Juliette Gordon Low
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 has 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.
Low was born Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon on October 31, 1860. She received the nickname "Daisy" from her uncle, who stated that "I bet she’s going to be a Daisy!":6
Gordon's mother's family came from and founded Chicago. Her father, William Washington Gordon II, was a Confederate captain in the American Civil War, and a brigadier general in the United States Army during the Spanish-American War. With her mother and her sisters Eleanor and Alice, Gordon moved to Chicago during the Civil War. General William Tecumseh Sherman knew her family in Chicago, Illinois and paid them a special visit; one of her earliest memories was sitting upon Sherman's knee and asking him what happened to his arm he replied "It got shot off by a rebel.":11 At the age of five, Gordon returned to Savannah and lived with her grandmother.:12 They found that Savannah had not been heavily damaged by the Union Troops; Sherman had thought that Savannah was a beautiful city, and kept it from burning and raids.
Gordon loved to hear the family stories of her great-grandmother, Eleanor Lytle McKillip Kinzie, who had been captured by Native Americans at the age of nine. Even though she was a captive, she was always joyful, so the Native Americans started calling her "Little-Ship-Under-Full-Sail." She was the adopted daughter of the Seneca chief Cornplanter in the years she dwelt with the tribe. Eventually, the Seneca said they would give Eleanor whatever gift she wanted, and she chose to go back home. The Seneca let her go. The shorter version of the nickname was bestowed on Gordon, as she was always jumping into new games, hobbies, and ideas. Juliette was an animal lover.
As a young girl, Gordon enjoyed helping people. She, her sisters, and her cousins organized sewing clubs and made clothing for a poor family in their town.:15 When the winter months came, Gordon one night wrapped her family's cow in a blanket to keep it from getting cold; she also was known for taking in stray cats and dogs at night. As she grew older, her helpful antics earned her the name "Crazy Daisy."
Gordon was educated in several prominent boarding schools, including the Virginia Female Institute (now Stuart Hall School); Edgehill School, run by Thomas Jefferson's granddaughters, the Misses Randolph; Miss Emmett's School in Morristown, New Jersey; and Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers, a French finishing school in New York City.
At the age of 26, Juliette married William Mackay Low, known as "Willy" to his family but called "Billow" by his wife, the son of a wealthy cotton merchant in Savannah and England. His mother was a native of Savannah, Georgia. Their wedding took place on December 21, 1886, which happened to be her parents' 29th wedding anniversary. A grain of rice thrown at the wedding became lodged in Juliette Low's good ear. When it was removed, her ear drum was punctured and became infected, causing her to become mostly deaf in that ear. Her hearing was limited for the rest of her life. She used a variety of hearing aids.
Low's marriage was childless. The couple moved to England, and after a two year search purchased Wellesbourne House in Warwickshire, not far from the Low home in Leamington Spa. Despite their intentions, the Lows never returned to live in Savannah during their marriage, though they did visit the United States almost every year. They spent their summers in London, went to Scotland in the fall for the hunting season, and then usually visited the United States in the winter. Besides annual visits to her parents and brothers in Savannah and her sister in New Jersey, Low also traveled to Europe. She traveled to Egypt and India after her husband died. During the Spanish-American War, she came back to America to aid in the war effort. With her mother's assistance, she aided in the organization of a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers returning from Cuba. Her father was commissioned as a general in the U.S. Army, and served on the Puerto Rican Peace Commission.
By 1901, William Low had repeatedly requested a divorce. Upon returning home from a visit, Low discovered her husband's mistress, Anna Bateman, ensconced in their home. He began to drink heavily. His friends and family began to worry about his mental health. Bateman had moved into the main house, and Gordon Low had been moved into the servant's quarters. At this point, she acquiesced to her husband's requests for a divorce and the couple was legally separated. All parties did not want to ruin the family names of the Gordons, Lows, and Bateman. William Low died from a seizure in 1905, during a trip with Bateman. When his will was read, it was revealed that he had left his entire estate to Bateman, with only an allowance for his widow, to be administered by Bateman. Low sued for the widow's portion with the help of her British attorney and her brother, along with her husband's sisters. They did not succeed in reclaiming all of the money; however, the Low home in Savannah was given to her, along with a certain sum of money.
