A visit to the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927) in Savannah, Georgia has been on my bucket list since I was eleven years old. That was the year my mother took her Girl Scout troop (including my two older sisters) all the way from Missouri to Florida to see the newly opened Disney World. Along the way, they stopped in Savannah, while I stayed home and stewed over being left behind on the farm, doing their chores, and missing out on all the good stuff. Since then, I’ve been to Disney World many times, but a stop in Savannah never seemed to win enough votes among my various traveling companions as we traversed up and down I-95 over the years. The beauty of traveling solo now is that I get all the votes. Savannah it is!
There is a big part of my Girl Scout experience traveling with me on this trip. My years in scouting helped me to develop the courage, the sense of self-reliance, and the confidence that it requires to head out on my own for four months into situations that I know I won’t always be able to predict. Among other things, the Girl Scouts taught me how to build fires, crochet, figure out which direction is which, swim, sneak though the woods under cover of darkness, bake cookies in a cardboard box lined with aluminum, the importance of ceremonies, and how keep warm while sleeping on the ground. These are all basic life skills. Visiting the birthplace of the Gordon Low is also a way for me to honor my mother, who was Girl Scout leader and volunteer for many years.
My mother (who passed away a few years ago) was very much on my mind as I visited, and perhaps because she was so involved in the Girl Scouts, I thought a lot about her as I toured the home. For my troop, she volunteered as the badge mother and troop life guard. A long forgotten memory returned as I was reminded of a camping trip to Lost Valley in St. Charles County, MO (which I believe is now a hunting reserve), where our troop of young teenage girls had been swimming in the creek on a hot afternoon. My mother announced it was time for everyone to get out of the water, and in typical teenage fashion there was grumbling and not much effort to actually follow her directions. Someone pointed out we had maybe ten more minutes that we were “entitled to” and my mother, in the calmest voice possible said, “Ok, but there is a snake in the water.” High pitched screams, and panicked splashing ensued as adolescent limbs worked as hard as they could to get out of that creek as quickly as possible, with the exception of one. I stayed in the water and calmly stared my mother down. My stubborn teenage self was willing to risk a snake encounter rather than let her think that I didn’t know what she was up to. If there had been a snake, and especially a snake anywhere near me, she would have been freaking out. Instead she was calm, and so I was staring at her and judging her for trying to manipulate me. As an adolescent I thought I knew everything, including her motives. As an adult, I understand she was tired of arguing with adolescent girls that day. Anyway, once she saw me staring at her, she looked me directly in the eyes, smiled and motioned towards the bank. With the point having been made on both sides, I got out.
Juliette Gordon Lowe’s story is a fascinating one. Most people know she was the founder of the Girl Scouts (originally known as the Girl Guides), but I was surprised to learn that she really built this movement as a way of reinventing herself later in life. She was born into a wealthy family from Savannah, where her mother was known for progressive ideals and a commitment to a life of service. She attended private boarding schools where she received formal training in the arts. That training served her well, as she was extraordinarily creative and expressed herself through many mediums, including sculpture, painting, iron working and poetry. Throughout Juliette Gordon Lowe’s birthplace there are numerous examples of her artistic pursuits and the skill she possessed is impressive.
Juliette was affectionately called Daisy by her family, and seemed to enjoy a strong family bond but nevertheless, she ignored her family’s expressed objections and married a wealthy English nobleman whom they disliked. He turned out to be an inattentive philanderer and upon his death, she was forced to battle her husband’s mistress in court for her inheritance. After that, she left England and returned to the U.S. and to her life in Savannah. She was 51 years old before she took up the idea of creating an organization for girls that would allow them to participate in activities that were previously not encouraged. Her enthusiasm and resolve were rewarded, and within 5 years, hundreds of thousands of girls across the country had signed up.
I’m sure the Girl Scouts of the early 20th century didn’t look much like the organization did when I was participating, simply because the cultural expectations were different. Having been a leader myself, I can say that it continues to change even today. What has remained constant all these years to me, is a commitment to an inclusive environment, the remarkable support for girls to learn about and try new things, including those in areas that are still thought of as typically “boy” domains, encouragement for girls to think of themselves as leaders, and ongoing support for artistic expression in many forms. It’s a wonderful organization and a beautiful legacy. I was surprised to learn that in many cities across the country, there is a waiting list of young girls who want to be Girl Scouts but there are not enough volunteers to be leaders. That made me sad, and I’ll try and learn more about why that is when I’m not on the road anymore.
I ended the tour in the gift shop, where there are two versions of a commemorative pin that Girl Scouts are allowed to wear on their uniforms. One is a daisy pin (Juliette’s nickname was Daisy) and that one is for Girl Scouts who have toured her home in person. The other pin commemorates the birthplace, but is for those who haven’t actually visited in person. I received the second version decades ago when my mother and sisters returned from their trip. Still hurt at being left behind, I immediately tossed it in my jewelry box like some kind of tainted booby prize. As I purchased the daisy pin, I laughed at my younger self, and thought of my mother with nothing but gratitude and respect for all the things she did to help make me who I am today.
Overall Impression: If you have a connection to the Girl Scouts, this is a fantastic way to learn more about how the organization started and especially about the woman who founded it. If you don’t have a connection to the Girl Scouts, the story of Juliette Gordon Low is still worth the stop. The house is located in the middle of the historic district of Savannah, and a stop here is easily combined with either a day walking around that area, which is beautiful, or a hop off of one of the Trolly Tours.
Costs for the day:
Admission: $10 with a current Girl Scout registration, $14 for adults otherwise.
Parking: I parked on the street for a total cost of $4. Not a lot of street parking was open, so I got lucky. There are several downtown parking garages.
Meals: $15 at Cafe M, which is a downtown French themed cafe. I had The Normandy salad, which was excellent.