March 6, 2023
VCU Libraries’ Commonwealth Council of the Girl Scouts of Virginia Collection is now available to researchers
The collection includes more than 100 boxes of photographs, scrapbooks, uniforms, badges and other items from 1913 to 2012.
Share this story
James Branch Cabell Library is home to the records of the Girl Scouts Commonwealth Council of Virginia. The Commonwealth Council records include documents, photographs, textiles and artifacts that chronicle the evolution of Girl Scouting in the Greater Richmond, Virginia area.
Now, more than 10 years after the collection first arrived at Cabell Library, the archival collection for the Commonwealth Council of the Girl Scouts of Virginia — which includes materials from approximately 1913 through 2012 — is fully processed and ready for researchers to use.
The collection came to Special Collections and Archives just before the centennial of the founding of Girl Scouting in the United States in 2011. With Special Collections and Archives’ focus on documenting the history of women and African Americans in Central Virginia from the early 20th century forward, the records were a valuable addition to the collection. To commemorate the centennial, VCU Libraries staged an exhibit of some of the materials and hosted a reception. In addition, Virginia Girl Scouting was the feature of the 2014 Black History Month Lecture.
“We are honored to be the stewards of the Girl Scouts Commonwealth Council of Virginia records,” said Chrystal Carpenter, head of Special Collections and Archives at VCU Libraries. “This collection documents more than 100 years of leadership development for girls and young women throughout the commonwealth of Virginia and is a deep and rich resource for anyone interested in organizational leadership, the history of women, Virginia history, family history and other topics. It is extremely important to us that we ensure robust access to this historically significant collection, and we are glad we can make it openly available to all.”
The first Virginia troop started in Highland Springs in 1913, just one year after Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of America. The Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth of Virginia formed in 1963, bringing together disparate councils of Central Virginia under one umbrella. Today, the Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth of Virginia serves more than 17,000 individuals.
Jessica E. Johnson is the processing archivist who worked on the collection. “My job was to create a better sense of order out of what we already had and make it a little bit more accessible to researchers,” Johnson said.
She started by paring down the collection by removing duplicate items, then organized the trove of materials. Due to the size and breadth of the collection, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, it took more than two years to process.
After processing, the collection includes photographs, photo negatives, tapes, DVDs, scrapbooks, uniforms and badges across 118 boxes. Prior to the final organization of materials, items were generally in chronological order and a list of each boxes’ contents had been made, but it wasn’t organized in a way that would be useful for researchers.
Archival processing requires separating items in a collection into series, generally based on the type or function of item, or the time period they originate from, and determining the most efficient way to organize and store the items. After the archivist has a final list of the collection’s contents, they develop a finding aid that most often lists materials at the folder level, as is the case with this collection. Researchers can use the finding aid to quickly explore the contents of a collection and determine items they want to request for inspection or wish to explore in depth.
Johnson hopes that her work has made the collection useful to researchers, who will find many themes to explore through the lens of the organization. These themes may include evolving gender roles, changing attitudes about women and girls and the outdoors, women and leadership, skills development and learning.
Documents in the collection detail the formation of the first troop in Highland Springs, the creation of the Commonwealth Council, and changes in Girl Scout uniforms over time and badges. Of particular interest are photographs and administrative documents that illustrate racial integration of the organization. While Virginia law did not allow integrated troops until the 1960s, the first African American Girl Scout troop in the South was formed in Richmond in 1932. Today, there is an historical marker commemorating the history-making Troop 34 on Virginia Union's campus.
“We have a lot of people wanting to look at uniforms, patches, ephemera, artifacts and that sort of thing, versus some of the more administrative documents,” Johnson said. “We love people coming in to look at things like the artifacts and uniforms and photographs, but there's also a lot of meat in the documentation and records for people to use.”
For information about accessing this collection, please contact email@example.com or (804) 828-1108. Or refer to the finding aid — archives.library.vcu.edu/repositories/5/resources/600.
Subscribe to VCU News
Subscribe to VCU News at newsletter.vcu.edu and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox.