Book Review: On My Honor, a Girl Scout Treat
When I was a young college student, I worked as a secretary at the Utah Girl Scout Council. I hadn't been a Girl Scout growing up, and wasn't at all acquainted with the organization's history or purpose. But working for them, of course, afforded me a great opportunity to learn what wonderful work they do, and I, in my usual thorough way, had to find out more. So I read Lady From Savannah, a biography of the Girl Scouts' interesting founder Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low. My experience was apparently similar to that of another woman: Shannon Henry Kleiber, who, after having become a troop leader, recently published a similar book, called On My Honor. I recently finished this latter book, and my respect for Daisy and the organization she founded has doubled.
Daisy was, by all accounts, an imaginative, resourceful, somewhat eccentric woman. She was from an affluent, Savannahian family. She married William Mackay Low in 1886, but they had no children even after 15 years of marriage, and the relationship dissolved when her husband began drinking and openly carrying on an affair. During this time, she became partially deaf due to a grain of rice becoming lodged in her ear at her wedding, and a botched ear operation. She and her husband divorced in 1905, but he passed away shortly before it was finalized. She found herself alone in an era when society didn't know what to do with women like her, and neither did she. But she frequently attended teas, balls, and other social gatherings, and it was at one of those gatherings that she met Sir Robert Bayden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts of America. It was in him that she gained a life-long friend, the inspiration and wherewithal to start the Girl Scouts of America, and a direction for her life.
Shannon's book, On My Honor: Real Life Lessons from America's First Girl Scout, while thorough enough to relate the above details about Daisy's life, along with related stories and information found during Shannon's research, is not an extensive biography; many of those have already been published. Instead, it loosely relates the story of her life with different aspects of the Girl Scout program, and then relates those aspects to important life lessons the girls of today are able to learn in Girl Scouts. Each of the book's 10 chapters starts with an anecdote from Daisy's life, beginning with her early youth, continuing more or less chronologically until her death, then discusses what life lesson her actions demonstrated, and then ends with Shannon sharing specific ways in which those life lessons are being taught or learned by the girls in her Madison, Wisconsin troop. In Chapter Seven, for example, we hear this example of Daisy's resilience and spirit despite her hearing loss:
"One...time she was walking in Scotland near an overflowing stream. She had stopped along the way at a log she would need to use to cross over. Just then, a peddler came up, and she instantly prevailed upon him to help her across as she could not hear well. She insisted he start ahead of her with her following and holding onto his shoulder. The peddler tried to object, but Daisy would not respond to his pleas. When they had crossed to the other side, she thanked him and asked finally what he was trying to sell her. He replied that he was simply attempting to say...he was blind."
Her physical challenges gave Daisy a good position to argue for equality and inclusivity among the Girl Scouts. Of course, this lesson is still very relevant today, as are the other lessons shared in Shannon's valuable book. It is a book told in an occasionally casual but genuinely passionate voice, and it is in that voice that the book gains its uniqueness. And it is in using Daisy as the "main character," with the current-day Girl Scouts of Shannon's troop as "supporting characters," that the book gains its compelling nature. Just as Shannon writes she didn't want Daisy to die, I found that neither did I, nor did I want Shannon's book to end.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr.