Last weekend, Girl Scout troops convened at the Savannah, Georgia, birthplace of the organization’s founder, Juliette Gordon Low, to assist with archaeological excavations ahead of the 200-year-old property’s long-awaited renovation. Nearly 100 Girl Scouts from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina participated in the dig, reports Nick Robertson for Savannah Now.
Sifting through the dirt under the guidance of head archaeologist Rita Elliott, the teens and tweens found artifacts including homemade nails, marbles and a doll’s arm.
“They’re learning a lot of things from something as simple as a nail,” Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo tells Savannah Now.
Referencing a Girl Scout who happened upon a fragment of glazed pottery, Acevedo adds, “She was running around, doing a victory lap, saying, ‘I found a pottery shard!’”
Throughout the dig, Acevedo and Elliott encouraged the girls to reflect on what their finds revealed about the history of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace and the people who once lived there, from Low herself to more recent inhabitants.
According to the house-turned-museum’s website, Low’s grandparents purchased the property, built between 1818 and 1821 for local politician James Moore Wayne, in 1831. Her grandmother Sarah Gordon retained ownership of the house following her husband’s untimely death, and over the years, the residence became the focal point of the Gordon family. Low, also called Daisy, was born there on October 31, 1860.
The future scouting pioneer lived in her Savannah home until 1864, when the Gordons, who found their loyalties divided between the Union and the Confederacy, temporarily relocated to Chicago to stay with her mother’s wealthy parents. After the war, the family returned to Savannah and their beloved estate.
In 1912, Low, then living in a Savannah home near her family’s, called her cousin to share a decisive announcement: “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!”
Low had met Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, while in London; his account of Girl Guides, the scouting group’s sister organization, inspired her to replicate the movement in the United States.
In 1913, the year after Low organized the first U.S.-based Girl Guide troop—a band of 18 participants from her cousin’s school—the girls themselves voted to change the organization’s name to its present form. Ninety-nine years later, on the eve of the Girl Scouts’ 2012 centennial, its membership stood at 3.3 million.
“On part of Low’s land in Savannah by her home, girls could play tennis and basketball,” biographer Stacy A. Cordery told Smithsonian magazine’s Megan Gambino in 2012. “… She strung up this canvas curtain to keep these girls in their skirts with their basketballs away from the eyes of passersby, for fear she would offend some of them. Of course, it made everyone want to know what the heck was going on.”
As Katie Nussbaum reports for Savannah Now, Girl Scouts U.S.A., which acquired Low’s birthplace in 1953, is renovating the residence to make it fully accessible. (A series of ear infections and mistaken procedures deprived Low of most of her hearing, so accessibility has been a tenet of the organization since its founding.) After renovations are finished, the property will have ramps and an elevator, and its entrance will be in the garden rather than the basement.
“When you visit this site every bit of your senses will be engaged,” Bernice Johnson, vice president procurement, sustainability and properties at Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., tells Savannah Now. “So whether it be to something you hear or something you see or something tactile, or just the ability to decompress in our sensory room there, they’ll be something here for everyone.”