Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 9, 2012

Palo Alto Girl Scouts were first in the West

Nearly 500 girls to march in Girl Scouts of America centennial celebration on Monday

by Sue Dremann

When the Girl Scouts of America celebrates its 100th anniversary Monday evening, Palo Alto's Girl Scouts will have their 90th anniversary. In 1922, Palo Alto Girl Scouts Service Unit 1 became the first Girl Scout organization in the West.

Today's the local group numbers 1,092 girls and 793 adults in 103 troops, from 5-year-old Daisies to high school students. Some of Palo Alto's registered lifetime members are nearly 90 years old, leader Vicki George said.

On Monday, about 400 to 500 Palo Alto Girl Scouts will walk from the Lou Henry Hoover Program Center at Rinconada Park to City Hall, where Mayor Yiaway Yeh will read a proclamation, and the girls and women will shine lights at 7:12 p.m.

Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of President Herbert Hoover, helped established the service group in Palo Alto in 1922. She viewed the Girl Scouts as an appealing way to train young women to respond to crises and disaster. As a troop leader in Washington, D.C., Hoover had established an integrated troop, with white and black girls, which was extremely rare for that time, according to the National First Ladies' Library. Splitting her time between their homes in D.C. and Palo Alto, she helped found a troop in Palo Alto in 1917 and expanded it to create the Santa Clara Council in 1922, officially opening the Girl Scouts to the western states.

The enduring appeal of the Girl Scouts is due in large part to the organization's flexibility and willingness to remain relevant with the times, said Palo Alto resident Marion Mandell, who joined the Girl Scouts in New Jersey in 1939.

"The Girl Scouts have (always) been in the forefront of modern events," she said.

Mandell, 82, still calls herself a Girl Scout. She joined the Palo Alto service group in 1958.

Mandell said the most attractive parts of scouting for her were being of service to others and the fun of girls doing activities together. She continued on as an assistant leader and in college became a camp counselor. To this day, she is still involved and annually organizes the international father-daughter dance events, including one planned for this weekend, she said.

Girl Scout cookies now cost $4 a box; when Mandell was a girl, she sold them for 25 cents, she said.

While there have always been outdoor- and community-service skills, when computers came along, the Girl Scouts promptly offered a computer badge, she said. Early on they had badges related to the environment and ecology.

Palo Alto Girl Scouts can get badges in areas related to aerospace and architecture and even media savvy. They have one of the most successful robotics teams. They formed the first all-girls local robotics team about eight years ago in conjunction with NASA, which now encompasses the entire Bay Area, George said.

Karen Smestad said she also remains a Scout after many decades. Although her children are grown, she continues to take part in the programs, teaching the next generation of young girls. Scouting offers girls equal-opportunity experiences to become leaders and develop confidence and connections to their communities, she said.

"Yesterday I was teaching them how to build a fire," she said Wednesday.

"To have someone who just learned to strike a match and watch the fire start; to learn a program within Scouting and take it to fruition to an award; and to build something to give to the community" these are the experiences that keep her returning, she said.

In addition to having the first service in the West, Palo Alto also has the nation's oldest Girl Scout house that's been in continuous use, at Rinconada Park. It was dedicated in 1926.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


Posted by Mary Carlstead, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Congratulations to the Palo Alto Girls Scouts. I joined the GS in 1939 (no Brownie troops in my hometown then) and could afford to go to summer camp once. During WWII we knitted "Bundles for Britain", learned to sew our own clothes and to knit for the military, can fruits and vegetables, first aid, did Red Cross work, and as senior scouts helped in local hospitals during a severe RN shortage. We all had to earn badge in identifying enemy aircraft and were junior wardens - (never mind that we lived along the MIssissippi River!! .I was an expert in making balsam plane models, manned the desk in the hospital 'primitive' ER . once all night when the night person failed to show up.(I was fifteen). And when the 'telegrams started coming in especially after the Bataan death march (the Illinois reservists from our area were there) and throughout the war. we made cards and paper flowers for the families.
My own two daughters joined here - the Walter Hays troop, and I have fond? memories of sleepovers at the Lou Henry Hoover house (on the floor) and a weekend at a camp out in the Santa Cruz mountains- stories from them still make me roar with laughter. Perhaps some other local moms will remember that - the 'mountain lion "scare" which was a joke - breakfast in bed for mom's on Mother's Day, and moms 'late night cup of coffee'. We earned it. I still have my original GS pin. Daughters have their badges. I hope the organization goes on forever. God Bless the Girl Scouts. "Day is done........gone the sun....... "(Does any old scout remember the words?

