Tag Archives: Girl Scouts

10 books, articles, and PhDs about the world of 100 years ago that are just sitting there

People sometimes complain that the world of a hundred years ago is so picked over that there’s nothing left to write about.* After spending a year reading as if I were living in that period, though, I can tell you that there’s a treasure trove of subjects just waiting to be turned into books, articles, dissertations, or academic projects. Here are ten topics that I’m mystified that no one has gotten to yet.**

1. Archiving Erté’s Harper’s Bazar covers

Over the (yikes!) almost four years of this project, I have spent many happy hours finding online copies of Harper’s Bazar covers by Erté, the legendary art deco artist, designer, and crossword puzzle clue stalwart who worked as the magazine’s regular cover artist from 1915 to 1936. I included him in my Thanksgiving lists of 10 1918 People I’m Thankful For and Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For.***

But I have also spent many unhappy hours searching for Erté covers in vain. HathiTrust, the Google Books online archive, is missing some issues from 1918 and doesn’t have any at all for 1919 (or from 1923 to 1929, but I’ll worry about that in the future). I’ve found images for some, but not all, of these covers elsewhere, often on Pinterest, which is the source of most of my magazine cover images anyway. Those images that do exist aren’t at the level of quality that these important cultural artifacts deserve.

Roman Petrovich Tyrtov (Erté)
Roman Petrovich Tyrtov (Erté), date unknown

Someone needs to make high-quality digital scans of the full collection and archive them online**** before the original covers deteriorate any further. (Maybe Harper’s Bazaar—the extra A was added in 1930—has done this, but, if so, the archive isn’t available online, as Vogue’s is.) A book or scholarly article about the covers would be good, too. Get on this, digital humanities people!

2. A biography of cartoonist Percy Crosby

Rookie from the 13th Squad cartoon, Percy Crosby
From The Rookie from the 13th Squad, 1918

One of the most intriguing people I’ve written about for this blog is Percy Crosby, who penned the cartoon The Rookie from the 13th Squad. The hapless but ultimately stouthearted Rookie was the Sad Sack of World War I. Crosby, who received a Purple Heart after being hit in the eye with shrapnel, went on to create the popular cartoon Skippy, which the Charles Schulz website cites as an influence for Peanuts. He also, I kid you not, won the silver medal in the 1932 watercolors and drawing event in the 1932 Olympics.

Percy Crosby, date unknown

Crosby’s personal life was troubled, though. He ran with a hard-drinking crowd that included Jerome Kern, Ring Lardner, John Barrymore, and Heywood Broun. Following a violent episode, his wife divorced him and got a restraining order, and he never saw her or their four children again. He began taking out two-page ads in major newspapers, espousing left-wing views and taking on targets like the FBI, the IRS, and Al Capone. After a 1948 suicide attempt, he was confined to a mental hospital and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. One of the purported symptoms of his paranoia was his endless ranting about how Skippy Peanut Butter had violated the trademark on his character’s name. Now, I’m no intellectual property rights lawyer, but that doesn’t sound all that paranoid to me. Crosby himself believed that his left-wing views contributed to his prolonged confinement. He died in the mental hospital in 1964.

A biography of Crosby was published in 1978, but his life, and his long confinement, deserve a closer look.

3. Girl Scout badges through the ages

Cover of How Girls Can Help Their Country, Girl Scout handbook 1916

What gives you a better sense of what was expected of girls in a given era than its Girl Scout badges? Well, lots of things, probably, given that the 1920 edition of Scouting for Girls included badges for telegraphy (“send 22 words per minute using a sounder and American Morse Code”), bee keeping (“have a practical knowledge of bee keeping and assist in hiving a swarm…”), and rock tapping (“collect two or three scratched or glaciated pebbles or cobblestones in the drift”). But, as I discovered during my quest to earn a 1919 Girl Scout badge,***** Girl Scout badges do provide an interesting window into the era. I learned all about caring for sick relatives and found out what a cruel practice plucking egret feathers for women’s hats is.

