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Few people know that Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low (1860-1927), the founder of Girl Scouts in the U.S., had ties to Chicago. Her maternal great-grandfather was John Kinzie, the first permanent white settler in Chicago; and her grandfather, John H. Kinzie, was the second president of the Town of Chicago. Juliette Low herself briefly lived in Chicago at the end of the Civil War in 1865 before returning to her hometown in Savannah, Ga. She started the American Girl Scouts movement in 1912 and visited Chicago in 1914 to promote the growth of Girl Scouting.
A few years later, in 1918, Miss Miriam Heermans of 2514 Marcy Ave., director of religious education at the First Congregational Church, formed Troop 1, the first permanent Evanston Girl Scout troop. She led two troops: one for grammar school girls and one for high school girls. Their activities included working on badges, hiking in Harms Woods and camping at sites on the Des Plaines River and Lake Geneva. In 1919 the First Baptist Church helped form another troop, which was led by Mrs. Orville Baird.
Girl Scouting was extended to kindergartners in 1984; these new scouts were named Daisies. A current Daisy troop co-leader at Oakton Elementary School, Courtney Lyons, hopes that her daughter, Lucy, will “bridge” to a Brownie (ceremoniously cross a bridge to become a Brownie) this fall. Reflecting on her Daisy experience, Lucy says, “I like when we do science experiments. We’ve made lava lamps, magic milk, and extracted DNA from a banana.” She looks forward to “more field trips, tying knots and camping” when she becomes a Brownie.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Evanston Girl Scouts. Currently, the service unit has over 600 girl members. Through scouting, girls from kindergarten to 12th grade make new friends, discover the outdoors, develop leadership skills and serve their community. Earning badges, taking field trips and participating in service projects help provide girls the opportunity to pursue such varied activities as robotics, fashion design and organic farming.
For its centennial anniversary celebration, the Evanston Girl Scouts built a special float for the July 4th parade, are working on a commemorative mural at the Lake Street viaduct and will host a celebration at the end of September.
Evanston Girls Scouts have marched in the July 4th parade since 1980. It was not until 1989 that the newly formed Girl Scout club at Evanston Township High School, G-Force, together with Sam Sibley, Eva Sue Schwinge and Dorothy Sacks, built a float for the parade. That began a trend, and the Girl Scouts have had a float in the parade ever since.
This year’s float featured Daisies seated in front of four life-size figures representing the levels of Girl Scouts: Daisy, Brownie, Junior, and Cadette/Senior/Ambassador. They sang along with a CD playing the song “Make New Friends.” A giant Juliette Low puppet walked along with two girls, each maneuvering a hand while the puppet weaved from one side of the curb to another. Bystanders gave her high fives. At the judges’ stand, the walkers did a human wave before twisting out of the Friendship Circle – a Girl Scout tradition that signifies the unbroken chain of friendship among Girl Scouts and Girl Guides around the world.
Sitting in the parade truck was a former Girl Scout, Mary Harroun, the mother of Troop Leader Susan Felts and grandmother of Emily, a Cadette and an eighth-grader at Nichols Middle School. Ms. Harroun became a Brownie in 1952, when she was in second grade.
Ms. Harroun said she is pleased that Girl Scouts continue to embrace STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities and programming. “The Girl Scouts are jumping on board to go with the times.” She went on to start Merry Walker, a durable medical equipment company. Ms. Harroun attributes her independence, survival skills, entre-preneurial ability and spirit to her time in scouting. “We can do whatever we want in our lives, and go into any field of endeavor we want.”
Ms. Harron noted, “Prior to 1935, there were no [commercially baked] cookie sales. Girl Scouts were given recipes, and they made and sold their own cookies.”
ETHS troop leader Sheila Carothers has orchestrated the Girl Scouts float and march for the past five years. Her daughter, Lauren, says that her Girl Scout experience “opened [her] world to something new.” Ms. Schwinge, now 81, still leads troops at the Epworth United Methodist Church in Uptown Chicago. The troops started as a Wilmette troop’s Silver Award project 32 years ago. “It is probably the longest running Silver Award Project,” she surmised.
Many Evanston Girl Scouts have earned the Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards over the years. The Gold Award is the highest award in Girl Scouting. Before 1980 the Gold Award had previously been known as the Golden Eaglet, Curved Bar and First Class. No matter the name, it allowed girls to undertake projects that make sustainable positive impact in their community or world.
Ms. Felts organized the Lake Street mural project. Under Art Encounter’s Evanston Mural Arts Program, Cheri Charlton designed the mural, incorporating many themes pertinent to Girl Scouts, such as campfires, badge activities and cookie sales. The design, most importantly, emphasized the friendship formed among girls of all levels and diverse backgrounds. She quoted Juliette Low as saying, “Truly, ours is a circle of friendships, unified by our ideals.”
Meanwhile, planning is under way for the anniversary celebration to take place from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 30 at the Holiday Inn at 1501 Sherman Ave. Mayor Stephen Hagerty will deliver a proclamation in honor of Evanston Girl Scouts at 3 p.m. Attendees can record an oral history, take a commemorative photo and make a craft. A slideshow covering the history of Evanston Girl Scouts will be shown. Anyone with historical photos, and any former Evanston Girl Scout can email firstname.lastname@example.org for an invitation to the celebration.
Juliette Low herself showed incredible resilience throughout her life, enduring physical and emotional hardships, from deafness to ovarian abscesses, divorce and breast cancer. Still, she did not let these challenges define her life, instead focusing her life’s work on bringing together girls of different social classes, cultures, ethnicities and abilities in the same troop which was an unconventional idea in 1910s Georgia. Now, Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low is remembered as someone who helped make the world a better place. Her Girl Scout spirit lives on in Evanston today.