By Meridith Orr, Program Executive
Every October 31, we pause to reflect and pay tribute to a woman who was bold, persistent and naturally inquisitive. Juliette Gordon “Daisy” Low was born in Savannah, Georgia on this day in 1860. Known for her sense of adventure and creativity, she was still expected to assume the roles and duties of a Southern lady in society. However, due to a series of life-altering events, she strayed far from those expectations and founded the movement we know and love today.
After meeting the British general and war hero Sir Robert Baden-Powell at a dinner in 1911, Daisy became fascinated with his work with youth in the Boy Scout program. Feeling that “my life brings forth nothing but leaves! – a wasted life,” she investigated the Girl Guides, a program started by Baden-Powell’s sister Agnes to serve the sisters of Boy Scouts who wanted to learn the skills and have the same adventures as their brothers. Daisy trained in the principles of Girl Guiding and founded her first troop in Scotland before bringing the program to America in 1912.
With the help of her cousin, Nina Anderson Pape, Daisy started the first troop of American Girl Guides in her hometown of Savannah. Nina Pape introduced her to naturalist Prof. Walter Hoxie, who co-wrote the first handbook, “How Girls Can Help Their Country,” in 1913. Over the next decade, Daisy became completely absorbed in recruiting and training volunteers, establishing patrols, and traveling back and forth from America to England to acquire badges and other materials needed to support the Movement. By the time she had returned from one of her trips to England, American Girl Guides had renamed themselves “Girl Scouts.”
By 1920, Girl Scouts’ membership had swelled to 82,000 members! Still, thousands of girls across the country who wanted to join were turned away due to a severe lack of trained leaders. To raise over a million dollars for this effort, Daisy kicked off a fundraising campaign to help grow membership by, of all things, buzzing New York city in a biplane and tossing leaflets over the city!
Among the parades and festivals of that “Girl Scout Week,” “Founder’s Day” was established by Girl Scouts’ National President and Daisy’s friend, Jane Deeter Rippin. The celebration was full of games, sports and “All Hallows Eve” ceremonies, although Daisy admonished her “not to make a fuss” over her birthday. Daisy and Jane decided she would also include an annual birthday message in the American Girl magazine, with which she would provide good advice. For example, 1923’s birthday message suggested “the deliberate cultivation of the gift of putting yourself in another’s place is the beginning of wisdom in human relations.”
Such wisdom was at the heart of Daisy’s desire to foster a spirit of inclusion and internationalism. By the mid-1920s, Daisy lobbied to host a World Camp of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts at Camp Edith Macy in New York, a feat she accomplished in 1926, less than a year before her death. The World Camp paved the way for many traditions we still enjoy, including our World Thinking Day. Reflecting on events of the camp, Jane Deeter Rippin wrote to Daisy, “It is not given to most of us mortals to see the success of our achievements. And no doubt this is because it usually takes so long for success to come. But success has come to Girl Scouting through the vision of its founder and her perseverance in the face of discouragement.”
Today we continue to build on Daisy’s vision of a place for girls where they can build skills, make friends and grow to be remarkable, resourceful women who support and strengthen their communities. May we all persist in following her wonderful example by inspiring others to do great things! Happy Birthday, Daisy!
Stacy A. Cordery, Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts