Articles

The girls who gatecrashed the Boy Scouts

BARBARA MOON August 17 1957
Articles

The girls who gatecrashed the Boy Scouts

BARBARA MOON August 17 1957

The girls who gatecrashed the Boy Scouts

No bobby-soxer craze ever caught on faster or scandalized more parents than Guiding. But "stickability" won out; this month in Canada Guides from 38 countries are hiking, happifying—and honoring the founder they embarrassed

BARBARA MOON

Ever since the desperate chemistry of adolescence first caught public attention, the antics of female teen-agers have caused even more alarm than those of males. It was the distaff bobby-soxers, after all, who swooned over Frank Sinatra, bestrewed him with kisses and ticker tape wherever he went and hung on his every glissando. It was a bobby-soxer who saw a Sinatra movie fifty-nine times and then reported that her favorite had spoken 1,476 words in it, not counting song lyrics.

Girls embarked on the strange posthumous adoration of James Dean, a young actor who was killed in a sports-car continued over page >

crash at the outset of his Hollywood career. Girls form Elvis Presley fan clubs, obediently paying for club charters and Presley kits, buying Presley buttons, making posters to plug his hits, and pledging themselves to push his records to number-one spot in juke-box and discjockey polls.

Adults, almost without exception, distrust and deplore these activities.

This year three and a half million bobbysoxers around the world—including 131,000 in Canada—are engaging in what looks like a typical teen-age rite. They’re honoring the centenary of a popular idol who died sixteen years ago.

They thought about him all day on his birth date. February 22. They're wearing his initials on a special badge for the whole twelve months. As part of the tribute, they're pledged to learn more about his life and many are sending away to headquarters for kits of helpful material. They’ll stand, at intervals, and repbat aloud words he wrote fifty years ago. They’ll perpetuate the secret sign and handshake and the special salute devised long ago by their idol.

But this is one teen-age phenomenon adults aren’t a bit alarmed about, for the object of tribute is the late Lord Baden-Powell and the bobby-soxers are Girl Guides, members of the world-wide sister movement to Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts. The Guides (girls from eleven to sixteen) also have a junior auxiliary called the Brownies (girls from eight to eleven) and a senior service, the Rangers (girls from fifteen to twenty-one).

Scouting was started by Baden-Powell as a sort of campfireside citizenship course. Guides do approximately the same things as Scouts, only in a more modest, womanly w'ay—an ideal that one group of Scottish Guides took so seriously that they strewed their camp garbage pits with fresh flowers -every day. Guides are not allowed to sell things in the streets, so instead of Apple Day they have Cookie Day and go around ahead of time to write up orders. Last year in Ontario alone they presold 687,422 boxes of cookies stamped with the Guide trefoil, and then picked up thirty-five cents a box.

They are not allowed to accept more than thirty-five cents since Guides are taught to give full value for money received (except in the case of donations from large corporations). In the U. S. it’s claimed that ten percent of all cookies sold each year are sold by Girl Scouts, as members of the movement are known there.

Guiding is international, non-denominational and open to every girl over the age of eleven who will undertake to obey the Guide Law and Promise. This bars entrants from Iron Curtain countries, for the Promise involves honoring God and the Law' requires putting sisterhood above politics, race or creed.

The girls who gatecrashed the Boy Scouts continued

Her silhouette’s been streamlined, but she still follows

Baden-PoweM’s lead. A good Guide is out to rough it in the woods —like a lady

It’s know'n, however, that some Guiding persists underground in East Europe. A French Ciuide commissioner got a clue to this last year, on a Christmas card from an occupied country. It came from a woman she’d once met at a world Guide conference and it bore, masquerading as the date, the following notation: JOS. 24.15. Since Guides often play at codes and secret messages, the Frenchwoman wasn’t baffled for a moment. She took down her Bible, turned to Joshua, chapter 24, verse 15, and found, “. . . choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

The provisions of the Guide Promise also barred girls from the Bahamas for a time. The Nassau Guides were disbanded from 1934 to 1946 for practicing racial discrimination. South Africa, however, is retained as a member of the World Guide Association for the sake of the twenty-one thousand Guides enrolled there and

in the hope that the movement will become an international kindergarten for inter-race understanding.

The promotion of world-wide sisterly love is behind .another phase of this year's tribute to Baden-Powell. The World Association is sponsoring a scries of four international camps for his centenary, and Canada is hostess to one of them. It’s from August 8 to August 19 on the shore«; of Doe Lake in northern Ontario. Twelve hundred Guides from thirty-eight countries are coming to spend eleven nights under canvas and twelve days hiking, swimming, canoeing, romping, heating 10,700 tins of food over charcoal burners and taking part in campfire ceremonials.

Four hundred Canadian Guides have been hand-picked to take part; another four hundred will come from the U. S.; the remaining third are converging on Doe Lake from all over the world. Guides from Brazil and Jamaica and Ceylon, in traditional tropic whites, will powwow with Guides from Greece and Haiti in khaki, Guides from the Philippines in jade green, Guides from India in sky-blue saris, and at least one Guide from Pakistan, who'll be wearing the official white shirt and trousers and green dupatta, or sash. The Canadians have updated their own camp costume to meet this exotic finery: they’ll wear medium-blue shirts and navy Jamaica shorts patterned after the green Jqmaicas recently adopted by the styleconscious Girl Scouts in the U. S.

The Doe Lake World Camp isn't so numerically ambitious a project as the Boy Scouts’ giant World Jamboree at Niagara-on-the-Lake, two years ago, which attracted ten thousand Scouts from fifty lands. But this fact, Guide officials feel, is just another instance of the Guides’ more maidenly ways.

“The Jamboree was a goldfish bow'l,” says Mrs. D. E. S. Wishart, national convenor of publicity for the Guides. “The public could wander w'herever it wanted, anytime. We’re only opening Doe Lake to visitors for one day.”

If she is more self-effacing, a Guide is expected to be every bit as trustworthy, loyal, useful, friendly to man and beast, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty and pure as a Scout. A Toronto second-class Guide who confessed to getting help with a map drawn for her Commonwealth badge was stood up in front of her company and broken to tenderfoot. Such lapses are rare.

Most Guides absorb the ideals of the movement. and practice them to the great benefit of a naughty world. Besides helping people across streets, Canadian Guides have applied bandages, splints, tourniquets, cold water or the HolgerNielsen method of artificial respiration to thousands of accident victims. Canadian Girl Guides have saved

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The girls who gatecrashed the Boy Scouts

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Cutlass drill and boxing bouts gave the Guides a rousing start

almost as many lives as Canadian Boy Scouts, in circumstances ranging from mountain-climbing mishaps to runaway horses.

Unlike Scouts, Guides are not supposed to whistle under difficulties. A Guide is supposed to smile and sing. Her sunniness must stretch to such trying occasions as the campfire at which one Saskatoon novice heated her mushroom soup right in the tin without puncturing the lid to let out steam. All the Guides smiled and sang as they sponged soup off themselves.

The Guide grin is the required accessory to an activity that Baden-Powell liked to call “happifying." and is probably what distinguishes happifying from mere good deeds. B-P, as the Guides founder is generally called, thought happifying a very important thing for Guides to do, and frequently told them so.

Therefore about the nicest tribute of all for B-P’s centenary, the Canadian Guides decided, would be mass public and private happifying in his honor. All across the country this year Guides— and Brownies and Rangers — are doubling their customary quota of quiet good turns. They’re shoveling ashes tor shut-ins. baby-sitting, visiting hospitals, planting trees, hemming hospital towels and collecting clothes for the Salvation Army.

Guides can be remarkably inventive in their services, too. I he Bantam Patrol of the 1st Streetsville (Ont.) Company. for instance, has repainted the town welcome sign. Not long ago a cadet in a London, Ont., company privately solved a newspaper puzzle contest and turned her whole prize, $110.55, into the company treasury. At Cranberry Portage, Man., Guides of the 1st Company marked safe channels in a nearby lake with homemade buoys. Brownies are just as ingenious. At the time of Hurricane Hazel, while Guides of the Toronto 57th collected clothing for fiood victims, their Brownie pack did their bit by collecting, cleaning and polishing one hundred and fifty pairs ot shoes.

B-P used to stress another desirable Guide virtue, which he christened “stickability." Stickability may be illustrated by the case of the Toronto Guide who had to complete her Pioneer badge on a certain rainy Saturday in order to « qualify for National Camp. She could keep her fire going only by dint of lying on her stomach, cheek on the ground, and blowing gently but steadily on the hissing coals. She lay prone in a mud puddle, puffing, all day, and

paused only to sip hot liquids sideways through a straw at mealtimes. Stickability kept the fire burning, finished the stew, earned the badge and sent the Guide to camp.

For these and like reasons a Girl Guide is regarded nowadays as just about the most wholesome thing a bobby-soxer can be, and a credit to her founder. Even Queen Elizabeth was allowed to be a Guide (1st Buckingham Palace Company). At sixteen she graduated to Sea Ranger and is now a patron of the Girl Guide Association.

