It has been a tremendous privilege writing the biography of Juliette Gordon Low. I have enjoyed every minute of the time I’ve spent talking with people about the Founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA. I am really looking forward to the publication of the paperback a few days from now and to the paperback book tour which will follow in early February. I hope my biography has helped Girl Scouts and non-Girl Scouts learn more about the contours of Daisy Low’s interesting life and how she and her organization fit into the larger tapestry of U.S. history.

Juliette Low loved new technologies and in her spirit, I embarked on the adventure of blogging while I completed the book. On 22 June 2010, I commenced by asking the question “Why This Blog?” There, in my first post, I wrote that “I hope this blog will be a chronicle of the writing process, a way to share discoveries with readers and to learn from your comments.” Two years and seven months later, the blog has done all that–and so much more. It would be difficult to convey how much I have appreciated the questions, the prodding, and the cheerleading from all of you who read and commented on my blog. I’ve said it before, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

My blog appeared on http://juliettegordonlow.blogspot.com until October 2011, when I moved it over to my new website, www.stacycordery.com. That was also the moment I stepped into the big world of Facebook. That has been an education! I will continue to post at my Stacy Cordery, Author Facebook page, where I can put photos from the book tour, news of good things happening in the world of Girl Scouting, and soon, news about my new book project.

Yes, it’s time for me to move on. I am a lifelong, card-carrying member of the GSUSA and a lifelong fan of Daisy Low–but I am also a professional writer and a college professor and it’s time to begin my fifth book.

What can you do to spread the word about Juliette Gordon Low, to help her take her rightful place in social studies and history textbooks? You can buy my book! Really–the sales of my biography will help pave the way for other authors and historians because their potential publishers will first ask how the sales (read: interest) were on my book. If Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts sells well, then publishers will perceive a reading audience out there and will be more likely to take a gamble on the next book about Low or Girl Scouts. If you don’t own a copy, please consider purchasing one, and then buy another to give to troop leaders, Council members, nursing homes, your local library–I would like every American to know all about Juliette Gordon Low.

You can read through my blog. I will leave it up and accessible through www.stacycordery.com. If you have questions, write and I’ll do my best to answer them.

You can get involved with your own Girl Scout Council. There will be a group of historians and archivists who surely could use your energy and time. Girl Scouting will take its rightful place in the history books once the raw data of Girl Scouting history–documents, photographs, diaries, account books, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, oral interviews–are preserved and made available to the public.

You can go see every Girl Scout exhibit out there. There’s almost certainly a group of dedicated and enthusiastic Girl Scouts behind it who are bubbling over with joy in the telling of their story. They need you (your troop,  your class of students, your church group, your book club) to be an audience.

You can visit the fabulous Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia. It is an exceptional experience. Learn about Daisy and her world by walking in her footsteps, seeing her home, understanding her world from the inside out. While you are there, take time to thank the incredible docents and the hardworking, committed staff led by Fran Harold and Katherine Keena–two women who know everything there is to know about Daisy Low and who are thrilled to share it. While you are in Savannah, go see the Girl Scout First Headquarters and the Andrew Low House. And before you leave, consider helping the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace continue its good work by becoming a member of the Birthplace Circle of Friends, as I have.

It is a bittersweet moment for me–bringing this blog to a close. But, as Juliette herself reportedly said, “The work of today is the history of tomorrow, and we are its makers.” I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to immerse myself in the life of Juliette Gordon Low, and to have met so many lovely women and men who share my passion. But my work on Daisy Low is now, well, the history of tomorrow. I hope it has/will prove helpful.

And since a Girl Scout is honest and fair…
Katherine Knapp Keena, I could not have written this book without your guidance, your patience, your wisdom. Your sense of humor buoyed me when I was sinking. Your support made all the difference, every day. You truly were the midwife for the biography. I remain so, so grateful. This public thanks is only a downpayment on my tremendous debt to you.

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Dear Blog Readers–

Thanks to the kindness of Juliette Gordon Low’s great-niece, Margaret M. Seiler, I can make available to you this marvelous photograph of taken at the White House when Juliette  Gordon Low was awarded the Medal of Freedom on May 29, 2012.

On the left is Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. To the right of President Obama are Richard Platt (Juliette’s great-nephew), Margaret M. Seiler (Juliette’s great-niece), Audrey Platt (Richard’s wife) and Connie Lindsey, Chair of the National Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. With them are five really lucky girls!

At the ceremony, President Obama had this to say about Juliette Gordon Low:

“Growing up in Georgia in the late 1800s, Juliette Gordon Low was not exactly typical.  She flew airplanes.  She went swimming.  She experimented with electricity for fun.  (Laughter.)  And she recognized early on that in order to keep up with the changing times, women would have to be prepared.  So at age 52, after meeting the founder of the Boy Scouts in England, Juliette came home and called her 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!”  A century later, almost 60 million Girl Scouts have gained leadership skills and self-confidence through the organization that she founded.  They include CEOs, astronauts, my own Secretary of State.  And from the very beginning, they have also included girls of different races and faiths and abilities, just the way that Juliette would have wanted it.”

As he awarded the Medal of Freedom, President Obama said this:

“Richard Platt, accepting on behalf of his great aunt, Juliette Gordon Low.  An artist, athlete and trailblazer for America’s daughters, Juliette Gordon Low founded an organization to teach young women self-reliance and resourcefulness.  A century later, during the “Year of the Girl,” the Girl Scouts’ more than 3 million members are leaders in their communities and are translating new skills into successful careers.  Americans of all backgrounds continue to draw inspiration from Juliette Gordon Low’s remarkable vision, and we celebrate her dedication to empowering girls everywhere.” [1]

Thanks to Margaret Seiler for the use of the photo. Please don’t use it without her permission.

_____

[1] The President’s remarks can be found on the White House website: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/05/29/remarks-president-presidential-medal-freedom-ceremony

 

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Marian Corbin Aslakson knew Juliette Gordon Low. She was just a girl, but she was “at the right place and the right time,” when “Miss Daisy,” as Marian called her, returned to Savannah in 1912, zealous about spreading the new Girl Guiding movement that had begun so auspiciously in Great Britain. Marian Corbin was a student at the school operated by Juliette’s cousin Nina Pape. And when Juliette asked Nina for willing volunteers for the first Girl Guide troops in the United States, Marian stepped forward.

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I am coming to the end of this blog–just about one month now until the paperback of Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts appears in book stores near you, at which time I’ll wind down the blog writing. And in sorting out the research boxes for this project, I came upon a brief note from the National Historic Preservation Center in the Girl Scouts of the USA national headquarters in New York. It was entitled “Extracts from a letter written by Mrs. Dance, who lived at Wellesbourne House when a girl,” and contained this interesting bit:

“[The Lows]  had the first motor car ever seen in Wellesbourne—a De Dion Bouton—and the village children used to earn pennies by pushing it up the hill to Ettington—once with the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) inside.”

I have been to Wellesbourne, in Warwickshire, England, and with the generous assistance of Peter and Rosalind Bolton, two local historians, I toured the area. We saw the garage on the Wellesbourne property that Willy Low built to house his automobiles. The Boltons’ research had uncovered some of the other cars that fascinated Willy Low–including a Golnon and a Meteor. One of the several cars the Lows owned was large enough to ferry a number of guests from the train station to their home in comfort. It is certain that the first automobiles in a small, sleepy village would have caused quite the stir. Willy and Juliette had buckets of money. He loved luxury and she loved new gadgets. Their motor cars surely made them the talk of the county.

What, I wondered did this De Dion Bouton look like?

