Juliette “Daisy” Magill Kinzie Gordon was born October 31, 1860 in Savannah, Georgia.
As a baby she received the nickname “Daisy” from her uncle, who stated that “I bet she’s going to be a Daisy!”
Juliette’s father, William Washington Gordon II, became a Confederate captain in the American Civil War, and then a brigadier general in the United States Army during the Spanish-American War.
When the Civil War broke out, her mother fled with Juliette and her sisters to her mothers hometown of Chicago, Illinois.
General William Tecumseh Sherman knew her mother’s family and paid them a special visit in Chicago. One of Juliette’s earliest memories was sitting upon General Sherman’s knee.
Then at the age of five, Juliette returned to Savannah and lived with her paternal grandmother.
Ironically, General Sherman had thought that Savannah was a beautiful city, and kept the Union Troops from burning and raids.
Juliette recalled loving to hear the family stories of her great-grandmother, Eleanor Lytle McKillip Kinzie, who had been captured by Native Americans at the age of nine. Even though she was a captive, she was always joyful, so the Native Americans started calling her “Little-Ship-Under-Full-Sail.” She became the adopted daughter of the Seneca chief Cornplanter in the years she dwelt with the tribe. Eventually, the Seneca chief agreed to give Eleanor whatever gift she wanted, and she chose to go back home.
As a young southern girl after the war, Juliette enjoyed helping other people.
She, her sisters, and her cousins organized sewing clubs and made clothing for a poor families in Savannah.
One night, Juliette even wrapped her family’s cow in a blanket to keep it from getting cold. As a result, her helpful antics earned her a new nickname “Crazy Daisy.”
Juliette was then educated in several prominent boarding schools, including the Virginia Female Institute (now Stuart Hall School); Edgehill School, run by Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughters, the Misses Randolph; Miss Emmett’s School in Morristown, New Jersey; and Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers, a French finishing school in New York City.
At the age of 26, Juliette married William Mackay Low, the son of a wealthy cotton merchant in Savannah and England. A grain of rice thrown at their wedding on December 21, 1886, became lodged in Juliette Low’s ear. When it was removed, her ear drum was punctured and became infected, causing her to become mostly deaf in that ear. Her hearing was limited for the rest of her life. She went on to use a variety of hearing aids.
The newlywed couple moved to England, and after a two year search purchased Wellesbourne House in Warwickshire, not far from the Low family home in Leamington Spa.
The couple spent their summers in London, went to Scotland in the fall for the hunting season, and then usually visited the United States in the winter.
It was during one of these stays in Scotland that Juliette met Sir Robert Baden-Powell at a party.
Upon further conversation, they learned that they shared a love of sculpting; Juliette had sculpted members of her family, including her father and one of her cousins.
Then when the Spanish-American War broke out, Juliette came back to America to aid in the war effort.
With her mother’s assistance, she aided in the organization of a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers returning from Cuba.
Her father was commissioned as a general in the U.S. Army, and served on the Puerto Rican Peace Commission.
By 1901, William Low had repeatedly requested a divorce from Juliette.
Then one day upon returning home from a visit, Juliette discovered her husband’s mistress, Anna Bateman, ensconced in their home.
Her husband began to drink heavily. His friends and family began to worry about his mental health.
His mistress Anna Bateman moved into the families main house.
At this point, Juliette acquiesced to her husband’s requests for a divorce and the couple was legally separated.
However before the divorce could be finalized, William Low died from a seizure in 1905, during a trip with Anna Bateman.
When his will was read, it was revealed that he had left his entire estate to Anna Bateman, with only an allowance for his widow, to be administered by Bateman.
Juliette sued for the widow’s portion with the help of her British attorney and her brother, along with her husband’s sisters.
They did not succeed in reclaiming all of the money; however, the Low home in Savannah was given to her, along with a certain sum of money.
Juliette then traveled to Egypt and India to regain her composure.
In August of 1907, Robert Baden-Powell started his first Boy Scout camp on Brownsea Island, beginning a worldwide Scouting movement.
