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Daisy's century
Juliette Gordon Low is Georgia History Fest honoree at centennial of Girl Scouts founding
Portrait of Juliette Gordon Low, Gordon family papers, 1802-1946 (courtesy Georgia Historical Society)

Anyone who spends much time in downtown Savannah will eventually run into some of the many Girl Scout troops visiting the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, as well as the nearby Andrew Low House where she headquartered the Girl Scouts of America later in life.

But few people really know the story of this larger–than–life yet still enigmatic woman known to friends and family simply as “Daisy.”

Ginger Wadsworth, author of First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low, would like you to know Daisy’s story better. Her Feb. 2 lecture on Juliette Gordon Low is the kickoff event for this year’s Georgia History Festival, timed to mark the centennial of Low’s founding of the Girl Scouts in 1912.

Though Low was the daughter of one of Savannah’s wealthiest and most influential families — the William Gordon monument in Wright Square commemorates her grandfather, who founded the Central of Georgia Railroad — not everything in her life was peaches and cream.

“The first thing I look for when I’m considering a biography topic is what did that individual experience as a child that made that person stronger?” explains Wadsworth.

“Daisy came from a wealthy background. But she was born during the Civil War. She suffered physically from lack of good food, and mentally from being separated from her father during that time,” she says. “Not to mention all the worries churning around the adults.”

Daisy’s challenges became more pronounced in adulthood. On her wedding day to cotton heir William Low at Christ Church, a grain of rice thrown by a well–wisher pierced her eardrum, leading to a lifelong hearing impediment.

“Most people don’t know she had this terrible hearing handicap,” says Wadsworth. “That was actually the second time she lost part of her hearing. The first time was shen she had an injection in her ear in an attempt to help her with a bad ear infection. It’s an important thing for young people to know that you can rise above any handicap and be successful.”

It was a symbolic harbinger of things to come; the marriage rapidly became estranged and miserable. In those days before easy divorces, Daisy led essentially a separate life from her husband for years.

“We have to put it in context of the times. Then, it was her responsibility to have a stiff upper lip to deal with the fact that her marriage was crumbling,” Wadsworth says. “She wouldn’t have gone out to seek a divorce. It was a terrible marriage — her husband was not kind, he had a mistress.”

Though her book is geared for readers 9 and up — “I’m actually seeing kind of a crossover in that it’s also being purchased by adults, because it’s over 200 pages long,” she adds — Wadsworth decided there was no way to avoid Low’s infidelity and its impact on Daisy’s life.

“I do go into it, and therefore it might not for the youngest readers in some families because I do use the word ‘mistress,’ which is controversial to some people,” she says.

After her husband’s somewhat premature death in 1905 and the contentious settling of his will — he originally left his estate to his mistress — Daisy struck up a friendship in 1911 with Sir Robert Baden–Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in Great Britain.

Inspired by his vision, Daisy was determined to do the same thing in the U.S. On March 12, 1912, she gathered 18 girls to register the first troop of American Girl Guides, as they were than called (the organization she founded was renamed the Girl Scouts the following year).

“I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!” was Daisy’s famous phone call to her cousin.

While Ginger Wadsworth has authored several well–received youth books, this one holds a special place in her heart.

“I’ve dedicated it to my Brownie troop from when I was in second grade in southern California where I grew up,” she says. “We get together still and have reunions. The friendship and support group as we get older have carried me forward, and I’m sure it’s the same for many other Girl Scouts over the years.”

For Wadsworth, Juliette Gordon Low in particular is one of her most cherished subjects.

“I would love for her to be able and come back to see what the Girl Scouts have developed into today. There are 3.4 milion Girl Scouts in the world now,” says Wadsworth.

 “One woman accomplished this with her dream and her tenacity for young women all over the world.”

Georgia History Festival Kickoff Event

What: Ginger Wadsworth lectures on Juliette Gordon Low, Girl Scout founder and Festival honoree

When: Feb. 2, 6 p.m.

Where: Mickve Israel, 20 E. Gordon St.

Cost: Free and open to the public