Juliette Low: Feminist Warrior

When I was in college, I used to get drunk on cheap vodka with some of my friends from band (add another layer of nerd to my profile: band geek) and watch a fantastic independent film called Love and Other Catastrophes. Please go rent it right now, because it’s HILARIOUS. One of the characters in the movie was working on her thesis, entitled “Doris Day as Feminist Warrior.” Which, is just really really funny to a women’s studies student, because, have you seen Pillow Talk? But the phrase “feminist warrior” has stuck with me over the years and I have often thought about how fun it would be to write a dissertation on different women from Hollywood or history in which I explained why they are, despite all appearances, a feminist warrior. Marilyn Monroe is on that list.

But today, I’m going to tell you about someone who is so obviously a feminist warrior, it’s not actually funny. And that person is Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts. I am a lifetime member of Girl Scouts (add another layer of nerd to my profile) and it’s an awesome organization and not homophobic like the Boy Scouts are. (Gay men are not pedophiles. Stop being assholes, Boy Scouts of America, and let them be troop leaders.) I am such a big Girl Scout person, I even read the extremely boring official biography of Juliette Gordon Low, Lady From Savannah. And because I love you guys, I’m gonna write about her for you, Drunk History style, just like I did with our pal Julia Ward Howe.

OK, so, Juliette was from Savannah, and she was born just before the Civil War, and her family was pretty rich, which means they owned slaves and her dad fought on the Confederate side of the Civil War–although, her mom was from Chicago and was anti-slavery, so her mom hung out with General Sherman. I know for some of you, you’ll hear “Confederate slave-owning family” and you’re just gonna be “That’s it, I’m out.” I respect that, because I’m a white girl and I don’t pretend to get what it is to be black and live in a country that is still super racist and where so many of our historical figures were slave owners. But seriously, you’re about to miss out on hearing about someone who turned out to be pretty awesome in spite of the circumstances of her birth into a suuuuper racist society. The rest of you, here we go.

Juliette’s nickname was Daisy, and like a lot of these women from that era who went on to do fabulous things, she was super precocious. Daisy got some childhood illness that left her mostly deaf in one ear–and all the crazy stuff doctors tried to do to fix it just made it worse. She also liked to do stuff like make clothes for poor people and take in stray cats like a crazy cat lady.

Daisy grew up and at age 26 (which was pretty old by 1880’s standards) she got married to William Mackay Low. Here’s where it gets really crazy: when people were throwing rice at the happy couple after the ceremony, a piece of it got stuck in her ear and it got infected and she lost her hearing in THAT ear too, so she spent most of the rest of her life mostly deaf. Anytime someone tries to act like people with disabilities can’t do awesome things, you tell them “FUCK YOU ASSHOLE. Juliette Low founded Girl Scouts, and she was mostly deaf.” Also: if you go to a wedding where the bride is a Girl Scout, do not expect there to be hard shit like rice or bird seed to be thrown at the couple, because we don’t want to accidentally go deaf. Live and learn, people.

So, there’s Daisy, just like our pal Julia, married and rich and you’re supposed to live happily ever after, right? Hahahaha, no. Willy (that was his nickname, I am not even making that up) and Daisy had marital trouble for quite a while. At one point, Daisy came home from a trip and found Willy with his mistress living in Daisy’s house, and Daisy had to go live in the servant quarters because Willy was all “I’m the man, do what I say.” They spent the next several years trying to sort out the divorce, because it wasn’t as simple back then. You couldn’t just go to the courthouse and say “My husband is fucking this other woman and I have to live in the servant quarters, so, I’m done here” like you can now. It was a huge deal to get divorced. In fact, it was so difficult that eventually Willy died before the divorce was done. And just like Julia, her asshole of a husband left Daisy almost no money (she had to sue to get her house in Savannah because that asshole Willy tried to leave it to his mistress), but at least she was free.

Daisy traveled a lot, and she got to be friends with Lord and Lady Baden Powell, an English couple who could tell that World War I was coming and thought “Let’s start training the kids in our country to be army scouts and nurses, because, we’re really gonna need some of those here in a minute when this war starts.” So, they founded Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and the boys learned stuff like semaphore and the girls learned how to roll bandages and do first aid. Daisy was like, “Dude, great idea, but how come the girls gotta be nurses? Why can’t they be scouts like the boys?” So she came home to Savannah and said, “Imma teach these girls morse code and how to build a fire” and she started the very first Girl Scout troop on March 12, 1912.

If you want to know what it was like to be a Girl Scout back then, check out The Golden Eaglet, a silent recruiting film from 1917. Daisy didn’t fuck around thinking girls needed to be coddled and protected. To hell with that. She wanted her Girl Scouts to be badasses, because being a badass is fun. And they were badasses and they did have fun…and they still are and do. When I worked at a Girl Scout camp, I taught girls how to wield an axe. I can start a fire with one match and no paper. And more than that, Girl Scouts taught me how to lead. You need a tough job done right? Ask a Girl Scout. Daisy created an organization that teaches girls to dream big AND gives them the skills they need to make those dreams a reality. What could be more feminist than that?

Why am I writing about Daisy today? Well, it’s her birthday. That’s right, she was born on Halloween, and today is her 153rd birthday. So, if you know a Girl Scout, don’t say “Happy Halloween” to them. Tell them “Happy Birthday to your founder, Juliette Low, Feminist Warrior!”