Then in 1909, Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, decided that girls should not be in the same organization as the boys.
In 1910, Baden-Powell’s sister created a separate group for girls in the United Kingdom she called the “Girl Guides.”
Juliette became interested in this new scouting movement for girls and created a troop in Scotland during 1911.
She taught the girls many of the skills she had learned from her grandmother, including first aid and cooking.
Then on a trip, Juliette discussed with Robert Baden-Powell the possibility of creating a Girl Guides group back in the United States.
She envisioned an organization that would bring girls out of their homes to serve their communities, experience the out-of-doors, and have the opportunity to develop “self-reliance and resourcefulness”.
Upon her return to her home in Savannah, Juliette telephoned her cousin and urged her to rush over, announcing “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America, and all the world, we’re going to start it tonight!”
That night they decided to recruit girls from the Female Orphan Asylum, the Synagogue Mickve Israel, and the Christ Church.
Girl Guides of America
Juliette and her sister then organized the first meeting for March 12, 1912.
18 girls attended that first meeting of the Girl Guides in Savannah, Georgia.
Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon, Juliette Low’s niece and namesake, was the first registered Girl Guide, but could not attend the first meeting.
By late 1912, Juliette proposed that the Camp Fire Girls merge with the Girl Guides, but was rejected in January of 1913 as Camp Fire was then the larger group.
Originally, the Girl Guides program was aimed at 11- to 16-year-old girls. However, the younger sisters of Guides started to attend meetings, and so the Brownie section was started.
Next, with the Girl Guides growing quickly, Juliette attempted to merge her organization with the Girl Scouts of America.
The Girl Scouts of America had been established in 1910 at Des Moines, Iowa by Clara A. Lisetor-Lane.
Juliette planned to name the merged group the Girl Pioneers of America.
Juliette thought their similarities would provide for mutual success, but Clara Lisetor-Lane felt Juliette had copycatted her organization and threatened to sue.
Lisetor-Lane later claimed Juliette Low’s organization was luring members away but the GSA’s growth was limited by a lack of financial resources which led to its eventual demise. The GSA never grew beyond a few troops as Lisetor-Lane had limited social connections and little financial resources to grow the organization national. The GSA eventually died out.
Girl Scouts of the United States
Then in 1913, Juliette changed the name of the Girl Guides of America to the “Girl Scouts of the United States” and moved its headquarters to Washington, DC.
Juliette helped create the first handbook for the Girl Scouts, titled How Girls Can Help Their Country.
The organization was incorporated in 1915 when the National Headquarters was moved to New York City.
By 1916, Girl Scouts had over 7,000 members, and shortly after they were able to pay workers to staff the national office.
In 1917, when the United States entered World War One, the Girl Scouts worked on projects to help with the war effort. They sewed clothing for the soldiers, and assisted nurses when people became ill with the flu. They also grew vegetable gardens.
In 1919, Juliette attended the first International council of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in London representing the Girl Scouts of the United States.
Juliette Gordon Low developed breast cancer in 1923, but kept it a secret and continued diligently working for the Girl Scouts.
Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low died January 17, 1927, at the age of 66.
At the time of her death from breast cancer, there were more than 165,000 Girl Scouts in the United States.
She was buried at historical Laurel Grove Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia in her Girl Scout Leader uniform with a note in her pocket stating “You are not only the first Girl Scout, but the best Girl Scout of them all”
The organization’s name was finally changed to the Girl Scouts of the United States of America in 1947.
Juliette has since been honored in many ways.
On July 3, 1948, a postage stamp was authorized, during World War II; she had a liberty Ship named in her honor. The S.S. Juliette Low was launched May 12, 1944 in the Southeastern Ship Yards, Savannah.
The Girl Scouts was given a congressional charter on March 16, 1950.
Her residence on Lafayette Square in Savannah was purchased by the Girl Scouts of the USA in 1953 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.
In 1979, Juliette was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Then on December 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan authorized a new federal building in Savannah to carry her name.
Today, more than 50 million American women have participated in the Girl Scouts.
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