Part 1 of my quest to earn a Girl Scout badge from a hundred years ago did not go well. In a world of runaway horses and ornithopters and captain ball matches, I was a washout.
While I was catching my breath after this dispiriting exercise, I read more of the 1916 edition of How Girls Can Help Their Country, the Girl Scout handbook of the time.
I learned, among other things, that
in Europe, Girl Scout Patrols are sometimes formed by grown women who wish to carry out the Girl Scout program of preparedness. Members of such Patrols are called Senior Scouts.*
So I’m a legit Girl Scout! And you all are my patrol. Senior Girl Scouts don’t have regular meetings, so we can dispense with rules like this one:
And I thought taking away the Cyclist badge if you ceased to own a bicycle was harsh!
All right, on to the next 18 badges.
- PERSONAL HEALTH
I nailed a few of the requirements, like
#3. Walk a mile a day for three months
#5. Take a bath daily for a year, or sponge bath.
(Well, a shower.)
Unfortunately, there’s also
#1. Eat no sweets, candy, or cake between meals for three months
#2. Drink nothing but water, chocolate, or cocoa for a year.
I love cocoa at least as much as the next person,
but I doubt it would be good for my personal health, and it definitely wouldn’t be good for my diet, to swap it for my morning tea. Besides, a year? I’m on a timeline, people!
- PUBLIC HEALTH
For this badge, they make you write a 500-word essay about the country-wide campaign against the housefly, and that’s just the beginning. It’s too tedious for words. But I pledged that in this round I would try to fulfill at least one requirement for each badge, so for this one I decided on
#6. Tell how her community cares for its garbage.
The City of Cape Town’s solid waste management department turns out to have a lot of interesting information online. Here is a map of the waste disposal infrastructure
and here is a photo of one of the landfills, which could be titled “Cape Town: Where Even the City Dump is Photogenic.”
So I’ve learned where my trash goes, which is a good thing to know, but
#1. Demonstrating riding at a walk, trot and gallop.
I have no horse, so this is not to be. But I can do this:
#6. State lighting up time, city law.
South Africa requires drivers to drive with headlights on between sunset and sunrise and when visibility is less than 150 meters.
#1. Must pass test recommended by First Aid Department of the American Red Cross. These tests may be had from Headquarters, upon request.
Yeah, if you pay thirty bucks!
#4. Know how to prepare six dishes of food suitable to give an invalid (p. 114).
I had already thrown up my hands on this when I was doing the Invalid Cooking badge, but out of curiosity I turned to page 114, where there’s a recipe for kumyss.**
Which, it occurred to me, is basically the same thing as amasi, a sour milk drink popular among African people in South Africa. Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom that, when he was hiding out in a safehouse in a whites-only area in Johannesburg before his arrest, he used to make amasi and leave it on the windowsill to ferment. One day, he heard two men talking outside in Zulu. “What is ‘our milk’ doing on that window ledge?” one of them asked the other. He moved to another safe house the next day.
If I ever have to serve amasi to an invalid, though, I’ll just buy it at the store.
I’ve got this one, though:
#3. Know how to take temperature; how to count pulse and respirations.
#2. Know how to use a vacuum cleaner, how to stain and polish hardwood floors, how to clean wire window screens, how to put away furs and flannels, how to clean glass, kitchen utensils, brass, and silverware.
I have no idea how to put away furs or stain hardwood floors. And I’m starting to suspect that the authors of How Girls Can Help Their Country are just out to get free child labor. I do know how to polish silver, though. With toothpaste! It’s super-easy.
(Not the greatest photographs, but look closely at the tines.)
#4. Tell how to choose furniture.
I’d just go to the furniture store and say, “Make my house look like this!”
So I have clean silver, but
Over the course of my Foreign Service career, I was certified as proficient in five languages: Spanish, French, Afrikaans, Khmer (Cambodian), and Lao. So I was excited to see that there was an Interpreter badge.
Excited, but not cocky. After failing to earn the Civics badge despite having majored in government in college, I take nothing for granted.
#1. Be able to carry on a simple conversation in any other language than their own.
Here I am speaking Khmer:
Translation: “Hello, my name is Mary Grace. I’m American, but I live in South Africa. I used to live in Cambodia. Good-bye!”