Pictures of girl scout uniforms, 1960s.
Junior Girl Scout Handbook, 1960s

My own Girl Scout book was written closer to 1920 than to today (it had been around a while, but still!). There are some cool badges in that book, like Observer, where you learn about constellations and rock formations and make a conservation exhibit. Others, like Indian Lore and Gypsy, wouldn’t pass muster today.

The current badges look kind of trippy and feature topics like cybersecurity, coding, entrepreneurship, and preparing for STEM jobs. That all sounds way too stressful and careerist for me. Personally, I’d rather learn telegraphy.

Well, I’d better stop before I end up writing the book myself.

4. Did Daisy Ashford really write The Young Visiters?

Daisy Ashford, frontispiece, The Young Visiters (1919)

The Young Visiters, nine-year-old Daisy Ashford’s unintentionally hilarious account of sometimes unsavory high-society goings-on, became a runaway bestseller following its 1919 publication. The manuscript, written in 1890 or so, was discovered by the adult Daisy and circulated among her friends until it reached novelist and publisher’s reader Frank Swinnerton, who arranged for its publication, with an introduction by L. Frank Baum.

Or so the story goes. Some reviewers at the time were skeptical, and there was speculation that Baum himself was the author. When Ashford died in 1972 at the age of 90, her obituary in the New York Times mentioned the doubts about her authorship.

Here is the opening paragraph. You decide for yourself whether you buy it as the work of a preteen or if, like me, you’re with the skeptics.

Except you don’t have to leave it at that! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can figure  out the authorship for yourself. In recent years, researchers have used computer software that analyzes similarities between texts to discover new sources for Shakespeare’s plays and help unmask J.K. Rowling as the author of the mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I wonder what a comparison between The Young Visiters and the works of L. Frank Baum (or maybe Frank Swinnerton) would reveal. Go for it!******

5. The Crisis Press, The Brownies’ Book, and Jessie Redmon Fauset

The life and work of W.E.B. Du Bois is not exactly lost to history. To cite only one recent example of his place in the culture, the novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois was an Oprah book club pick and was long-listed for this year’s National Book Award. The Crisis, the NAACP magazine that he edited, is rightly celebrated as a groundbreaking publication for and about African-Americans. Less well-known are the side projects of the magazine’s publishing company, including books like Hazel, by Ruth White Ovington, the first children’s book to figure an African-American protagonist, and The Brownies’ Book, an all-too-short-lived magazine “designed for all children, but especially for ours.” Recent high school graduate Langston Hughes published his first poems in the magazine. There have been a number of academic articles about The Brownies’ Book, as well as a 1996 anthology, but the magazine and the Crisis Publication Company’s other ventures deserve to be better known today.

Jessie Redmon Fauset
Jessie Redmon Fauset, date unknown

While you’re at it, how about a biography of The Brownies’ Book managing editor Jessie Redmon Fauset, who was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance?

6. Women Illustrators of the 1920s

Career opportunities for talented women in the 1920s were limited, but magazine illustration was one field where women could, and did, succeed. Their work and their lives are worth revisiting.

Why did Helen Dryden, once the highest-paid woman artist in the United States, end up living in a welfare hotel?

Helen Dryden, July 1, 1921

How did Gordon Conway make it to the top of her profession without taking a single art class?

Gordon Conway, January 1918

Why did talented illustrator Rita Senger disappear from the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1919? (Well, I told you all about that here.)

Rita Senger Vanity Fair cover, April 1918, Pierrot holding unconscious woman.
Rita Senger, April 1918

As for Neysa McMein, suffragist, Saturday Evening Post illustrator, best friend of Dorothy Parker, lover of Charlie Chaplin, Ring Lardner, Robert Benchley, and others, I just want to spend a winter afternoon reading a gossipy account of her life.

Saturday Evening Post Neysa McMein cover, 1916, woman wearing hat.
Nisa McMein, May 13, 1916

And there are lots more! Edna Crompton!

Metropolitan cover, September 1920, Edna Crompton, woman serving at tennis.
Edna Crompton, September 1920

Harriet Meserole!

Vogue cover, March 15, 1920, Harriet Meserole.
Harriet Meserole, March 15, 1920

Anne Harriet Fish!

