“The jury finds the defendant guilty of breaking the first five Girl Scout laws and recommends her dismissal from the organization!”
Background: Fictional series about Girl Scouting date back nearly to the organization’s founding in 1912; by the 1920s the sub-genre exploded, and dozens of volumes featuring the daring outdoor adventures of young women were published by a number of authors.
While later series added Girl Scouts to standard mystery formulas (escaped convicts, stolen atomic secrets, Commie spies…) Edith Lavell’s 1922-25 series focused on Scouting traditions and values: Lavell was a regional Director of the organization in Philadelphia.
The series focuses on Marjorie Wilkinson and her friends at Miss Allen’s School for Girls, who form Pansy Troop during their freshman year, and follows the girls’ various adventures as they progress through both the Scouting ranks and high school and college.
The first book in the series, The Girl Scouts at Miss Allen’s School, deals with Marjorie and her best friend, Ruth Henry, arriving at the school, discovering Girl Scouting, and establishing Pansy Troop. However, as the series progresses, Ruth’s relentless scheming and social climbing drives a wedge between the two girls…
The Plot: …to the point that by this volume they hate each other.
Lavell doesn’t provide a detailed recap of the previous 4 books, so the reader coming into the series out of sequence only gets hints of what has transpired between the girls, and why Ruth is constantly trying to undercut Marjorie and why Marjorie must nobly refuse to rat Ruth out for her schemes.
As the book opens it is summer vacation and Marjorie is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her school chum, Lily Andrews, from New York City. She both wants to show off the fact that her father has FINALLY let her drive the family car by herself and that Pansy Troop has been nominated to attend a special training camp in Maine, where troops from across the country will compete to be selected to represent the United States at an international Girl Scout conference in Quebec.
The girls are soon joined by two more chums from the nearby city of Silverton, the wealthy Trowbridge sisters, Jeanne and Eloise, who immediately announce that Marjorie’s love of scouting was so contagious the previous summer that they have founded Orchid Troop in their hometown. Marjorie also shares the news that another school-chum, Frieda, has left Miss Allen’s School to attend the public high school in Trenton, New Jersey, and has returned to Pinecone Troop.
I know, it is a lot of chums and various florae to keep track of! But Girl Scouting is the Most Important Thing to Marjorie:
“And we only have one more year,” sighed Lily; “one more year as active members. But then we have to become officers, somewhere.”
“Yes, I am never going to give up Girl Scouts!” announced Marjorie, empathetically. “Not even when I’m ninety!”
While the girls wait to hear if they’ve been accepted into the training camp, they enjoy several outings that Ruth Henry has empathetically not been invited to, including a picnic that she manages to crash anyway, faking a sprained ankle to lure away one of Marjorie’s would-be suitors, who has been sent to search for a chocolate cake that has bounced out of the Wikinson’s touring car (this book is incredibly heavy on chocolate cake-driven subplots, as we shall see):
“They are such queer people- they’ve been so cool to me lately, for no reason at all, that I’d hate to impose on them. I’ll wait here for Harold.”
Griffith looked at her admiringly; he had experienced “turned” and sprained ankles and knew how much they could hurt. For the first time he felt a sort of resentment toward Marjorie; athletic women were often hard-hearted.
Finally, the letter arrives and Marjorie, Lily and Ruth are thrilled to learn that Pansy Troop has been accepted into the training camp, and are surprised to see that the less-experienced Orchid and Pinecone troops have been invited as well. The chums will be reunited at camp after all!
The remainder of the book is structured episodically, as Pansy Troop competes with 70 other girls in sporting events, camping trips and other various activities under the steely gaze of the appropriately-named Camp Director, Miss Steele. Miss Steele is scoring each of the troops on both their abilities and “intangibles”: how well the demonstrate Girl Scout Values in their daily interactions.
Ruth makes trouble from the start, as she learns that the highly-ranked Daisy Troop of New York City is short one member due to illness and that the missing member’s name is also Ruth. After flattering the Daisies’ patrol leader, Ruth convinces her to let her substitute for the missing Ruth without letting any of the camp officials know.
Still not satisfied that shorting the Pansies one member will sufficiently cripple their chances, Ruth goes on to plan all sorts of dirty tricks on her old troop, from getting her mother to send Marjorie a contraband chocolate cake all the way up to deliberately spooking Marjorie’s horse while on a trail ride, badly injuring her former BFF.
Ruth knows that Marjorie will suffer nobly and not rat her out… which the main problem with the book. Marjorie is a pill. She is no less virulent in her mutual hatred than Ruth, but she has other people doing the dirty work for her while she sucks up to the camp Director.
