Saturday, October 30, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

When I was a kid, I briefly joined the Girl Scouts. I realized that while I very much enjoyed making s'mores and wearing the outfits, I didn't much enjoy sleeping outside at a campground (and I never even got to the point of selling cookies! Though I am addicted to eating them. Especially Thin Mints). So this week's Heroine is the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA, Juliette Gordon Low, who was born on October 31, 1860.

Low (who was known as "Daisy" to her family and friends) was born into a well-to-do and distinguished family from Chicago and Georgia ( her father was a Confederate captain during the Civil War), and her great-grandmother lived for a time as a captive of the Senecas as a young woman (Daisy was said in the family to share this ancestors intrepid and courageous spirit!). She attended exclusive boarding schools such as The Virginia Female Institute and Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers in New York City (a fancy finishing school). She was considered intelligent and adventurous, but had some bad luck--silver nitrate used to treat an ear infection cost her the hearing in one ear, and a stray piece of rice punctured her other ear drum at her wedding, leaving her partially deaf.

At age 26, on December 21, 1886, she married William Mackay Low, son of a wealthy cotton manufacturing family of Savannah, Georgia and part English. They had no children and went to live in England, but Juliette returned to the US to assist in the efforts of the Spanish American War (she and her mother organized a convalescent hospital for returning soldiers, while her father served on the Puerto Rican Peace Commission). The marriage proved not to be a happy one due to her husband's drinking and affairs, but before she could file for divorce (as she intended to do) he died in 1905 and left the bulk of his estate to his mistress.

In the UK she discovered the Girl Guide organization, and when she returned to live in the US in 1912 she decided to form an American version of the group. Her first group of recruits numbered 18, with her niece Margaret "Daisy" Gordon, as the first. The Girl Scouts were incorporated in 1915, and Juliette served as president until 1920 when she was titled "founder." The Girl Scouts brought together girls of many different backgrounds and took them outdoors, to discover the benefits of activity and exercise and self-reliance (at a time when those things were in woefully short supply for girls!). She showed girls that they could develop their talents and look beyond traditional homemaker roles to fulfill themselves out in the world. (From that 18 the Girl Scouts now number about 4 million).

She was also very interested in the arts (and was an accomplished painter and sculptor), she acted in plays and wrote poetry, and was an amateur naturalist with a particular interest in exotic birds. She swam and played tennis (and stood on her head every year on her birthday to prove she could still do it). Among her friends she was known for her great sense of humor and fun!

She died of breast cancer at her home in Savannah on January 17, 1927 and was buried with full Girl Scout honors at Laurel Grove Cemetery in that city. Her friends then established the Juliette Gordon Low World Friendship Fund in her honor, which funds international projects for the Girls Scout and Girl Guides. (You can visit the website for her Birthplace here)

There are many websites about her life and legacy online, but I also found several children's books helpful in finding out more about her!
Fern Brown, Daisy and the Girl Scouts
Susan Bivin Aller, Juliette Low
Helen Boyd Higgins, Juliette Gordon Low, Girl Scouts Founder

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