As a young Southern debutante, Juliette Gordon Low seemed to have little purpose in life other than entertaining herself and her friends. At age fifty-two, however, Juliette, nicknamed Daisy, founded the Girl Scouts of America. Finally she had found her purpose and she devoted the rest of her life to making the Girl Scouts a successful organization.
Despite her love of parties as a young woman, Daisy always had an eccentric side that made her different from other girls. She adopted stray dogs and cats as a child. As an adult, she even had a pet bird that sat on her shoulder. Instead of paying attention in school, Daisy would often draw in her notebooks. Eventually she took art classes, which she loved. Though there were few athletic competitions for girls in the nineteenth century, Daisy was a good swimmer and even became captain of a rowing team.
After she finished school, Daisy traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe. She married an Englishman and went to even more extravagant parties but the marriage wasn’t happy. After her husband died, Daisy wandered aimlessly, trying to find a purpose for her life. She found it after meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in England. She thought girls in America would also benefit from a similar program. After creating a few Girl Guide patrols in England, she took the idea to her native Georgia.
On March 12, 1912, eighteen girls over age twelve became America’s first Girl Guides. Activities included playing basketball on a vacant lot near Daisy’s home in Savannah, going on hikes, and attending formal teas at Daisy’s house. Daisy thought girls should be self-reliant inside and outside the home. “Her girls” as Daisy called them, learned first aid and cooking, but they were also taught that women could do men’s jobs. The first Girl Scout handbook gave examples of women doctors and airplane pilots. “The numbers of women who have taken up aviation prove that women’s nerves are good enough for flying,” the handbook said. When the handbook was published in 1913, Daisy received letters asking about the newly named Girl Scouts from across the U.S. Soon she set up a national headquarters for the organization in Washington.
Daisy was a role model to her scouts, whose meetings she happily attended until the very end of her life. Though she had lost most of her hearing in her twenties, she never allowed her disability to keep her from participating in activities. Her organization allowed girls with disabilities to participate in scouting at a time when they were excluded from other clubs.
Though Girl Scouts started with just eighteen girls, membership today has grown to 3.7 million members. Amazingly, the organization began thanks to the efforts of a Southern belle.