It scarcely seems like 100 years has marched by since Girl Scouting has come to the United States.
On March 12, 1912, Juliette Low, of Georgia, made the historic, fateful telephone call to her friend, Nina Anderson Pape, that started it all.
“Come right over! I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!”
From that simple but forceful declaration was born the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., although, at first they were called Girl Guides, a name transplanted from their Great Britain “ancestors.”
In 1916, Brookfield resident Ethel Bouchard, who lived at 9410 Congress Park Ave., liked the idea of Girl Scouts, so she wrote to New York for information and was told that a troop must have a Captain and a sponsor. She and other interested girls found both when the Shroyer family moved into 4434 DuBois Blvd. in the village’s Congress Park neighborhood, in October 1916.
The woman who began Girl Scouts in Brookfield’s Congress Park section was Elizabeth Shroyer, affectionately known as “Captain Beth” by her scouts.
The Suburban Magnet newspaper made the mistake of publishing this on its front page for Oct. 15, 1918:
“The Congress Park citizens held a peace meeting on Monday night at the schoolhouse. …The speakers were… and [also] Mrs. H. Shroyer, who is at the head of the Camp Fire Girls.”
Captain Beth was not going to stand for such inaccuracy and fired off a sternly worded letter to the Magnet editor, W. Melville, who published it on the next issue’s front page, under the headline, “Beg Your Pardon.”
“Editor, Magnet: In the report of the peace meeting at Congress Park last week … you spoke of Mrs. H.W. Shroyer as head of the ‘Camp Fire Girls.’ Mrs. Shroyer is Captain of the Red Clover Troop of the Girl Scouts … organized in August 1917 … and has 24 members. [Signed] Beth Shroyer, Captain.”
This-60 member troop was known to be the first on the Chicago-Aurora C.B. & Q. railroad route. Was it the first troop in Chicago and/or Cook County? That is uncertain. Around 1916 a few other lone troops were forming in the Chicago area, but the Red Clover Troop was certainly among the first.
The first patrol (sub-group) of the troop was the Whippoorwill. The scouts developed a “yell” to show who they were: “Eagles, Orioles, Whippoorwills, Larks! Girl Scouts! Girl Scouts! Congress Park!” In all, six patrols were formed, including the Bobolinks and Bob White.
Captain Beth became friends with Miss Florence Neil, the director of the Chicago Girl Scouts, which included the Congress Park scouts and those from other suburbs.
In 1921, the two women presided over the building of the Girl Scout Cabin in Bemis Woods (South) in Western Springs. The cabin was dedicated on Saturday, Oct. 15.
However, the scouts had already been camping at several sites, including the front porches and lawns of Congress Park and at the forest preserve property northeast of 31st Street and First Avenue.
In the July 1922 American Girl magazine, Miss Neil published a recipe for Girl Scout cookies, indicating that they might be sold to raise funds. Maybe the Congress Park scouts did this.
Beginning in November 1920, troops were forming at S.E. Gross School, too, north of the railroad tracks. “Wa Hoo! Brookfield Girls! Wake up! We Have Girl Scouts Now!” headlined the article in the Dec. 4 Magnet.
Captain Martha Freeman and her 50 scouts were formed into patrols and were already taking short hikes and planning to be “strong on baseball and basketball games in 1921. Just keep your eyes on us.”
A Magnet article from 1935 states that Brookfield scouts were selling cookies here to raise money, mostly for camping. Even on Feb. 18, 2012, when asking the Congress Park Girl Scout Troop 58118 what they were going to use their cookie money for, they said “Camping!” with a lot of enthusiasm.
In 1954, Camp Kiwanis-on-the-Fox was purchased with a mortgage, and in 1955 it became the first local camp. In 1956, it was renamed Camp Merrybrook, which became Camp River Trails in 1991.
To this day, not all scouts go to Camp River Trails, in Sheridan. The Congress Park scouts plan to go to Camp Juniper Knoll in East Troy, Wis.
Brookfield Girl Scouts, as well as scouts from neighboring communities, celebrated the 50-year anniversary of Girl Scouts with the “Scout Around” exhibition held in the Riverside-Brookfield High School gym on April 5, 1962. Beginning with a flag and dedication ceremony, the event, presented by more than 3,500 scouts and leaders, consisted of displays and demonstrations.
And the scouts certainly got around! One Brookfield scout, Phyllis Reid, joined scouts from Lyons and LaGrange Park at the 1965 Girl Scout Senior Roundup, held at Farragut, Idaho. Complete with white cowboy hats, it was like a Girl Scout convention, held out in the open.
Celebration years have passed: The 75th in 1987, the 90th in 2002 and now the great Girl Scout centennial.
It’s been a long 100 years for the national Girl Scouts, and only 95 for the Congress Park Girl Scouts. But in spite of that, their mission is ageless … to ignite and fan the flame of intelligence and strength in girls so they can show courage, confidence and character.
Throughout the month of March, displays of Girl Scout items are being presented in cases at area libraries, including North Riverside, Riverside and Brookfield.
Thursday, March 1 was the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the displays at the Brookfield Public Library, 3609 Grand Blvd. The theme was “Girl Scouts through the Decades.”
This display was created by the Cadette Girl Scout Troop of Park Junior High in LaGrange Park. There is another display case, filled with historical items from Chris Stach’s collection in the Storytime Room where crafts and storytimes are held.
Among the items on display are uniforms items, sashes, camping gear, Girl Scout booklets, patches and historic photos. The displays will be up through March.
Other events are being planned for 2012, too.
Meanwhile at the Riverside Public Library, 1 Burling Road, patrons through March 24 can take in a display of historic items gathered by the three Juliette from the Girls Scouts Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Service Unit 411.
The library held its ribbon-cutting ceremony with an event on Tuesday, March 6.
Service Unit 411 also donated items for an exhibit being displayed in the North Riverside Public Library, 2400 Desplaines Ave. The exhibit also includes a variety of memorabilia, from sashes to badges to photos.
The exhibit will be on display at the North Riverside Library through March.