Posted by Ronnie, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Thanks for sharing that! It is really fascinating to hear a little bit about what it would have been like for a kid and girl scout during those times.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2012 at 10:02 pm

What a wonderful history for a wonderful organization!

Posted by Troop Leader 60647, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 12, 2012 at 11:42 am

Happy birthday Girl Scouts! Glad to be a part of SU601!

Posted by Appreciative Neighbor, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2012 at 1:18 pm

At the intersection of Lowell and Bryant (dead end with bike path) we have a neighbor who has been doing an wonderful job of decorating for various holiday and events (President's Day, Valentine's Day, Chinese new year, etc.)

There is currently a display set up celebrating the 100 years of Girl Scouts.

Thanks to our mystery neighbor putting these festive decorations up. It livens up the neighborhood and we go by frequently as a family to see what the latest display is - great work!

Posted by Sally, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm

"Juliette Gordon Low spent several years searching for something useful to do with her life. Her search ended in 1911, when she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and became interested in the new youth movement. Afterwards, she channeled all her considerable energies into the fledgling movement"

Web Link

My father was a scoutmaster, and I was in a Girl Scout troop. I always knew that the Girl Scouts were an outgrwoth of the Boy Scouts.

This celebration should honor the Boy Scouts, as well as the Girl Scouts.

Posted by SuperD, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 12, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Congrats to the Girl Scouts on their 90th anniversary . This is truly a worthwhile organization - I am glad to see continued interest in scouting these days. It's good to have these kids step away from the television and the video games and learn some old fashioned values and life skills.

Posted by GS leader, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Ah, yes, the much-venerated Girl Scouts. The organization that has exploited generations of little girls, sending them out on the streets to hawk cookies, nuts, and the like. The troop gets to keep a small percentage of sales, and if a troop doesn't meet quota, it risks getting booted out of Girl Scouts. I'll never forget the year we were commanded to return our meager earnings to regional headquarters so they could buy furnishings for their new Juliette Low dollhouse.

Troops are also not allowed to fundraise or support any other organization, no matter how worthy. It's all about enriching the mother ship. The girls have fun, and that's what counts, but I'm surprised Palo Altans aren't a little more savvy about what's under the hood of this mom & apple pie organization.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2012 at 9:27 am

@ "GS leader:"

There is always someone who likes it to rain on a parade.

No cookies for you.


Posted by AnotherGSLeader, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2012 at 9:47 am

Wonderful organization! SU 601 (Palo Alto) is run by volunteers. Every leader, co-leader has a life of her/his own .. many of them work full time and have equally busy (if not busier) lives at home. However, you see each leader's face brimming with enthusiasm and the drive to get "more" for their troop girls. Its not easy, but at the end of the day, its personally very rewarding for the leader to see that one shy kid, who wouldn't say a word, when she was a Daisy .. lead a group of kids to get a Bronze/Silver award. It is refreshing to see the girls, who could barely muster courage to rattle off the list of cookie flavors at the booth sale, stepping up and coming up with strategies to sell.

Yes, every organization has its own pros and cons. No organization is perfect. It depends on how you, as a leader, choose to work with the rules.

Posted by Nick, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2012 at 11:21 am

Are the PA scouts now ready to be the first to get the national group to offer cookies without wheat or gluten, or formulated for diabetics? Now that would be a great first! The country is ready.