Juliette Gordon Low
|Juliette Gordon Low|
Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927) in 1887
|Born||Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon
October 31, 1860
|Died||January 17, 1927
|Known for||Founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA|
Juliette Gordon Low (October 31, 1860 – January 17, 1927) was the founder of Girl Scouts of the USA, with the help of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting Movement. Baden-Powell and Low had a shared love of travel and support for the Girl Guides. Low joined the Girl Guide movement, forming a group of Girl Guides in Scotland in 1911. In 1912 Low returned to the United States, forming the first American Girl Guide troop in Savannah, Georgia in 1912. In 1915, the Girl Guides in the USA became Girl Scouts and Low became the first president. She stayed active until the time of her death. Her birthday, October 31, is celebrated by the Girl Scouts as "Founder's Day." She was also awarded two patents, a utility patent for a "Liquid Container for Use with Garbage Cans or the Like", Patent 1,124,925, and a design patent, D45234, for the trefoil Girl Scout Badge.
Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born on October 31, 1860 in Savannah, Georgia. She was named after her grandmother, Juliette Augusta Magill Kinzie, and nicknamed Daisy (a common nickname at the time) by her uncle. She was the second of six children born to William "Willie" Washington Gordon II, a cotton broker with the firm Tison & Gordon (later renamed to W. W. Gordon & Company), and Eleanor "Nellie" Lytle Kinzie, a writer whose family played a role in the founding of Chicago.
Six months after her birth, her father joined the Confederate army to fight in the American Civil War. She moved with her mother and two sisters to Thunderbolt, Georgia in 1864, due to the close proximity of Union troops to Savannah. After the Union victory in Savannah the same year, Gordon Low’s family received many visits from General Sherman, who was a friend of her uncle. General Sherman arranged an escort to take Gordon Low, her mother, and her sisters to Chicago in March 1865. Upon arriving in Chicago, she became sick with brain fever, though she escaped any severe complications and recovered. A few months later, after Andrew Johnson issued the amnesty proclamation, her father reunited with the family and they were able to move back to Savannah.
As a child, Gordon Low was accident prone, and suffered many injuries and illnesses. In 1866, her mother mentioned in a letter that "Daisy fell out of bed – on her head, as usual..." The same year, she broke two of her fingers so severely that her parents considered amputating them. She also suffered from frequent earaches and recurring bouts of malaria.
Gordon Low spent more time pursuing art and poetry than she did working on school work. She planned and put on plays, and started a newspaper with her cousins called the Malbone Bouquet, which featured some of her early poetry. She also formed a club with her cousins with the goal of helping others. The Helpful Hands Club learned to sew, and tried to make clothes for the children of Italian immigrants. She was dubbed "Crazy Daisy" by her family and friends 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..."
Gordon Low’s parents raised her with traditional Southern values, and stressed the importance of duty, obedience, loyalty, and respect. By the age of 12, she had started boarding school. She went to many prominent boarding schools, including Miss Emmett’s school in New Jersey, the Virginia Female Institute, the Edgehill School, and Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers, a French finishing school in New York. While studying at Edgehill, she joined the secret group Theta Tau (based on the sorority of the same name), where members would meet and earn badges. In 1880, after she had finished boarding school, Gordon Low took painting lessons in New York. Among her teachers was Robert Walter Weir, a famous landscape painter.
After the death of her sister Alice at the end of 1880, Gordon Low moved back to Savannah to take over the household duties while her mother was grieving. While in Savannah, she met William Mackay Low, the son of a family friend, and they began courting in secret. Low left Savannah to study at Oxford, and they didn't meet again until almost 3 years later in 1884. Gordon Low traveled through Europe while they were separated, and she learned a variety of different skills, including shorthand, bareback riding, and hunting partridge. In late 1885, Low asked for Gordon Low’s hand in marriage.
Gordon Low married William Mackay Low in Savannah on her parent’s wedding anniversary, December 21, 1886. After the wedding, they spent their honeymoon traveling Europe. They leased property in London and Scotland, spending the social season in London and the hunting season in Scotland. They spent much of their first two years of marriage apart from each other, due to her medical problems and his long hunting trips and gambling. That, combined with Gordon Low’s inability to have children, caused their relationship to become strained.