Anne Harriet Fish Vanity Fair cover, March 1920, couples dancing.
Anne Harriet Fish

More on these amazing women, please!

7. The Life of James Hall

James Hall in the Lafayette Escadrille, 1917
James Hall in the Lafayette Escadrille, 1917

In May 2018, I read a May 1918 New York Times article about the apparent death of popular aviator Jimmy Hall, who had been shot down behind enemy lines. I decided to Google him to see if by any chance he had survived. But James Hall is a common name, and I kept getting articles about the co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty. Eventually I realized that the courageous aviator and the successful writer were…one and the same!

First edition, 1932

Hall, it turned out, had been captured by the Germans. After the war, he moved to Tahiti, where he and co-author Charles Nordhoff penned Mutiny on the Bounty and other best-sellers.******* His wife was partly of Polynesian descent. Their son, cinematographer Conrad Hall, won three Oscars, including one for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Amazingly, no one seems to have written a biography of this fascinating man. If I haven’t done enough to persuade you to take on this project, it would definitely require a trip to Tahiti, where his modest house is now a museum.

8. Edna Ferber biography and revival

Edna Ferber, date unknown (State Historical Society of Wisconsin Visual Archives)

Edna Ferber checks a number of boxes to spark contemporary interest: she took on racism and sexism in her novels and short stories, and she may have been a lesbian. On top of that, she was a wonderful writer, at least judging from the early novel and short stories that I’ve read, featuring the dreams, disappointments, and, very occasionally, triumphs of department store saleswomen and accountants and stenographers. Ferber was a regular at the Algonquin Round Table, which would make for entertaining research.********

Man talking to woman at store counter, Roast Beef Medium by Edna Ferber
Illustration by James Montgomery Flagg from Roast Beef, Medium, by Edna Ferber (1913)

Harper Perennial Classics has reissued some of Ferber’s novels, which is a good start, but she’s due the kind of revival that Tim Page sparked for novelist Dawn Powell a few decades back when he published her diaries, her letters, and a biography. Any volunteers?

9. The Illustrators of New Rochelle, New York

Coles Phillips in his New Rochelle Studio, ca. 1921 (saturdayeveningpost.org)

High on the list of nonexistent books I’m longing to read is a group biography of Norman Rockwell, Coles Phillips, the Leyendecker brothers, and the other illustrators who turned suburban New Rochelle, New York, into one of the country’s most important artists’ colonies. If you can believe Wikipedia, New Rochelle was the source of more than half of the illustrations in major publications in the early 1920s.

I want SO much to read about J.C. Leyendecker’s romantic relationship with the model for his Arrow shirt ads

J.C. Leyendecker (vogue.com)

and about his brother Frank’s short life and tragic death.

Frank Leyendecker, June 1915

I want to read about Coles Phillips’ apparently happy marriage (one of all too few I’ve read about in the period) to his wife Teresa, who served as his primary model, “making up in keen interest and endurance what I lacked in pulchritude,” as she wrote in the Saturday Evening Post after his death in 1927 at the age of 46.

Coles Phillips, October 1916

I want to read about Normal Rockwell’s…well, I can’t think of anything I want to read about Norman Rockwell. But, if you write it, I’ll read it!

Norman Rockwell cover, Saturday Evening Post, February 7, 1920
Norman Rockwell, February 7, 1920

10. This one’s for me!

By now, you may be wondering why I’m asking the rest of the world to do all of these projects and not saving any for myself. Well, don’t worry—I’ve set aside a project, or two, or three. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to finish, or, um, start them, but I look forward to telling you more when I can.

In the meantime, get to work, everyone!

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*Actually, this is mostly an amateur opinion. The academics I know who are working on this period have more than enough to keep them busy.

**That I know if. If I’m wrong, please let me know!

***I’ve noticed recently that some of my old posts have gone all Alice in Wonderland on me, with small photos suddenly huge, like this squiggle from the Thanksgiving 2019 post.

I’ll get with WordPress to see what this is about and in the meantime am resizing the giant photos as I come across them.