We cannot know for sure, because we don’t have the records of sale, but I know the window of time in which the Lows would have purchased their autos. So, below are my educated guesses. Imagine, when you look at them, how extraordinary they would have appeared in Wellesbourne…how they would have sounded…what people would have thought as they jumped out of the way when walking their dogs, or steered nervous horses to the side of the lane when the Bouton zoomed in sight. Juliette makes no mention of the Low cars in her letters to her family. Probably they were mostly Willy’s toys, as he purchased them during the time their marriage was falling apart. Still, they were in some measure a part of Daisy’s world, and after his death she was known to have one of the early cars in Savannah. Driving  in Georgia, in London, and in Scotland posed no fears for her; indeed, she had rather a reckless reputation as a driver! And the 1920 Girl Scout Handbook contained a “Motorist” badge.

Here is a postcard featuring a 1898 De Dion Bouton:

and here is a little later De Dion-Bouton, from 1903:

This is a photo of a 1905 De Dion-Bouton to give you a sense of its size (that is not Willy Low driving!):

Here is where the Lows kept their motor cars at Wellesbourne:

This is the front of the garage, with the Boltons on the left.

Above the white garage door, Willy Low had this engraved nearly 110 years ago:

What a life it must have been! We recall the marital problems between Willy and Juliette Low, but there was surely happiness and excitement, too.
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Photos of the cars from Wikimedia. Photos of Wellesbourne taken by me. The quote is from “Extracts from a letter written by Mrs. Dance, who lived at Wellesbourne House when a girl,” from the National Historic Preservation Center, Juliette Gordon Low General Information and Pubs (10f2b), GSUSA, New York City. And for more on Wellesbourne, read  Peter Bolton, The Naples of the Midlands:  Wellesbourne, 1800-1939 (Wellesbourne:  Local Time, 2007). The cars are mentioned on page 293.
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One hundred and twenty six years ago today–21 December 1886–Juliette “Daisy” Gordon married William M. Low in Savannah, Georgia. Her parents hosted the event–and while this is still a common role for parents today, in the nineteenth century such entertaining entailed duties that we don’t think about having to do anymore. Daisy’s mother, Nellie Kinzie Gordon, wrote a long letter to her Cousin Laura describing Daisy’s nuptials–the chores, the company, and an extremely important tidbit about the wedding rice. It is a wonderful historical document because of the terrific details. It is easy to imagine the hustle and bustle in the Gordon home (especially if you have been to Savannah to visit it). And the perspective of the mother of the bride is always entertaining.

For me, however, this document verifies that the rice thrown into Daisy’s ear went in the same ear as the one harmed earlier by the silver nitrate. This is critical for understanding Daisy Low’s deafness. Yet the rice incident is buried near the end of Nellie’s letter, which might mean one or more of several possible things. Discerning, weighing, and verifying all the potential meanings of the way Nellie wrote about her daughter’s painful episode is the job of a good biographer. At some point, the biographer must also decide upon the most likely interpretation.

Was Nellie trying to remain positive for her cousin? Was Daisy’s ear so often sore that one more earache was not worth mentioning immediately? In my biography of Juliette Gordon Low, you can read about other ailments that plagued Daisy around the time of her wedding. These, Nellie did not mention to Cousin Laura. In the interests of time, I’ll just provide the text of the letter, and you can make up your own mind!

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Savannah, Jan. 13th 1887

My dearest Laura,

The last relay of visitors departed yesterday, and “a great calm has burst upon us.” I take the very first moment to write you, and tell you all about the wedding, etc., etc., In the first place, we had for a number of days, 18 people to sit down to every meal. Providing food for them was an undertaking I assure you, beside which, there was all the necessary preparations of the home for the wedding–Daisy’s preparations, the breakfast etc., etc. I had 2 cooks, 2 butlers 2 chambermaids—innumerable laundresses, 15 fires going all the time plus 21 beds to make up every day!

