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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Smart Cookies

March is Women’s History Month, and I couldn’t let it pass without a salute to some very influential women in my life. These particular women aren’t in any history books that I know of, but they are an important part of my history.  They are my Girl Scout leaders.
            These intrepid women commandeered school busloads of young girls and budding adolescents to places like the Hershey Chocolate Factory, Bond Bread Bakery, and the Washington Monument.  Places like Camp Laughing Waters and Camp Indian Run. Betsy Rennenbaum and Mary Schmidt, leaders of my Junior troop, taught me that spending the weekend in an unheated cabin with only cold running water could actually be fun.  Geri Towson and Cathy Parkin, my Cadette and Senior leaders, taught me that spending a week in a canvas tent full of daddy-long-legs in the middle of June could actually be fun. And that there was nothing like that long bus ride home from camp on Sunday night – hot or frozen, grungy, aching for a shower – singing silly songs until we were hoarse.  Even my mother succumbed to the Girl Scout call and became a Cookie Mother one year.  Imagine:  the living room and dining room of our “straight-through” Olney rowhouse a maze of Girl Scout cookie cartons!  I wonder what it cost her for all the “free samples” my sisters and I must have pilfered.
            Though my sash wasn’t resplendent with badges, I earned a respectable few.  I learned how to care for the American flag and how to carry it proudly.  I can still tell whether I am heading north, south, east or west without a GPS. Friends who know me now may be surprised to learn that the woman who prefers to cook with just a microwave oven was taught to cook over a campfire (and how to make one)!  Sit-upons and sleeping bags, civic responsibility and cookie sales:  the women who were my troop leaders were also my mentors and role models.  And they did it for free. 
              I can’t put my finger on exactly what I took away from Scouting.  Except that girls could do anything (and usually did!).  Whatever it was, it was enough to convince me to become a troop leader, myself. Special thanks to Dottie Hicke, wherever you are. We were just college students, but we passed on the Scouting tradition to a bevy of Brownies for five years, until our adult lives took us in different directions.
Recently, I found my diploma from the Girl Scouts.  It isn’t hanging alongside my high school and college diplomas, but maybe it should be.  Because, according one Girl Scout website, 64% of women leaders in the US today (civic, corporate, political, etc.) were Girl Scouts.  Here’s an impressive sample:
Debbie Fields (Mrs. Fields’ Cookies..aha!); Anita Roddick (The Body Shop); Michelle Obama (FLOTUS) and Laura Bush(former FLOTUS); Hillary Rodham and Chelsea Clinton; Nancy Reagan; Madeline Albright and Jeanne Kirkpatrick; Sandra Day O’Connor; Dr. Sally Ride (first woman in space); Christa McAuliffe (teacher and astronaut); Katie Couric and Barbara Walters; Mariah Carey and Celine Dion; Grace Kelly and Sandra Dee; Susan Lucci (imagine!); Erma Bombeck; Dear Abby and Ann Landers; and my three favorites:  Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, and Marlo Thomas.

Oh..and Gloria Steinem. And Queen Elizabeth II.

For even more “Famous Formers,” check out the website:

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, I just have two words for the Girl Scouts and the leaders who touched my life:   

Thank you.

And now, there’s a box of Thin Mint cookies in the freezer with my name on it. These days,  I think I might need a bigger “sit-upon”!


  1. Mary,
    This post brought back so many memories for me. I too was a scout from Brownies through to Cadettes. I never thought about the sacrifice that our leaders made, but I want to give a shout out to Mrs. West, Mrs. Dalton, Mrs. Gordon and Miss McGlynn, a single working professional woman who donated her time to a bunch of rowdy teens.

    I'll never forget how cold the water was at Camp Laughing Waters, and no showers for that week at summer camp, but who cared? For a city kid like me, it was such a great adventure to be in the wild, catching salamanders, collecting rocks. I have always been at peace in the natural world since then.

    I hated selling Girl Scout cookies (and Catholic Standard and Times subscriptions) which was a prophecy about my career, that I would never make it in sales.

    As a mother of a son, I tried to interest him in scouts but he did not budge on it, so scouting has been a happy memory since my teens.

    As a I watch a beautiful sunset, I often hum
    the golden sun, sinks in the west,
    great spirits call our scouts to rest
    we've had our work, we've had our play
    and we have lived, the true scout way.

    Juliet Low rocks!


  2. Great tribute to an organization that produces many strong and capable women. I was not a Girl Scout, but in my current business, I teach cooking programs to many. How often I've heard the following, and I think a lot of grownups could learn much by behaving in this way...

    The Girl Scout Promise

    On my honor, I will try:
    To serve God and my country,
    To help people at all times,
    And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

    The Girl Scout Law

    I will do my best to be
    honest and fair,
    friendly and helpful,
    considerate and caring,
    courageous and strong, and
    responsible for what I say and do,
    and to
    respect myself and others,
    respect authority,
    use resources wisely,
    make the world a better place, and
    be a sister to every Girl Scout.

  3. Mary and Chris, I don't know why it continues to surprise me to learn new ways our past experiences overlap . . .haven't thought of Camp Laughing Waters for the longest time. I'm impressed you both remember the names of all your leaders. I remember Mrs. McSorley, and I'm guessing my sister Mary, remembers the others.
    Like you Mary, our not so small Olney rowhouse (a 4 bedroom on the Roosevelt Blvd.) was one year cookie central. At the time, my younger sister, Jeanne, was a toddler, and we older kids sent her into the enclosed porch nightly to "accidently" rip the wrapper off a box of cookies. Oops, have to eat another one.
    Great memories. Thanks.