Marking the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, this biography brings to life the woman whose efforts galvanized an entire nation of young women.
Cordery (History/Monmouth Coll; Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker, 2007, etc.) vividly evokes an era when the Girl Scouts’ founder, the unconventional Juliette Gordon Low (1860–1927), faced an uphill battle convincing the public that girls deserved the same adventures and patriotic duties as their fellow Boy Scouts. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, camping, hiking and participating in military drills were considered the province of men alone. The head of the Boy Scouts, James West, went so far as to complain that Girl Scouts would “sissify” his organization, and he tried to block Daisy from using the word “Scout,” preferring the more feminine “Guide.” But Low remained undeterred by such threats, pushing ahead with her plan to create a national organization that would bring together girls of all faiths and ethnicities in fun, service-oriented activities. Despite growing up in a wealthy family in the Deep South, Daisy was no stranger to hardship, having married a cad who whisked her off to England, squandered their money and committed adultery. Sadder but wiser after his early death, and suffering from her own lifelong health problems, she strove to create a lasting monument to sisterhood that would foster independence as well as sorority. The Girl Scouts boosted their civic profile by stepping up to fulfill a bevy of tasks during World War I, from nursing to babysitting to growing vegetable gardens. By the ’20s, many original critics of Girl Scouting came to advocate it as a means for transforming wayward, idle young women into strong, nurturing, productive members of society. Although Cordery’s narrative occasionally bogs down in descriptions of the administrative and bureaucratic details of the organization, it nevertheless brightly illuminates the growing pains of both Daisy and her Girl Scouts.
“Long Live Girl Scouts!” may be the cry on readers’ lips after finishing this tribute to a spirited and inspirational American leader.