The Girl Scouts celebrate 100 years

| 15 Mar 2012 | 12:12

By Ginny Raue This is the story of Juliette Gordon Low, a wealthy socialite enjoying all that money and position had to offer at the turn of the 20th century.It’sa story of travel, history, love andbetrayal.And one other thing; it’s the story of the beginning of one of the most beneficial organizationsfor girls ever founded.

Juliette Gordon was born in 1860 in Savannah, Georgia.Fortunate to be born into a family of wealth, she also had a family with a colorful history.

Her grandfather,a government agent on the Western Frontier, worked among Native Americans.Her father, a cotton trader,had been a Confederate officer in the Civil War and later a general in the Spanish American War.Her great-grandmother was captured by Native Americans and became the adopted daughter of a Seneca chief until she was freed. She was dubbed "Little-Ship-Under-Full-Sail" by the tribe.

When Juliette came along, she was given a shortened version of her ancestor's nickname - "Little Ship." It turned out to be a prophetic nickname since she became the captain of her own ship, determined and dedicated.

Low was educated in private schools in Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey and in New York, where she developed her artistic talents.Having inherited her mother’s charm and organizational skills and her father’s adventurous nature, she set off for Europe when her schooling was complete.She was to spend part of each year in Europe for the rest of her life.

While in England she met millionaire landowner, William Low.Despite her father’s disapproval, she married Low in 1886after a four year courtship.The couple lived mostly in Europe, entertaining frequently at their Scottish estate, as well as in England and America.

William Low traveled often without his wife and loneliness set in. By the early 1900s, their marriage was unraveling. Low had taken a mistress and wanted out of the marriage but Juliette refused at first. Eventually she agreed to the divorce but William Low died before the proceedings were finalized. He left his entire estate to his mistress. After a lengthy legal battle, Juliette Gordon Low was awarded $500,000.

With money in her purseshe was able to travel again.She went to Paris to study sculpture and it was there, in 1911,that she befriendedSir Robert Baden-Powell, a man who would change her life’s direction.

Baden-Powell had founded the Scout Movement for boys in 1908.His wife and sister took up the mantle and organized the Girl Guides.Their aim was to provide healthy activities and instill good citizenship and responsibilityin the local youth.AndJuliette Gordon Low found her life’s work.

Before long, Low set up Girl Guide troops in England and Scotland.“Little Ship” soon crossed the ocean to begin what was to become the Girls Scouts of America.

The first unit of what was then called Girl Guides was established on March 12, 1912.It was comprised of two troops who met in a carriage house onLow’s property.She drafted a board of directors and set up a national headquarters, personally financing most of the early efforts.By 1915the Girl Scouts of America was officially incorporated; by 1916 there were more than 7,000 Girl Scouts.

“My purpose…,” Low is quoted as saying, “….to go on with my heart and soul, devoting all my energies to Girl Scouts, and heart and hand with them, we will make our lives and the lives of the future girls happy, healthy and holy.”

Explaining a fewof the Girl Scout Laws, Low said, “Loyal.This means that she is true to her country, to the city or village where she is a citizen, to her family, her church, her school, and those for whom she may work or who may work for her.Pure.A good housekeeper cannot endure dust and dirt; a well-cared-for body cannot endure grime and soot; a pure mind cannot endure doubtful thoughts that cannot be freely aired and ventilated.”

In 1912 American women had limited access to education andlimited futures.With the advent of World War I in 1914, women began to realize their importance in society.The Girl Scouts, who very actively supported war efforts, grew in number. More public awareness brought in more donations. By 1920, the Girl Scouts had grown so large that the organization required a full time administrative staff.After serving five years as president, Low retired with the title of “founder” but stayed active within the Scouts.

Years later she was diagnosed with cancer and, though quite ill, she attended the World Camp of the Girl Scouts in England in 1924 andvolunteered to bring the event to New York in 1926.With time running out, she traveled once more to England to bid her friends farewell.She died in Savannah in 1927, leaving a heritage that has benefited millions of girls across the United States.

She set high standards for girls.They work for and earn their badges, not for the world to see their accomplishments, but as a symbol of what they are prepared to do, what they are capable of.

Happy anniversary to all of Juliette Gordon Low’s protégés; the current 3.2 million adults and Girl Scouts of America and the 50 million alumnae.How fortunate that “Little Ship” sailed home.