Daisy had insisted on my inviting Mary Clarke and her husband Hyde Clarke from Cooperstown. They came with a baby, 7 weeks old, who was being brought up on the bottle—and with a nurse only 16 yrs old—a green country girl who had never seen gas or been on a R.R. train! The baby became very ill immediately on its arrival, with a threatening of dysentery and then of cholera infantum. The Doctor ordered a wet nurse, at once, to save its life. I had to send a buggy 4 times a day for the wet nurse—until we could find a proper nurse who would come to the house and stay. Then the baby began to mend—but screeched night and day till it left here yesterday—having been here nearly 4 weeks.

I had besides, Willy’s sister Gulie [Gordon] Harrison—with her daughter Gulie who was one of the bridesmaids and two younger children; Nelly Kinzie from Chicago;…Mary Stiles; Wayne, Nell, Baby and Nurse; Abby Lippitt; Grace Carter; Courty Parker; and all our own family! I broke down once and went to bed. [My husband]…was absent at the Legislature the whole time except the very day of the wedding! So I had no aid from him. And…he had to go off twice to New York to see about the [Central of Georgia Railroad] Election….

The wedding was a grand success. The day was beautiful, the Breakfast delicious, and the house looked lovely. Daisy never appeared handsomer and her dress was exquisite—thanks to the superb lace you and Uncle gave her. The bridesmaids were all so pretty and their dresses so becoming.  Everything went off without a hitch. At four o’clock the Bride and Groom left for St. Catherine’s Island, where they spent 6 days. There is a lovely house there all furnished and they sent down servants and provisions in advance, so that they were very comfortable down there.

Daisy’s [Savannah] house is a model of elegance and comfort.* [Daisy and Willy] gave their first entertainment [the] night before last—had about 75 young people—fine music, an elegant supper, and ended up [with a dance called a] German—The “favors” in the latter were beautiful, having been sent out from Philadelphia. They had 4 rooms open and the piazza all enclosed and hung with Chinese lanterns. It was a great success.

The wedding presents were beautiful. Willy Low gave her a [illegible] and star of diamonds from Tiffany and an immense travelling bag or dressing case with about 100 articles of solid silver in it, each one with her monogram J.M.L. on it, such as hair brushes, Railway lamp, scent bottles, mirrors, sandwich box, etc., etc., etc. Then the Low girls gave her a pair of magnificent bracelets—diamonds and sapphires and pearls.

We gave [Daisy] a…silver…Kettle, a chafing dish, gravy boat, and ice cream bowl—a silver mustard pot from Mabel, a tea strainer from Arthur, a grape scissors from Willy, a cream pitcher from Alice, a large Doulton China vase from Wayne and Nell. Then she had everything in silver on could mention and quantities of beautiful things for her house. She was delighted at the sweet letter from you and Uncle and is going to write you in a day or two.

Only one untoward accident occurred. Some fool undertook to throw rice into the carriage as the bridal pair drove away—a grain went directly into Daisy’s ear—the same she had such trouble with before. Her ear pained her so on her return from St. Catherine’s Island that Willy Low took her up to Atlanta and Dr. Calhoun^ with great difficulty extracted the grain which was already partly overgrown by a sort of fungus of flesh, and would have produced serious results if it had remained any longer. All the fools, you see, are not dead yet!

…Did you get a lot of Photographs? I sent some. If not, I will send more—so let me know. I will send some of the Wedding cake when Daisy and Willy go to England in February.

Well, good bye. I hope you are not tired out reading this long epistle. Willy joins me in ever so much love to you both. When Arch returns to his school our family will be reduces to three! Do write soon to,

Your loving Nell

[P.S. ] While I had my house so full you may know how little consideration the young people had and how little politeness when I tell you I had sometimes 5 separate breakfasts served!
_____
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* Today this is the Andrew Low House, a must-see for any Girl Scout or Juliette Low fan.
^ The ear specialist who treated Daisy after the silver nitrate incident.

Note: I have organized the letter into paragraphs and clarified some of the punctuation.
The photograph of Daisy and Willy Low on their wedding day is used with the kind permission of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia.

The original letter is from the Gordon Family Papers, MS 2235, housed at the Southern Historical Collection in the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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