****Or at least the covers (currently up to 1925) that are out of copyright.

*****Actually, a 1916 Girl Scout badge. My logic in using 1919 in the title was that this was the Girl Scout book being used 100 years ago at the time of the post. If I had known that this would go on to be by far my most popular post, read by many people who didn’t have a clue about my 100 years ago project, I would have used the 1916 in the blog post title.

******Go for it yourself, you might reasonably say. I tried once, with some different texts, and it’s kind of hard.

*******Speaking of fake child authors, Hall confessed in 1946 that he had written the critically acclaimed 1940 poetry collection Oh Millersville!, supposedly the work of a 10-year-old girl named Fern Gravel.

 ********That’s Ferber on the bottom right corner, looking like she’s wearing a skeleton mask, in the Al Hirschfeld cartoon of Algonquin Round Table members. I can’t post it here because it’s still under copyright.

The Top 10 Posts of 1919…and a new name for a new decade

Happy New Year, everyone!

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.

Vanity Fair cover, January 1920, cartoon of people driving cars.

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.*

The Crisis cover, January 1920, woman wearing turban.

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.

#7 (tie). Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For

Coles Phillips Vogue cover, woman with hat,

I had a great time learning about the lives and art of these illustrators. My favorite discovery was Coles Phillips, who pioneered the Fadeaway Girl technique.***

#7 (tie). Can you beat me at this 1919 intelligence test? Probably!

Number chart for intelligence test, American Magazine, 1919.

Last year, I took a vocabulary-based intelligence test from 1918 and did pretty well. This year, I took a series of intelligence tests from 1919 and, well, the title says it all.

#7 (tie). My Perfect 1919 Summer Morning

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.

#7 (tie). Nobel Prize Laureate Selma Lagerlöf: A Swedish storyteller whose own story couldn’t be told

Posed photograph of Selma Lagerlof leaning against Sophie Elkan.

While spending a month in Sweden, I looked into the life of the first woman Nobel Prize laureate in literature and found lots of romantic intrigue.

#6. Princeton interlude: Orange and black is the new black

Princeton students in beer suits, ca. 1926.

In which I go to my Princeton grad school reunion and take on a burning question: What’s with those goofy jackets?

#5. And the best novel of 1918 is…

Good news—clickbait works! So I won’t tell you what it is here either. Hint: it’s based on the real-life woman pictured with her family in this photograph.

#4. My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge, Part 2

I have had a huge amount of fun doing this blog. The intelligence tests! The quizzes on What’s Your 1918 Girl Job? and Did College Shrink Your Breasts?! The search for 1918 love! But setting out to earn badges from the 1916 Girl Scout handbook was the most fun of all. In this second round, I polished silver and translated Proust and played the recorder and…well, read for yourself!

#3. Children’s Books: Your 1919 Holiday Shopping Guide

Man shooting duck, illustration by Boyd Smith, Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.

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.

#2. April 1919 Ladies’ Home Journal Ads: A Riot of Color for Spring

1919 Uneeda Biscuit ad with slogan Peace and Plenty, illustration of cornucopia.

The popularity of this post taught me this lesson: “People don’t care what you write, just put up a bunch of cool pictures and they’ll be happy.”

#1. My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge

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!

Honorable Mentions:

Downtown Provo

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.

Celebrating 100 Posts: 2017 Me Interviews 2019 Me about My Year in 1918: There’s no particular reason to give this post an honorable mention except that I like it, it wasn’t far out of tied-for-tenth place, and it’s a good introduction to the blog if you’re just discovering it now.

Dishonorable Mention

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.

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*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.

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New on the Book List:

I have been very lazy about updates. I’ve recently added mini-reviews for the latest (and last) entries for 2019:

The Girl from the Marsh Croft, by Selma Lagerlöf (1908; translated 1910)
Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1916)
Pictures of the Floating World, by Amy Lowell (1919)

My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge, Part 2

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.

How Girls Can Help Their Country, Girl Scout handbook, cover, 1916.

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:

Passage from 1916 Girl Scout handbook about disgraced scouts becoming "dead scouts."

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.