Low was living in Scotland when she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell at a party, where Low entertained him with stories of travel. Upon further conversation, they learned that they shared a love of sculpting; Low had sculpted members of her family, including her father and one of her cousins. Baden-Powell had started the Boy Scout movement, with a growing membership of boys throughout Great Britain, the United States, France, and Germany.
Baden-Powell’s sister had created a group for girls called Girl Guides.:26 Low was interested in this movement, and created a troop in 1911 in Scotland.:26 She taught them many of the skills she had learned from her grandmother, including first aid and cooking.:28 On a trip back to the United States, both Low and Baden-Powell discussed the possibility of creating a Girl Guides group.:28 Upon her return to her home in Savannah, she telephoned her cousin and urged her to rush over, announcing "I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America, and all the world, we’re going to start it tonight!"
Finding the Girl Scouts
Low and her cousin recruited girls and leaders throughout Savannah, from the Female Orphan Asylum to Synagogue Mickve Israel, to the steps of Christ Church, including the daughters of powerful and influential families. On March 12, 1912, Low gathered 18 girls to register the first troup of American Girl Guides. Margaret "Daisy Doots" Gordon, her niece and namesake, was the first registered member, but did not attend the first meeting. Low returned to London in May 1912. Her mother wrote her that an anonymous donor was converting a carriage house, behind the house that Daisy was renting to the Nash family, to "club rooms" for the Girl Guides. Her mother guessed that the benefactor was in fact Low. Ogden Nash, 10 years old in 1912, grew up to be a well-known poet; he immortalized "Mrs. Low's House" in one of his poems. The Nash family continued to pay rent for the carriage house even after it was converted for use by the Girl Guides, becoming one of the first financial supporters for the fledgling movement.
With the Girl Guides movement growing quickly, Low was asked to become the first president. In 1915, the organization's name was changed to Girl Scouts.:28 Low helped create the first handbook for the Girl Scouts, titled How Girls Can Help Their Country. By 1916 Girl Scouts had over 7,000 members, and shortly after they were able to pay workers to staff the national office.:29 The girls went swimming and camping, and were encouraged to participate in sports.:30
In 1917, when the United States entered World War One, the Girl Scouts worked on projects to help with the war effort. They sewed clothing for the soldiers, and assisted nurses when people became ill with the flu. They also grew vegetable gardens.
In 1919, the first International council of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts met in London. Low attended, representing the United States.
Low developed breast cancer in 1923, but kept it a secret and continued diligently working for the Girl Scouts. She died 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." In 1979, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Juliette is buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, GA.
In 1948 a postage stamp honoring Low, Scott catalogue number 977, 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.)
Girl Scouts consider Juliette Gordon Low to be the founder of Girl Scouts; they celebrate her October 31 birthday as "Founder's Day".
- Cordery, Stacy A. (2012). The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts: Juliette Gordon Low. USA: VIKING. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-670-02330-1.
- Girl Scouts, Girls Scout Days". Accessed June 13, 2013.
- Aller, Susan Bivin (2007). Juliette Low. Minneapolis: Lerner.
- Panagopoulos, Janie Lynn (1997). Little Ship Under Full Sail: An Adventure in History. River Road Publications. ISBN 0-9386-8246-6.
- Juliette Low: Girl Scout Founder (Young Patriots series) Paperback
- ("Juliette Gordon Low" 2012)
- "William Washington Gordon II". Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
- 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
- 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.
- Cordery, Stacy A. (2012). The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts: Juliette Gordon Low. New York: Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-02330-1.
- "Juliette Gordon Low." Last modified 2012. Accessed December 5, 2012.
- Girl Scouts of the USA, "Juliette Gordon Low Biography." 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