The beginning of a new decade is a good time for a fresh start. A time to review your diet, and your exercise routine, and your blog title. When I launched My Year in 1918 on January 1, 2018, I expected it to be a one-year journey to the world of a hundred years ago. Which it was, in the sense that I spent that year reading ONLY as if I were living 100 years ago. Since this is not something one can do indefinitely, I reentered the 21st century at the beginning of 2019. I found I didn’t want to leave the 1910s behind, though, so I continued reading and writing about the world of 1919.
Which, since I didn’t listen to my friend Emily, who warned me about this exact scenario, left me with an outdated blog name. I didn’t worry about this too much in 2019, seeing the year as an extended victory lap. But, as the 1920/2020s approached, I was growing tired of having to give long-winded explanations about why my blog was called My Year in 1918.
So I’m excited to announce this blog’s new, non-expiring, name: My Life 100 Years Ago.*
Now on to the most popular posts of the year.
The Top 10 wasn’t as competitive a category in 2019 as it was in 2018, when, posting with monomaniacal zeal, I ended up with 94 contenders. Last year I only published 21 posts. Still, thanks to the magic of Google search engine optimization—the more you’ve written the more important Google thinks you are, so you end up being, say, the go-to person on glamorous spy ring leader Despina Storch—I ended up with a slightly higher number of views in 2019 than in 2018.**
Here are the top 10 posts, starting with #7 because there is, weirdly, a four-way tie in that position.
I woke up one day in D.C. to find it was a miraculously beautiful August morning, then spent the whole day inside writing this blog post. It was worth it, though. For one thing, I now know way more than I used to about 1919 deodorant.
This was another of my favorite projects of the year, and readers must have agreed—this post shot up to #3 in only twelve days. One surprise was the amount of violence in children’s books of 100 years ago. The illustration here is from a NURSERY RHYME.
The humongous success of this post—it had three time as many views as the next most popular post of the year—shows that readers had as much fun as I did with the Girl Scout badge quest. Luckily, there are more badges to be earned this year, with a new edition of the Girl Scout handbook out in 1920. And if you missed the second installment, it’s just a click away at #4!
Exploring Provo–and Mormon History: Sometimes initial popularity hurts a post in the stats, because if you read the post at the top of the blog without clicking on it then it’s credited to the home page. This is what happened with this post, which tied the record for daily views when first published but ended up as #18 of 21 for the year.
More beautiful images from 1918: I always hope that the least-viewed post of the year doesn’t turn out to be a labor of love that I spent days and days on. Luckily (and perhaps not coincidentally), this hasn’t been the case so far. 2019’s worst performer, with 10 views**** (which is at least better than last year’s two), is one of three posts of images that I published in the first weeks of 2019, when I was shell-shocked after emerging from 1918. So I guess the “people only want to look at pictures” rule isn’t infallible.
Best-Performing Post from 2018
In search of a good mother poem: Posts originally published in 2018 didn’t qualify for Top 10 honors. Which is bad luck for this one, which only came in 17th last year but was this year’s second most viewed overall. I hope that all these visitors weren’t seeking inspirational Mother’s Day verse, since they would have been disappointed. That is, I think “Dedication for a Plot of Ground,” William Carlos Williams’ tribute to his fierce grandmother, is inspiring, but I can’t imagine it on a needlepoint sampler.
All the best for the new year! I’m looking forward to sharing the Roaring Twenties with you.
*UPDATE 1/2/2020: This blog’s URL is now officially mylife100yearsago.com. Myyearin1918.com redirects to this site, so everything should happen seamlessly from your end regardless of how you access it, except maybe RSS feeds. (Drop me a line if it doesn’t.) Everyone on the internet made this process sound incredibly scary–“you’ll want to brush up on your FTP skills,” etc.–but it ended up taking five minutes on WordPress.
**Another thing about search engine optimization: Google severely punishes broken links, which my blog suddenly has lots of. The Modernist Journals Project recently revamped its site, breaking my many links to magazines such as The Smart Set, The Crisis, and The Little Review. I’m fixing them one by one. If you encounter a broken link to something you need (or just want) to see, send me a message on the Contact page and I’ll send you the link. (To the person who clicked eight times last week trying in vain to get to the issue of The Smart Set with H.L. Mencken’s review of My Ántonia in it, here it is.)