  1. PERSONAL HEALTH

Personal Health Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed dumbbells).

I nailed a few of the requirements, like

#3. Walk a mile a day for three months

Mary Grace McGeehan walking at Gamla Uppsala, Sweden, 1916.

Me, Gamla Uppsala, Sweden, 2016

and

#5. Take a bath daily for a year, or sponge bath.

Williams' talc powder ad, woman sitting by tub with maid, 1919.

Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1919.

(Well, a shower.)

Unfortunately, there’s also

#1. Eat no sweets, candy, or cake between meals for three months

and

#2. Drink nothing but water, chocolate, or cocoa for a year.

I love cocoa at least as much as the next person,

Cup of cocoa on table.

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!

FAIL.

  1. PUBLIC HEALTH

Public Health Girl Scout badge, 1916 (seal with stars and stripes from U.S. flag).

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

Map of Cape Town waste disposal infrastructure.

iwmsa.co.za

and here is a photo of one of the landfills, which could be titled “Cape Town: Where Even the City Dump is Photogenic.”

Photograph of Cape Town landfill site with Table Mountain in the background.

iwmsa.co.za

So I’ve learned where my trash goes, which is a good thing to know, but

FAIL.

  1. HORSEMANSHIP

Horsemanship Girl Scout badge, 1916 (spur).

#1. Demonstrating riding at a walk, trot and gallop.

Cosmopolitan cover, April 1919, young woman with horse.

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.

FAIL.

  1. HOME-NURSING

Home Nursing Girl Scout badge, 1916 (cross).

#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.**

Recipe for kumyss (sour milk) in Girl Scout book, 1916.

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.

Bottle of amazi (sour milk).

Pick ‘n Pay

I’ve got this one, though:

#3. Know how to take temperature; how to count pulse and respirations.

FAIL.

  1. HOUSEKEEPER

Housekeeper Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed keys).

#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.

Before:

Tarnished silver fork.

After:

Silver fork.

(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!”

Bozart Rugs ad, 1918, bedroom with colorful rug and furnishings.

Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1918

So I have clean silver, but

FAIL.

  1. INTERPRETER

Interpreter Girl Scout badge, 1916 (shaking hands).

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.

Mary Grace McGeehan at Angkor Wat, 1996.

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!”

Check!

#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.

Check!

#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.

Cover of A L'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, Marcel Proust.

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.”

Handwritten translation of first page of A L'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs by Marcel Proust.

Check!

SUCCESS.

Well, that was anticlimactic. Let’s try it again, in library hand.

Handwritten word Success! with squiggles.

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!

  1. LAUNDRESS

Laundress Girl Scout badge, 1916 (iron).

#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:

Women in matching coats and skirts, Simpson's Catalogue, 1918.

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.

Before:

Wrinkled Lao blouse and skirt on bed.

After:

Mary Grace McGeehan in traditional Lao skirt and blouse.

Check!

#3. Know how to use soap and starch, how to soften hard water, and how to use a wringer or mangle.

FAIL.

  1. MARKSMANSHIP

Marksmanship Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed rifles).

#2. Know how to load pistol, how to fire and aim or use it.

Let’s just skip this one, okay?

  1. MUSIC

Musician Girl Scout badge, 1916 (lyre).

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.

How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree) sheet music, 1919.

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.****

Check! 

#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.

Check!

#3. Be able to name all of the instruments in the orchestra in their proper order.

Children with string instruments, 1920.

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.

  • Flute
  • Oboe
  • Clarinet
  • Bassoon
  • Horns
  • Trumpets
  • Trombones
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Percussion
  • Harp and/or Keyboards
  • Soloists or Choir
  • Violin I
  • Violin II
  • Viola
  • Cello
  • Contrabass

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.

Check!

Handwritten Success! surrounded by squiggles.

  1. NATURALIST

Naturalist Girl Scout badge, 1916 (flower).

#1. Make a collection of sixty species of wild flowers, ferns and grasses, and correctly name them.

Or,

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.”

Sketches of wildflowers from Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town.

#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:

Photograph of pigeon on street.

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

Rhinos in Kruger Park, South Africa.

