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Wednesday, August 7, 2019


Juliet Gordon Low

One of my greatest childhood pleasures was participating in the Girl Scouts of America. It wasn’t just the fun of earning badges that brought me so much happiness; it was the joy of being with other girls and learning things together and sharing our successes.

Becoming part of a Girl Scout troop was more than campfires and roasted marshmallows. We learned how to be good citizens, helpful to others, and self-reliant. Like the Boy Scouts our motto was BE PREPARED. Every meeting we cited the Girl Scout Promise: On my honor I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times; to obey the Girl Scout laws.
There were ten laws for Girl Scouts:
1. A Girl Scout’s honor is to be trusted.
2. A Girl Scout is loyal.
3. A Girl Scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others.
4. A Girl Scout is a friend to all and a sister to every other Girl Scout.
5. A Girl Scout is courteous.
6. A Girl Scout is a friend to animals.
7. A Girl Scout obeys orders.
8. A Girl Scout is cheerful.
9. A Girl Scout is thrifty.
10. A Girl Scout is clean in thought, word, and deed.
The Girl Scout Handbook was our guide to learning responsibility and leadership that would stay with us for the rest of our lives. I still have that handbook. It’s kind of worn out with packing tape holding the binding together, but it still holds good memories and accomplishments as I made my way from Tenderfoot to Curved Bar.

My old Girl Scout handbook and my badges (except I lost the 6 in Troop 246)

Juliette Gordon Low (October 31, 1860-January 17, 1927) is the founder of the Girl Scouts of America inspired by the work of Lord Baden-Powell who founded the Boy Scouts in England. She joined the Girl Guide movement while in England and formed the Girl Guides of Great Britain in 1911.

The following year in 1912 she returned to the United States and her home in Savannah, Georgia. In 1915 she established the United States Girl Guides which became known as the Girl Scouts. She became the first president and remained active until her death. Her birthday, October 31, is commemorated by the Girl Scouts as “Founder’s Day.”

Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born in Savannah, Georgia, the second of six children. Her nickname was Daisy. Her father, William Washington Gordon II, as a cotton broker with Tison & Gordon, later renamed W.W. Gordon & Company and her mother was Eleanor Lytle Kinzie, a writer whose family played a role in the founding of Chicago.

Her father joined the Confederate States Army six months after she was born to fight in the American Civil War in 1864 because of the close proximity of the Union Army to Savannah. Her mother moved with the children to Thunderbolt, GA. After the Union Army declared victory in Savannah, General William T. Sherman visited her family frequently since he was a friend of her uncle. Sherman arranged for Juliette’s family to be escorted to Chicago in 1865. Shortly after they arrived in Chicago, Juliette contracted “brain fever”, but recovered without severe complications. At the end of the war her father reunited with the family and they moved back to Savannah.

Juliette was accident prone as a child and suffered many injuries and illnesses including a head injury after falling out of bed, an injury to two of her fingers so severe, for a time, her parents considered having them amputated, frequent earaches, and recurring bouts of malaria.

She dedicated most of her time pursuing art and poetry, wrote and performed plays, and started a newspaper her cousins called “The Malbone Bouquet” which featured some of her early poetry. She and her cousins formed a club with the goal of helping others. “The Helpful Hands Club” members learned to sew and attempted to make clothes for the children of Italian immigrants. She was dubbed “Crazy Daisy” by her cousins and family due to her eccentricities. Her cousin, Caroline, described her by saying, “While you never knew what she would do next, she always did what she made up her mind to do.”

Juliette was raised with traditional Southern values which emphasized the importance of duty, obedience, loyalty, and respect. As was customary at the time, Juliette was off to boarding school at age 12 attending several schools through her teen years which included Miss Emmett’s school in New Jersey, The Virginia Female Institute, the Edgehill School, and Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers French finishing school in New York. She joined a secret group Theta Tau while at the Edgehill School in which members earned badges. (You can clearly see the beginnings of a Girl Scout in these accomplishments and social teachings of her youth.) After she finished boarding school she took painting lessons in New York and among her teachers was Robert Walter Weir, a prominent landscape artist.

