This article was originally published in the January 2005 edition of the Abbey Chronicle.
Girl Guides in GO (Including EJO) books Emily Beer/Fiona Dyer
As much of the general information from this essay was included in Emily’s article on Girls Guildry, it has been excluded here. This may make the following article not as coherent – but I think it still manages to get the main points made. Ed
The Exact genesis of the Girl Guides could be debated, since the girls themselves took the initiative in the early years through the imitation of Boy Scouts and by forcing themselves on Baden-Powell’s notice at rallies. He was initially rather reluctant but felt that in organising the grass roots activity of the girls some control could be exerted. With his sister Agnes he drew up a revised schedule for girls in 1909, which incorporated nursing, sewing, cooking and rather less of the scouting activities, such as tracking, signalling and campaign which had attracted so many girls. Baden-Powell wanted this organisation to help stem the decadence of the nation, much of which was apparently due to ‘ignorance or supineness of mothers, who have never been taught themselves.’
The Girl Guides were given much help by The Y.W.C.A (Young Women’s Christian Association) which proved invaluable. The Y.W.C.A was a highly organised and centralised body of some 50 years standing; in addition to promoting Girl Guides amongst it members it lent rooms free of charge to the Guides in their nascent stages as far afield as Canada and South Africa. Initially the Girl Guides were very heavily orientated towards Empire, this served to camouflage and sanction activities which though toned down were still seem as potentially dangerous in their masculinity. From the end of the First World War when Baden-Powell replaced his sister with his ‘self-consciously modern’ wife at the head of the girls’ movement the call of the outdoor life and International co-operation came to the forefront. By 1928 there were Guides and Scouts in 32 Nations, although the rise of National Youth movements in the run up to the Second World War took away potential recruits from the Guides, and indeed Hitler famously banned the Guides and Scouts from Germany and other occupied territories.
In a book published in 1924 Elsie Jeanette Oxenham’s alter ego known as ‘the writing person’ says of a group of folk dancers:
‘All these people…if you talk to them for long you find they have ’girls’ in the background…. often it’s big girls’ Guides, or a club or Guildry…’
The first full length Guiding story was written by Dorothea Moore in 1912, entitled Terry the Guide it boasted a foreword by Agnes Baden Powell. Whilst Bruce was the only writer to include Guildry in her stories, and, with the exception of that first book by Brazil, Oxenham was the only British writer to tackle the Camp Fire League, Guiding stories formed an entire sub-genre of their own. Brent-Dyer uses Guides in her famous Chalet school series starting in Jo of the Chalet School the second book in 1926 the Guides play at prominent role until the twenty-eighth book in 1953 (The series continues until the fifty-eighth book in 1970 but without Guides). She also wrote Judy the Guide in 1928 and was herself a Guider saying in the Chalet Club Newsletter ‘ I loved my own Guiding Days’. Other writers who were Guiders included Catherine Christian, Ethel Talbot and Christine Chaundler, all of whose books had large readership in the Interwar period. Whether the comparative plethora of Guiding stories was a reflection of their greater prominence, or whether their activities were more readable is still hard to discern.
The Guides were theoretically interdenominational in their religious policy. An advisory pamphlet on religion in 1927 said: ‘God is served in many ways, worshipped in many tongues and his children are of many races, and of many creed it is for us… to give each one [Girl Guide] as far as we can the ideal of fidelity to their God as they know him and to their religion.’ How widely these views were held is debatable. The Guides used Church parades to increase their public profile where more than one religion was present in a company this could cause some difficulties. Many churches allowed the use of their halls on the condition that only members of their church could join the company installed there. Religious tolerance, though preached may not have been so much practised.
A Guide’s Honour though was for a time at least something to be taken quite seriously. The influence of the Girl Guides movement has permeated grassroots in a way the other two movements do not appear to have. For example the Opie’s section on ‘Oral legislation’ in 1959 states ‘Scouts, Cubs, Guides, and Brownie’s honour, are the only pledges deliberately sown by adults to have taken root, and are sometimes accompanied by a left handshake [a symbol of the Guides and Scouts], or by a salute with the appropriate number of fingers’. In The Camp Fire Torment the girls say of a lone guide who refuses to join their Camp Fire despite wanting the friendship it would bring ‘she’s got to live up to “the honour of the Guides” you know what a lot they make of that’
Guides could not afford to be too religiously tolerant, as they were often dependent at a local level on the facilities of churches and of the Y.W.C.A., so as with Internationalism the rhetoric of the leadership did not always inform policy at local level.
