The Very First Girl Scout Troop Leader
Stacy A. Cordery was a Brownie the first time she heard the name Juliette Gordon Low. She was instantly fascinated by the woman, who founded the Girl Scouts in 1912, and by the fact that she was hearing impaired for most of her adult life. “Her deafness made me want to learn sign language, which I attempted as a young girl,” says Cordery, now a historian and professor at Monmouth College in Illinois.
But, while in high school, and college and graduate school at the University of Texas, Cordery noticed that Low was absent from history textbooks and lectures. “The older I got, the more I thought we don’t know enough about her,” says Cordery. Low’s legacy is monumental: Now celebrating its 100-year history, the Girl Scouts is the largest educational organization for girls in the world, with 3.3 million current members. Over the years, some 50 million women have worn the uniform and earned badges for its sash.
Cordery’s new biography, Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, pieces together Low’s life story, from her beginnings in Savannah, Georgia, at the outbreak of the Civil War to her establishing the first troop of Girl Scouts in the United States. From diaries, letters, institutional correspondence and photographs, Cordery describes Low’s time as a Georgia debutante, the years she spent in England married to an aristocrat named William Mackay Low, Willy’s adultery and his death during their divorce proceedings, and her discovery of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in England.
Why did you want to learn more about Juliette Gordon Low?
Every biographer has some autobiographical connection to his or her subject. For me, it was not just that I was a Brownie, but that my mother was a Girl Scout and my grandmother was a troop leader. My mother always kept her Girl Scout uniform. I still have it. And I thought, what was it about this organization that was so important that my mom kept her Girl Scout uniform in the same box as her wedding dress?