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:
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”!