These heights of respectability are mildly ironical in view of the fact that the movement’s beginnings scandalized many good citizens and embarrassed Baden-Powell considerably.

The forerunners of today’s Guides were a few mettlesome girls scattered through England and Scotland who were so tactless as to gatecrash a project plainly marked boys only. This was Baden - Powell’s newly invented movement, the Boy Scouts. The time was fifty years ago, when the index to a female’s respectability was the number of petticoats she wore. Armed with borrowed copies of Scouting for Boys, hung about with knives and billy-cans, these tomboys tore about the fields and commons with their skirts tucked up and nothing underneath but black knickers.

A choice of weapons

They called themselves Girl Scouts and sampled, one by one, the masculine delights described in B-P’s handbook: stalking, signaling, camping out, despatch running.

A group in Devon made friends with a coastguard and talked him into giving them cutlass drill. A patrol from a private school in Glasgow met secretly in a stable loft to practice knot tying—and tested the knots by lowering each other into the stable yard. A Liverpool company afterward revealed that they customarily settled any disputes with boxing gloves.

The public was scandalized. Gaggles of urchins gathered to jeer at the mere sight of the girls. Citizens pitched stones and rotten tomatoes. One mother, trying to reason with her Girl Scout daughter, warned. “There are mere girls with hairy lips than formerly and I believe it is due to the violent exercise they take and romping it generally."

She was no more dismayed than B-P himself when he realized what was happening.

Baden-Powell was a bachelor of fifty-

two at the time. He'd spent his life in various outposts of empire as a cavalry officer and army scout. A few years before he had crowned his career by withstanding the siege of Mafeking by a big Boer army. He thereby made himself a British hero and put a new word into the English language. “Mafficking” was a term coined to describe such rowdy carryings-on in English streets as had occurred upon news of the relief of Mafeking. He launched the Boy Scouts in 1907 by converting the lore of years spent scouting into a series of outdoor boys’ games, adding pious and patriotic overtones and embodying all this in a book. Scouting for Boys caught on overnight.

In September 1909, Baden-Powell invited all the boys who were practicing Scouting to rally in the Crystal Palace in London. Eleven thousand boys turned up. So did a few determined girls guyed out in improvised uniforms, brandishing their broomstick staves and sporting wideawake hats raked up at the side with feather cockades. One group even sent over a request that B-P inspect them. B-P, as rebellious as any schoolboy at the girl interlopers, decided he had to head them off at once. At the same time he recognized that the girls represented a challenge. II he didn t let them play at Scouting they might take to mafficking or, worse still, to loafing on piers. He regarded both as “a great waste of time.”

He went home and turned out a couple of emergency pamphlets describing A Scheme for Training for Girl Guides. The main thing was to start the girls registering themselves properly at headquarters (eight thousand did so immediately) and to stop them calling themselves Scouts; he expropriated the name Guides for them from a famous ranger corps in India. Nevertheless nearly two million U. S. members of the movement persist in being Girl Scouts.

These interim measures attended to. B-P passed the buck to his elder sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, a gentle Victorian eccentric who had butterflies, bees and birds Hying around loose in her town house in London. Later, when B-P married, his wife became Chief Commissioner in England anti finally World Chief Guide.

Agnes’ job was partly organization and partly an early form of public relations: she was to make the movement seem suitable for young ladies. She started by advising the girls to polish their nails with chalk and a flannel.

Next she rewrote Scouting for Boys

into The Handbook of the Girl Guides, or How Girls Can Help to Build up the Empire. Her camouflage was inspired. Passages about woman’s traditional role as nurse, wife and mother were added so that stalking, tracking, signaling and camping could reassuringly be labeled Finding the Injured. Anything left over was lumped under Tending the Injured. Guides pored over such passages, lifted intact from Scouting, as “In practicing First Aid it is a great thing to bespatter the patient with blood and mud to accustom the rescuer to the sight of it, otherwise it will often unnerve him in a real accident. Sheep’s blood can be got from the butcher’s shop.”

It was made clear that the girls were to be thoroughly supervised by adult captains and chaperoned by local councils of worthy ladies.

A stern notice from Guide headquarters about this time underlined the new regime. It read, “The so-called Girl Guides who made a raid on a Boy Scouts’ camp at midnight are not a registered patrol . . . The B-P Girl Guides are not allowed to have anything to do with the Boy Scouts, and are not allowed out after dark.”