#2. Write a letter in a foreign language.
A few years ago I took (and passed) the French government’s official language test for foreign language speakers at the Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 levels. For the Intermediate 1 test, we had to write a letter. I got a 22/25 on that section.
#3. Read or translate a passage from a book or newspaper in French, German, Italian, or in any other language than her own.
The second volume of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time, as the young folks call it) was published in 1919. In a fit of linguistic ambition, I bought a copy in French a while back.
Here’s my translation of the first page. (Summary: Whom should Marcel’s parents invite to dinner with M. de Norpois? There’s the unquestionably distinguished Professor Cottard, but he’s away. And Swann, but he’s a name-dropping upstart. Although some would argue that it’s the other way around. Added complication: Swann’s social stock has tanked since–SWANN’S WAY SPOILER ALERT–he married Odette.) I only got stuck once, on the word “esbroufeur,” which turns out to mean something along the lines of “twit” or “self-promoter.”
Well, that was anticlimactic. Let’s try it again, in library hand.
I could stop right here, proud to have finally earned a badge, but that wouldn’t be in the Girl Scout spirit. Plus, I always found it kind of sad when girls would wear vests with just a single badge. Onward!
#2. Press a skirt and coat.
“What is a skirt and coat?” was my first question. I know what they are separately, of course, but together? Fashion blogger Vintage Dancer helpfully explains that, ca. 1918, matching skirts and coats were sold together, like these:
I don’t have one of those, but I do have this beautiful Lao outfit that has been wadded up in my dry cleaning/ironing bag for several years.
#3. Know how to use soap and starch, how to soften hard water, and how to use a wringer or mangle.
#2. Know how to load pistol, how to fire and aim or use it.
Let’s just skip this one, okay?
By the time I was a Girl Scout, I’d given up my ambition to be an artist and shifted my interest to music. I took piano lessons, then guitar lessons. I learned to play the recorder on my own and would sit in my room tootling for hours. In eleventh grade or so, it dawned on me that I had no musical talent whatsoever, and I gave it all up.
Until now, that is.
There are three alternative paths to earning the Music badge: playing a musical instrument, singing, and bugle calls. I decided to dust off my recorder.
#1. Know how to play a musical instrument. Be able to do sight reading. Have a knowledge of note signs or terms.
The first challenge was to FIND my recorder, last seen in an immense pile of junk. Which I failed at, but a relative turned out to have one, luckily for you all because otherwise you would have had to hear me try to sing.
I downloaded and printed the sheet music for that quintessentially 1919 song, “How ’Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?”. Not having sight-read in three decades or so, I approached the task with a mix of excitement and trepidation. I sat down, stood the music in front of me, and…
It was all blurry! Sigh. I went to get my reading glasses.
When I started playing, it was as if no time had gone by. I was sixteen all over again, playing in my room instead of doing my trigonometry homework. After a few runthroughs, I was able to produce this rendition:
My eleventh-grade assessment of my talent was not wrong. I am not Frank Hudson, nor was meant to be.*** But the requirement says nothing about playing a musical instrument well.****
#2. Name two master composers and two of their greatest works.
Beethoven: Fifth Sympony and Ninth Symphony.
Mozart: Così Fan Tutte and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
#3. Be able to name all of the instruments in the orchestra in their proper order.
There’s an order? What for? With a little digging, I found a guy on Quora who explains that there’s a set order in which instruments appear on a musical score, which goes like this.
- Harp and/or Keyboards
- Soloists or Choir
- Violin I
- Violin II
After idly wondering for a few minutes how often 1919 Girl Scouts were called upon to score a symphony, I got down to business and memorized the list. It wasn’t too hard once I broke it down into reeds, woodwinds, percussion/vocal, and strings.
And now for the absolute, no question, best Girl Scout badge requirement of all time:
#4. Never play rag time music, except for dancing.
#1. Make a collection of sixty species of wild flowers, ferns and grasses, and correctly name them.
Colored drawings of wild flowers, ferns, or grasses drawn by herself.
Like everyone else, probably, I went for the second option. Here are my drawings of wild flowers in Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Nature Reserve. (Well, of photos of them on the internet.) Criticial reaction: “Definitely better than the dog.”