***Phillips seems to have been the inspiration for Grace Lin’s children’s book A Big Bed for Little Snow, which was just reviewed in the New York Times, with a fadeaway illustration from the book of a mother and child. In the book, Lin writes, “Little Snow listened to Mommy’s footsteps fade away,” which I suspect is a shout-out. (UPDATE 1/18/020: I sent a message to Grace Lin’s website to ask about this and got a response saying that Lin discusses the connection in this video. It’s well worth watching if you’ve got five minutes, and not just because of the Phillips connection.)
****But, remember, more people read it on the home page.
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:
How Girls Can Help Their Country
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.
I nailed a few of the requirements, like
#3. Walk a mile a day for three months
Me, Gamla Uppsala, Sweden, 2016
#5. Take a bath daily for a year, or sponge bath.
Ladies Home Journal, May 1919.
(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!
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.
#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.**
How Girls Can Help Their Country
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.
Pick ‘n Pay
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!”
Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1918
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.
Me, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 1996
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:
Simpson’s Catalogue, 1918
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.
Library of Congress
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.
Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1920 (csoarchives.wordpress.com)
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
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 scarf that I knitted myself:
Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 2012
#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.
Police call box at corner of D St. and 13½ St. NW, Washington DC, 1912 (Library of Congress)
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 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.)
Ladies’ Home Journal, September 1919 (Hathitrust)
#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?
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?
Junior Girl Scout Handbook, 1963
**Along with the wackiest omelet-making method ever:
How Girls Can Help Their Country
****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.
Back in the day, I was really into Girl Scouts. Like, really into it. I had so many badges that they went all the way down the front of my sash and halfway up the back.*
Junior Girl Scout Handbook, 1963
So I was eager to set about earning some Girl Scout badges from a hundred years ago.
First, though, I needed to figure out what was going on in Girl Scouting back then. I had a head start because in fifth grade I wrote, directed, and starred in a play my troop put on about Girl Scouting founder Juliette Gordon Low.** But not a huge head start, because the only things I could remember about her were that she was born in Savannah, Georgia, and that she went deaf in one ear following a rice-throwing mishap at her wedding.
Juliette Gordon Low, 1917 (Harris & Ewing Collection/Library of Congress)
Low was born in, yes, Savannah, in 1860, the daughter of a wealthy cotton broker who fought for the Confederacy yet somehow ended up being close friends with General Sherman. At age 25, she married William Mackay Low. They moved to England, where their social circle included Rudyard Kipling and the Prince of Wales. Her husband proved to be a drinker, gambler, and philanderer, though, and they separated in 1901. He died in 1905.
Robert Baden-Powell, ca. 1919 (Library of Congress)
Low met Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell in 1911, and the two became close friends. She got involved with the Girl Guides, which were headed by Baden-Powell’s sister Agnes, and traveled with Baden-Powell to the United States in 1912 to launch the American Girl Guides, soon renamed the Girl Scouts.
Other interesting things happened, like a feud with the Campfire Girls, who refused Low’s merger proposal because they thought some GS activities were too masculine, and controversy over the “Girl Scouts” name, which some thought would have a sissifying effect on the Boy Scouts. But I skimmed over this in my eagerness to set about earning some badges.
I got hold of the Girl Scout handbook of the time, a 1916 update of the original 1913 edition. It’s titled How Girls Can Help Their Country, and I was delighted to see that it’s chockablock with badges—36 in all.
I knew going in that I couldn’t hold a candle to a 1919 Girl Scout in some respects—animal husbandry, for instance. Still, How Girls Can Help Their Country informs us that the purpose of scouting is to prepare girls to be housewives. I’ve been a wife for almost sixteen years now, so how hard could it be?
How Girls Can Help Their Country
Well, let’s see.
#1. To obtain a badge for First Aid or Ambulance a Girl Scout must have knowledge of the Sylvester or Schafer methods of resuscitation in case of drowning. Must complete one year of regular attendance and know:
What to do in case of fire.
How to stop a runaway horse.
How Girls Can Help Their Country
To obtain an artist’s badge a Girl Scout must draw or paint in oils or water colors from nature; or model in clay or plasticine or modeling wax from plaster casts or from life; or describe the process of etching, half-tone engraving, color printing or lithographing; or
Arts and Crafts:
Carve in wood; work in metals; do cabinet work.
