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Growing Girls

Growing Girls: The Natural Origins of Girls' Organizations in America

Susan A. Miller
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Growing Girls
    Book Description:

    In the early years of the twentieth century, Americans began to recognize adolescence as a developmental phase distinct from both childhood and adulthood. This awareness, however, came fraught with anxiety about the debilitating effects of modern life on adolescents of both sexes. For boys, competitive sports as well as "primitive" outdoor activities offered by fledging organizations such as the Boy Scouts would enable them to combat the effeminacy of an overly civilized society. But for girls, the remedy wasn't quite so clear.Surprisingly, the "girl problem"?a crisis caused by the transition from a sheltered, family-centered Victorian childhood to modern adolescence where self-control and a strong democratic spirit were required of reliable citizens?was also solved by way of traditionally masculine, adventurous, outdoor activities, as practiced by the Girl Scouts, the Camp Fire Girls, and many other similar organizations.Susan A. Miller explores these girls' organizations that sprung up in the first half of the twentieth century from a socio-historical perspective, showing how the notions of uniform identity, civic duty, "primitive domesticity," and fitness shaped the formation of the modern girl.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4156-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: What Is the Matter with Jane?
    (pp. 1-12)

    Why, asked theNew York Timesin November 1920, was the Girl Scout movement growing so rapidly that it was forced to turn away four thousand potential members each month because of shortages of staff and resources? The “reason for this is that the scout corps answers a question which is asked in every family where there is a growing girl: ‘What is the matter with Jane?’”¹

    As “childhood merges into young womanhood new ideas and new longings come, which are the most potent of all for good or evil,” theTimesnoted. Yet at this critical juncture in her...

  5. Chapter 1 Fashioning Girls’ Identities
    (pp. 13-47)

    It is my place to sketch the conditions which have created a new relation of women to the world; to show why a nation-wide organization of girls and women is inevitable,” proclaimed Luther Gulick, founder of the Camp Fire Girls, in a 1912 pamphlet.¹ According to Girl Scout history, just a few months later Juliette Low phoned a friend to announce her own intention to start a new organization. “I have something for the girls of America,” Low proclaimed.² At the time they made their announcements, however, neither Gulick nor Low had anything tangible: no uniforms or handbooks, no...

  6. Chapter 2 “A Splendid Army of Women”: Mobilizing Girl Soldiers
    (pp. 48-82)

    Why were Scout and Camp Fire leaders so insistent that thirteen-year-old schoolgirls could be effectively mobilized for a war being fought thousands of miles from their homes? And given the absurdity of their claims—Girl Scouts on the home firing line! Minute Girls on battlefields and in trenches!—why did the general public take their proclamations so seriously? The Great War had such a galvanizing effect on the development of girls’ organizations because it occurred at precisely the right historical moment. From their inception just a few years before, girls’ groups—especially the Scouts, whose handbook was titledHow Girls...

  7. Chapter 3 The Landscape of Camp
    (pp. 83-121)

    When girls’ organizations were first founded, camp, and indeed nature itself, was a casual affair. A leader who was so inclined took her girls for short hikes and nature walks, or “got up” a weekend excursion to a nearby farm or popular swimming hole. Leaders who lacked an affinity for the out-of-doors did none of these things, and their programs were judged to be none the worse for it. Camp and nature certainly had their places within the fledgling organizations, but the realities of recruiting volunteers, locating members, and raising money occupied the attention of most leaders. Summer camping trips...

  8. Chapter 4 Naturecraft: Restoring Pioneer Heritage
    (pp. 122-157)

    On November 6, 1924, the cover ofLifefeatured an illustration by Norman Rockwell titledGood Scouts.In the brilliantly lit foreground, a girl in a Scout uniform gazes directly at the reader. She is pretty, with sparkling eyes and a bright smile. Given her countenance and the light that surrounds her, the only word to describe this Girl Scout isradiant.It is true, however, that her uniform bags a bit; it appears to be a few sizes too large for her. Yet everything about this girl suggests that she will indeed grow into these clothes and, when her...

  9. Chapter 5 Homecraft: Primitive Maidens and Domestic Pioneers
    (pp. 158-191)

    A photograph fromOur Little Men and Women: Modern Methods of Character Buildingshows a young girl standing atop a chair so she can reach her work. She is bent over a metal basin that rests on a rough wooden table, washing a cooking pot nearly half her size. It is not particularly surprising to find the image of a dutiful child doing her chores in a 1912 text purporting to teach “Many Valuable Lessons” about children’s “Future Usefulness.” Yet there is something incongruous about the photo. The child is not pictured at home in the midst of a bustling...

  10. Chapter 6 Healthcraft: Measuring the Modern Girl
    (pp. 192-220)

    By the time the St. Paul, Minnesota, Camp Fire Girls sang this little ditty on their radio show, its truths, which had once been self-evident to girls’ organizations, had begun to unravel. The easy assumption that girls were naturally healthy and enjoyed, even reveled in, a healthy lifestyle had been called into question. The song’s other assumption, that a perfectly healthy lifestyle could best be acquired at camp, had also been challenged. Within the course of just two decades, the definition of a healthy girl—and the nature of the healthy landscape in which she purportedly thrived—had changed radically....

  11. Epilogue: A Tale of Two Girls
    (pp. 221-230)

    The following two stories—one from the diary of a Camp Fire Girl from Minnesota, the other from a Pennsylvania Girl Scout—show what happened to girls when they left the landscape of camp. Alice Gortner, Shirley Vincent, and their friends set out on gypsy trips under the official care of their organizations. They went as Camp Fire Girls and Girl Scouts, not merely as girls, yet the experiences they encountered in this “graduate school” of camping had little to do with the sanctioned ideals of the two movements. Girls’ organizations liked to view their proffered camping excursions as educational...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 231-254)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-264)
  14. Index
    (pp. 265-270)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-272)