Washington celebrates the birthday of its famous cherry trees later this month. The city got the first of those trees on March 27, 1912. Two weeks earlier, on March 12, a resident of Savannah, Georgia, founded the Girl Scouts.
So, Girl Scouting and Washington’s cherry trees have both been going strong for 106 years. (Many of the original trees, however, have been replaced over the years.)
Because of her historical importance, Eliza Scidmore — the subject of my biography in progress — gets main billing in the Scouting materials. The badge program describes her as a woman who “acted on her passion” in pushing the idea for the cherry trees in the nation’s capital.
The Scouting information also highlights the critical role of First Lady Helen Taft, who acted to make Scidmore’s idea a reality.
Scidmore witnessed the small private ceremony in Washington when the first Japanese cherry trees were planted by the Tidal Basin. It had been her dream for nearly 30 years. She was, by then, in her 50s. Mrs. Taft took up a shovel and planted the first tree. The Japanese ambassador’s wife followed suit.
I discovered the overlap of birthdays when I came across information about a new Girl Scout badge. The Gift of Trees Patch grew out of the 100-year anniversary of D.C.’s cherry trees in 2012.
Behind the Badge
To earn the badge, a Girl Scout has to learn the history of Japan’s donation of 3,020 cherry trees to Washington in 1912. Those trees led to the spectacle that now attracts 1.5 million visitors to the nation’s capital every spring.
Scidmore not only proposed the idea but also mediated the gift with Mrs. Taft. A wealthy Japanese businessman named Jokichi Takamine first offered to sponsor the trees. In the end, however, Japan decided to send them as a gift from the mayor of Tokyo.
Scouts in the D.C. area can fulfill the badge requirements in part by attending activities of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the National Geographic Society.
Eliza Scidmore holds a major place in the early history of the National Geographic. She contributed articles and photographs to the magazine in its formative years. She also served as the first woman on its board. I wrote about the affiliation recently as a guest blogger for National Geographic.
Scouts outside Washington can earn the Gift of Trees badge through other learning activities. They can study topics related to trees and botany, international relations, philanthropy and aspects of Japanese culture, such as haiku poetry and origami.
Back to Nature
Juliette Gordon Low started the first Girl Scout troop in 1912 after a meeting in England with Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts.
Gordon — known as “Daisy” — loved being out of doors. Adventurous and athletic, she wanted young girls to experience the pleasure she got from physical activities and being in touch with nature.
She organized the first troop of 18 girls at her home in Savannah, Georgia. Since then, the national membership has grown to 3.2 million
In 2012 President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Juliette Gordon Low the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It’s the highest civilian honor given to Americans.
And those Girl Scout cookies we all love? 200 million boxes sell every year. And Thin Mints remain the runaway favorite.