The Story of the First Girl Scout: Savannah's Juliette Gordon Low
The next time you're in Savannah—or if you're lucky enough to live there—plan a trip to visit the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. You may not recognize her name, but you'll certainly recognize the organization she founded—and the cookies they sell. You guessed it: Low founded the Girl Scouts of the USA and her home is definitely worth a visit.
Juliette Gordon Low, called "Daisy" by her close friends and family, was born in Savannah in 1860. She spent her early life in the South, before moving north in the wake of the Civil War. The family returned to Savannah in 1865, and her parents managed to revitalize the Belmont cotton plantation.
Daisy had an adventurous spirit and while time at boarding schools and finishing academies taught her Southern graces, she wanted to hike, play tennis, and ride horses, activities that high-society women were not supposed to engage in. She then moved to New York to study painting. She was successful, but eventually left the city to marry millionaire cotton merchant William Mackay Low, who she considered her one true love. At the ceremony, a grain of rice thrown by a guest, landed in her ear. When it was eventually removed, Low suffered ear infections and, eventually, near-total hearing loss. Her almost deafness didn't slow her down, though. When Low passed away, leaving her an annual income and the Savannah Lafayette Ward estate, she traveled the world, sailing to France, Italy, Egypt and India. It was on a trip that she met Sir William Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. The encounter inspired her to create the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, teaching young women to embrace their individuality, strength, and intellect, and to learn about the great outdoors.
After success with what were called Girl Guides troops in Scotland and London, Low decided to bring the troops home, so to speak, starting in her hometown of Savannah. It was 1912—at a time when women in the United States couldn't yet vote—when Low gathered 18 girls together to share a new outdoor and educational program for youth. Just like that, the Girl Scout Movement was born.
Since then Girl Scouts have helped redefine what was possible for girls everywhere. While Low may not recognize some of the Girl Scouts' new badges—designing robots, creating algorithms—their mission remains the same, to empower young women.
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The Girl Scouts purchased Low's family home in 1953, opening it to the Girl Scouts and the adoring public soon after, and have worked to preserve it ever since. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, because just as they teach Girls Scouts across the country, hard work usually pays off. In 2014, they won an award for their exemplary restoration work.
The next time you're in Savannah, stop by Low's home and pay tribute to the woman who started it all. Get tickets here. If you can't make it to Savannah, feel free to pay tribute with a box of Samoas—we won't tell!