Bird in Kruger Park, South Africa.

Impalas in Kruger Park, South Africa.

Elephant in Kruger Park, South Africa.

Zebras and giraffe, Kruger Park, South Africa.

Kunene region, Namibia, 2013

Elephants in front of rocky hill, Kunene region, Namibia.

Antelope in front of hills, Kunene Region, Namibia.

Giraffe in front of hills, Kunene Region, Namibia.

Boulders Beach, Cape Town, 2018

Penguins at Boulders Beach, Cape Town.

Close-up of penguin at Boulders Beach, Cape Town.

Penguins in distance in front of ocean, Boulders Beach, Cape Town.

Penguins at Boulders Beach, Cape Town.

Handwritten Success! surrounded by squiggle.

Two in a row! I’m on a roll!

  1. NEEDLEWOMAN

Needlewoman Girl Scout badge, 1916 (scissors).

#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:

Mary Grace McGeehan in homemade dress, 1983.

Me, 1983

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:

Mary Grace McGeehan in dress with knit scarf, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 2012.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 2012

#3. Produce satisfactory examples of darning and patching.

Closeup of portion of striped shirt with inexpert darning.

“Satisfactory” is pushing it. I think I’ll skip the patching. Luckily, we have Witness 2 Fashion to fill the seamstress/historian niche.

FAIL.

  1. PATHFINDER

Pathfinder Girl Scout badge, 1916 (pointing finger).

#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.

Photograph of policeman at call box, Washington, D.C., 1910s.

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.

Check!

#4. Know the distance to four neighboring towns and how to get to these towns.

Map of Western Cape, South Africa.

Google Maps

  1. Stellenbosch: 45 km via the N2 and R310.
  2. Hermanus: 115 km via the N2 and R43.
  3. Paarl: 60 km via the N1.
  4. Worcester: 115 km via the N1.

Check!

#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:

List of high schools in Cape Town's Metro Central district from Wikipedia.

Wikipedia

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.

Cape Town Cenotaph with wreaths, November 11, 2018.

FAIL.

  1. PIONEER

Pioneer Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed pick and axe).

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

Illustrations of knots from 1916 Girl Scout handbook.

and here are my knots:

Six knots in yellow yarn on a table.

Check!

#2. Build a shack suitable for three occupants.

What?

FAIL.

  1. PHOTOGRAPHY

(The badge isn’t illustrated, but they tell us it’s a camera.)

1919 Kodak ad, girls looking at photo album.

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.

FAIL.

  1. SCRIBE

Scribe Girl Scout badge, 1916 (book).

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:  

Writing My City anthology, Cape Town, 2019

Check!

#2. Write a good poem.

A poem, maybe. A good poem? Not going to happen.

FAIL.

  1. SIGNALING

Signaling Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed flags).

#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.

FAIL.

  1. SWIMMER

Swimmer Girl Scout badge, 1916 (life buoy).

#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.

FAIL.

  1. TELEGRAPHY.

Telegraphy Girl Scout badge, 1916 (telegraph pole with wires).

#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,

FAIL.

But I’ve earned three badges, a huge improvement over my previous score of zero. I’m an interpreter, a musician, and a naturalist!

Interpreter Girl Scout badge, 1916 (shaking hands). Musician Girl Scout badge, 1916 (lyre).Naturalist Girl Scout badge, 1916 (flower). 

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?

Drawing of Senior Girl Scout in uniform from Junior Girl Scout Handbook, 1963.

Junior Girl Scout Handbook, 1963

**Along with the wackiest omelet-making method ever:

Text from 1916 Girl Scout handbook about someone dropping eggs on the floor when making omelets but still using them.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

***Blogger in-joke.

****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 Girl Scout keeps herself pure in thought, word, and deed, Girl Scout Law, 1916.

Girl Scout troop, 1916.

My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge

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.*

Pictures of girl scout uniforms, 1960s.

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 in Girl Scout uniform, 1917.

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.

Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell in uniform, ca. 1919.

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?

Selection from 1916 Girl Scout handbook on housewifery.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

Well, let’s see.

