Girl Scout Summer: Touring the Archives of the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles

Santa Monica Girls Scouts at the National Roundup in Michigan (1956)
Santa Monica Girl Scout troop (1956) courtesy of the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles Heritage Committee.

In the summer of 1956, a troop of Santa Monica Girl Scouts left Union Station and traveled to the very first national Girl Scout Senior Roundup in Michigan. Between 1956 and 1965, the Girl Scouts organization hosted four popular national Senior Roundups that drew in hundreds of senior Girl Scouts from across the country. As they trekked across the country via train, the Santa Monica troop documented their site-seeing adventures with photos taken at the Grand Canyon, Red Rocks, San Francisco, Chicago and a number of train stations.

As L.A. as Subject members learned on a recent site visit, this colorful set of mounted slides is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the archives of the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles (GSGLA). On an overcast Southern California morning, about 10 L.A. as Subject members toured the archives of the GSGLA Heritage Committee in Upland. This amazing archival collection documents the rich Girl Scout history in Southern California for the past 100 years.

This Southern California archive grew from a number of smaller collections housed in Girl Scout locations throughout Los Angeles County. These local collections were brought to the Upland office in what seemed like an unwieldy set of historic materials. As one of the first steps in archiving this now extensive collection, the GSGLA Heritage Committee applied for an L.A. as Subject residency.

For those unfamiliar with L.A. as Subject’s Residency Program, a generous IMLS grant (2018–2021) allowed L.A. as Subject to train three recent MLIS graduates as they worked with staff and volunteers at 30 LAAS member archives. For this project, archivist Crystal Johnson served as LAAS’ Resident Archivist at CSUN and she was able to assist the GSGLA Heritage Committee with its first digitization project, led by Annie Brundige, an Ambassador Girl Scout working towards her prestigious Gold Award.

Then, with a grant from the Haynes Foundation, GSGLA hired archivist Sara Greenfield for a year to transform that seemingly unwieldy collection into one large organized archive that now spans approximately 562 linear feet. One recommendation shared during the tour: Take “before and after” photos of large newly-acquired collections to illustrate the incredible work it takes for archivists to organize such immense collections.

The GSGLA archive contains historic photos, archival and rental uniforms, badges, accessories, magazines, books, camp items, audio-visual materials, and even a Debbie Reynolds collection. Debbie Reynolds was a longtime member of Girl Scouts in Burbank and later volunteered as a leader to her daughter’s troop. She served as the face of a national 1960s project to recruit more adult volunteers to the Girl Scouts and also funded the installation of the pool at Camp Lakota in Frazier Park.

The gem of the collection, according to archivist Sara Greenfield, is the scrapbook collection. There are 265 scrapbooks that document the camping, the dances, the crafting, the cooking, the singing, and the badge work of various Girl Scouts across Los Angeles County.

And that brings us back to the Santa Monica troop who made their way to Michigan in 1956. This particular troop was a Mariner troop, a type of Girl Scout troop organized mostly in coastal states that focused on maritime activities. This local troop’s mascot was an octopus and a handmade rope octopus can be seen pinned to the shoulders of various members of the troop. Like many of the historic items in this collection, these mounted slides provide a wonderful snapshot of how girls and young women in Los Angeles were living their best Girl Scout life.

Photos of this Girl Scout summer in 1956 are available online through GSGLA’s partnership with CSUN Library -> Santa Monica Troop Attends National Roundup in 1956.

Thank you to Christina Rice, Patti Brundige and Sara Greenfield for a wonderful site visit to the Girl Scout Archives!