Rhinelander's Girl Scouts
Summer is camping season, and Summer Camps in the Northwoods are guiding young people to embrace an appreciation for the outdoors. One of the more storied camps in the area is Camp Birchrock, which was founded by the local Girl Scouts. How the Girl Scouts and Camp Birchrock came to be is worth remembering.
The Girl Scouts are a storied organization with roots dating back to the Progressive Era. The group was formed in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912 under the tutelage of Juliette Gordon Low. Low was a Progressive reformer and in 1911 had been introduced to the Girl Guides, the English offshoot of the Boy Scouts, while on a visit to Great Britain. She embraced the idea, and once back home in Georgia Low gathered eighteen girls around her and began teaching them the values of their own individuality, strength, and intellect.
Like with the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts hiked, swam, camped, and engaged in physical sports, but Low also wanted them to learn how to read the world around them. Because of this, she taught them how to tell time by reading the stars and emphasized that Girl Scouts learn a foreign language. From eighteen members in 1912, by the early 1920s Girl Scouts grew to over seventy thousand members with branches in every state.
Rhinelander’s Girl Scouts first organized in 1928 under the leadership of Jean Grau. There was local interest in an organization for girls that would transcend social class lines and teach democratic values. Thirty-two girls came to the first meeting in the Grau home on Davenport Street, and enthusiasm was high enough that a dialog was opened with the national organization to discuss affiliation. However, Rhinelander’s Girl Scouts remained unaffiliated for several years going forward.
The program grew quickly, and within a few years there were over 125 members. The girls paid their own way with food and candy sales. In those days, the scouts baked their own cookies using simple sugar cookie recipes from American Girl magazine. The more familiar commercially boxed cookies were not available before 1935 and did not appear in Rhinelander until 1937.
The Girl Scouts also performed numerous community service projects; however, camping remained the essence of the program. Initially the Girl Scouts rented a camp from the Boy Scouts. Other years they rented facilities at Lake Tomahawk and at Lake Tesomas. This was unsatisfactory, and by the mid-1930s fund raising was done with the idea of building or purchasing their own camp.
Rhinelander’s Girl Scout Council formally affiliated with the National Council in 1939. Membership in the Girl Scouts had grown considerably, and at the time of affiliation a Mariner Troop was added to teach maritime skills. The Girl Scouts were tireless in offering community service and fundraising throughout the 1940s. By the time the war had ended they knew what they wanted. Camp Birchrock off Highway K was built by the CCC and had frontage on three lakes. It was perfect for the Girl Scouts, and with community assistance it became theirs after 1947.
Camp Birchrock expanded to serve the needs of local scouts throughout the 1950s, but a 1961 change to Girl Scouts policy required sending control of the camp to Wausau. Rather than lose local control, Camp Birchrock was transferred to the Camp Fire Girls.
Camp Birchrock continues to serve young people in the Northwoods and stands as a reminder of Rhinelander’s earliest Girl Scout Troops.