The Childhood of Queen Elizabeth II of England

Even though she has been the Queen of England for decades, Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t supposed to inherit the throne. Her father George VI wasn’t born to be king either but his elder brother decided to marry a divorced woman. In those days, an English monarch couldn’t marry someone who was divorced without creating a scandal, so he decided to quit his duties as king and left the job to his brother. In 1952, the eldest daughter of George VI inherited the throne.

As a young girl, Elizabeth, nicknamed Lilibet, didn’t receive the formal education of most previous monarchs since she wasn’t expected to rule. Her parents wanted Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret to enjoy childhood and they hired a governess that agreed to carry out their wishes. The governess later wrote that the girls’ parents “were not over concerned with the higher education of their daughters. They wanted most for them a really happy childhood, with lots of pleasant memories…and, later, happy marriages.” Elizabeth’s lessons started when she turned six years old. Her governess taught arithmetic, literature, writing, composition, and geography. In all, the lessons only lasted an hour and a half each day. Even when she became heir to the throne Elizabeth’s parents didn’t want her education to be too rigid, though courses on constitutional history and the monarchy were added.

Elizabeth preferred the outdoors to the schoolroom, especially once she learned to ride horses. She received her first pony at age three and was devoted to riding and caring for the animals. When someone asked her what she would like to do when she grew up, she said, “Live the life of a country lady, with lots of horses and dogs.” As queen she couldn’t always be in the country, but she did get her wish for plenty of horses and dogs.

Since she was a member of the royal family, taking her out to meet “normal” girls and boys was almost impossible without being recognized by the public. Eventually her mother invited some neighborhood girls over so that Elizabeth could have her own group of Girl Guides (known in the U.S. as the Girl Scouts).Though her parents had duties that would sometimes take them away from the children, they made family time a priority. The girls spent as much time as possible with their parents, who read them stories, ate dinner with them, and engaged in pillow fights. Although the relationship between the princesses and their parents does not seem unusual today, most royal children, including Elizabeth’s father, were not close to their parents. George VI’s father, George V, thought that his own children needed to fear him; however, Elizabeth brought out another side of her grandfather. She never learned to fear adults, so she simply announced when she wanted to play and her grandfather got down on the floor and let her lead him around by his beard.

Still, her role models and primary companions were adults. She especially admired her father’s courage and sense of duty when he became king. She knew he didn’t want the job and he struggled with public speaking, but he put his duty to his country first. His example taught her more about what it meant to be a good leader than any of her history books.

Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low: Founder of the Girl Scouts

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.