During the time they spent apart, Gordon Low painted and learned woodworking and metalworking. She also designed and built iron gates for her home in Warwickshire, Wellesbourne House. She hosted many parties and events at the house, and received visits from Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, who was friends with her husband, and Rudyard Kipling, whose wife was related to her mother. She also devoted time to charity work, although her husband was against it. She made regular visits to a woman with leprosy, fed and cared for the poor in a nearby village, and joined the local nursing association.
By 1895, Gordon Low was growing increasingly unhappy in her relationship. She rarely spent time alone with her husband, who had grown distant, began having affairs, and started drinking heavily. In 1901, Anna Bridges Bateman, the widow of Sir Hugh Alleyne Saceverell-Bateman, stayed as a guest at the home in Scotland that the Lows rented. Gordon Low discovered her husband's affair with Bateman, and left the home to stay with friends and family. She worried that he planned to divorce her, so she sent him a telegram asking for a year before making any final decisions. Although he initially didn't want a divorce or a separation, he wrote Gordon Low a year later to ask that they live apart permanently, which she agreed to.
Her husband began withholding money from her unless she agreed to a divorce, but after talking to a divorce lawyer, she learned that for a divorce to be granted, she would need to prove adultery and desertion, or adultery and cruelty. In the case of adultery, Bateman would need to be named, which could have social repercussions for all involved parties. This caused the divorce proceedings to move slowly.
In late 1902, Gordon Low received money from her husband for the first time in 2 years. She used the money he gave her and her savings to rent a house in London. Her husband committed to a deed of support in 1903, awarding her twenty-five hundred pounds a year, the Low home in Savannah, and stocks and securities. Later that year, she purchased her own home in London, along with the house next door, which she rented out for income.
After her husband suffered a possible stroke, Gordon Low temporarily called off the divorce. She felt it was wrong to divorce him while he couldn’t defend himself, and the proceedings resumed in January 1905 when his condition improved. William Low died from a seizure in June 1905, before the divorce was finalized. After the funeral, it was revealed that he had left almost everything to Bateman, and had revoked his 1903 support deal with Gordon Low. His sisters contested the will, with the support of Gordon Low, and she received a sum of money, the Low house in Savannah and the surrounding land, and stocks and securities.
Involvement with the Girl Guides
After the death of her husband, Gordon Low traveled, took sculpting classes, and did charity work while looking for a project that she could focus her time and skills on. In May 1911 she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell at a party and was inspired by the Boy Scouts, a program that he had organized. At the time, the Boy Scouts had 40,000 members throughout Europe and the United States, and stressed the importance of military preparedness and having fun, two values that she appreciated. Gordon Low and Baden-Powell became close friends, and spent a large amount of time together over the next year.
In August 1911, Gordon Low became involved with the Girl Guides, an offshoot of the Boy Scouts for girls that was headed by Agnes Baden-Powell, Sir Robert Baden Powell's sister. She formed a Girl Guides patrol near her home in Scotland, where she encouraged the girls to become self-sufficient by learning how to spin wool and care for livestock. She also taught them knot tying, how to read a map, knitting, cooking, and first aid, and had her friends in the military teach the girls drilling and signaling, as well as camping. She went to London for the winter in 1911, and while she was there she organized two new Girl Guides patrols.
Start of the American Girl Guides
The next year, Gordon Low and Baden-Powell took a trip to the United States in order to spread the Scouting movement. She hoped to spread the movement to her hometown, Savannah, as a way to help girls learn practical skills and build character. When she arrived, she made a phone call to her cousin Nina Pape, a local educator, saying, "I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight." Shortly after March 1912, Gordon Low formed the first two American Girl Guides patrols, registering eighteen girls.
The early growth of the Girl Guides movement in the United States was due to Gordon Low's extensive social connections, and most of her early involvement was spent recruiting new members and leaders. She advertised in newspapers and magazines, and recruited her family and friends. Baden-Powell also put her in contact with people interested in Girl Guiding, including Louise Carnegie. After forming the first American troops, she described herself as "deep in Girl Guides," and by the next year, she had released the first American Girl Guides manual, titled How Girls Can Help Their Country, which was based on Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell and How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire by Agnes Baden-Powell.
