When thinking of Girl Scouts, I am sure that the first thing that comes to mind is “cookies”, but what really should be your first thought is Juliette Gordon Low’s story. She is the founder of Girl Scouts and her story is one of empowerment! Juliette Gordon Low is a person who has left an everlasting legacy and has set an example for generations of girl scouts to follow. Let’s learn about her amazing life!
This article was a sponsored visit by the Board of Tourism of Savannah and the Juliette’s Gordlon Low’s Birth house – nonetheless, as always, all opinions and thoughts are my own. 🙂
The Juliette Gordon Low story
Juliette Gordon Low was born on October 31, 1860, in Savannah, Georgia – as someone who loves Halloween this is such a cool birthday fact Her close friends would refer to her by her affectionate nickname, “Daisy”. Her parents were William Washington Gordon II, and Eleanor “Nellie” Kinzie Gordon, and she had 5 siblings.
Early Life Values that had an Everlasting Impact
Early on in life her parents taught her and her siblings core values such as loyalty, responsibility, and being respectful of others. These core values would later be essential to the creation of the Girl Scouts and would become central traits of the organization as a whole.
Daisy also had a wide variety of interests early on in life such as art, nature, animals, and athleticism. These interests would later prove to be critical principles in Girl Scouts. As can be seen, Juliette Gordon Low’s early life contributed greatly to the critical principles seen in the Girl Scouts today.
Juliette Gordon Low Childhood Education
When Juliette Gordon Low was 12 years old she began attending many different boarding schools in both the north and south. This resulted in her gaining a well-rounded education. Despite being well educated many of Juliett’s letters throughout her life had grammatical and spelling errors leading some historians to believe that she had a learning disability, such as dyslexia.
If this is true, Juliette never slowed down in life because of it. She was a person that persevered through everything that life threw at her. This can also be seen through other events in Juliette Gordon Low’s life story.
Want to learn more about Juliette’s childhood and birthplace? Make sure to visit her open-house!
The Start of Hearing loss
When Juliette was a child and young adult she suffered from many illnesses, such as malaria, meningitis, and chronic ear infections. These resulted in partial hearing loss for the majority of her childhood, which would later be worsened in adulthood. Despite life’s setbacks, this never prevented her from being adventurous and pushing through life’s difficulties.
The Final Straw .. Rice?
When Juliette was 26 in 1886 she married William Low. He was the son of a wealthy British businessman Andrew Low. At their wedding, as a sign of good luck, the wedding guest threw grains of rice at the couple.
This resulted in a grain of rice getting lodged into Juliette’s ear. She had to get surgery to remove the small piece of rice from her ear. Due to the many ear issues she had suffered in childhood coupled with damage from this surgery it resulted in almost total hearing loss for the rest of her life.
The Highs and Lows of Married life
Even though William Low was a native of Savannah, Georgia he lived in England. Therefore the couple moved to England and spent the majority of their married life there. The couple are associated with aristocratic families of Britain. Her life in England was occupied with hunting parties, society dances, and royal court visits.
Though life was busy for Juliette, her married life was filled with many marital problems. During difficult times in her marriage, Juliette would visit the United States often to connect with family and friends.
For both personal and professional reasons, Juliette’s husband often visited London. But then, sadly, he met another woman and fell desperately in love with her, and he began to consider marrying her instead – can you imagine the agony she faced?
Upon his return, eventually, the couple began the process of getting a divorce, but in 1905 William Low suddenly died and the divorce was never finalized. Before dying though, Willian left the majority of his wealth to the new woman who disappeared to make herself a good life, leaving Juliette having to fight for just about anything. So, she was left with the house and some extra, which she later turned into the birthplace of the girl scouts – the lawyer certainly helped to get what was rightfully hers, considering she spent many years with her (ex)-husband.
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A Quest for New Meaning and Purpose
After the death of her husband, the Juliette Gordon Low story takes a turn that would solidify her place in history. In 1912, on a trip to England, Juliette met Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts during lunch. This chance meeting inspired Juliette – not only that, but she had found a good friend in him during her lifetime.
