Daisy Low was an early and intrepid motorist. She made up in enthusiasm what she lacked in skill. One noontime she failed to brake, and ran the car right through the wall and into the dining room of a house. After a stunned moment, she backed up quickly from the owners, who stared back at her, and raced away. Because, she said, “I didn’t think it would be polite to bother them while they were eating!”
Once when she was quite young her cousin noticed that the taffy they were making was the same color as Daisy’s hair. He asked if he could braid a long, thick, sticky rope of taffy into her hair. As interested as he to see the outcome, she acquiesced. That led to Daisy Gordon’s unmistakable silhouette—just about the only girl in Savannah with a very short bob.
When she was around sixteen, Daisy worried that the immigrant children she frequently saw lacked proper clothing, and determined to remedy that. She started the Helpful Hands Club. Alas, Daisy found the fact that she could not sew an insurmountable problem. Soon after, the club became known as Helpless Hands.
Later, underwriting the Girl Scouts was a perpetual worry. To make the point that she had cut all possible expenses, Daisy wore a hat she trimmed herself —with vegetables and plants from her own garden. The shocked glances as other women gaped at the wilting parsley and carrots on her head were Daisy’s cue to launch into a Girl Scouts fund-raising speech.
Stories like these earned Juliette Gordon Low a reputation as Crazy Daisy: unintentionally funny, but also forgetful, illogical, and dilettantish.
She is also remembered as a serious-minded reformer, driven to create the Girl Scouts in America.
She was both.
Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote that biography is “a system in which the contradictions of life are unified.”* Daisy Low’s life included terrible sorrows and yet her public face was nearly always positive. She emphasized that fun must always be at the heart of the Girl Scouts. Was Daisy Low just a naturally funny person? Was she a sort of class clown, amusing others to gain attention she lacked from her parents? Was she somehow incapable of logical, predictable thinking? Did she wear a calculated mask of happiness to hide her sorrows—and if so, why? Underneath the dichotomy was there selfishness or an essential selflessness?
These are questions I mull over as I strive to unify Daisy Low’s contradictions.
*Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Dehumanization of Art, and Other Writings on Art and Culture (New York: Doubleday, 1956), 144.