#2. Twelve sketches or photographs of animal life.
Speaking of the dog, I think we can all agree that photography is my best bet here. The neighborhood cats and dogs kept running away before I could unlock my phone to take their pictures, though, and all I had after several outings was this photo of a pigeon:
I was starting to worry that the neighbors would think I was crazy, so I decided to waive my policy of not giving myself credit for past work.
Kruger Park, South Africa, 2009
Kunene region, Namibia, 2013
Boulders Beach, Cape Town, 2018
Two in a row! I’m on a roll!
#1. Know how to cut and fit. How to sew by hand and by machine.
#3. Bring two garments cut out by herself; sew on hooks and eyes and buttons. Make a button-hole.
Longtime readers may remember the dress that I presented as evidence that Seamstress should not be my 1918 Girl Job:
I don’t think any more cotton needs to die to underscore this point.
#2. Know how to knit, embroider, or crochet.
I do know how to knit! I learned at the Girls’ Club, which I belonged to at the same time that I was in Girl Scouts.***** Here I am wearing a shawl that I knitted myself:
#3. Produce satisfactory examples of darning and patching.
“Satisfactory” is pushing it. I think I’ll skip the patching. Luckily, we have Witness 2 Fashion to fill the seamstress/historian niche.
#2. Know how to use the fire alarm.
Why is this in the Pathfinder badge, I wondered. It turns out that if there was a fire a hundred years ago you ran down the street to an emergency call box that worked by telegraphy.
In modern-day South Africa, you contact the fire department by calling the emergency number, which for cell phones is—and I’m ashamed to say I did not know this—112.
#4. Know the distance to four neighboring towns and how to get to these towns.
- Stellenbosch: 45 km via the N2 and R310.
- Hermanus: 115 km via the N2 and R43.
- Paarl: 60 km via the N1.
- Worcester: 115 km via the N1.
#5. Draw a map of the neighborhood with roads leading to cities and towns.
I drew a very nice map, but you’ll have to take my word for it. I know you’re not a robber, but putting a map to my house on the internet is a recipe for getting my bike stolen.
A solid performance, but sadly there’s also
#1. Know the topography of the city, all the public buildings, public schools, and monuments.
Seriously, Girl Scouts? Even taking into account the growth of cities in the past hundred years, you’re stretching the limits of the human capacity to memorize. Here is a list of the high schools in ONE of Cape Town’s districts:
I did visit a monument for this blog, though: the Cape Town Cenotaph, memorializing soldiers who died in World War I, on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.
This one only has two requirements.
#1. Tie six knots.
I skipped over the knots in the Boatswain badge, but here they are, back to haunt me. Girl Scouting is all about knots—leaders are even advised to have a knot-tying session during their troop’s first meeting—so I should get on this.
Here are the knots in How Girls Can Help Their Country
and here are my knots:
#2. Build a shack suitable for three occupants.
(The badge isn’t illustrated, but they tell us it’s a camera.)
#1. Know use of lens, construction of camera, effect of light on sensitive films and the action of developers.
#2. Be able to show knowledge of several printing processes.
#3. Produce 12 photos of scout activities, half indoor and half outdoors, taken, developed, and printed by herself, also 3 pictures of either birds, animals, or fish in their natural haunts (3 portraits and 3 landscapes).
I could quibble with the confusing math in #3, or I could reuse my animal photos from the Naturalist badge, admit defeat on the rest of the requirements, and declare myself done here.
A literary badge! And me with a master’s degree in creative writing! I’ll skip the journalism option, which involves a lot of tedious memorizing and the writing of 12 news articles, and go straight to the creative one.
#3. Write a good story.
Good timing! I just had my first post-MFA publication, a short story in this anthology:
#2. Write a good poem.
A poem, maybe. A good poem? Not going to happen.
#1. Send and receive a message in two of the following systems of signaling: Semaphore, Morse. Not fewer than twenty-four letters a minute.
#2. Receive signals by sound, whistle, bugle or buzzer.
I think I’ll stick with WhatsApp.
#1. Swim fifty yards in clothes, skirt and boots.
