The Story of the Girl Guides, by Rose Kerr

This book was originally published in 1932, but I read the revised and updated 1964 edition.


The book tracks the movement from its very beginnings to the formation of the World Association, ending in 1963, when there were 5.25 million girls in 68 countries involved.

It contains, all through, anecdotes and quotes from magazines, letters, and minutes of meetings, some of which would not be out of place today.

Take this, for example, from 1911. In a letter from a Guide, she writes:

You asked me what I liked best in camping out. I think it is the cooking; we took it in turn, one patrol one day and another the next. … I don’t think there were any things we disliked. I don’t dislike anything very much, except earwigs at night.

I dislike one thing though, and that is that camping is not long enough.

At the same camp, they took photos of everyone, including one of the leaders while she was asleep, and took part in a joint exercise with the Scouts – the boys were having a sham war, and the girls tracked down the injured and treated them.

The other comment from the first few chapters that particularly amused me was this one:

In February 1913 we meet for the first time our hardy perennial grievance, when Miss Taylor, of Liverpool, writes to complain of the bad quality of the Ternderfoot pins (and in those days they cost only 1d.!).

The reason for my amusement is left as an exercise for the reader.

Safeguarding, which I thought was a current buzzword, makes its first appearance in 1914, when a notice was sent out to captains who are considering how to help with the war effort.

Captains are asked to exercise special caution in the selection of girls for any public work.  Every safeguard must be given to the girls … Only those who bring a written permission from their parents should be employed.  Every girl selected for work must have a card with her name and address, stating the work for which she is sent, and each card must be signed by the captain.

It’s not all serious though.  A fun game is mentioned, originally played by Lady BP – collecting commissioners. Take a map of England to a conference and fill in whenever you meet the commissioner for that area.  I might try that at the next County Day (on a smaller scale, of course).

I know many people will understand this event:

One evening in September 1923, when Olivia Burges was staying with the Baden-Powells, were they walking home through the corn fields at the back of Pax Hill, and started to discuss this subject [of an international camp]. … They then and there sat down on a corn-stook to talk it all out, and got so excited they almost forgot to go home to supper.

Some things never change!

Another thing that never changes – or rather which comes around again and again – is new uniforms.  It being particularly topical at the moment, I thought I’d quote this section from 1945:

We want a uniform which people will LIKE and which will be suitable.  All the Movement has to do is vote for a uniform which will be just the thing for:

a) Those who have always liked the present uniform and want to keep it;

b) Those who have never liked the present uniform and won’t keep to it!

c) Those who wouldn’t like to be seen in any uniform that was not of the well-known blue;

d) Those who don’t want to be seen in any uniform, and must have a blend of grass green and earth brown wherewith to melt into the landscape!

e) Those who always seem neat and smart whatever they wear;

f) Those who always seem content whatever they wear (and however they wear it!);

g) Those who mostly wear their uniforms to go to meetings and impress the local pundits;

h) Those who mostly wear their uniforms to go to the local woods and stalk the local rabbits;

i) Those who wear uniform to sit in every day;

j) Those who wear uniform to bicycle now and then a long way;

k) Those with a bad circulation who live on the North Sea coast;

l) Those with a good circulation who live on the Cornish Riviera;

m) Those who want a uniform which can’t be mistaken for anything but a uniform;

n) Those who want a uniform which can easily be mistaken for their favourite dress designer’s latest dream.

All in all, it’s a wonder anything ever gets agreed!

The book as a whole is rather tedious, especially at the start when it contains so many references to people and events which were clearly important at the time that it gets bogged down a little.  It was originally written in 1932, so it’s very close to the events – to the point where it wasn’t considered necessary to explain some things in as much detail as modern readership would need.

It is, however, fascinating if read a little at a time.


2 thoughts on “The Story of the Girl Guides, by Rose Kerr

  1. It’s interesting, unfortunately a lot of the early detail is laced with myths (such as Baden-Powell not knowing there were Girl Scouts until they turned up uninvited at the Crystal Palace Rally, which is all myth). But if you can pick through the fabrications and interpretations, the real story is fascinating!

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