If there are other serious or semi-serious collectors of Girl Scout books in the world, they are remaining modestly off the Internet. A Google search for “collecting Girl Scout handbooks” today turned up this fellow collector on Squidoo, an individual on Alibris who may or may not have the only third edition of the original handbook left in the world, and a few already-sold copies of older handbooks on Etsy, along with the usual eBay listings for anything labeled “Girl Scout.”
So, in the interests of turning my personal obsession into a public service like the Girl Scouts trained me to do (just “do[ing] a good turn daily,” ma’am), here is Part I of my series on Girl Scout handbooks, past and present. More serious collectors will want to refer to Mary Degenhardt and Judith Kirsch’s Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, ISBN 0896725464 (Texas Tech UP, 2005).
1912: The Guide’s Promise. The Guide’s Promise was the booklet that brought Girl Scouting to the United States. This first handbook was a 16-page pamphlet published by Juliette Gordon Low on March 8, 1912. Only 40 were made (they were intended to be temporary), and I have no idea whether any still exist. I have never seen one.
1913: How Girls Can Help. The Baden-Powells wrote and Low published How Girls Can Help on April 9, 1913; it was also a pamphlet of sixteen pages that described some of the basics of Scouting (taken from Boy Scouting) and the requirements for a few proficiency badges. The first handbook was published later that year.
1913: How Girls Can Help Their Country.
How Girls Can Help Their Country, the joint work of Low and Savannah, GA naturalist Walter J. Hoxie, was printed in 1913. The original was a hardcover, clothbound book containing 147 pages. The Girl Scout Collector’s Guide lists this as the “first edition” and another printing that same year as the “second edition,” though I questions whether the “second edition” was really a second edition or just a second printing of the first edition. At any rate, the second-whatever was limited to 500 copies. The third edition, dated 1916, contained 151 pages and ran to 5,000 copies; the fourth, also dated 1916, was 156 pages (the last two were an equipment sales pamphlet. Edition/printings five, six, and seven all came out in 1917 and contained 154 pages.
The one on the left in the photograph above is a sixth edition, printed in 1917, with the price (thirty cents) listed on the cover. The right-hand one is the recent reprint by Applewood Books: not worth anything as a collector’s item, but much easier to read than the original, whose pages have turned a fine dark brown, being pretty cheap to begin with.
1918: Scouting for Girls. A hardbound book covered in khaki cloth and published by Juliette Gordon Low in 1918 and re-released in 1920. The 1920 printing is the best-known; 50,000 were published. Sources disagree on how many of the 1918 version were published and whether or not any still exist. This book split the program into Brownie Scouts, Scouts, and Senior Scouts depending on age. A special Officer’s Edition (marked “Officer’s Edition” on the cover) was also available.
1921: Brownies or Bluebirds: A Handbook for Young Girl Guides
Originally printed in England, this book was used by several U.S. Brownie Scout leaders until books could be written for them on this side of the pond. The book explains the name thus: “the alternative name of ‘Bluebirds’ was suggested as that of ‘Brownie’ might be incongruous in some parts of the Empire.” Indeed.
1926: The Brown Book for Brown Owls
In 1921, Josephine Daskam Bacon finished Brownie Book, A Manual for Leaders of Junior Girl Scouts, for leaders who wished to begin Brownie Scout programs. However, The Brown Book for Brown Owls is widely considered the first “official” Brownie Scout leader’s guide in the U.S. Five editions in eight print runs were released between 1926 and 1930. They had paper covers. In 1937, the Brownie Packet, a mimeographed update, became available.
1927: Scouting for Girls, Changes in Badges, and The Lone Girl Scout Trailmaker. An abridged edition of the 1920 handbook, mostly to take out the war-related information. I suppose by 1927, people were desperately bored with the Great War. From 1927 to 1932, Changes in Badges, a pamphlet updating badge requirements, was issued each year (with two separate versions released in 1928).
The Lone Girl Scout Trailmaker, a 40-page booklet for Girl Scouts without troops, was also released in 1927, and The Lone Girl Scout Adventurer was released in 1928.
1929: The Girl Scout Handbook. When people refer to “the first Girl Scout handbook,” you may need to ask them whether they mean the first handbook or the first Handbook, since the title The Girl Scout Handbook wasn’t used until 1929. The new Handbook was a whopping 464 pages long, including a brand-new section on mapmaking. According to Degenhardt and Kirsch, it was available in either a hard- or soft-bound edition.