Boy Scout’s England Sister Organization: Girl Guides
Baden-Powell suggested that Juliette work with Girl Guides, which at the time was the sister organization of the Boy Scouts in England. Juliette wasted no time and jumped right in. She even created more Girl Guide groups in England and rural London.
Bringing Girl Guides to America
Wanting to bring Girl Guides to her home in America, she quickly sailed home. When in Savannah, Georgia she wasted no time in establishing the first group of 18 girls which consisted of her relatives and girls from other established families in town.
This group was eventually broken down into smaller groups called patrols that were each named after a flower and met on different days of the week. During these meetings, the girls would learn a variety of skills such as:
- Map Reading
- First Aid
- Knot Tying
When they became proficient in a skill the girls would earn a badge. This was adopted from the British Girl Guides.
Fun Fact: Although she encouraged women and girls to take on greater roles, she avoided associating herself with feminists. Since some parents of teenage girls could be opposed to her cause, Juliette worried that being labeled a feminist might reduce the number of girls she could recruit.
Girl Guide’s Expansion and Name Change
In 1913 Girl’s Guide began expanding to other states which required the organization to form a headquarters in Washington D.C. Eventually in 1916 this Headquarters would move to New York City. Another major change was that the girls decided instead of being called guides, they wished to be called Scouts. The name was therefore changed to Girl Scouts in the United States in 1913.
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World War I
During WWI, the Juliette Gordon Low Story continues on. She found ways for the Girl Scouts to be a part of the war effort. She partnered with the American Red Cross and other US organizations to make this happen. This resulted in the Girl Scouts doing the following during WWI:
- Rolled Bandages
- Planted Gardens
- Sold War Bonds
Getting Back to their Roots and Expanding
In 1918, after the war, Juliette continued her work with the Girl Scouts and dedicated her time to reviving their connection with Girl Guides.
Eventually, this led to the expansion of the organization internationally with Juliette being the American representative on the international committee. They expanded to the following countries across the Globe:
- South Africa
- New Zealand
In 1919 Juliette was awarded the organization’s highest honor, Silver Fish. The following year in 1920 Low stepped down as the President of the Girl Scouts of America and focused her efforts on expanding the organization internationally.
Eventually, Juliette was diagnosed with breast cancer. After various surgeries and treatments, she succumbed to her disease on January 17, 1927. Despite spending years sick, she never faltered or stopped her work on promoting and supporting the Girl Scouts.
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Honors and Acknowledgements After Death
Even though Juliette Gordon Low passed away in 1927 her dedication and passion lived on and she received numerous awards and acknowledgments after her death. Here is a list of a few:
- 1944: The U.S. Launches a “liberty Ship” named SS Juliette Low in her honor
- 1948: The U.S. Post Office releases a 3-cent stamp of Juliette Gordon Low commemorating her as the founder of the Girl Scouts
- 1954: In Savannah, an elementary school is named after her. Other elementary schools in Arlington, Illinois, and Anaheim, California were also named after her
- 1974: A bust of Juliette Gordon Low was displayed in the Georgia State Capitol.
- 1979: Juliette Gordon Low was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York
- 1983: President Ronald Raegan signed a bill into law that would name a new federal building complex in Savannah after Juliette
- 1992: Juliette was inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement
- 2005: Juliette was memorialized in the Points of Light Monument in Washington D.C.
- 2012: President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom award to Juliette.
Final Thoughts on The Legacy of a Lifetime . .
During her lifetime, Juliette broke the typical conventions of the time on what a girl was capable of doing. She dedicated her life to empowering young girls to become confident leaders in their own regard. Juliette made sure they had a space to develop these skills and that their dreams could become a reality.
Lastly, she used her skills and talent in networking and public relations to further expand the vision of Girl Scouts worldwide. Juliette was definitely a force to be reckoned with. The Juliette Gordon Low story and her legacy still live on nearly 100 years later in all the past, current, and future Girl Scouts worldwide.
P.S. Need more Savannah, GA in your life then check out my other Savannah article. Like why Savannah is your next dream location or how to have an amazing River Walk experience in Savannah. Lastly, if you need a place to stay then I definitely recommend checking out my article on the best-haunted hotels in Savannah. You won’t regret it!