When I was in kindergarten, our teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up and wrote down the answers, which I still have in a scrapbook. The girls mostly said mommy. One aspired to be a teenager. Another wanted to be a cheerleader. I wanted to be an artist. Admirable from a gender equality perspective, but delusional. To check whether I was underestimating myself, I tried to draw a dog. This is, I swear, my best effort:
I can do some of these things! This, for example:
#4. Must be able to float, swim, dive and undress in water.
(Okay, I’ve never actually tried the undressing part, but I bet I could do it if I could find a pool that allowed this kind of shenanigans.)
Others posed more of a challenge.
#3. Understand the rules of basket ball, volley ball, long ball, tether ball, and captain ball.
I’m solid on basket ball, volley ball, and tether ball. Long ball turns out to be a simplified form of cricket. But I got totally muddled up trying to master the rules of captain ball.
Captain Ball diagram, funandgames.org
(There’s no picture of this badge, but it’s a silver star, they tell us.)
Must complete one year of regular attendance.
So participation trophies aren’t just a millennial thing! Not in the cards for me, though.
#1. Must pass an examination equal to that required to obtain a permit or license to operate an automobile in her community.
I live in Cape Town, and I’ll be able to convert my U.S. license to a South African one without taking a test once my South African ID comes through. Just as well, because I took a practice test and got 4 out of 10. In my defense, the questions were like this:
Since I never, ever park anywhere near a bridge or abandon my car on a rural road for even one minute, I’m not too worried. But I’m not getting a badge either.
To obtain a merit badge for aviation, a Scout must:
Have a knowledge of the theory of the aeroplane, helicopter,*** and ornithopter, and of the spherical and dirigible balloon.
Have made a working model of any type of heavier than air machine, that will fly at least twenty-five yards; and have built a box kite that will fly…
To secure this badge, a Scout must: #1. Give list of 50 well-known wild birds of the United States. #2. State game bird laws of her state. #3. Give list of 50 wild birds personally observed and identified in the open… #5. Name 10 birds that destroy rats and mice…. #8. Tell what the Audubon Society is and how it endeavors to conserve the birds of beautiful plumage. #9. What an aigret is, how obtained, and from what bird.
I can answer #9! It’s a long, colorful feather, usually from an egret, used for adorning a hat. (Thank you, Google!) You presumably obtain it from plucking it out, which the Audubon folks might take a dim view of. (UPDATE 11/5/2019: For the horrifying truth about aigret feathers, see the comment from Witness2Fashion below.)
Chapeau à Aigrette, Maison Lewis, 1911
#1. Be able to tie six knots. #2. Be able to row, pole, scull, or steer a boat. #3. Land a boat and make fast. #4. State directions by sun and stars. #5. Swim 50 yards with clothes and shoes on. #6. Box the compass and have a knowledge of tides.
I lived on a lake when I was growing up and we used to putter around in canoes, rowboats, and small sailboats, so I’m pretty confident of my ability to do most of these things. And I bet that, if I tried, I could swim 50 yards with clothes and shoes on, although can’t I can just take them off like in the Athletics badge? Boxing the compass sounded daunting but turns out just to mean reciting the 32 points and quarter points on a compass, North by Northwest and the like.
How Girls Can Help Their Country
Telling direction by the stars, though? Especially in the southern hemisphere, with no Little Bear to guide me?
How Girls Can Help Their Country
#1. Take care of a child for two hours a day for a month, or care for a baby for one hour a day for a month.
#1. Must have legible handwriting;
ability to typewrite;
a knowledge of spelling and punctuation;
You can judge for yourself, but I’m giving myself this one.
a library hand;
Wait! What’s a library hand?
It turns out to be a special kind of handwriting taught in library school to make card catalog entries legible. It looks like this:
A Library Primer, John Cotton Dana, Chicago Library Bureau, 1899
Here is my library hand:
Not great, but not terrible. I’m on the edge here. But it’s a moot point because of
#4. Keep complete account of personal receipts and expenditure for six months.
I majored in government in college, and I worked for the government for 28 years. Feeling good about this one!
#1. Be able to recite the preamble to the Constitution.
I knuckled down and memorized it in fifteen minutes. Check!
