Celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 with the Girls Scouts

This past March 8, in honor of International Women’s Day, Girl Scout Troop 1239 came to The Wolfsonian–FIU for a guided tour led by curator Shoshana Resnikoff. Following their walk through the galleries, the scouts and their troop leaders came down to the library to view some rare books and ephemera. As this year’s theme stressed the ideals of a gender-balanced world, we had pulled some materials related to female-oriented youth movements, the Suffragette movement, and the work of Arts and Crafts book designer and illuminator Violet Oakley.

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Aside from a couple of vintage handbooks, The Wolfsonian Library does not hold an abundance of works specifically documenting the Girl Scouts or the scouting movement.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Joel Hoffman

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

We do, however, have a strong collection of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and National Youth Administration (NYA) materials from the New Deal era. With an estimated half-million young men and couple hundred thousand young women hopping freight trains and hitchhiking across the country in a desperate and futile search for work during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt impelled to immediately address the problem of youth homelessness and delinquency.

As a long-term supporter of the Boy Scouts, Roosevelt created the CCC with the aim of taking these malnourished kids off the streets and training them to do forestry work and conservation in camps established throughout the nation’s state and national parks and forests.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture

Within three month of taking office in March 1933 at the nadir of the Depression, FDR had enrolled 250,000 young men in the program. Under military oversight and discipline, Roosevelt’s “Tree Army” were planting billions of trees, fighting forest fires, and clearing paths and building roads and bridges and their own self-confidence as primary supporters of their families back home.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

All but one of the camps, however, were exclusively set up for young men, and the one exception provided young women with gendered “home economics” training rather than forestry skills. At First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s insistence that the President not forget the ladies, the National Youth Administration was devised to provide a more diverse, gender-balanced vocational education and training for young men, women, and minorities.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture

Even as President Roosevelt launched his CCC and NYA programs, totalitarian regimes in Europe were fostering their own brand of youth movements tied to service to the state. Drawing on the mythical origins of the ancient founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus—supposedly suckled and raised by a she-wolf—Italian dictator Benito Mussolini created the Figli della Lupa (or children of the she-wolf) and the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB).

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In contrast to the rather benign English and American scouting motto: “Be prepared,” the Fascist indoctrinated their own youth groups with the mantra: “Believe, obey, fight” and had their uniformed children trained in military marching and drill with dummy rifles.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Mussolini and the Fascists were notoriously anti-feminist in their views, so while young women were encouraged to join youth groups and participate in athletic competition, their physical and educational training stressed healthy bodies and brainwashed minds designed to incubate and inculcate the future generation of Fascist soldiers.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Similarly gender-sensitive youth organizations established themselves in Portugal and Spain under Fascist rule, and when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, the Fuhrer also fashioned his own Hitler Jugend after the Fascist Italian model.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Steve Heller

Although Communist propaganda stressed gender equality, the Soviet Union’s Young Pioneer groups seem to have both broken and reinforced stereotyped gender roles.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Steve Heller

In addition to the materials on scouting and youth movements, the visiting Girl Scout troop also learned a bit about the Woman’s Suffrage movement. While The Wolfsonian Library possesses a few works by the famous English suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst, the librarians have also recently catalogued and digitized a set of satirical pro-and anti-suffragette themed postcards from Great Britain.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

As can be seen, women’s participation in the war effort during the Great War helped propel the suffrage cause forward, though many men were still clinging to sexist and chauvinistic views toward the “fairer sex.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU

We ended the Girl Scout group’s tour with a look at a work by the American artist Violet Oakley (1874–1961) that documents the important role played by women delegates to the 10th Assembly of the League of Nations meeting in Geneva in 1929. While that work has not yet been digitized, the library has other examples of her artwork that uncompromisingly celebrated the contributions of women to culture, religion, civilization, and the betterment of society.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena Palacio Luca

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds provided by Florida International University’s Liberal Studies Program

 

~ by "The Chief" on March 19, 2019.

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