Each organisation’s dress code formed an integral part of their identity, each group had a symbol of membership given on admission, which could be worn at all times. Each of these was a sign to those outside the movements that a girl belonged to a particular organisation, if the girl’s behaviour was not fitting they could be withdrawn The Guides had the trefoil pin. In Autumn Term, the Court of Honour takes the twins’ trefoil badges away from them in a miscarriage of justice, which with perhaps unusual realism is never resolved.
The Guides also suffered from problems of public relations surrounding their militaristic ‘look’ The writer S.B. Owsley portrays this when a sympathetic character who later embraces Guides initially demurs ‘ Imagine me masquerading about the streets in some travesty of a Sam Browne- water bottle jangling and chin-strap throttling! No! No! Your little daughter will come back to you as feminine as she departs. A similar distaste is expressed by a much less sympathetic character in Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Rivals of The Chalet school Vera Smithers (whose father is that archetypal inter war hate figure, the war profiteer) ‘ Oh look at the good little soldier girls in blue!’
Christine Chaundler also makes the military link though in a more positive manner when a young boy who has taken a fancy to the Guides Camping near by is made to wail ‘Want to stay with soldier-girls! Want to stay with nice soldier-girls, I do!’
The Uniforms of Guides were, (like those of soldiers,) to be worn on every group related activity, whereas Camp Fire gowns were used only for ceremonial meetings. For Oxenham the gown is definitely a primary attraction; she does however recognise the existence of another viewpoint:
‘I don’t want to sit round candles and say poetry and do action songs and dances and wear a long frock with fringes and beads to get in my way! No thanks! But I’d like a neat smart [Guide] uniform with badges on my sleeve’
Commentators have seen the Girl Guides as an essentially imperialist and reactionary caste, and Warren does show how Guiding was orientated towards the ideal of Empire. Their first Handbook was entitled The Handbook for Girl Guides or How Girls can help build the Empire and much of the Guide literature of the period is heavily imbued with patriotic and imperialist ideology. This can be more easily understood when we realize that the Empire provided the justification for extending such activities to girls. The need of the Empire for strong, wives and mothers to go out into the colonies or provide other support, sanctioned the extension of scouting activities to girls. Once Baden-Powell’s sister had given way to his younger wife Olave, the more overt Empire worship was toned down. After the First World War Baden-Powell himself was becoming more international in his outlook and he attempted to pass this down to the youth group he had founded, so huge international conferences were arranged. It was a very white internationalism though, which as Mackenzie argued ‘ supplemented rather than cut across the world view of imperialism’. The First International conference was held in 1920, but after 1926 the term ‘international’ was dropped ‘in deference to people who thought it might have some association with the third internationale run from Moscow’
Oxenham compares the Guides and Camp Fire’s differing attitudes to King and Country in The School of Ups and Downs in which; the Guides salute the Union Jack whilst the Indian maidens curtsey to it. The Guides are given a bulldog mascot who answers to John Bull or Great Britain, while the Camp Fire look after the cat Grey Edward who rather likes scones. Militarism of any sort was not encouraged in the Camp Fire as a soon to be Torchbearer (the highest rank) explains: ‘perhaps we aren’t quite so active as the Guides; that’s because we’re without their soldier side, the drill, and the salutes, and the smartness, and all that’..’
Hinton believes that middle class women made a ‘significant contribution to the ability of the middle classes to sustain a position of leadership in mid-twentieth century English society’ through voluntary social work. Girls’ youth groups fit well into this thesis since there is an overlap of both personnel and aims. Raphael Samuels also believes that such things may be spoken of in the same breath, as ‘ leadership in the Girl Guides, chairing of meetings of the WI, activity in the Red Cross or the WVS’ were all substitutes for more traditional forms of social patronage and leadership. The Girl Guides were very successful in fitting into established local hierarchies with many of the organisers of the WI and WVS also heavily involved with the Girl Guides, though some of the more blue blooded were perhaps little better than figurehead Lady Bountifuls, it is surely significant that the largest proportion of first wave WVS appointments came from within the Girl Guides.
Leadership was a fundamental element in all the girls groups, as the title ‘ Patrol Leader’ indicates in the Guides. The extent to which girls from the middle class assumed a leadership role within a company, or group is just as important as the assumption of Guardian and Guiders duties by women of the same class.
Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier comments on this influence arguing that the bourgeoisie are taught to expect within reasonable limits to get what they want, citing this as a reason why, ‘in times of stress “educated” people tend to come to the front...their “education” is generally quite useless in itself, but they are accustomed to a certain amount of deference and consequently have the cheek necessary to a commander.’ In the sources there are numerous examples of the cheek Orwell mentions. In relation to Youth organisations not only did they have the cheek to command, they had the social status and education, but perhaps critically they also had the time and resources necessary. To be a Guider or Guardian, to travel to and from meetings, events, training courses, to devote time to planning and organisation, all presupposes a degree of leisure and freedom impossible to attain without a relatively high disposable income. How many of the county commissioners and centre presidents we have to ask earnestly testing their recruits’ domestic skills, did so using the time freed up by their own domestic help?.
Girl Guides initially meant to ‘attract and thus raise, the slum-girl from the gutter’, and the movement did succeed in appealing to girls across the social spectrum. Within each company though the social class of the members was generally quite homogeneous, there were poorer inner city companies and they received help from other better-funded branches but this was generally through monetary donations and proxy rather than through mixing class groups within a company. Rural companies were perhaps more diverse since there would usually only be one company for a village and the surrounding area. This is the belief of the author of a Guide Story in The Schoolgirls’ Own of 1929 who wrote ‘her Guides, like those of most companies were a mixed collection. Some were the daughters of well-to-do people; a few were farmers’ daughters, but most of them were the daughters of farm labourers.’ Both organisations [Guides and Scouts] were in a real sense ‘popular,’ drawing support and membership, if differentially, from all levels of society from royal patrons and presidents alongside powerful ecclesiastics and politicians to ordinary men and women in the middle and lower middle-class England and throughout the Empire.
The changing circumstances of the middle classes after the First World War gave added impetus to a cultural backlash, which sought to restore women firmly to the home and hearth, and there was a general tendency to inculcate domestic skills and ambitions in girls of all classes. All three of these organisations for girls sought to recognise and validate domestic tasks through the awarding of honours and badges. In Guildry and Guides badges were available for skills in practically every possible domestic chore.
There was a difficult balance to maintain when working with adolescent girls, in the portrayal of sex and a girl’s future. Whilst too much knowingness would be both unseemly and could lead to precocity, it was increasingly seen as important that a girl should know something of her future responsibilities in this area. The Guides and Guildry were in general content to skirt around the issue, by talking about girls as future wives and mothers and indeed aiming to prepare them for this role in terms of household tasks. Preparation for maternity played a part in all organisations, the Guides were not wholly convincing in this, which possibly goes some measure to explaining their popularity with girls. Guides were also rather less enthusiastic about the Eugenic ideal Baden-Powell thought ‘main object is to give them all the ability to be better mothers and Guides to the next generation’ .
From early on in the period, the Guildry and Camp Fire tended to define themselves in relation to the Girl Guides Movement. Oxenham utilises comparisons with Guides in her Camp stories. Bruce also refers to it to explain the Guildry for example ‘Guildry was started ten years before the Guides and they aren’t allowed to parade in the streets’ and ‘She took her connection with the Girls’ Guildry seriously it being (like the Guides) an organization which aims at making girls responsible members of society’ .
The First World War had a big impact on Guildry and Guides, Camp Fire, never very organised in Britain was largely unchanged. But Warren sees Guides and scouts outlook as much more internationalist from ending of world war one, though this change of attitude at the top probably took some time to filter through to the roots of the organisation, certainly many of the writers didn’t change their attitudes.
Much of the motivation for these organisations stemmed from Middle class anxieties surrounding the employment and leisure activities of Working Class girls who they viewed as becoming precocious in comparison to the extended childhood of the middle classes.
This can perhaps be an added explanation in the leadership of the middle classes within these groups, they lead because, it is expected of them, by the Guardians who write books which portray them leading, by themselves and by those of a lower social standing.
Fiona Dyer … The initial idea I had was to come up with a nicely written, beautifully researched article, discussing learnedly my view of EJO’s opinion as represented in her books of guides. However, this hasn’t happened and I’ve also come across little interesting other snippets about Guides which seemed either interesting or relevant, so please accept the following mish mash of information and hopefully you will be able to dig up something of interest!
My first point of reference was the fact that EJO is so clearly, definitely and strongly identified with Camp Fire, to the extent that there is a general perception that the other girls groups – in particular the Guiding movement – are at best sidelined.
