How Girls Can Help Their Country

The first Girl Scout Handbook, 1916

Want to learn how to tell time by the stars (page 83)? Ever wonder how to use signal flags in sending Morse code (page 78)?  Then this book is the right one for you. A facsimile of this first handbook is on exhibit in the Georgia Archives Month display at the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta Service Center. On page 131 you can even learn how to stop a runaway horse.

Girl Guides were created in England by Agnes Baden-Powell, after six thousand girls joined the Boy Scouts organization created by her brother, Sir Robert Baden-Powell. Juliette Low was a close friend of this family, and in March 1912 organized the first American group of Girl Guides in Savannah, Georgia. In 1913, the name was changed to Girl Scouts because the object of the organization was to promote the ten Boy Scout Laws: Truth, Loyalty, Helpfulness, Friendliness, Courtesy, Kindness, Obedience, Cheerfulness, Purity, and Thrift.

The training of Girl Scouts is set forth in the Handbook, written by the Baden-Powells. Juliette Low obtained the rights of their book and, with the help of committees and experts from all parts of America, adapted it to the use of the Girl Scouts of the United States. Although some of the text is dated, there is still material that is helpful today. On page 122, she instructs the Girl Scouts:

“While searching a burning house tie a wet handkerchief over the nose and mouth. Remember that within six inches of the floor there is no smoke; when you have difficulty in breathing, crawl along the floor with the head low, dragging any one you have rescued behind you. Tie the insensible person’s hands together and put them over your head. You can then crawl along the floor dragging the rescued person with you.”

Some of the Merit badges in the Handbook include skills that you might expect a girl of the time to learn: art appreciation, cooking, or learning about music and nature. However, there were also Merit badges that included Automobiling, Boatswain (seamanship), Electricity, Marksmanship, and Photography. Here are the requirements for the Electricity Merit Badge:


Electricity Merit Badge, 1916

  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.
  4. Have an elementary knowledge of the construction of simple battery cells, and of the working of electric bells and telephones.
  5. Be able to replace fuses and to properly splice, solder, and tape rubber-covered wires.
  6. Demonstrate how to rescue a person in contact with a live electrical wire, and have a knowledge of the method of resuscitation of a person insensible from shock.

The text of the book is currently available online via Project Gutenburg, and a copy of the original edition has been scanned and available via Google Books. You can purchase inexpensive facsimiles of the book through the gift shops of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace and the Girl Scouts First Headquarters in Savannah, Georgia. It is a fascinating read, and well worth the investment.

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Posted on October 21, 2010, in Badges, Georgia Archives Month and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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