Brownie Day Camp July 1967, Suzanne May at back right.
Brownies and Girl Scouts across America celebrate this week to mark March 12, 1912 when Juliette Low gathered 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia to form the first Girl Scout group in the United States. If tradition has not changed too much, Scouts will still attend church on Sunday in their uniform, sell cookies in front of the market, and blow out birthday candles in commemoration of the day.
My sister and I spent so many years going through the ranks of Brownie, Junior, Cadette, and Senior Girl Scouting that I thought it would be easy to find a few snapshots of us in uniform, but I was wrong. Somewhere about age ten or so, I must have been given a camera. All the photos I can find show other people in poorly composed, over-exposed, blurry images. By junior high and high school, of course, it would have been a social disaster to be caught in scout uniform, so those are surely lost years.
Instead, I offer a few snapshots of our fearless Scout Leader, my mom, Suzanne May. As a traditional stay-at-home-mom with organizational skills and creative energy, she routinely signed up to be Neighborhood Cookie Chairman, Brownie Leader, Day Camp Director, and everyone’s favorite Mom.
With her encouragement, no outdoor skill was too gross to be mastered. We learned how to make a portable stove from a tuna can, coiled corrugated cardboard, and paraffin, and then mastered building a fire and cooking Hobo Stew. We learned how to dig an outdoor latrine and make a toilet paper holder from a forked stick. When it got dark, we learned that scary stories are really not a good idea in in a tent in the middle of a field.
As we hit the ‘tweens and then ‘teens, Mom stepped back and waved us on our way to snowshoe glaciers in the High Sierras and ride the rapids down the Colorado River. She drove us countless miles to the trailhead and washed the mud out of our socks when we got home. When we wanted to quit because scouting was really not at all “cool,” Mom signed us up to be camp counselors for weeks of independent adventure. And, when our Girl Scout Troop started hiking with Boy Scouts, she didn’t keep us home.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s women were just figuring out all that they could do, and scouting offered an opportunity for mothers and daughters to try new things and master new skills. It really didn’t matter that we were learning to mark a trail or keep wildlife out of our food, the important thing was that we were learning to trust ourselves.
Happy Birthday Girl Scouts of America!
Photograph: May, Suzanne. “Day Camp.” Photograph. July 1967. Privately held by Denise Levenick, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Pasadena, CA. 2010.