Winchester’s First Girl Scouts Made News, Including Film Newsreel | Winchester
WINCHESTER—“A girl today can do almost anything a boy can do,” a member of the state’s Girl Scout council told the Winchester Special Aid Society for American Preparedness. “We are now in the middle of the era of the woman. The time has come when she is able to show her greatest efficiency.
It was May 5, 1917, the month the Girl Scouts first organized in Winchester. This was five years after the creation of the first American group and three years after the beginning of the local scouts.
In less than fifteen days, a local council was formed at the home of Bertha (DesJardins) Pike, the first local commissioner. At the end of June, there were five soldiers.
Judging by the new litters that year and after, no one could doubt the initiative, zeal and commitment of the girls. During the war years they made trench candles, semaphore flags, comfort bags and hospital bags; afghans, knitted socks and sweaters; manufactured thousands of surgical dressings for the Red Cross; and collected magazines for soldiers at Camp Devens, in addition to making their own uniforms and other activities.
Older girls and leaders also received military training, not to make them soldiers but, as the Winchester Star put it, “to teach them to think quickly, to learn focus, discipline, obedience and responsibility. It’s about making effective and reliable women, not dependent women.
Another important activity, in which the Girl Scouts and Girl Scouts excelled, was the sale of Liberty Bonds. The girls held a remarkable practice for the third Liberty Loan. On April 18, 1918, “occasional drumbeats and bugle calls rang through the streets. Soon the Girl Scouts themselves were marching in excellent form through the center of town; then returning to the Common and to the banks of the Aberjona, they pitched their tents,’ decorated with banners and flags.
On Patriot’s Day, they posted themselves in various places, sang patriotic songs and sold bonds. “Not one escaped the eagle eyes of these Girl Scouts” as they had a bargain for two days. The girls sold $63,150 worth of bonds (equivalent to more than $1 million today), more than one-eighth of the city’s quota.
During the fourth drive, the Boy Scouts passed the girls, selling for $100,200. But the girls were active again, raking in $40,000 in sales.
Only mounted troop east of the Mississippi
After the war, the Winchester Girl Scouts continued to make good copy for the press. For example, the girls had their own Drum and Bugle Corps, which performed locally and in other cities, such as the Lexington Patriot’s Day Parade, and competed in the annual Massachusetts Girl Scout drum and bugle corps competition at Boston Arena. during the 1930s.
Another of his activities made the Winchester Scouts unique in the East. In December 1929, the Boston Globe reported that “the Winchester Girl Scouts possess the only mounted troop east of the Mississippi River”. The Globe could only point to one other troop mounted on this side of the Rockies, located in Leavenworth, Kansas (founded in 1926).
The Winchester troop is inaugurated in October and divided into two patrols, for beginners and for experienced riders.
“Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., 25 girls set off from Glenwild stables in Medford for an hour-long gallop over the bridle paths of the Middlesex Fells reserve, accompanied by their captain, Miss Eugenia Parker, an experienced rider, and six instructors.
“Every other Friday evening, the girls attend saddlery lessons at Glenwild, when they learn how to saddle, bridle and care for a horse, under the guidance of riding instructor Clifford Pratt. This work is credited for Scout riding badges.
On January 25, 1930, the Pathé Company, which had made silent and sound information reels of the Winchester Boy Scouts Mounted Troop the previous summer, took a film of the Girls’ Mounted Troop in the Middlesex Fells.
“Over 26 girls rode and spent several hours performing on camera. The girls climbed hills, performed intricate maneuvers on flat terrain, sang in group formation around a campfire, and rode for a ‘long shot’ scene across the reservoir ravine, in addition to many other scenes.
“Viewers commented on the girls’ ability and the striking beauty of the ride in conjunction with the wintry scenery,” the Star reported. “The girls showed off their abilities and training by going through the entire shot without accident.”
The sound film was released in February for release in theaters nationwide. The Star printed a calendar of theaters near Winchester, as the town would not have a theater of its own until 1937.
The mounted troop participated in the Massachusetts Bay Centennial Grand Parade in October 1930, along with the Drum and Bugle Corps, a marching detachment, and a float representing the granting of the first charter to Winchester.
Although the Globe reported that the troupe became so popular that there was a waiting list, it seems that they did not survive their first year, perhaps because 1930 was also the year where their captain founded Blazing Trail Camp in Denmark, Maine after making Denmark his home.
Even without their mounted troop, the Winchester Girl Scouts occasionally made more headlines in the Boston newspapers. In the middle of the century, they were particularly known for their travels.
Looking forward to 1950, Winchester’s centenary year, and a world conference of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in Oxford, England, the girls spent three to four years planning a cycling tour of a month in England and Scotland for This summer.
Physical preparations began with a bicycle trip in 1947 to Vermont and New Hampshire followed by longer and longer trips, notably to Canada in 1948.
While the girls raised funds, a route including both major cities and remote locations was mapped out and extensive preparations were made. Once in England, the girls were greeted along the way by guides, some of whom had become pen pals. Although they usually stayed in hostels, the girls sometimes stayed with host families, such as during one of their longest stops, Winchester, England.
“We received the usual royal reception, celebrated and fed, when we arrived here last Friday,” wrote Carolyn Edgar on August 1, 1950 from Winchester.
They saw the sites, with a visit to City Hall, including the sight of a Paul Revere Bowl presented to the British Mayor by their own Winchester in 1930. They attended a tea party with English Rotarians at whom they presented an inscribed copy of the town’s history on behalf of their own local Rotary club.
These adventurers were not just tourists but also goodwill ambassadors.
“We thought they were all lovely girls who were worthy supporters of the prestige of their town, and their visit should do much to strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two Winchesters,” Winchester Mayor Evans wrote.
The girls traveled to Oxford for the final World Conference campfire, which was attended by around 10,000 girls. Princess Margaret spoke, “which naturally delighted us,” Edgar wrote.
Speaking back home at one of the many travel photo and film screenings, executive director Barbara Metcalf said the 17 Scouts covered more than 1,000 miles, 450 by bike and 600 by train . This group, she said, was the first to go overseas on such a trip.
Four years later, another group boarded their bikes aboard the ocean liner Neptunia for a cycling trip to several countries in Europe, financed mainly by babysitting money.
A time to share
Listing all of the Girl Scouts’ adventures and charities and naming all of the adult leaders essential to their success would be a daunting task. Yet October, which is not only the month of Girl Scout Founders Day (October 31) but also International Day of the Girl (October 11), is a time to share stories of ingenuity, determination, creativity, and other varied abilities exemplified by the pioneering Girl Scouts of Winchester.