Gordon Low established the first headquarters in a remodeled carriage house behind the home in Savannah that she inherited from her husband. The headquarters contained meeting rooms for the local Girl Guide patrols, and the lot outside was used for marching and signaling drills and sports, including basketball. Edmund Strudwick Nash, who rented the main house from Gordon Low, offered to pay rent on the carriage house as his contribution to the organization, becoming one of the American Girl Guide's first benefactors. Nash's son, Ogden Nash, immortalized "Mrs Low's House" in one of his poems.
Gordon Low traveled along the east coast, spreading Girl Guiding to other communities, before returning to Savannah to speak with President Taft, who was making a visit to the Gordon home. She hoped to convince Taft that his daughter Helen should become a patron for the Girl Guides, but she was unsuccessful.
Founding of the Girl Scouts
Within a year of the founding the American Girl Guides, Low changed the name of the organization to the Girl Scouts. In 1913, Low set up the Girl Scouts national headquarters in Washington DC, and created the first Girl Scout handbook, titled How Girls Can Help Their Country. By 1915, over 5,000 Girl Scouts were registered in more than 100 cities, and the national council held its first meeting as the Girl Scouts of the United States. In 1916, Low moved the Girl Scout headquarters to New York City.
The first International council of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts met in London in 1919. Low attended, representing the United States. She stepped down as the national president in 1920 so that she could devote more of her time to promoting the International Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
Low developed breast cancer in 1923, but kept it a secret. She died in Savannah on January 17, 1927, at the age of 66. She was buried in her uniform with a note in her pocket stating "You are not only the first Girl Scout, but the best Girl Scout of them all." Low is buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, GA.
In 1948 a postage stamp honoring Low, Scott catalogue number 974, was issued by the United States. Over 63 million were printed, making this a common issue. At the time the Post Office had a policy of not honoring civic organizations, and it took a joint resolution of Congress, with the approval of President Truman, to have the stamp produced. (The National Postal Museum suggests that it may have helped that Bess Truman was honorary president of the Girl Scouts.)
In 1979, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Girl Scouts celebrate Low's October 31 birthday as "Founder's Day".
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- Juliette Gordon Low Approved Die Proof
- Juliette’s Presidential Medal of Freedom
- "Low, Juliette Gordon, District". National Historic Landmarks Program. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
- "Girl Scout Days". Girl Scouts. Retrieved January 19, 2013
- Cordery, Stacy A. (2012). The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts: Juliette Gordon Low. USA: Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 9780143122890.
- Shultz, Gladys Denny; Lawrence, Daisy Gordon (1988). Lady from Savannah: The Life of Juliette Low. New York: Girl Scouts of the United States of America. ISBN 0-88441-147-8.
- Girl Scouts of the United States of America (2015). "Juliette Gordon Low Biography". girlscouts.org.
- Arneil, Barbara (March 2010). "Gender, Diversity, and Organizational Change: The Boy Scouts vs. Girl Scouts of America". Perspectives on Politics (American Political Science Association) 8 (1): 53–68.
- Revzin, Rebekah E. (July 1998). "American Girlhood in the Early Twentieth Century: The Ideology of Girl Scout Literature, 1913-1930". The Library Quarterly (The University of Chicago Press) 68 (3): 261–275.
- Rothschild, Mary Aickin (Autumn 1981). "To Scout or to Guide? The Girl Scout-Boy Scout Controversy, 1912-1941". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (University of Nebraska Press) 6 (3): 115–121.
- Sims, Anastatia Hodgens; Keena, Katherine Knapp (Fall 2010). "Juliette Low's Gift: Girl Scouting in Savannah, 1912-1927". The Georgia Historical Quarterly 94 (3): 372–387.
- Corey, Shana (2012). Here Come the Girl Scouts! The Amazing, All-True Story of Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 978-0-545-34278-0.
- Wadsworth, Ginger (2012). First Girl Scout, The Life of Juliette Gordon Low. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 978-0-547-24394-8.
- "Juliette Gordon Low." Last modified 2012. Accessed December 5, 2012.
- Kent, Deborah . Juliette Gordon Low: Founder of the Girl Scouts of America . North Mankato: Childs World, 2004.
- National Women's Hall of Fame
- Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
- Girl Scouts of The USA
- Works by Juliette Gordon Low at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Juliette Gordon Low at Internet Archive
- Works by Juliette Gordon Low at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Juliette Gordon Low at Find A Grave