Girl Scouts Turn 100: Profile of Founder Juliette Gordon Lowe (1860-1927)

This week the Girl Scouts are celebrating their 100th year of scouting. The idea for the Girl Scouts of the USA started with Juliette Gordon Lowe.

Juliette Gordon was born into a well-off family in Savannah, Georgia. She was very athletic, loved drawing and painting; adored animals and kept many pets. She attended boarding school at Virginia Female Institute (now Stuart Hall School) in Staunton Virginia, and later attended Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers, a French finishing school in New York City.

When she completed school, Juliette Gordon (called Daisy by family and friends) began traveling in the U.S. and Europe, and in 1886 she married William Mackay Low, a wealthy Englishman.

Before her marriage, Juliette Gordon had suffered frequent ear infections, and because there was no good treatment at that time, she lost most of the hearing in one ear. At her wedding, a grain of rice that was tossed as part of the traditional throwing of rice for good luck, landed in her other ear. When a doctor attempted to remove it, he damaged the nerves of that ear, resulting in a hearing loss in that ear as well.

Despite this very challenging situation, Low was always quite active with various causes. During the Spanish American War, her mother established a hospital for the wounded returning from Cuba, and Low returned to help. At the end of the war, she returned to England but her husband asked for a divorce, and they had separated before his death in 1905.

Low was not one to be idle, and after meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in England, Low experimented with setting up a couple of Girl Guide groups in Scotland and then in England. She then determined that she wanted to bring this movement to the United States. She held the first Girl Guides meeting in the U.S. in her home in Savannah in 1912. (The name was changed to the Girl Scouts the following year.)

Low’s intent was to introduce girls from varied backgrounds to outdoor activities that would help them develop self-reliance and resourcefulness. She also believed women should be active citizens, and she could foresee the day when there might be an opportunity for women to work in professions. Because of Low’s own disability, she was insistent that the group welcome those with disabilities.

Low maintained contact with people in other countries running girl guide groups; during World War I, a group effort laid the foundation for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.

In 1927 Low died, and her friends established a Juliette Low World Friendship Fund to finance international projects for Girl Scouts and Girl Guides.
For more information on scouting in the U.S., including a story about the beginning of Girl Scout cookies, click here.

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