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Juliette Gordon Low

On This Day: Juliette Gordon Low Founds Girl Scouts

March 12, 2010 06:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Guides, which would become the Girl Scouts of the USA, the world’s largest voluntary organization for young women.

Out of the Home, Into the World

In 1911, Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low met British war hero Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, and his sister Agnes, who ran the Girl Guides. Low was inspired by what she saw and dedicated herself to Baden-Powell’s burgeoning scouting movement. She organized several troops in Scotland before deciding to bring scouting to the United States.

According to the Girl Scouts Web site, she called a distant cousin and said “I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we're going to start it tonight!” On March 12, 1912, she gathered 18 girls, including her niece, Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon, in her Savannah townhouse to form the first troop of the American Girl Guides.

“She believed that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, and spiritually,” says the Girl Scouts Web site. “With the goal of bringing girls out of isolated home environments and into community service and the open air, Girl Scouts hiked, played basketball, went on camping trips, learned how to tell time by the stars, and studied first aid.”

Low devoted her life to the success of the Girl Guides, even selling a strand of pearls for $8,000 to fund the early operations. Under her leadership, the Girl Guides, incorporated as Girl Scouts, Inc. in 1915, had expanded to include 10,000 girls in 328 cities by 1916, according to The New York Times.

That year, at the Scouts’ second annual national conference, Low told reporters, “One of the reasons for the remarkable growth of the movement lies in the fact that the Scouts have lived up to their motto of being ‘prepared.’ … American women now wish to make themselves useful members of society, and look with admiration and respect upon the troops of young girls who know things they should know in order to help their country.”

The Girl Scouts Today

Today, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is the world’s biggest voluntary organization for girls, with 10 million girls and adults in 145 countries, according to the Girls Scouts Web site. The Girl Scouts has 2.4 million scouts and more than 50 million alumnae.

The scouts range in age from 5 to 17, and focus in five areas, including the arts and well-being. Careers are explored, and girls can earn merit badges in various fields, including computers and sports. Teenage members are also able to travel abroad and engage in focused community service projects.

Environmentalism has also played an important role in the organization, according to an article by Whit Gibbons of the University of Georgia. Gibbons consulted a 1955 copy of the “Girl Scout Leader’s Guide,” which stated that the troops aimed for an “understanding of living things, appreciation of their beauty, and conservation of them as they live.”

That philosophy continues today, as scouts earn ecological-focused badges, and participate in environmental education programs that focus on “the interconnectedness of nature.”

Biography: Juliette Gordon Low

Juliette Gordon was born in Savannah, Ga., on Oct. 31, 1860. Nicknamed “Daisy,” she attended boarding schools and was a talented sculptor who also loved animals. As a young woman, she became almost completely deaf from various ear infections.

She married a British man, William Low, but the two separated in 1902. She inherited a sizable fortune from him, including the house in Savannah where the Girl Guides would be founded.

Low, who was 50 years old when she was introduced to scouting, “had previously tended to embrace new projects enthusiastically, only to abandon them when her interest flagged,” says the New Georgia Encyclopedia, but her interest in scouting never waned. “She possessed boundless energy, an indomitable will, and an unshakable conviction that scouting would benefit girls and the nation,” writes the NGE.

Low was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1923, but she kept it a secret as she continued her involvement with the scouts. She died on Jan. 17, 1927, and was buried in her Girl Scout uniform.

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