If you are a Girl Scout you know who JGLow is. This is one of those bioBlogs that I knew I was going to do weeks before the date. It is my honor to celebrate her birthday.
“Right is right, even if no one else does it.”
— Juliette Gordon Low
Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born on this day in Savannah Georgia in 1860. Today is the 152nd anniversary of her birth.
“Daisy” was a beautiful baby with a sweet disposition. She was the second of the Gordon’s six children. The family lived at 10 East Oglethorpe Avenue in a double town house in a wealthy section of town. She had all the advantages of a well to do Southern girl. But she was born on the cusp of the Civil War. Daisy was born in October 1860 and hostilities at Fort Sumter, South Carolina marked the official beginning of the war on April 12th 1861. The Gordon’s was a house divided. Her father was pro-succession and a slave holder, her mother was from the Chicago and an abolitionist.
While Daisy’s father was joining the war efforts on behalf of the South, her maternal relatives were enlisting in the Northern militias. Daisy’s mother struggled with the conflicting feelings of having loved ones on both sides of the war, and often faced wrath from angry neighbors. [Biography.com]
Her father joined the Confederate Army and was away from home for most Daisy’s early life. She didn’t see him for more than a few days at a time. Food shortages in the city meant that even the wealthy Gordons suffered from malnutrition. Savannah’s coastal location meant illnesses like malaria were always a threat. By 1864 things were looking grim for the Confederacy. General Sherman had taken Atlanta and was marching through Georgia to the sea burning a path in his wake. Savannah was the last city in his way. When the city surrendered Eleanor Kinzie Gordon invited the General, an old friend, to tea. He brought her letters and packages from her friends and family in Chicago.
He also brought the two older girls, Nelly and Daisy, a gift of rock sugar candy, the first sugar the girls had ever eaten….He often recounted a funny anecdote about the 4-year-old Daisy Gordon. After eating her sugar, she sat on his lap and began to curiously inspect his head. When he asked what she was doing, she told him she had heard him called that ”old Devil Sherman” and she wanted to see his horns. [Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace]
Some say he was so charmed by the little girl and her mother’s hospitality that he spared the city [it probably had more to do with city’s strategic sea port.] Eleanor Gordon packed up her daughters and headed north (under the protection of General Sherman) to her family in Chicago to wait out the rest of the war. (All wives of Southern officers were ordered to leave the city.)
At her grandparents’ home in Illinois, Daisy was exposed to an entirely different way of life…As a result of her maternal grandparents’ influence in the community, Daisy encountered a variety of new people, including many Native Americans… Her interactions with Native Americans gave her an early appreciation of Native American culture, which she would idealize for the rest of her life….By 1865, the family had reunited in Savannah and, thanks to her mother’s efforts to recoup their financial losses in the South, Daisy’s father was able to revitalize Belmont cotton plantation. [Biography.com]
As a child Daisy learned to sketch, paint and sculpt, write poems, write and act in plays. Daisy loved her pets including dogs and birds. She was a good swimmer and captain of the rowing team. She liked to play tennis. She learned to stand on her head [a trick she repeated annually on her birthday to prove that she could still do it.]
When she was a teen Daisy went to the Virginia Female Institute (now Stuart Hall School) in Staunton, Virginia. Then she went to Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers for finishing school in New York City.
…She was taught the typical social graces of a highborn lady in school—excelling in drawing, piano and speech—she yearned instead to explore, hike, play tennis and ride horses—all activities discouraged by her restrictive finishing schools. Defiant in nature, Daisy was frequently caught breaking the rules.[Ibid]
As a young woman she traveled in the US and Europe. She spent time in New York trying to make a living painting. She met and married a wealthy English cotton merchant, William Mackay Low on December 21, 1886. When well-wishers threw the traditional rice at the newlyweds a grain became lodged in Daisy’s ear. The pain became so bad that she went to a doctor to have the rice removed. “When trying to remove the rice, the doctor punctured the eardrum and damaged the nerve-endings resulting in a total loss of hearing in that ear.” [Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace] It was an omen of things to come.
The Lows lived in England and traveled extensively. They spent their summers in England and their winters in the US.
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…At the end of the war, Juliette returned to England to a disintegrating marriage. [Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace]
The couple, who had been unable to conceive children had begun to drift apart.
William, who had limitless funds and no restrictions, began spending more and more time apart from his wife, gambling, partying, hunting, and splurging on extravagant toys. Daisy was also gone on frequent trips, searching for cures for her hearing loss. [Biography.com]
One of William Low‘s new hobbies was his mistress, Ms. Anna Bateman. By 1901 he had asked Daisy repeatedly for a divorce, but she refused. At that time a divorce brought shame on all parties involved. But when Daisy returned home from a trip to find Ms. Bateman living in the house and her (Daisy’s) things moved to the servants quarters she gave in. Daisy went to stay with friends and the Lows were legally seperated. Before their final divorce papers could come through William Low died. He left everything to Bateman, Daisy had to go through the embaressment of contesting the will. She eventually got the Savannah Lafayette Ward estate.
Daisy began to look for new purpose in her life. She traveled, this time as far as Egypt and India. In 1911 she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. She worked with Baden-Powell, his wife Olive, and his sister Agnes in their efforts to create girl’s version of the scouts.
Low started several troops in Scotland and London, for girls of varying income brackets. The effect on the girls’ self-esteem was so striking that Low decided she had to take the program to the United States. [Biography.com]
So she returned to Savannah and hatched her plans to start the Girl Guides on this side of the Atlantic…
Less than a year later, she… made her historic telephone call to her cousin Nina Pape, saying, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!” On March 12, 1912, Juliette Low gathered 18 girls to register the first two patrols of American Girl Guides. [Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace]
Low used her own money (with contributions from her friends and family) and her considerable energy to forge the new organization. The name of the group was changed to Girl Scouts a year later.
It was her goal to bring girls from all backgrounds together as equals to enjoy the outdoors, to learn new skills and to be ambassadors of peace in the world.
She encouraged girls to prepare not only for traditional homemaking, but also for possible future roles as professional women—in the arts, sciences and business—and for active citizenship outside the home. [Ibid]
She remained friends with the Baden-Powells and “she helped lay the foundation for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.” [Ibid]
In 1923 Daisy was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died four years late on January 17, 1927. She was laid to rest at the Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. A Scout to the end, Daisy is burried her Girl Scout uniform.
Girl Scouts is the largest educational organization for girls in the world and has influenced the more than 50 million girls, women and men who have belonged to it. [Ibid]
November 1st, 2012 at 1:50 pm
Thank you for remembering JGLow!
November 1st, 2012 at 1:57 pm
This bio was such a joy to write. I did get teary eyed at the end though. Thanks for reading.