  1. AMBULANCE

Ambulance Girl Scout badge, 1916, Maltese cross.

#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:

  1. What to do in case of fire.
  2. How to stop a runaway horse.
Drawing of a person performing resuscitation, 1916.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

FAIL.

  1. ARTIST

Artist Girl Scout badge, 1916, palette with brushes.

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:

FAIL.

  1. ATHLETICS

Athletics Girl Scout badge, 1916, Indian clubs.

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.

Captain Ball diagram, funandgames.org

FAIL.

  1. ATTENDANCE

(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.

FAIL.

  1. AUTOMOBILING

Automobiling Girl Scout badge, 1916, wheel.

#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:

Question from South African practice driver's test, how far from a bridge must you park.

salearners.co.za

and this:

Question on practice South African driver's license test, for how long can you park a car on a rural road?

salearners.co.za

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.

FAIL.

  1. AVIATION

Aviation Girl Scout badge, 1916, monoplane.

To obtain a merit badge for aviation, a Scout must:

  1. Have a knowledge of the theory of the aeroplane, helicopter,*** and ornithopter, and of the spherical and dirigible balloon.
  2. 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…

FAIL.

  1. BIRD STUDY

Bird Study Girl Scout badge, 1916, bird.

 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.)

Woman wearing hat with aigret feather, 1911.

Chapeau à Aigrette, Maison Lewis, 1911

FAIL.

  1. BOATSWAIN

Boatswain Girl Scout badge, 1916, anchor.

#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?

sketch of constellations Little Bear and Great Bear, 1916.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

FAIL.

  1. CHILD-NURSE

Child-Nurse Girl Scout badge, 1916, cross.

#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.

FAIL.

  1. CLERK

Clerk Girl Scout badge, 1916, pen and book.

#1. Must have legible handwriting;

Check!

ability to typewrite;

Screenshot of online typing test, 66 wpm, 99 percent accuracy.

speedytypingonline.com

Check!

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:

Illustration of library hand handwriting.

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.

FAIL.

  1. CIVICS

Civics Girl Scout badge,1916, eight-point star.

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!

Words We the People from the original United States Constitution.

#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.

Like, all of them? Even the ones who are about to resign?

FAIL.

  1. COOK

Cook Girl Scout badge, 1916, gridiron.

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.

Mary Grace McGeehan at Christmas table, 1915.

Me, Christmas 2015

Check!

#2: Clean and dress fowl.

FAIL.

  1. INVALID COOKING

Invalid Cooking Girl Scout badge, 1916, palm leaf.

#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.

FAIL.

  1. CYCLIST

Cyclist Girl Scout badge, 1916, wheel.

#1. Own a bicycle.

A bicycle standing on end in a garage.

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.

FAIL.

  1. DAIRY

Dairy Girl Scout badge, 1916, sickle.

#1. Know how to test cow’s milk with Babcock test.

Advertisement for Babcock milk testing machine, 1904.

Hoard’s Dairyman, 1904

Oh well, this badge is a little too Bolshiviki to be walking around with in 1919 anyway.

FAIL.

  1. ELECTRICITY

(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.

Picture of electromagnet, 1919.

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.

FAIL.

  1. FARMER

Farmer Girl Scout badge, 1916, sun.

What? Not farmerette?

#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.

Eggs in refrigerator.

FAIL.

  1. GARDENING

Gardening Girl Scout badge, 1916, trowel.

#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:

Garden pots with dead plants in them.

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.

FAIL.

So here I am, halfway through and no closer to earning a badge than I was at the beginning.

Girl Scout troop, 1916.

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:

Passage from 1916 Girl Scout handbook urging scouts to build men up.

But also this:

Which turns out to be mostly about the joyful exercise of vigorous outdoor games, but good enough.

I will go on! Stay tuned for Part 2.

In the meantime, you can try for a badge yourself. Drop me a line if you earn one!

*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.

Mary Grace McGeehan in wicker chair, ca. 1967.

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.

***What??? I thought helicopters weren’t invented yet!

****In 1919, the salaries were $75,000 for the president, $15,000 for the vice president, and $7,500 for senators and representatives.