Again with the swimming in clothes! Can’t these people just wear life preservers? And I’m not going to put someone’s life at risk so I can check off
#6. Saving the drowning.
#1. Be able to read and send a message in Morse and in Continental Code, twenty letters per minute, or must obtain a certificate for wireless telegraphy. (These certificates are awarded by Government instructors.)
I think they’re starting to run out of ideas–this is an awful lot like the Signalling badge. And we have to learn Morse Code AND Continental Code? As nice as it would have been to go out on a high note,
But I’ve earned three badges, a huge improvement over my previous score of zero. I’m an interpreter, a musician, and a naturalist!
I’ve done some things I’ve been putting off doing for ages: mending my shirt, polishing the silver, and ironing my Lao outfit. I know what number to dial in an emergency and where my garbage goes. And I’ve opened my mind to a huge array of new (or newly rediscovered) activities. I’ve drawn flowers, played a song, and translated Proust.
Being an adult is way better than being a kid in most ways. There’s a satisfaction that comes with having reached a high level of skill in your professional specialty or personal area of interest. You have autonomy. And no one natters away at you anymore about keeping yourself pure.****** But one thing we lose is that endless sense of possibility. Kids play the recorder and tie knots and draw pictures of flowers because it’s fun and, who knows, it might lead to something someday. Or might not. That’s okay too. Why worry about the future when there’s a whole afternoon to while away?
This has been my most enjoyable My Year in 1918 project yet, and I say that as someone who had a LOT of fun taking a 1918 IQ test and searching for 1918 love and going on a 1918 diet. Now that I’ve finished earning badges, I’ll try to hold on to some of that that Girl Scout spirit in my day-to-day life.
Finished earning badges for now, that is. There’s an all-new 1920 handbook, full of new badges, to look forward to next year!
In the meantime, I promise never, ever to play rag time music, except for dancing.
*As opposed to this ca. 1963 Senior Girl Scout in a spiffy stewardess-like uniform. Seniors were in the upper grades of high school in those days. In theory, anyway—I never met anyone who stuck it out that long. I quit in seventh grade, a few months into Cadettes, because we spent all our time brainstorming about what we were going to do as opposed to actually doing anything. Besides, no one wore uniforms and badges were suddenly uncool, so what was the point?
**Along with the wackiest omelet-making method ever:
****For a more competent rendition of this song, here’s Arthur Fields singing it in 1919, with lots of cool pictures:
*****Don’t worry, How Girls Can Help Their Country assures us that Girl Scouts are allowed to belong to other organizations.
******Girl Scout Law #6.
A thoroughly entertaining romp through 1919 scouting. Thanks!
Thanks very much, I’m glad you enjoyed it!
My secret to appearing to be a competent musician is to be a composer–that way you can write what you can somehow figure out how to play.
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It’s really one of your most enjoyable posts and I can well understand how and why you enjoyed it. Thanks for the read! Nice to see more of yourself as well! Those girl scouts really had some tough standards set for them. Were the ones for the boys as tough? I guess they were.
BTW, I’m doing another time journey of my own these days. The Apollo 12 mission is going on 50 years ago these days, and I’m following the mission streams, making sure to get myself as well synchronised as possible. They arrive at the Moon tonight and there will be some TV footage before they perform the lunar orbit insertion burn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RE5Ow14IgM The flight journal is here: https://history.nasa.gov/afj/ap12fj/10day4_loi.html
I’t quite incredible that this stuff is located exactly half-way between today and your 1919.
Thanks so much, Lars! Your comment inspired me to look at the 1914 edition of the American Boy Scout handbook. It has some badges that the Girl Scout handbook doesn’t have, like Beekeeping and Architecture and Camping (sleep in the open for fifty nights, at different times), and some similar ones with even harder requirements than the girls’. There are also some surprising requirements for the boys, like making cocoa and knowing shorthand.
Apollo 12, what a great project! As someone who can remember the Apollo program, it’s disconcerting to realize that it was as close to 1919 as to now.
What a fun activity! I really enjoyed seeing the 1919 badge requirements.
Thanks, Sheryl! It was fascinating to see what girls were expected to know how to do 100 years ago. I’ll be interested to see how the requirements change in the 1920 edition of the handbook.