Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927)
Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon Low was the founder of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA).
Childhood and Adolescence
Low's upbringing was typical for daughters of elite families in the post–Civil War South. She started school in Savannah and was later sent to boarding schools in Virginia and New York, where she formed friendships that endured throughout her lifetime. She excelled in art classes, and continued to study art, sketch, paint, and sculpt as an adult.
Low completed her formal education in 1880, made her debut in Savannah society, and spent the next several years traveling, assisting with the care of the two youngest Gordon children, and pursuing her interest in art. In January 1885 she sustained an injury that left her partially deaf; another accident the following year further damaged her hearing. Although she joked about her deafness and refused to curtail her activities because of it, her disability was a source of frustration and contributed to bouts of melancholia and depression that became more frequent as she aged.
Marriage and Widowhood
On December 21, 1886, she married William "Willy" Mackay Low,
Low adapted easily to the life of the English gentry. She was presented at court, attended and hosted house parties, and traveled extensively. The Lows had no children. As years passed they increasingly spent time apart, and there was evidence of growing unhappiness in their marriage. In 1902 William Low abandoned his wife for
Low inherited all of her husband's property in Georgia, including the house on Lafayette Square; she also maintained a residence in London. She spent several months in Savannah each year and continued to travel extensively, including annual summer vacations in Scotland, frequent visits to relatives and friends in America and Great Britain, occasional trips to Europe, and one tour of India. She enjoyed the company of young people and often invited a niece, nephew, or the child of a friend to accompany her.
The Girl Scouts
In 1911 Low met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, a war hero and the founder of the Boy Scouts. The two shared common interests and quickly became friends. She admired the scouting movement and soon began working with the Girl Guides, the Boy Scouts' sister organization in Great Britain. With Baden-Powell's help and encouragement, she made plans to start a similar association for American girls. She returned to Georgia early in 1912 and formed several troops in Savannah in March.
By 1925 there were more than 90,000 active Girl Scouts in the United States.
Low resigned the presidency of GSUSA in 1920, assuming instead the title of founder. She became increasingly involved in the international association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. She realized one of her fondest dreams in May 1926, when the United States hosted an international encampment in New York. Thirty countries were represented; Low personally subsidized the travel expenses of some of the girls from overseas.
By the time of the encampment Low's health was failing. In 1923 she had been diagnosed with cancer. She concealed her illness from family and friends as long as she could and maintained a busy schedule.
Low was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement in 1992, and in 2005 she was named an inaugural nominee of the Extra Mile Points of Light Volunteer Pathway, an evolving national monument in Washington, D.C.
Melissa Ann Langley Biegert, "Woman Scout: The Empowerment of Juliette Gordon Low" (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin, 1998).
Anne Hyde Choate and Helen Ferris, eds., Juliette Low and the Girl Scouts (New York: Girl Scouts of the USA, 1928).
Gladys Denny Schultz and Daisy Gordon Lawrence, Lady from Savannah: The Life of Juliette Low (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1958).
Anastatia Hodgens Sims, "Juliette Gordon Low: Late-Blooming Daisy," in Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times, vol. 1., ed. Ann Short Chirhart and Betty Wood (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009).
Anastatia Sims, Georgia Southern University
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