One of the most remarkable facts about both Scouting and Guiding was their almost epidemic spread. A scant two months after the Crystal Palace rally, Mrs. A. H. Malcolmson, an energetic matron from St. Catharines, Ont., corraled a group of her friends’ children in a basement under a local beer parlor and formed them into the first Guide company in Canada. She togged them out in identical middies and straw skimmers, armed them with staves and took them off for nature tramps along the banks of the old Welland Canal.

The contagion spread all across Canada. In 1912 a chief commissioner for Canada was warranted. She was Lady Pellatt, pillar of the IODE and wife to the man who built Casa Loma. Casa Loma, a two-million-dollar stronghold straight out of Disneyland, is now a Toronto palace of dance. In those days, though. Lady Pellatt frequently used it for entertaining contingents of Guides at tea; they endeared themselves to her by keeping their hands off the flowers in the conservatory. In return she got a great many important Canadians interested in the Guide movement, including the wives of most of the lieutenant-governors.

The present Canadian chief commissioner is Mrs. Rankine Nesbitt, a comely Junior Leaguer who is married to a Toronto lawyer. Mrs. Nesbitt is so keen that when, a couple of years ago, she was chosen as one of Canada’s ten bestdressed women by the Toronto Telegram, she insisted that the picture used to accompany the story be one taken in her Guide commissioner’s uniform.

Commissioners wear navy-blue serge suits of military cut, and porkpie hats. Guides themselves wear tarns, and a uniform adequately described in the rulebook as "dress, blue, official design.”

However, the rig-out serves as a public checklist of each Guide’s status and achievements. Various cords, pins, bars and patches, including whole sleevefuls of proficiency badges, are applied to the dress as tests are passed. It's theoretically possible to earn a total of seventyone proficiency badges.

In addition, a Guide who qualifies as cook, child nurse, needle-woman, laundress, homemaker and hostess can earn an emblem that surmounts mere proficiency badges and is worn above them on the right sleeve. It's called the Little House emblem. Baden-Powell, an old-

fashioned man, frequently rallied workers for Guiding with the thought that, “Girls are the mothers of the coming generation.”

In fact B-P, for this reason, finally allowed that Guiding might be an even more important movement to have founded than Scouting.

His conversion may have been wrought in part by his marriage, in 1912, to Miss Olave Soames. B-P was fifty-five when he married; Miss Soames was twentytwo. By a charming chance their birthdays both fell on February 22. Lady B-P is now World Chief Guide just as B-P until his death in 1941 was World Chief Scout; Guides, with proper Guide thrift, are thus enabled to honor their founder and their head by setting aside a single day to think about them both. They call it Thinking Day.

Twenty-eight nations currently have full membership in the World Guide Association, organized in 1928. and seven countries have tenderfoot membership. Most of them, like Canada, have branches for handicapped girls, called Extension Guides; branches for isolated girls, called Lone Guides; plus thriving support troups of adult counselors, advisers, patronesses, commissioners, and officials of one kind or another, not counting the Guiders who actually work with the girls. Today in Canada at least one adult is involved in Guiding for every five Guides.

In fact the movement’s now so thoroughly organized, supervised and sound that some people in it are beginning to wonder if perhaps it’s a mite dull.

What common kids don’t know

A Canadian Guide captain has done a little research on the question. Curious to find out what kept the Guides coming, she asked them to write down, anonymously, why they’d joined in the first place.

Here are some of the answers she got:

Guides keeps me off the streets and out of mischief, also it is an excellent excuse to be rid of a nagging sister.

I go to Guides because there is so much fun. I like it also when 1 pass a test, it feels just like you jumped ahead. At Guides you don't learn just things that every common child would know.

I like Guides because it is fun, also Í go so I can go out on Thursday night until nine o’clock.

I have nothing to do except watch TV and I don’t like it very much.

When I come to Guides I have a lot of fun. 1 have nothing to do at home. I used to go skating every Friday but now I can’t because I gave it up for Lent.

According to the Guide captain, she was enormously reassured by these answers. Further reassurance exists in the wondrous durability of Guiding to date, and in the ten-percent increase over 1955 in Canadian Guide enrollment last year. But the competitive lures of mafficking and other forms of non-organized mischief, of the current teen-age fads and of new diversions like TV are strong. In fact they're beginning to encroach.

Last October the 189th Toronto Company announced proudly that it had invented a new Guide game. Guide games, like Scout games, are by definition adaptations of Baden-Powell’s scouting lore. Not this one. It was an inter-patrol quiz on Guide knowledge patterned after The $64.000 Question. ★