MARCH 12, 2012 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts of America. On that day, Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low assembled a group of 18 girls from Savannah, Georgia to form a local scout group that would evolve into a national organization.
The idea of girls being given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally and spiritually outside of the constraints of isolated home environments came to Juliette while she was living in England. There she met Lord Robert Baden-Powell, a Boer War hero who had started the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
On her return to Savannah she was determined that females in her hometown should pursue the same wholesome activities in a “girl-centered” organization. The fledgling group of 18 hiked; played basketball; went camping; pursued the arts and sciences; practiced first-aid and called themselves Girl Scouts.
Now that they were official, they needed a uniform befitting their status as scouts , so their mothers began sewing hand-made blue and white outfits. By 1914, the group had grown and it was hard to keep up with the demand for uniforms. An immigrant from Bohemia (now part of the Republic of Czechoslovakia), named Sigmund Eisner had a clothing factory on Bridge Avenue in Red Bank. He, like Juliette Gordon Low, was a personal friend of Lord Baden-Powell and one of the first Americans to realize the importance of the scouting movement. He responded to its quickly rising numbers by outfitting his factory with special equipment for the manufacture of both Boy and Girl Scout uniforms.
Within months, he was producing massive quantities of the familiar olive drab uniforms with the Eisner label under the collar. His company also made the wide-brimmed campaign hats, insignias and accessories that were being worn by scouts all over America and throughout the world. This surge in scouting coincided with the outbreak of World War I and their uniforms resembled those worn by the Doughboys fighting in the trenches. The boys wore mutton chop-style pants and the girls’ uniform consisted of skirts made of the same khaki material as the boys with tucked-in blouses, black silk kerchiefs and canvas campaign hats.
Sigmund Eisner became the national outfitter for the scouts. His company also made uniforms for the United States Military, telegraph operators and chauffeurs. Much like the Brooks Brothers, who made uniforms for the Union Soldiers during the Civil War, the Eisner Factory flourished during World War I.
By 1944, the Girl Scouts were celebrating their 32nd anniversary and had grown to include thousands of troops. Again, a war had an impact on what the girls were wearing and what they were learning. During World War II, their activities included knitting, rolling bandages, running salvage drives and volunteering at USO Clubs. Many of the members took up child-care so that young mothers could return to the workforce and perform duties left un-manned by their husbands serving overseas. The Girl Scouts’ mission was to keep the home fires burning.
Over the years the philosophy of the Girl Scouts had not changed, but their uniforms did. During World War II, the members again, began wearing military-inspired outfits that included peaked caps and double-breasted jackets with stripes and badges.
Some of those leaders who hosted the Northern Monmouth County 32nd anniversary program were Mrs. William Miller, Little Silver, Commissioner; Mrs. William Sutphin, Matawan, Deputy Commissioner; Mrs. John Scully, Red Bank, Secretary and Mrs. Charles Hurt, Matawan, Treasurer.
Sigmund Eisner died in 1925, but his four sons continued making scouting and military uniforms until after World War II. The Eisner Factory on Bridge Avenue is now home to the Galleria.
Today there are more than 3.7 million Girl Scouts across America and their legacy lives on through all of the good deeds they perform and the wonderful cookies they sell.
The Juliette Gordon Low Museum in Savannah, Georgia is located in the house where she was born and is open to the public.
The New Jersey Scout Museum is located at 705 Ginesi Drive in Morganville, New Jersey and is open to the public Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8. Visitors can view memorabilia including badges dating back to 1913, vintage knapsacks, original scout uniforms and the 1929 World Jamboree photo album which belonged to Sigmund Eisner Company.