Miss Steele proves to be a soft touch, and after Pansy Troop has been struggling along for a week with only seven members, she sends for a Pansy alumna, Ethel Todd, who has been staying at a nearby summer camp, to fill out the team. Ethel is breath of fresh air- confident and assertive, she has no issues about telling Ruth where to stick it.
Despite her injured knee, Marjorie still finds various ways to Save The Day, especially after John Hadley, her favored Gentleman Caller, visits camp and brings along Marjorie’s “wireless set”. The girls practice sending messages to a nearby Boy Scout camp, and luckily Marjorie is there to receive the SOS when the boys’ camp doctor IS ACCIDENTALLY SHOT BY HUNTERS and the boys go all to pieces:
In spite of their lessons in first-aid, no one knew exactly what to do, and the camp director seemed as flustered as the boys. Ever since Dr. Sullivan had agreed to spend a month’s vacation at their camp, they had ceased doing anything for themselves. When the doctor, therefore, met with his accident, all the rest lost their heads.
Ugh, GET IT TOGETHER, Boy Scouts! Good thing the good lady-doctor Henley from the girls’ camp is skilled at makeshift surgery!
The radio also proves indispensible when the injured Marjorie is left at camp with only the cook while the other girls are away on a hike and a forest fire breaks out! Quickly contacting the Boy Scout camp, Marjorie directs them in digging a trench to keep the fire at bay. However, Ruth still tries to get her in trouble with Miss Steele for entertaining 11 gentlemen callers without appropriate chaperonage.
In the final week of camp, Daisy and Pansy troops are neck-in-neck in gaining points to win the coveted spot in Quebec, and Miss Steele strongly hints that the girls who earn their Golden Eaglet in the final week will bring much honor and many bonus points to their troops.
But first Ruth has to get her comeuppance. Frieda helps things along by having an identical chocolate cake shipped to the Boy Scouts and makes arrangements with a Boy Scout acquaintance, Bill Haines (sadly not the silent film star), to bring it to the girls’ camp and strongly imply that Ruth’s mother sent it. Pansy Troop watches Ruth’s reaction and are convinced that she was behind the one found in Marjorie’s tent.
But the final straw is the appearance of Daisy Troop’s real Ruth, fully recovered from her TB or whatever, revealing that Ruth Henry is an imposter and that Daisy Troop didn’t fill out the proper paperwork to take her on as a new member.
Miss Steele (still a soft touch) agrees to not penalize Daisy Troop for its poor judgment in agreeing to Ruth’s scheme (Of Geraldine, the patrol leader, Marjorie nobly remarks “She’s probably only weak, and Ruth has used for a tool. So the less we say the better.”)
Miss Steele announces Ruth’s fate:
“I intend to have a public trial. A public trial! It cannot be otherwise.”
This delights Ethel “no time for your shit” Todd, who is out for blood:
“Good!” exclaimed Ethel. “Oh, Miss Steele, that is the fairest thing to do!”
The trial is pretty epic, and Miss Steele allows all sorts of interesting conjecture and hearsay into evidence, including Lily’s second-hand story about how Ruth engineered the kidnapping of Marjorie and Frieda the previous summer in order to win a canoe race, and the fact that Ruth has been stealing Marjorie’s Latin exams so she’d get failing grades.
In short order Ruth is convicted:
“The jury finds the defendant guilty of breaking the first five Girl Scout Laws, and recommends her dismissal from the organization.”
[Ruth] watched them all with eyes that tried to speak her contempt. She hated them all, and Marjorie Wilkinson most of any; she wished to convey this feeling to the audience.
It’s all anti-climax after the trial as (of course) Ethel and Marjorie earn their Golden Eaglets and Marjorie also wins a Life-saving medal for sending Dr. Hanley to the Boy Scouts’ aid, and Pansy Troop wins the trip to Quebec to represent the United States.
Sign It Was Written in 1922 Department: The merit badges Marjorie earns at camp include Flower-finder, citizen, bugler, interpreter, electrician, signaler and telegrapher.
Additionally, Germany is still blacklisted from the Girl Guides after that dust-up with the Kaiser.
Keep Your Eye On The Ball Department: Ruth’s team loses the big baseball game because she’s too busy thinking up puns:
“Perhaps she might even make a home run, which feat, in connection with her own name, would undoubtedly win her the title of ‘Babe Ruth'”
Hoarder Department: Which five laws was Ruth convicted of breaking? The oldest Girl Scout Handbook I own dates to 1929 (BECAUSE OF COURSE I DO) and lists the following:
I. A Girl Scout’s honor is to be trusted.
II. A Girl Scout is loyal.
III. A Girl Scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others
IV. A Girl Scout is a friend to all and a sister to every other Girl Scout
V. A Girl Scout is courteous.