- The Rowan Tree: The Lifework of Marjorie Edgar, Girl Scout Pioneer and Folklorist, With Her Finnish Folk Song Collection “Songs from Metsola” by Joyce E. Hakala
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a proliferation of “song catchers,” private individuals who collected songs and other folklore out of a desire to preserve dying traditions. They were typically amateur folklorists, but amateur only in sense that they did their work “for the love if it” rather than as a profession. In most cases, they were local people who were experts on their own environments and confined their work to their own local communities. Marjorie Edgar was one such “song catcher.”
Joyce Hakala, author of Memento of Finland (Pikebone Music, 1997), an exhaustive study of the kantele among Finnish Americans, continues her research with The Rowan Tree, a book that brings Marjorie Edgar’s work out of obscurity. The book has three parts: the first is an extensive story of Edgar’s lifework. The second part is Edgar’s collection of Finnish American songs, which she intended to publish during her lifetime under the title “Songs from Metsola.” The third part contains a series of appendices that meticulously documents the other two parts.
The first part is divided into six chapters that represent different decades of Edgar’s life. Though this part is only 103 pages long, each page is 8½ × 11 inches in size, printed in double columns in ten-point font, making the narrative quite substantial. It is more than a mere biography, and should be considered a history and ethnography as well.
Marjorie Edgar was born in 1889 to a well-to-do Minneapolis family of Scottish and English ancestry. Her father, William Edgar, became the owner and editor of the Northwestern Miller, a publication that served as a medium between millers and flour buyers in the United States and abroad. Marjorie’s brother Randolph also became a writer. The family was well read and well traveled, and they were involved in significant social and philanthropic activities. Marjorie’s interest in music began at an early age, learning her first folk songs around the age of five. Through a family friend, Grace Boutelle, she was able to learn about folk music scholarship and study Grace’s extensive folk song library. She also began her own collection of published folk music, especially coming from her family’s many trips abroad.
With her great love of the outdoors and inclination for philanthropy, Marjorie soon became involved with girl scouting, a connection she would keep throughout her life. It became an unpaid career. She helped organize the first Girl Scout troop in Minnesota and established one of the earliest Girl Scout camps. She attended national and international conferences on girl scouting and became someone who could train Girl Scout officers at training camps.
Edgar’s interest in scouting and in folk music went hand in hand. Singing songs was an important activity at Girl Scout camps, and what better songs to sing than traditional folk songs and ballads? Edgar’s earliest publications were song collections to be used at Girl Scout camps. Songs of Camp Minnesota for Girl Scout Leaders (Zimmerman Print, 1925) contained twelve songs from diverse ethnic groups. Her success at teaching singing at Girl Scout camps led to a request from the national organization to compile a ballad book, which she at first turned down but eventually published as Old Songs and Balladry for Girl Scouts (Girl Scouts, Inc., 1930). [End Page 321]
These were not scholarly collections, but were designed for practical use. Edgar collected and arranged songs from various published sources, as well as her own transcriptions. She was not above setting a traditional melody to newly composed text or arranging melodies to make them more appropriate for use by Girl Scouts and herself. In addition to teaching, Edgar also became...