If Girl Scout badges had been available in the late 1800s, Juliette Gordon Low would have a sash full. She would have earned Drawing and Painting, Swimming, Pet Care, Theatre, Traveler, Books, and even a badge for humor. She would certainly have earned a badge for Citizenship and Caring for Children. But those badges hadn’t been invented then, because Juliette hadn’t yet founded the organization that awarded them.
Born Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon in Savannah Georgia in 1860, “Daisy,” as she was affectionately called by her family, was known for her love of the arts, her sense of humor and her athletic stunts. Her favorite trick was standing on her head, which she performed at parties, and once a year on her birthday, just to prove she still could.
Juliette had suffered chronic ear infections as a child and had lost most of her hearing in one ear. On the day of her wedding to William Mackay Low in 1886, a grain of “good luck” rice became lodged in Juliette’s good ear. It punctured her eardrum and she suffered total hearing loss in that ear. It didn’t seem to slow her down much.
Shortly after the wedding, the newlyweds moved England, and Juliette continued her passion for travel, visiting Europe, Egypt and India, as well as returning to Savannah for her annual visit. Juliette and William never had children. William died in 1905 and Juliette remained in England, forging a life for herself. It was there that she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, former Lieutenant General of the British Army and founder of the Scout Movement. Inspired by B-P, as he was known, Juliette poured her energies into the fledgling youth movement.
The following year, when she returned to Savannah, Juliette made an historic phone call. “Come right over,” she told her friend, Nina Anderson Pape. “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!”
On March 12, 1912, Juliette gathered 18 girls from Savannah, and the American Girl Guides was born. Juliette’s niece and namesake, Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon, was the first registered member. In the spirit of self-reliance and resourcefulness encouraged by Juliette, the girls voted the following year to change the name of the organization to The Girl Scouts.
A century later, with 3.7 million members, the organization still embraces the values Juliette supported. She encouraged the girls to pursue non-traditional careers in the arts, science, and business, and to embrace environmental and community citizenship.
Juliette has been honored numerous times for her work. In 1948, President Truman authorized a stamp in her honor; a Liberty Ship, the SS Juliette Low was named for her, and in 1979 she was inducted into the national Women’s Hall of Fame. Prior to her death in 1927, she helped found the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which now boasts more than 10 million members in 145 countries.
In the U.S. alone, an estimated 50 million girls have been impacted by the work of a childfree woman with a passion for life…Juliette Gordon Low.