Friday, February 24, 2012

136: The Self-Empowered Woman: Juliette Gordon Low

Dear Followers,

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Girl Souts, which makes this a perfect time to introduce you to the woman who founded The Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. in 1912. Juliette Gordon Low was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1860. and even though she never had children and was almost completely deaf, she had a profound effect on the lives of girls everywhere.

Her father was a Captain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, and during the Spanish-American War he was a Brigadier General in the United States Army. After the Confederate Forces surrendered to General William T. Sherman in December, 1864, Juliette (called Daisy by her family) moved to Chicago with her mother and two sisters (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

She received an excellant education, including boarding schools in Virginia and New Jersey as well as a French Finishing School in New York City. When she was 25, she had a bad ear infection and underwent an experimental treatment of silver nitrate injections. Unfortunately, this caused her to lose most of her hearing in that ear.

The next year, 1886, she married William Mackey Low, the son of a wealthy cotton merchant with businesses in both Savannah and England. On her wedding day, a grain of rice thrown by guests became stuck in her good ear. When it was removed, the ear drum was punctured, became infected, and she became essentially deaf in what had been her "good" ear. For the rest of her life she used hearing horns and hearing aids, but still struggled to hear (12: Hard Times).

She and her husband bought a mansion (Wellesbourne House) in the West Midlands, but the maggiage was not a happy one. He drank to excess and took a mistress (Mrs. Anna Bateman, who was a married acquaintance of theirs), and publically took his mistress to social events and parties. Eventually, he expected an already humiliated Daisy to live in a separate wing of their home while he and his paramour lived in the rest of the house (5: Life is not a Popularity Contest). Her husband died before their divorce papers were signed, but she learned that he had willed the mansion and his fortune to his mistress. She went to court and won her fair share of the estate (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

In 1911, she met the founder of the scouting movement Sir Robert (later Lord) Baden-Powell at a luncheon, and became deeply enthusiastic about his work with young people. He had persuaded his sister to start a "Girl Guides" movement in England, and he motivated Daisy to organize a troop in Scotland and two in London. He became her mentor, and she decided to bring the Girl Guides movement to America (4: Supportive Someone).

On her next visit to America, in 1912, she organized her friends and relatives in Savannah to recruit girls for the first troop of American Girl Guides. Their first meeting took place on March 12, 1912, and consisted of 18 girls. By the next year, the group's name had been changes to Girl Scouts. Daisy served as president until 1920, when she was granted the title of "Founder." All of her attention was focused on turning the Girl Scouts into a worldwide movement, and she wrote that it could be "the magic thread which links the girls of the world together" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

In 1923, Juliette Gordon low developed breast cancer, but kept it a secret so that she could continue her work for the Girl Scouts. She died four years later and (wearing her Girl Scout uniform) was buried in Savannah. Her home there (the Juliette Gordon Low Girl Scout National Center - known in the scouting world as "The Birthplace") is one of the most visited house museums in Georgia. And the First Girl Scout Headquarters in the former Carriage House of the home she inherited from her husband's estate.

The postage stamp pictured above was issued by President Truman in 1948, and she was only the eighth woman at that time to be honored with a stamp. In 1979, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.

Looking forward to your comments...

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