The weekend of June 9th saw thousands of Girl Scouts flock to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall for the “Rock the Mall” event, a celebration of the organization’s 100th anniversary. But now that the big event is over, some former Girl Scouts will still be here on the Mall, working at the National Museum of American History and other Smithsonian museums. Below is the next in our series of Girl Scout reminiscences by staff here at the museum. Barbara Suit Janssen tells about her early love of the water.
Barbara Suit Janssen, Associate Curator in the Division of Home and Community Life
In going through some family papers after my mother’s death, I found a folder that she had kept all those years, for things from my childhood. One in particular made me smile—a certificate for completing my first swimming class as a Brownie in 1958. The document listed my accomplishments as mastering the crawl, the backstroke, holding my breath underwater, and floating. All these skills that were so basic, I had forgotten there was a time when I didn’t know how to do them. I grew up in Ocean City, Maryland, and my troop learned to swim in a hotel pool right by the Atlantic Ocean. For our graduation, my father filmed us looking like little penguins with bathing caps, diving in and swimming furiously to the end of the pool.
As Girl Scouts, we all lived for the camping trips. Knapsack, sleeping bag, mess kit, pocket knife—all spelled adventure. I’m sure we learned how to cook a stew, but it’s the memory of roasting marshmallows on a stick to make gooey s’mores that rules supreme. Singing around the campfire, listening to ghost stories, and drifting off to sleep warm in a sleeping bag are fond memories as well. Looking up at the beauty of the Milky Way, I’d search for falling stars and locate the Big Dipper, knowing if I had to, I could always find the North Star to guide me—certainly a better bet than trying to use a compass in the woods.
I remember learning how to canoe while watching the turtles and snakes in the Pocomoke River in Maryland. Discovering that I was extremely allergic to poison ivy and learning to identify the plant… “leaves of three let them be.” Hiking along the Horse Shoe Trail in Pennsylvania, drinking water out of a crystal clear steam and later discovering to my regret that not all water is what it appears to be.
Thanks to my Brownie instructors, from the first splash, I was hooked on the underwater world.
Tim Winkle is an associate curator with the Division of Home and Community Life at the National Museum of American History.