1933: The Girl Scout Handbook. I own the second impression of this book, published in 1934, but mine flatly refused to photograph. So here is an image of the same book, courtesy of etsy.com (click to visit seller’s Etsy site).
The first edition of the 1933 Handbook could be purchased either in a cloth binding with black lettering, as pictured here, or a soft leatherette binding with gold lettering. The soft ones could also have the owner’s name embossed on the cover (far more elegant than the Sharpie on the handbooks I used as a Scout!). This book went through four impressions, the last being printed in February 1938. An additional booklet, Girl Scout Proficiency Badge Requirements and Special Awards, was printed in 1934, since the 1933 Handbook had no badge requirements listed in it.
The 1933 Handbook is the first one that was available in both Braille and large print, for vision-impaired Scouts: the American Red Cross provided the Braille version, and the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness provided the large-print one.
(A note on editions vs. impressions: an “impression” is another printing of a book from the same plates used to print the first one. The name comes from the days when printing consisted of covering actual carved metal blocks with ink and then pressing a piece of paper over the top; the resulting print on the page was called an “impression” because you could actually feel where the metal type pushed into the paper, leaving an indent. In those days, an earlier impression was better, because the type hadn’t had time to wear down and get hard to read. An “impression” is simply another version of the same edition. A separate “edition” occurs when the book is revised (or not) and the type re-set.)
1938: Girl Scout Program Activities, Ranks, and Badges. This book provided the requirements for the all-new “Intermediate Girl Scout,” ages 10-14. The booklet listed the various activities under ten different program fields (and we thought the five Worlds were exhaustive!). Three editions were printed, the last consisting of a relatively small 50,000 copies. The leaders’ version, Intermediate Program Guide for Girl Scout Leaders, was published in 1939.
1940: Girl Scout Handbook. The revised and updated handbook for Intermediate Girl Scouts, badge requirements included. Written by Edith Conant and illustrated by Barbara Danielsen. This book went through nine impressions between 1940 and 1946, publishing between 101,000 and 200,000 copies each time.
In October 1943, Leadership of Girl Scout Troops, for Intermediate program leaders, was published. It was also written by Edith Conant, but with the help of Martha Jane Smith and illustrated by Catherine C. Lewis. A 24-page Supplement to the leaders’ guide came out in 1949. Ms. Conant and Ms. Smith would continue to play a role in the authoring of Girl Scout handbooks and related materials for several years to come.
1945, Leader’s Guide to the Brownie Scout Program
This book was, in essence, The Brown Book for Brown Owls and the Brownie Packet united under one cover, with added information on “Units of Interest” for Brownies.
The first two editions of this book were printed in 1939, and bear the title A Leader’s Guide to the Brownie Program; the “A” was dropped in the 1945 and later editions. The book was revised in 1950 and again in 1957, where it was given the hard cover pictured above.
1947: Girl Scout Handbook. My personal favorite, the first one I ever officially “collected,” and one of the two handbooks of which I own multiple copies (with the 1986 Junior handbook, which is the one I used as a Junior Girl Scout).
In person, these two handbooks look as if they’re printed in slightly different colours: the one on the left in silver, the one on the right in gold. The difference is especially pronounced along the spines, where the dark green is noticeably darker on the one on the right. I suspect, however, this has more to do with age than anything else – the left-hand one is a fourth impression, printed in 1949, and the one on the right is an eleventh impression, released in 1952.
This Girl Scout Handbook was a completely revised edition, written by Margaret Chapman and Marie Gaudette, with illustrations by Jessie Gillespie Willing and a brand-new color plate featuring the Girl Scout Promise and Law, designed by Vera Bock. The badge requirements were arranged alphabetically for the first time and included the first appearance of the “Agriculture” program. Like the 1933 handbook, this one was also available in Braille, this time from the American Printing House for the Blind.
A pamphlet on New Ranks and Badges in the Intermediate Program was also released in 1947. It contained the badge and rank changes included in the 1947 handbook and was designed for girls who were still using the 1940 handbook. In 1949, the Supplement to Leadership of Girl Scout Troops was released to bring leaders still using the 1943 leadership guide up to date. The new leaders’ guide was published in 1950.
….37 years into Girl Scouting, and we’re just getting started. Stay tuned for Part II.