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Growing Girls

The Natural Origins of Girls' Organizations in America

Susan A Miller

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Series in Childhood Studies


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

The author’s guidelines that I have consulted while completing this manuscript list acknowledgments as optional. Not so. They are the first thing we read, and the last we write, and are, in truth, essential. All historians owe a great debt to the librarians and archivists who make our work possible. I am grateful to staff at the Rockefeller Archive Center, the Girl Scout Councils ...

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Introduction: What Is the Matter with Jane?

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pp. 1-12

Why, asked the New York Times in 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

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Chapter 1. Fashioning Girls’ Identities

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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 ...

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Chapter 2. “A Splendid Army of Women”: Mobilizing Girl Soldiers

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pp. 60-94

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 ...

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Chapter 3. The Landscape of Camp

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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 ...

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Chapter 4. Naturecraft: Restoring Pioneer Heritage

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pp. 122-157

On November 6, 1924, the cover of Life featured an illustration by Norman Rockwell titled Good 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 ...

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Chapter 5. Homecraft: Primitive Maidens and Domestic Pioneers

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pp. 158-191

A photograph from Our Little Men and Women: Modern Methods of Character Building shows 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 ...

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Chapter 6. Healthcraft: Measuring the Modern Girl

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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, ...

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Epilogue: A Tale of Two Girls

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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 ...


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pp. 231-254


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pp. 255-264


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pp. 265-270

About the Author

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pp. 271-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780813541563
E-ISBN-10: 0813541565
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813540634
Print-ISBN-10: 0813540631

Page Count: 284
Illustrations: 25 photographs
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Series in Childhood Studies
Series Editor Byline: Edited by Myra Bluebond-Langner, Ph.D., Founder of Rutgers University Center for Children and Childhood Studies See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 190791391
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Growing Girls

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Girls -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Girl Scouts of the United States of America -- History.
  • Camp Fire Girls -- History.
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