When her sister, Alice, died in 1880, Juliette returned to Savannah and took over the household duties while her mother grieved. Meanwhile, she met William Mackay Low, the son of a family friend and they began secretly courting until William left Savannah to study at the University of Oxford. Three years later, Juliette traveled through Europe during their time of separation and learned some new skills which included shorthand, bareback riding, and hunting partridge. William Low proposed marriage in 1885 and they were married in Savannah on her parents’ wedding anniversary, December 21, 1886. Later, they leased property in London and Scotland, spent the social season in London and the hunting season in Scotland. Due to Juliette’s medical problems they spent most of their first two years apart. William’s long hunting trips, gambling, and inability to have children began to strain their marriage.

While William spent his time in drinking, gambling, and affairs, Juliette painted, learned word and metal working. She even designed and built iron gates for her home in Warwickshire. She hosted parties and events at her house and received visits from HRH Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales who was a friend of her husband’s and Rudyard Kipling whose wife was a friend of Juliette’s mother. Though her husband was against it, Juliette spent a great deal of time involved in charity which included regular visits to a woman with leprosy. She gave food and care to the people of the village and joined a local nursing association.

Juliette and William spent less and less time together. William drank heavily, gambled, and began an affair with Anna Bridges Bateman, a widow who had stayed as a guest at the Low’s home in Scotland. At first William had not wanted a separation or divorce, but later agreed to a permanent separation in 1901. She received an allotment of money from William which she wisely invested in the Low Home for herself in Savannah with the land surrounding it as well as buying the house next door to rent out for income, and invested in stocks and securities. When William died of a seizure following a long illness, he left his entire estate to his mistress. However, his two sisters contested the will and they awarded Juliette a generous sum of money since Juliette and William had never divorced. I thought this was a noble thing for them to do for Juliette.
Juliette traveled after the death of her husband and did charity work while she sought a project on which she could focus her skills and time. At a party in May 1911 she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell and was inspired by a program in which he had organized called Boy Scouts. At that time the Boy Scouts had 40,000 members in Europe and the United States. The program stressed the importance of military preparedness and fun which Juliette valued. The two became good friends and spent a great deal of time together over the following year.

In August 1911, Juliette became involved the Girl Guides headed by Agnes Baden-Powell, Sir Robert’s sister and she formed the Girl Guides patrol in Scotland near her home. She encouraged the girls in her patrol to become self-sufficient by learning how to spin wool and care for the livestock. She taught them knot tying, how to read a map, knitting, cooking, and first aid. Her military friends taught her girls how to drill, signal, and camp. After that, she taught two Girl Guide patrols in London where she spent the following winter.

Juliette Gordon Low and Lord Robert Baden-Powell 

Juliette and Sir Robert took a trip to America in 1912 to spread the scouting movement. Naturally, she wanted to start the movement in Savannah to teach girls practical skills and character development. She called her cousin Nina, a local educator and said, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all of the world, and we’re going to start it tonight.” In March of 1912 Juliette Gordon Low formed the first two American Girl Guide patrols with 18 girls.

With Juliette’s social connections and her ambitious recruiting efforts by way of friend and advertisements in the newspapers, she was able to quickly gather a following of leaders and new members and Sir Robert assisted her by contacting others who were interested in Girl Guides such as Louise Carnegie. She also released a Girl Guides manual titled “How Girls Can Help Their Country” which was based on “Scouting For Boys” by Sir Robert Baden-Powell and “How Girls Can Help To Build Up The Empire” by Agnes Baden-Powell.