On mentally reviewing the Abbey series in my head, almost instantly I have decided that this is not the case at all. I think her heart did definitely belong to Camp Fire – most clearly illustrated by the fact Maidlin – the child of EJO’s heart – rejects Guiding as not being for her and turns instead towards Camp Fire – a much more suitable role for one of her temperament and inclinations. However, when you look at the characters who are guides in the books they are generally “approved” characters.- Maribel for example, receives the ultimate prize of marrying into the Abbey Clan!
In fact overall, if the Abbey series alone is considered it would appear that neither Guides nor Camp Fire are of any over riding importance to EJO. I think (off the top of my head) that the only real discussion about the merits of the two organisations for girls takes place in Abbey Girls Play Up. Here Maidlin has to find some activity to amuse the girls in the village, but hates the very thought of guides, although is careful to admit that she thinks it is “Splendid – for girls like you”. For Maid though, it is “so energetic and – and smart, and everything it ought to be. I’m not like that.” (p.113 AGPU). She explains her dislike further on p.116 “ Uniform and drill and saluting and being boss!”
But Maribel steps into the breach and suggests Camp Fire which is greeted with enthusiasm at the Abbey “anything with poetry and music in it will suit her.” (p.122). Maidlin will be able to work in her “singing, and poetry, and country-dancing, and everything else you’re keen on.” (p.123.
Possibly the fact that Maidlin is to hold her meetings in the Abbey marks the final seal of approval…
However, it is fascinating to note, it is in the same book that Jen suggests to Joy that she “help Betty with her guides” (p.173). Mind she does lean towards the Rangers as they have less drill to do than the guides!
But that really is about it – yes I know in Maidlin Bears the Torch that Camp Fire is mentioned and indeed it is Maidlin’s appearance in her Camp Fire Gown that makes her run away when Joy is so cross with her for “displaying herself” to Ivor. Also there is the occasional reference to Joy heading off to the odd Guide meeting, but in reality neither seems to be as important to the crowd as country dancing. Nothing else in the Abbey series gets as much attention as this – perhaps in some way EJO perceives it as a sort of third alternative for girls?
Anyway to get a better perspective I looked outside the Abbey series and whilst there are a huge number of books in which either Guides or Camp Fire play a significant role – I have concentrated all my efforts on Patience Joan Outsider – as in this book the case for both sides – advantages and disadvantages – is presented to Patience Joan who initially at least has no time for either group. (Apologies – my copy of this is a Word document, so page references would mean zilch to anyone. However, please feel free to rush to offer me a beautifully dustwrappered “real” version if you like, I promise not to be offended!)
According to Patty Joan “The Guides are military ….. They drill, and they copy soldiers and scouts, and do things to orders and bugles, and all that sort of rot; and go out marching in uniform to make people look at them; and have flags and parades and inspections, just as if they were boys being trained for soldiers. And I don’t like all that for girls.”
But then neither does she spare Camp Fire “ The Camp Fire’s sentimental. You dress up, and hang beads all round you, and say pretty bits of poetry, and make up fancy stuff about the fire, and imagine all sorts of ideas that don’t exist at all, and have romantic names and mottoes and things. And its silly to pretend you’re Indian Maidens. It may be all right in America, but there’s no sense in it here”.
She is critical of both organisations for they way they gain badges and beads for everything they do, calling them bribes and a way of making you “work and worry over things you’d never trouble about without them…”
However, by the end of the book Patience Joan has been converted. Rowena has convinced Patty that Camp Fire leads to “team-work, fellowship, being comrades, learning to work together; to put the camp first instead of thinking only of yourself”. She has also come to realise that the uniform of the Guides is only the “outward expression” of the values of the organisation “the loyalty and esprit de corps; the willing acceptance of authority and putting oneself under discipline; the comradeship, the working together.”
There really is a lot more that could have been written, but for me this book was enough to convince me that EJO believed that both Camp Fire and the Guides had an equally valid role to play in training of girls. My conclusion is that the decision over which organisation to join was simply down to the type of girl you were. For example, although Maidlin was always going to be a Camp Fire girl, the order and discipline of the Guides was ideally suited to Rosamund – and indeed to Jen. It still puzzles me why Joy is sent to join the guides though, given her artistic bent?
Finally a point to ponder from the Compendium 2. I was absolutely fascinated by the absolute divergence of opinion amongst members on how realistic EJO’s descriptions of Guiding actually were. Whilst some dismissed her writing as totally inaccurate, particularly the emphasis on drill, others could write in and state categorically that that was exactly how it had been from them. I really don’t think the issue was ever solved satisfactorily.