According to the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, the first Girl Scouts who ever sold cookies did so in Oklahoma in 1917, five years after Juliette Gordon Low introduced Girl Scouting to the United States. The Muskogee Girl Scouts sold the cookies in their school, “as a service project.” Five years after that, the national Girl Scout magazine, The American Girl, published a recipe for sugar cookies that was sent in by an Illinois leader who hoped that the Girl Scouts in her council would be able to bake them to sell at a useful profit. (1)
But in 1923, in New York City, the idea really took off. There, seven thousand Girl Scouts baked one million cookies to sell. That meant each of those girls had to bake just under twelve dozen cookies. Their objective was to raise a whopping $439,703 “for a new home and the 1924 budget.” (2) Some wag calculated that they would have to sell 20,005,744 cookies to reach their goal. Luckily, cookie sales were not the only plan for raising money that year! (3)
In order to garner publicity for their endeavors, a few of the Manhattan Girl Scouts traveled to Washington, D.C., to present First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge with a five-foot-long sack full of homemade cookies (and some homemade jam to go with them). President Calvin Coolidge issued a public statement of support and praised the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. as an “excellent organization.” (4)
|First Lady Grace Coolidge enjoying a homemade Girl Scout cookie, 17 October 1923|
Back in New York, the girls planned to sell their cookies in Wall Street and Times Square, in Harlem, along the shopping district, and at the Belmont race track. Clearly, they were not selling door-to-door. In fact, they were going to sell cookies from trucks–trucks they had creatively decorated with posters. And that’s what got them in trouble.
Eagle-eyed New York City Alderman Bruce M. Falconer saw the posters and knew them for what they were: illegal advertising! Posters turned trucks into commercial vehicles requiring permits and sales licenses. Posters meant the Girl Scouts were in clear violation of city ordinances. The alderman determinedly picked up the phone and dialed Jane Deeter Rippin, the National Director of the Girl Scouts. He warned her that the girls were breaking the law and they must immediately desist. Deeter Rippin took a sensible approach and removed the posters from the trucks. She may have decided that seven thousand girls dressed in instantly recognizable khaki Girl Scout uniforms was more than sufficient advertising for the cookie sale. (5)
It seems the Girl Scouts in Savannah, Georgia, in 2011, were not the first to attract the ire of city officials. Like their sisters in 1923, they, too, triumphed, and cookie sales continued.
Next week: when cookie selling became the pre-eminent fundraiser for Girl Scouting, and when girls stopped baking them at home.
(1) GSUSA website, “Girl Scout Cookies History,” http://www.girlscouts.org/program/gs_cookies/cookie_history/early_years.asp
(2) “Cookies for Mrs. Coolidge,”New York Times, 12 October 1923.
(3) “The Girl Scouts,” New York Times, 18 October 1923.
(4) “Cookies for Coolidge,” New York Times, 16 October 1923.
(5) “Fights Cookie Campaign,” New York Times, 22 October 1923.
Grace Coolidge and the Girl Scouts photo from the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-131586