Juliette established the first headquarters in a remodeled carriage house behind the home in Savannah she inherited from her husband with meeting rooms for local Girl Guide patrols and the outside lot was used for marhing and signal drills and sports like basketball. Edmund Strudwick Nash who rented the main house offered to pay rent on the carriage house as his contribution to the organization and his son, Ogden Nash, immortalized “Mrs Low’s House” in one of his poems.
Juliette traveled along the east coast to introduce Girl Guides to other communities and, upon returning home to Savannah, spoke with President Taft who was visiting the Gordon home hoping to recruit his daughter Helen as a patron of the Girl Guides, but she was not successful in that endeavor. I Juliette Gordon Low well enough to know she wasn’t about to knuckle under to a little competition. She decided to change the name from Girl Guides to Girl Scouts deciding that the word Scout would be reminiscent of the pioneer spirit in America. She had some push back from West who led the Boy Scouts of America because he felt Scout trivialized the Boy Scouts name. (Nice…right?) Sir Robert preferred the word Guide after the British Girl Guides, but he supported Juliette’s decision. Naturally, being Juliette, she forged ahead with the name Girl Scouts and made their national headquarters in Washington D.C.. The national headquarters was set up for the girls to purchase their badges and to buy her guide book titled “How Girls Can Help Their Country.”

She worked to recruit leaders and members in every state and spoke to groups at every opportunity. She designed the trefoil badge against West’s wishes since he thought the trefoil should belong only to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts should have no right to use it. Juliette traveled back to London that summer where she met King George and Queen Mary of Teck and received the Girl Guide Thanks Badge from Princess Louise for promoting Guiding.
Juliette formed the Honorary Committee of Girl Scouts and elected her family and friends to the committee. Using her ample supply of connections she was able to convince Susan Ludlow Parish who was Eleanor Roosevelt’s godmother, Mina Miller Edison (the wife of Thomas Edison), and Bertha Woodward (The wife of the House of Representatives majority leader) to become patrons. Even with all these patrons, Juliette still funded most Girl Scout expenses herself.
When World War I broke out, Juliette rented Castle Menzies in Scotland and let a family of Belgian refugees to temporarily move in.

She sailed back to the United States on February 13, 1915 on the RMS Lusitania to continue her work with the Girl Scouts. She now had 73 patrons and 2,400 registered members. She built a stronger central organization for the Girl Scouts by writing a new constitution that formed an executive committee and a National Council and held the first National Council meeting under the name, Girl Scouts, Inc. on June 10, 1915, and was elected the first president of the organization.

At the entrance of America into World War I in 1916 Juliette expanded the Girl Scouts through publications in newspapers, magazines, events, and film and relocated their headquarters from Washington D.C. to New York City. Juliette returned to England to fund raise for a home for relatives of wounded soldiers where she volunteered 3 nights a week. In November she returned to America to continue her work with the Girl Scouts.

To help with the program enacted by the United States Food Administration to teach women to conserve food, the Girl Scouts in Washington D.C. began growing and harvesting their own food and canned perishable foods. Herbert Hoover wrote a letter to Juliette to thank her for the contributions of the Girl Scouts and expressed the hope that Girl Scouts in other states would do the same. Of course, Juliette responded in typical Juliette fashion by organizing the Girl Scouts to help the Red Cross by making surgical dressings and knitted clothing for the soldiers. They also picked oakum, swept workrooms, created scrapbooks for wounded soldiers, and made smokeless trench candles for soldiers to heat their food. Note: Oakum picking is a tedious and laborious task of picking apart rope which in then used as a kind of caulking to seal off openings and usually sealed over with hot tar. I had to look this up since I had no clue. Just sayin’…

At the end of 1917 Juliette had convinced Lou Henry Hoover to become the National Vice President of the Girl Scouts and Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (President Wilson’s second wife) to become Honorary President of the Girl Scouts.

Juliette stepped down as the National President of the Girl Scouts in 1920 in order to devote her time to creating the International Council of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and attended the first international meeting in London representing the United States. She continued her work in many directions for the sake of Girl Scouts including a plan for a camping facility in Cloudland, Georgia to be used to train leaders and Girl Scouts together. The name Cloudlands was later changed to Camp Juliette Low.

