Girl Scout Museum a memorable delight

Tracy Haun OwensFeature, West Knox

In the middle of the Downtown West shopping center, Daisy’s Place is where Girl Scouts and their parents and leaders can pick up sashes, manuals and other organizational paraphernalia. The quiet storefront is also home to the Girl Scout Museum at Daisy’s Place, an interactive display devoted to the Girl Scouts from their founding to the current day. The Knoxville museum attracts visitors from across the scouting world, including international visitors.

The museum is like a time capsule, said volunteer Ruth Remmers. You can see the beginnings of the “Girl Guides,” including information about founder Juliette Gordon Low and the British Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. His wife, Olave, Lady Baden-Powell, was a friend of a Knoxville-area scout leader in the 1950s and 1960s, and there’s information about her visits here.

Georgia Scouts Sarah and Paige try on vintage uniforms from the museum collection.

On a recent summer morning, Remmers showed me the exhibit devoted to the Girl Scouts in the world wars. In World War I, the Girl Scouts collected peach pits to grind up for use in carbon filters in gas masks. In World War II, with both sugar and metal scarce, the girls gave up baking and wore uniforms without zippers. They knitted for soldiers and volunteered at hospitals.

“They helped wherever there was a gap,” Remmers said.

Through a donation, the museum recently acquired a World War II-era quilt made by a troop in South Carolina. Other former scouts have donated historic photos and videos, dolls in various scout uniforms, including one once exhibited at the Smithsonian, and hundreds of vintage uniforms.

Some of these uniforms are kept under glass and hung for display down a corridor, where it is easy to trace the evolution of the Girl Scout look. Others are available for girls to dress up in for photos, so long as arrangements are made in advance with volunteer museum co-director Joni Morgan.

On this day, two scouts from Savannah, Georgia, Paige and Sarah, tried on uniforms from the 1920s through the 1970s. They posed in front of a recreation of Camp Townsend, a 1950s-era camp located roughly where Tremont is. (Next to it hangs one of the museum’s more unusual gifts: the framed skin of a copperhead that the late Joan Parker slew as a teenager there.)

A wooden “jukebox” next to the exhibit features classic Girl Scout songs. Morgan, who has been a scout for 60 years, taught the girls the words to a rousing campfire oldie before they changed out of their vintage scout garb.

Michelle Gray, the scout leader who had brought the girls for a visit, is a regular visitor to the Girl Scout First Headquarters in Savannah, the birthplace city of founder Juliette Low.

Because of the interactive aspect, “I find this much more knowledgeable and fun for the kids than Savannah,” Gray said.

There are also stations where girls can play old-fashioned games, make pins and other crafts, and read about some of the scouts who have gone on to great things.

In addition to welcoming drop-in visitors and pre-booked groups for tours, volunteers hold workshops at the museum during the school year. Volunteers also visit senior living centers to share memories and songs with lifelong scouts.

The museum will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. It was founded in 1994 by Joyce Maienschein. (Maienschein and her troop of Oak Ridge Girl Scouts also founded the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge in 1973.)

The museum is always looking for volunteers (must have active registered volunteer status with the Girls Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians). Help needed includes tracking and cataloging memorabilia, assisting with public relation and acting as docents.

Remmers and Morgan said museum’s talented volunteers take great pride in sharing their knowledge and finding new ways to make history come alive.

“We’re limited only by our imaginations,” Remmers said.

The Girl Scout Museum at Daisy’s Place is at 1567 Downtown West Blvd. It is open when the Knoxville Service Center is open, typically Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are some Saturday hours announced in advance. Info here.

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