#2. Be able to state the chief requirements of a voter, in her state, territory, or district.
I looked at the West Virginia state website and nailed down some details I was wobbly on, like how long you have to have lived in the state to vote (30 days). Check!
#3. Be able to outline the principal points in the naturalization laws in the United States.
I was a consular officer at one point, so it was my job to know this. Check!
#4. Know how a president is elected and installed in office, also method of electing vice-president, senators, representatives, giving the term of office and salary of each.
President Woodrow Wilson addressing a joint session of Congress, April 2, 1917 (AP)
Solid on this except some of the salaries. I knew the president’s ($400,000) and looked up the vice president’s ($235,100) and senators’ and representatives’ ($174,000).**** Check!
But then I got to:
#5. Be able to name the officers of the President’s Cabinet and their portfolios.
Maybe this will be it. I cook every day! Okay, every day that we don’t eat out or get takeout or have leftovers. Okay, once a week.
#1: Know how to wash up, wait on table, light a fire, lay a table for four, and hand dishes correctly at table.
Me, Christmas 2015
#2: Clean and dress fowl.
#1. How to make gruel, barley water, milk toast, oyster or clam soup, beef tea, chicken jelly, and kumyss.
In case you’re wondering, kumyss, or kumis, is fermented mare’s milk. It’s an important part of the diet of the people of the Central Asian Steppes. Whom I don’t anticipate ever having to cook for when they’re sick.
#1. Own a bicycle.
Check! (Okay, it doesn’t get out a lot.)
#3. Pledge herself to give the service of her bicycle to the government in case of need.
I’m on board with this, although I doubt South Africa will ever need this particular bicycle.
#4. If she ceases to own a bicycle, she must return the badge.
Harsh! Having some kid steal your bike is bad enough without having to turn in your badge like a disgraced FBI agent. But I think I can hold on to mine, and if I don’t I have another one in D.C.
Unfortunately, there’s also
#2. Be able to mend a tire.
#1. Know how to test cow’s milk with Babcock test.
Hoard’s Dairyman, 1904
Oh well, this badge is a little too Bolshiviki to be walking around with in 1919 anyway.
(No picture of this one either, but it’s lightening. (UPDATE 10/21/2019: I mean lightning! So much for spelling and punctuation.))
#1. Illustrate the experiment by which the laws of electrical attraction and repulsion are shown. #2. Understand the difference between a direct and an alternating current, and show uses to which each is adapted. Give a method of determining which kind flows in a given circuit. #3. Make a simple electro-magnet.
Etc., etc., etc.
An Elementary Book on Electricity and Magnetism and Their Applications, 1919.
Here in Cape Town, we’re experience “load shedding,” a euphemism for power cuts, and I’m sitting here in the dark. I wish some Girl Scout would come along and straighten out the whole mess. It’s not going to be me, though.
#1. Incubating chickens, feeding and rearing chickens under hens.
There’s lots more, knowledge of bees and curing hams and the like. The only one I got was
#2. Storing eggs.
#1. Participate in the home and school garden work of her community. #2. Plan, make and care for either a back-yard garden, or a window garden for one season.
Here’s my back-yard garden:
I have a good excuse for this. Cape Town was under severe water restrictions during last year’s drought, so I let my garden die. But they don’t give badges for good excuses.
So here I am, halfway through and no closer to earning a badge than I was at the beginning.
How Girls Can Help Their Country
My quest has left me full of admiration for those model airplane-flying, milk-testing, bird-identifying, chicken jelly-making, electricity-explaining 1919 Girl Scouts. And for Juliette Gordon Low, who, for all her talk about “hussifs,” didn’t dumb down these badges for the girls. But will I ever be able to earn one? I’m beginning to despair.
But then that old Girl Scout spirit kicks in. I turn for inspiration to the words of our founder and find…well, this:
But also this:
Which turns out to be mostly about the joyful exercise of vigorous outdoor games, but good enough.
*Unfortunately I have no photos of myself as a Girl Scout. My dad was an excellent photographer, but he wasn’t into candid shots. Anyone looking through our family scrapbooks would get the impression that I spent my entire childhood sitting in a wicker chair outdoors in darling outfits.
Me, ca. 1967
**Like I said: really into it. Although, in my defense, Girl Scouts is, or at least was back then, a bit of a JGL personality cult.