There’s a lot of Girl Scout History on Martha’s Vineyard, and you can trace much of it back through Alice Robinson, who after 36 years of volunteering, is about to retire. Or so she claims.
“My parents met because my grandmothers were on a New England Girl Scout board together,” Ms. Robinson told the Times recently. Ms. Robinson and her husband, Tom, moved to the Island in 1977 to take care of her 86-year-old great aunt Dorris Hough — one of the original founders of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
“Dorris was a lady in the finest kind.” Ms. Robinson said. “I loved the joy she took when any Girl Scout came in to her life, whether it was a six-year old planting a ‘Brownie’ marigold in her garden, or joining in an official award ceremony.”
Miss Hough was born and raised in New Bedford, but her father, Garry deNeuville Hough, was born in Tisbury and practiced medicine in both Tisbury and New Bedford. The family can trace its roots to the original Mayhew family through his mother’s family. The Hough family had been coming summers since the mid 1800s, owning property in Tisbury and West Tisbury (Indian Hill). Miss Hough bought the house where her father was born in 1939, and she moved to the Island permanently after her retirement in the mid-1950s. Her cousin was Henry Beetle Hough, former owner and publisher of The Vineyard Gazette. Miss Hough is buried in Vineyard Haven’s Oak Grove cemetery with the Girl Scout Promise and trefoil emblem etched on her grave.
Ms. Robinson likes to relate stories from her great aunt’s early days working with Girl Scout Founder Juliette Gordon Low. “Mrs. Low asked Dorris to join the national Girl Scout staff when it was first formed in 1912,” she said. “One of Dorris’s first jobs was to work with the troops being formed in the southern states because Dorris was the ‘least objectionable’ Northerner Mrs. Low knew, and Mrs. Low felt she wouldn’t insult the Southerners.”
Miss Hough was instrumental in the purchase of the land for the very first Girl Scout camp — in northwest Georgia.
“The land owner was not impressed with Mrs. Low and didn’t want to deal with her,” said Ms. Robinson. “So he set up what he thought would be a ridiculous scenario — meeting early in the morning in a remote location — as the condition for the donation of the land to the Girl Scouts,” Mrs. Robinson said. “Lo and behold, both Mrs. Low and Dorris were waiting for him when he arrived the next morning. He made good on his promise for the donation, meeting all of Mrs. Low’s conditions for exactly which parcel of land she wanted. The land became the site of the first Girl Scout camp, and Dorris was the director of the camp for its first 10 years.”
It was Miss Hough, of course, who introduced Mrs. Robinson to Girl Scouts on the Island.
“While I was living with her, I became acquainted with Dorothy “Dot” Packer, who was a friend of Dorris and the leader of a Vineyard Haven Brownie troop,” Ms. Robinson said. “I agreed to help Dot’s troop with some of their badges. Shortly thereafter, I met Lynn Gatchell and we agreed to lead the Island-wide Cadette troop.”
That was in 1978.
For the next 36 years, Ms. Robinson volunteered as a leader or coordinator to multiple troops. She served as Service Unit President, Registrar, the Be A Reader sales chairman and Service Unit Cookie Manager as well as Camp Wampanoag Day Camp counselor, assistant director and director. She also served on the Jean L. Silva Lodge fundraising committee and the scholarship committee for the past six years. Oh, and she and Tom raised three sons and no daughters.
“Running two weeks of Girl Scout day camp with JoAnn Murphy and then Kathy VanAken for 12 Augusts is one of my fondest set of memories of scouting on the Island over the years,” Ms. Robinson said.
In her “retirement” from the Service Unit, Ms. Robinson hopes to work to create a museum to the history of Island Girl Scouts at the Jean Silva Girl Scout Lodge in Chilmark. A majority of the Island history of Girl Scouts currently resides in the closets at the American Legion and the attic of the Silva Lodge.
“I would like to spend some time creating a series of displays at the Silva Lodge, so that the traditions and history of Girl Scouting on Martha’s Vineyard are accessible to scouts in the future,” Ms. Robinson said. “This is something that many people have envisioned, similar to the displays at the American Legion Hall in Vineyard Haven. Scouting has been a part of life here for so long, and I don’t want the legacy to be lost.”
Ms. Robinson envisions pictures of Scouts through the years on the walls, old uniforms on display, plaques honoring past Girl Scout leadership — Service Unit presidents and administrators — as well as longtime troop leaders. She’d also like the memorials that have been displaced by the rebuilding of the lodge to be replaced and rededicated.
“The first thing that is needed to put this together is simply dedicated time and people to go through everything we have that is already archived.” Ms. Robinson said. “Jean Silva was our historian for many years, and she did an incredible job keeping track of what happened in the 1950s to 70s. The last 30 years are not as well cataloged, but there are lots of pictures. We’ll also need expertise to preserve and display things properly. I’m sure money will be needed at some point to create the displays, but that’s further down the road.”
Currently there are three troops on the Island: a Daisy, Brownie, and multi-level teen troop. Thirty girls and 32 adults are registered through the Girl Scout Council of Eastern Massachusetts as living on the Island. Brownie Troop Leader Cherish Harris hopes that an additional Junior Troop is added next year because there are currently eight girls ready to bridge to the next level.
Amanda Kane, former Island Girl Scout, stepped up this year to co-lead the Daisy Troop when she found out there were not enough adult volunteers. She was a member of Pat Law and Sandy Dolby’s troop in the late 90s.
“I would like to see a troop in each town, like there used to be,” Ms. Kane said. “We need more adult volunteers to step up to lead. The interest of the girls is there.”
Ms. Robinson hopes that more volunteers will continue to lead the girls on the Island. “Scouting, both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, have gone through ebbs and flows throughout the years,” she said. “I hope that those who have been Girl Scouts remember the great times they had. So much so that they want the same opportunity for their daughters (or their neighbors’ daughters) and will commit the time and energy to continue the program with the next generation. I think the values of Girl Scouts — loyalty, caring, kindness, responsibility, honesty, preparedness, self-reliance — are as important today as they were in 1912.”
Interested in volunteering for the Martha’s Vineyard Girl Scout Service Unit? Contact Elizabeth Esborn, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts Troop Pathway Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org or 774-766-6928.