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Juliette Magill Gordon Low

Juliette Magill Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA , was born in Savannah, Georgia, on October 31, 1860.  She died January 17, 1927 in the Andrew Low House. Juliette Low was always called by her nickname “Daisy” by her friends and family.

Her mother’s family came from Chicago and her father was a cotton factor and served as a Confederate Captain in the American Civil War and a Brigadier General in the United States Army during the Spanish-American War. The families of Confederate officers were required to leave Savannah after the December 1864 surrender to General William T. Sherman. Daisy went with her mother, Eleanor Kinzie Gordon and sisters Alice and Nelly to stay with her maternal grandparents John H. Kinzie and Juliette Augusta Magill Kinzie in Chicago at the end of the Civil War.

Young Daisy excelled at art and  was educated in several prominent boarding schools, including the Virginia Female Institute (now Stuart Hall School); Edgehill School run by Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughters, the Misses Randolph; Miss Emmett’s School in Morristown, NJ; and Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers (a French finishing school in New York City).   While in New York she took additional private lessons in painting under several prominent artists.

When she was about 25 years old, Daisy suffered an ear infection. She persuaded the doctor to try an experimental treatment of an injection of silver nitrate. This treatment caused her to lose a great deal of her hearing in one ear.

1886

At the age of 26, she married William Mackay Low, the son of Andrew Low, a wealthy cotton merchant in Savannah and England. His mother was Andrew Low’s second wife, Mary Cowper Stiles Low.  Their wedding took place on December 21, 1886, which happened to be her parents’ 29th wedding anniversary. A grain of rice thrown at the wedding became lodged in Juliette’s good ear. When it was removed, her ear drum was punctured and became infected, causing her to become completely deaf in that ear. Her hearing was limited for the rest of her life. She used a variety of hearing horns and hearing aids.

Her marriage to Low was childless. The couple moved to England and after a two year search purchased Wellesbourne House in Warwickshire, not far from Andrew Low’s home in Leamington Spa. The fashionable couple enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and participated in the society surrounding the Prince of Wales known as the Marlborough House set. They traveled and entertained frequently. Daisy also traveled to Egypt and India after her husband died.  Daisy never forgot her American roots. During the Spanish-American War, Daisy came back to America to aid in the war effort. She helped her mother organize a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers returning from Cuba. Her father was commissioned as a general in the U.S. Army and served on the Puerto Rican Peace Commission

By 1901, her husband had repeatedly requested a divorce. Upon returning home from a visit, she discovered his mistress, Mrs. Anna Bateman ensconced in their home, at which point she acquiesced. They were legally separated. However, her husband died from stroke in 1905 before the divorce proceedings could be finalized.

In 1911 Juliette met military hero (and founder of the Boy Scouts) Robert Baden-Powell.  B-P, as she called him, recruited her to the Girl Guiding movement. He convinced his sister Agnes to organize the Girl Guides by recruiting the thousands of girls who had sprung up in scout troops across England. Daisy and Sir Robert (later Lord) Baden Powell shared a passion for sculpture, poetry and art. She also enjoyed working with iron. She had hired the Wellesbourne village blacksmith to teach her iron and copper smithing and created iron gates for her home, Wellesbourne House.

While in the UK, Daisy organized a troop in Scotland and two in London before she decided that she would start the movement on her next visit home to Savannah.  Upon  returning to America in 1912, Juliette placed an historic telephone call to her cousin, Nina Anderson Pape: “Come right over! I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!” Her cousin was the founder of the Pape School in Savannah. They feverishly recruited girls and leaders throughout Savannah—from the Female Orphan Asylum to Synagogue Mickve Israel, to the steps of Christ Church, and the daughters of the powerful and influential families.

On March 12, 1912, Daisy gathered 17 girls to register the first 2 troops of American GirlGuides. Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon, her niece and namesake, was the first registered member, but did not attend the first meeting. The name of the organization was changed to Girl Scouts by 1913. The organization was incorporated in 1915, with Daisy serving as president until 1920 when she was granted the title of founder and turned all her attention to the world wide movement. “Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting can be the magic thread which links the your of the world together”

In personality, Daisy was known for being eccentric and charming. One commonly related anecdote recounts how, at an early Scout board meeting, she stood on her head to display the new Girl Scout shoes that she happened to be wearing. She also wrote poems; sketched, wrote and acted in plays; and became a skilled painter and sculptor. She had many pets throughout her life and was particularly fond of exotic birds like her macaw and her parrot, Georgia mockingbirds, dogs, cats, and a few horses. Daisy was also known for her great sense of humor.

Juliette Gordon Low developed cancer in 1923, but kept it a secret and continued diligently working for the Girl Scouts. Low died January 17, 1927 and was buried in her Girl Scout uniform in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah. Though she had no children, Low had many surviving relatives, including her niece, Peggy Seiler, who was the daughter of her brother George Arthur Gordon. She has a number of living great and great-great nieces and nephews in Savannah, New York, Boston, Denver and other cities.

Copyright ©2011 Andrew Low House