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Women's History Month: Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927)

March 4, 2015
Bust of Juliette Gordon Low in the Georgia State Capitol

Thin mints. Samoas. Tagalongs. Savannah Smiles.

The infamous, delicious, addictive cookies are known throughout the world. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is.

Even though Girl Scout cookies hold much of the fame and glory, the Girl Scouting movement is actually so much more.  

When Sir Robert Baden-Powell started the Boy Scouts, 6,000 girls registered using their initials to hide their gender. Obviously, there was a need. Girls wanted to learn and grow. So one strong, independent, stubborn woman stepped in to fill this need.

In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s delve into the history and extraordinary life of Georgia native Juliette Gordon Low (“Daisy”).

Daisy seemed to have always been strong, independent and stubborn. Ever since her childhood in Savannah, Daisy rarely stayed within the confines of social norms implemented on women of the 19th century. There’s a famous story of 4-year-old Daisy crawling onto the lap of William Tecumseh Sherman after he burned his way to Savannah in December 1864. She started feeling around on his head, so Sherman asked Daisy what she was looking for. She replied, “Your horns, of course.”

“Horns!” Sherman exclaimed.

Daisy replied, “Well you are that old devil Sherman, aren’t you?”

Daisy was one of the fortunate children of the late 1800s who was able to attend school all over the country. She studied in Savannah, Virginia and New York. After school, she continued to travel, learning a variety of skills and fine-tuning her tastes. She developed a love of art in school and then experienced all sorts of art in her travels. From sketching to painting to sculpting, she dabbled in it all.

Inflicted by earaches most her life, she became partially deaf in one ear from an operation when she was 25. The next year, she married the wealthy Englishman William “Willy” Mackay Low. People threw rice at their send-off and a piece got stuck in her good ear. Through an extended amount of time in agony and pain, she ended up losing all hearing in that ear. Even through her deafness, she refused to allow it to hinder her life. That stubborn attitude ensured she wouldn't miss anything. Actually, she used her hearing loss to her advantage and could never hear anyone tell her “no.”

Her marriage to Willy was difficult. Willy had inherited all his money, meaning he didn’t have to work. But they were young and alive and lived life to its fullest. They had houses in Savannah and England. They had no children so they hosted parties and traveled all over.

Eventually, Daisy seemed to have become aware of Willy’s unfaithfulness. In 1902 they separated and started the process of getting a divorce, but Willy died in 1905 before the divorce was finalized. After the separation, Willy changed his will to give all his property and wealth to his mistress, leaving Daisy with very little. Naturally, Daisy did not approve of this arrangement and contested the will. The settlement she received made her quite a wealthy woman.

In 1911, nearing the age of 50, she met Sir Baden-Powell and fell in love with the idea of the Boy Scouts. Sir Baden-Powell had asked his sister Agnes Baden-Powell to help form the Girl Guides in Great Britain after the surge of female registration into the Boy Scouts. Daisy helped Agnes and eventually formed her own “troop” in Scotland and then London. She taught the girls practical skills such as how to tie certain knots, spinning, weaving, cooking, first aid and proper hygiene. Her goal was to equip the girls with proper skills to keep them from working in the dangerous factories that were the norm in the early 20th century.

After starting the foundation and then entrusting the British troops with other able women, in 1912, Daisy came back to Savannah. On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low held the first meeting of the American Girl Guides with 18 registered girls. The next year, they changed their name to the Girl Scouts and the legend continues.

Daisy wanted to prepare these girls for not only practical house work but also for professional roles. Keep in mind that this was the height of the suffrage movement. In 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Female rights were growing by the day and Daisy wanted to ensure the women of tomorrow were ready. She helped them focus on the arts, sciences and business while also encouraging outdoor activities and sports. A healthy body promotes a healthy mind. A legacy that continues even after her death to breast cancer in 1927.

Over the years, Juliette Gordon Low has received many awards and recognitions. For example, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1979 and she was one of the first to be awarded a Georgia Woman of Achievement in 1992. Her legacy lives on and her work will not be forgotten.

About the Author

Bethany McDaniel is the Interactive Web Content Manager for GeorgiaGov. She graduated from Berry College in Rome, GA with degrees in Visual Communication and History.

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