Methodist link to Girl Scouts goes back 100 years

TAMPA – Lucy Morris, 10, has been spying on her sister and her sister’s friends. She even videotaped them filching candy out of the pantry.

“You take a video of someone you know and see if they are doing something suspicious. You spy on them, and then you bust them, of course,” she said.

“They didn’t go to jail or anything. That would be a little harsh.”

Lucy’s surreptitious sleuthing isn’t about copying a television crime show or getting her sister in trouble. It’s the latest incarnation of a 100-year-old Girl Scout tradition with Methodist roots: earning achievement badges. 

Lucy & Tatum Morris
Lucy and Tatum Morris (Photo courtesy of Kristen Morris)

A member of Girl Scout Troop 26, Lucy is working on requirements for a detective badge. Her troop meets at Hyde Park UMC, the second oldest Girl Scout sponsor in the nation and one of a number of Florida Methodist churches to help young women develop discipline and responsibility through scouting.

Scouting records show Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low formed the first Girl Scout troop in 1912 in Savannah, Ga. Hot on its heels was Magnolia Troop 1, founded at Hyde Park in 1913. The goals? Give girls an opportunity to experience the outdoors and develop domestic skills, such as cooking and sewing.

Magnolia Troop 1, like the Savannah group, also focused on community service, taking kettles of soup to the poor and sick during the flu epidemic of 1918 and delivering telegrams and rolling bandages for troops in World War I.

Since then, the organization has swelled to 3.2 million girls and 890,000 adult members worldwide. A 2005 survey indicated there are about 127,000 Girl Scouts in 27,000 troops based at United Methodist churches in the U.S.

Though activities and badge requirements have changed, Girl Scouts continue a tradition of community service, said Troop 26 co-leaders Jane Ramos and Kristen Morris.

“One of the things we did last year was make hygiene kits for Metropolitan Ministries, which the United Methodist[Church] also supports,” said Morris, whose daughters, Lucy and Tatum, will be in Junior and Brownie troops next year.

The girls gathered travel-size items and put them together assembly-style. They delivered the kits, toured the facility and sorted canned goods.

“It is so in line with our mission statement,” Morris said.  “And the girls got to see the end of their hard work.”

While Girl Scouts still go canoeing, horseback riding and camping, they also can earn badges for such achievements as digital photography, governance and “science of  happiness,” a badge for promoting positive psychology. Troop 26 also is pursuing an “inside government” badge.

Morris listed several avenues for earning the badge, including interviewing a politician, writing a letter to someone in government, describing laws that affect daily life and planning a campaign. Having multiple steps in the achievement process teaches girls that it takes effort to earn awards, she said.

It’s an experience that has been shared by more than 59 million American women who have participated in Girl Scouts.  

Curved Bar Girl Scout dinner
Girl Scouts from Bayshore Methodist's Troop 81 held a ceremony to honor girls who achieved the Curved Bar Award. (1963 photo courtesy of Martha Gay Duncan.)

Among them was Mary Lou Compton, 62, a lifelong member of Hyde Park UMC. She was a Girl Scout in the 1960s, when Troop 1 was meeting at Bayshore Methodist. She remembers Jessamine Flowers Link, the woman credited with being Troop 1’s first leader and for whom a marker was dedicated at Hyde Park UMC in 1998. Link died in 1973 at age 102.

The original Magnolia Troop 1 disappeared, “but when the parents were putting the Bayshore troop together, they had to have a number and Troop 1 was available,” Compton said.

Troop 1 merged with Troop 81 at Bayshore Methodist, said Martha Gay Evans Duncan, whose mother, Jacquelyn Evans, led the troop. In 1963, the troop held a Curved Bar Ceremony. The Curved Bar was similar to achieving the boys’ award of Eagle Scout in those days, Duncan said. Twenty-two girls’ names are on the invitation, including Martha Gay Evans.

Today, the top Girl Scout achievement is the Gold Award.
“We’ve had a really good relationship with Girl Scouts over the years.” said Larry Coppock, national director of Scouting Ministries UMC, noting that about a quarter of his organization’s 1,200 Good Samaritan awards have gone to Girl Scouts.

He said the denomination has established 165 scouting ministry specialists who promote scouting in United Methodist churches, and more women would be welcome.

A 100-year celebration festival for Girl Scouts of West Central Florida is planned for Oct. 27 at Coachman Park in Clearwater. Troop 26 also is planning its own celebration: a pilgrimage to Savannah, Ga., in January to tour the house where Low was born and the cemetery where she is buried.

Ramos and Morris appreciate Hyde Park’s welcoming approach.

“It’s a beautiful church and they have been very gracious,” Ramos said. “They have been very supportive of the Girl Scouts and making space available to us.”

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