplifting the lives of all of Nepal’s children by specifically supporting girls and young women.

At a visit to a brick factory, Wollitz noticed that the children working had no blankets, coats and often no shoes. Her plan to keep the children warm entailed teaching the girls how to make blankets. With her money saved from Girl Scout cookie sales, she returned to Nepal armed with fabric, scissors and a few additional supplies.

“The project was two-fold,” said Wollitz, who is a junior at Windward. “The girls living at Unatti Home were looking for a way to give back to their community, and I con- tinue providing support for the Unatti girls to purchase supplies to make blankets.”

Certainly, the most public Girl Scout activity is the annual cookie sale, the organization’s major fundraiser since 1917. The perfect entrepreneurial operation, the girls run their own business, set up a booth and tally the money, while learning organizational skills and customer relations and gaining self-confidence. The money raised is the engine for the organization and the local troops.

“When I started, I was for two years alone,” Juliette Low wrote in a draft of a speech five years after Girl Scouting began. “I had to use the tools that were in my hand, even with the handicap of having no good textbooks and no definitive fixed training . . . and in spite of my shortcomings we have grown and flourished. Thanks to the solid merit of Girl Scout laws and to the wholeheartedness of the captain and leaders who have taken up this work and I say with my whole heart, long live the Girl Scouts.” 

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