In 1923 Juliette Low developed breast cancer which she kept a secret. After an operation to remove the malignant lumps, she developed the flu. She managed to cover after a year, but had 2 more operations to cure breast cancer, but was informed in 1925 that she had only 6 months to live. She went to London to receive cancer treatment from Dr. William Blair-Bell which consisted of an IV fluid containing lead. She developed lead poisoning, returned home to Savannah where she died on January 17, 1927 at age 66. An honor guard of Girl Scouts escorted her casket to her funeral at Christ Church the next day. 250 Girl Scouts left school early that day to attend her funeral and burial at Laurel Grove Cemetery. Juliette was buried in her Girl Scout uniform with a note in her pocket that read, ‘You are not only the first Girl Scout, but the best Girl Scout of them all.” Her tombstone read, “Now abideth faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.”

Juliette Gordon Low never had children, but she left a legacy of devotion to thousands of girls and for generations of girls to follow.
I originally only intended to write a 3 paragraph blog, but I found Juliette Low’s life so fascinating and filled with accomplishments and good works I just had to write more. Still, I left out a LOT!

I was a Girl Scout and loved it for years of my youth and earned the Curved Bar badge before I finished. When my mother took over as leader for my Girl Scout troop she and Pop planned a memorable trip for my troop to visit the Juliette Low home in Savannah. It was one of the most memorable times I ever had.

Were you in a scouting group growing up? What do you remember most about your experience? Did you have kids in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts?

Diverse stories filled with heart


  1. How interesting. I was a Brownie and briefly a Girl Scout before my family moved. I loved it!

    1. Me too, Kristy. I wish you could have stayed in it longer.
      Thank you for coming over to read my blog--I know it was kinda long. LOL

  2. WOW, Sarah, what a great article about an amazing woman. I fully understand your statement about intending to write three paragraphs....hence my last blog had to be split into two parts. I participated only one year in Brownies. It was hard to arrange to get to the meetings because my mom didn't drive and living out on the farm, I had to catch the school bus after school. I think that's why in some ways I resented living on the farm, being away from social activities after school. Luckily, a neighbor a few miles down the road worked at the dairy until six, so I could always arrange a ride home with her. Thanks for sharing the history of this wonderful and important organization, Sarah.

    1. I was lucky in this instance that I lived in the city. Mom did drive and was even a scout leader for a while. When my parents bought a house the scout meeting were held midway between the school and home so several of us walked from school to scouts and then we walked to our homes after the meetings because we lived close to the Presbyterian church where our meetings were held.
      This sure was a long article, wasn't it? There was so much about Juliette I wanted to say, but I didn't intend for it to be THIS long.
      I am so glad you came and stuck it out through this lengthy article, Elizabeth. I still think you were lucky to get to live on a farm. My maternal grandmother had a farm for a few years and lived in an old Victorian farm house with a coal burning stove as heat and for cooking. She didn't really have the necessary skills to run a farm and eventually sold it (smart move), but I loved visiting her there.
      Thank you so much for coming and commenting. I always love to see you.

  3. Really interesting lady. Thanks for giving us so much of her fascinating life. I was asked to leave the Brownies. I came home and told my mother I needed bacon for my hostess badge, which she duly provided. I then set off the next week all ready to learn how I was going to use said bacon in my skills as a hostess. It turns out the Scottish accent was the problem. I should have turned up with bakin' (baked goods like fairy cakes, shortbread, and scones). Not bacon...

    1. Bless your heart, C.A., it was such an innocent mistake. I thought you were going to tell some devil-may-care story of your actions in the Brownies that brought you to such a low. I take it you didn't earn that all important Hostess Badge. LOL
      Thank you so much for coming and reading my article about the founder of American Girl Scouts--and for that charming comment which I am still laughing about.

    2. Nope, never got the badge. Lol!