Juliette Gordon Low (October 31, 1860 – January 17, 1927) was an American youth leader and the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA in 1912. She was born into a family of means in Savannah, Georgia. From a young age, Juliette was a creative and active person. As a middle aged widow near fifty, she was searching to find new purpose when she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and was inspired to start similar girls groups in Scotland and England. At the age of fifty one, after returning to the United States, Juliette formed a girl group called the American Girl Guides which later became the Girl Scouts of America.
Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born in Savannah, Georgia to William Washington Gordon and Eleanor Kinzie Gordon shortly before the beginning of the Civil War. She was the second of six children in this prominent Savannah family. Juliette's father was a Confederate Captain in the American Civil War and a descendant of early settlers of Savannah. Her mother's family was one of the founding families of Chicago, Illinois.
Juliette was known as "Daisy" for most of her life because when her uncle saw her as a baby girl, he said, "I'll bet she'll be a daisy!" Daisy was active and creative, always jumping into new games, hobbies and ideas including writing poems and plays, acting and sketching. She developed an interest in the arts at an early age, later mastering painting and sculpture. She was also a lover of animals, especially dogs, exotic birds and Georgia mocking birds.
Another one of her nicknames was "Little Ship." Her grandparents in the North called her that because she would always beg to hear the story about her great-grandmother, who was captured by Native Americans. Even though she was a captive, she was always joyful, so the Native Americans started calling her "Little-Ship-Under-Full-Sail." Juliette's great grandmother was the adopted daughter of the Seneca chief Cornplanter in the years she dwelt with the tribe. Eventually, the Senecas said they would give her whatever gift she wanted. She chose to go back home. Cornplanter let her go. Juliette got the nickname "Little Ship" because of her love of this story. Perhaps her grandparents also recognized the same spunk in Juliette that her great grandmother had.
Juliette was educated in several prominent boarding schools, including the Virginia Female Institute (now Stuart Hall School) and Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers (a French finishing school in New York City).
When she was about 25 years old, Juliette suffered an ear infection which was treated with silver nitrate. This treatment damaged her ear, causing her to lose a great deal of her hearing in that ear.
In spite of her parents’ apprehensions, at the age of 26, she married William Mackay "Willy" Low, the son of a wealthy cotton merchant in Savannah, Georgia. Willy and Juliette's wedding took place on December 21, 1886, on her parents' 29th wedding anniversary. A grain of rice thrown at the wedding became lodged in Juliette's good ear. When it was removed, her ear drum was punctured and became infected, causing her to become completely deaf in that ear. Her hearing was severely limited for the rest of her life.
Although the couple moved to England, Juliette continued her travels, dividing her time between the British Isles and America. During the Spanish-American War, Juliette came back to America to aid in the war effort. She helped her mother organize 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.
Her marriage to Mr. Low proved to be childless and unhappy. As early as 1901, due to her husband's infidelities, Juliette intended to get a divorce. However, her husband died before the divorce proceedings could be finalized. When his will was read Juliette discovered that her husband had left his money to his mistress. She was left with a small widow's pension.
Juliette had experienced a privileged life. She wasn't complacent, though. Even before the loss of her husband, she was searching for something meaningful to do with her life. It was in 1911 that Juliette met Second Boer War hero (and founder of the Scouting movement) Robert Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes. Juliette and Sir (later Lord) Baden Powell had common passions, including sculpture and art that bonded them in heart. She was also very impressed with the scouting program that the Powells had organized.
While in the UK, Juliette worked as a Girl Guide leader for troops she organized in Scotland and London. Juliette decided to found something similar for the girls of America. On March 12, 1912, Juliette gathered 18 girls to register the first troop of American Girl Guides. Margaret "Daisy Doots" Gordon, her niece and namesake, was the first registered member.
The name of the organization was changed from American Girl Guides to Girl Scouts in 1913. The organization was incorporated in 1915, with Juliette serving as president until 1920 when she was granted the title of founder.
Juliette believed passionately that all girls could benefit from experiences in the outdoors. She saw these experiences as a way for girls to learn how to rely on themselves and be resourceful problem solvers. She also sought to encourage girls to prepare themselves for meaningful careers and community involvement in addition to traditional homemaking responsibilities. Juliette strongly advocated for and welcomed participation from girls with disabilities at a time when they were more often excluded from activities. As a hearing impaired woman, this came naturally to her.
Daisy was known as an eccentric and charming person. She was also known for her great sense of humor. One anecdote recounts how she stood on her head at an early Scout board meeting, to display the new Girl Scout shoes that she was wearing.
Juliette Gordon Low contracted breast cancer in 1923, but kept it a secret and continued working diligently for the Girl Scouts. Low died at her home in Savannah on January 17, 1927, from the cancer, and was buried in her Girl Scout uniform in Savannah, Georgia.
Tourists and locals can visit three historic sites in Savannah which relate to the life of Juliette Gordon Low. The home of her birth, The Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, is one of the most visited house museums in Georgia. The Andrew Low House became her Savannah home after her marriage to William Mackay Low in 1886. The First Girl Scout Headquarters is the former carriage house of the Andrew Low family. Juliette converted the carriage house into her Girl Scout headquarters shortly after the first meeting in 1912 and willed it to the local Savannah Girl Scouts upon her death in 1927.
All links retrieved June 13, 2018.
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