Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. in 1912, a time before computers, cell phones, or jet airplanes–before women had the vote, the ability to serve on juries, or easy access to careers or birth control. She lived in an era of tremendous change, and she loved it. In an earlier post, I compiled a list of some of the political, social, and technological highlights of Juliette Low’s lifespan. What amazing things she saw!
One of the reasons that Juliette Low was such a terrific CEO was her ability to embrace change. She was often visionary in her understanding of how to grow Girl Scouting, including her enthusiasm for the new medium of film.
In 1918 there were no color films, and no “talkies” yet, either. World War I was still ongoing, and Girl Scouting was flourishing as a result of Juliette Low’s certain knowledge that girls yearned to be involved in significant ways in the national crisis. She was all in favor of the film that Girl Scouts created in 1918 entitled The Golden Eaglet: The Story of a Girl Scout. It was written by prolific American novelist and Girl Scout Josephine Daskam Bacon, and was an object lesson in how Girl Scouting could improve the lives of girls and, indeed, everyone in their community. Of course, nothing is easy at first, but our hero Margaret perseveres. And if you remember camping in “the old days,” was it like this?
Who wouldn’t want to be part of those purposeful, multi-talented, resourceful, responsible, heroic girls who knew how to meet every emergency but could still have fun? This was a recruiting film, and Juliette Low took it with her to show in as many theaters as she could rent.
In the second half of The Golden Eaglet, audiences learn why “housework isn’t so bad…,” why Girl Scouts are just as handy in the home as in the wild, and how Margaret earned her Golden Eaglet–the highest award Girl Scouting offers (today it’s called the Gold Award and it is still extremely difficult to earn).
And, Juliette Gordon Low herself appears, to pin the Golden Eaglet on a proud Margaret, and to close out the film.
Josephine Daskam Bacon recalled that while everyone else was overawed by the film cameras, Juliette Low was euphoric. “I am sure she would have liked to appear in every scene;” Bacon wrote; “she invented enough situations to have used up thousands of feet of film; she cheerfully suggested alterations of the plot, action, and management which puzzled and terrified the director….” When Bacon told her that she would be in the film, playing herself, Juliette Low, Bacon recalled, “threw herself into it with an ardor and a seriousness….” Observing Mrs. Low’s enthusiasm, Bacon suddenly understood that Juliette “loved that big hat; she loved that ridiculous whistle; she loved her whole uniform! She wasn’t wearing them, as some of us were, because it was necessary or because it seemed best: she loved to wear them!”
Josephine Daskam Bacon concluded that Juliette Low “drench[ed] with her vitality and enthusiasm the little plant she had brought over from England and cherish[ed] it till it grew into the great tree that it is to-day. And I don’t think anything less than that spirit could have done it.”
As Juliette Low’s biographer, I can only agree.
Bacon’s reminiscences from “Here and There with Juliette Low in Girl Scouting,” in Juliette Low and The Girl Scouts, Anne Hyde Choate and Helen Ferris, eds. (New York: GSUSA, 1928), 133-139. Quotes from 134 and 135.