The following is the final installment in a series of guest posts from Karen Schillings, a council historian for Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana. To read part one, click here and to part two, click here.
Daisy had a very compassionate heart, but Willy tried to dissuade her from doing charitable work. However, Daisy unobtrusively carried on with her kindhearted ways and contributed greatly to Warwickshire life. She was a frequent visitor to the Stratford-upon-Avon workhouse where she would visit the destitute men and women housed there. A woman in Wellesbourne had contracted leprosy, and was shunned by the other villagers. Daisy’s concern caused her to quietly disappear one day each week, so she could visit with this neglected woman.
Another instance exemplifies Daisy’s tremendous compassion. One Sunday morning when coming home from church, she found a tramp outside the gates of Wellesbourne House. She could tell he was cold and in a very poor way. She urged the man to come with her into the kitchen. He refused, but Daisy brought him a tray with some tea and bread. The man didn’t want to take it because he was convinced it was poisoned.
Daisy continued to coax him until he ate some of the bread and drank some of the tea. She took the tray back inside the house, but when she returned to check on the man, he had vanished. The next day he was found a few miles away dead from exposure. She soon learned that he had escaped from a mental institution. Daisy was inconsolable over the incident, since she blamed herself for this man losing his life. Daisy Low always showed her benevolence to those less fortunate.
Because Willy was away so much on hunting trips, racing his horses, or gambling with his friends, Daisy started to feel the loneliness. She had been an artistic soul from an early age and delved into a variety of pursuits to take up the time whenever Willy was absent. Daisy had already proved herself to be an excellent portrait artist, but she branched out into other endeavors. She took up woodworking and carved a beautiful mantel for Willy’s smoking room, along with other ornamental pieces for her home. Then she took to metal working.
It’s not for certain who taught her how to forge, but it’s suspected that the village blacksmith John Thomas Thorpe was the one who instructed her. She took on a major endeavor by designing and then forging the gates for the entrance to Wellesbourne House. Those original gates were later shipped to Savannah and to adorn the entrance of Gordonston Memorial Park, but are now on display at the Birthplace. However, replicas made from Daisy’s design still hang at the Wellesbourne House entrance.
Although Daisy was thoroughly devoted to her husband, it cannot be said the same for him. Willy had a roving eye and was very keen on women. In 1901, Anna Bateman, an actress, was discovered to be Willy’s mistress. This was particularly hurtful to Daisy, since she had welcomed Mrs. Bateman to Wellesbourne House on several occasions. Now Daisy had a dilemma; how to end her marriage quietly and honorably. If she filed for divorce on grounds of adultery, then her husband and Anna Bateman would be subjected to embarrassment and shunned in polite society.
Not wishing to bring scandal to either of them, Daisy decided to leave Wellesbourne and take up residence in London. At a later time, she did file for divorce, but on the grounds of desertion. However, before the divorce was finalized, William Mackay Low died of a seizure in 1905. Without her knowledge, Willy had changed his will and left the entirety of his estate to Anna Bateman. Nevertheless, Daisy was able to persuade Willy’s four sisters to contest the will. In the end, Daisy did receive a small settlement, along with the house in Savannah. Willy’s sister Amy Low Grenfell kept Wellesbourne House.
Daisy needed to put the heartbreak of her marriage and Willy’s death behind her. Without a career or the prospects of remarrying, she set her sights on traveling. However, this strong woman wanted to have a purposeful life and continued to search for something meaningful to do. In 1911 at a luncheon, she had the good fortune to be seated next to Sir Robert Baden-Powell. Daisy was extremely impressed with all that Sir Robert had accomplished, especially his organization of a youth group for boys call the Boy Scouts, and then for girls called the Girl Guides. The two soon became good friends, and he encourage her to do something useful with her life.
Having Robert as a friend put Daisy’s life on a new path, one she had desired to walk for a long time, that is, being of service. Robert’s inspiration gave Daisy the courage to take an enormous step on that path. Having rented a summer home in Lochs, she called together a group of girls in the Scottish Highlands, and started her first troop of Girl Guides. When she returned to London for the fall and early winter, Daisy started two more troops. Having made arrangements with friends for her Girl Guide troops to carry on in her absence, Daisy set sail for America in early 1912. By coincidence, Sir Robert was on his way to America as part of tour to promote the Boy Scouts, and he found himself on the same ship as Daisy. Supposedly, during the voyage, Daisy and Robert made plans to organize the Girl Guides in America.
On March 12, 1912, the first Girl Guides meeting was held in Savannah, Georgia with 18 girls joining the troop. In 1913, a National Headquarters was opened in Washington, D.C., and the organization’s name was changed to the Girl Scouts of the United States of American (GSUSA). Juliette wanted to put her girls on an equal footing with the boys, which prompted the name change from Girl Guides to Girl Scouts. Juliette’s vision and remarkable dedication kept the movement alive. Since its inception, the Girl Scouts of the USA has promoted courage, confidence, and character through the Girl Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Law, touching the lives of over 50 million American girls.
Juliette Gordon Low died in Savannah, Georgia on January 17, 1927. She was buried in her Girl Scout uniform. A note was placed in her pocket which read: “You are not only the first Girl Scout, but the best Girl Scout of them all.”
Daisy’s legacy has been well recognized over the years. In 1944, the Liberty Ship S.S. Juliette Low was launched. In 1948, the U.S. Postal Department issued a stamp in her honor. The Gordon home in Savannah where Daisy was born was purchased by GSUSA in 1953 and is now an Historic Landmark. A portrait of Juliette has been hanging in the Smithsonian’s National Gallery in Washington, D.C. since 1973. A bust of Daisy was placed in the Georgia State Capitol Hall of Fame in 1974. Daisy was inducted in 1979 into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. An office building was named the Juliette Gordon Low Federal Complex in Savannah in 1983. On May 29, 2012, during the 100th anniversary year of Girl Scouts of the USA, President Barack Obama presented the highest civilian honor to Juliette Gordon Low, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I had the good fortune to visit Wellesbourne during a recent trip to England. The house Daisy so loved is now an office complex. However, it was nice to see the replicated gates and to imagine what a lovely home it once was. I’m sure the many people who enter those gates today are unaware of the lovely lady who once lived there.
To read more, visit ourwarwickshire.org.