Historical Markers
Girl Scout Cookies Historical Marker
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Girl Scout Cookies

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
1401 Arch Street, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
June 1, 2001

Behind the Marker

Philadelphia Girl Scouts Virginia Marley and Mildred Meyer baking cookies. One of the girls is removing a tray of cookies from the overn while another watches.
Philadelphia Girl Scouts Virginia Marley and Mildred Meyer baking cookies, November...
"Twenty-three cents a box - six boxes for $1.35. A treat for one week. Hurry!"

With that sales pitch, the Philadelphia Council of the Girl Scouts in 1934 launched the first commercially-produced Girl Scout Cookie sale. Originally conceived as a local fundraiser, the annual Girl Scout Cookie sale quickly became a bright spot in the Great Depression and an American cultural tradition.

When the stock market crashed in October 1929, the Girl Scouts of America already had close to 250,000 members located in 4,000 communities across the nation. Started in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, the Girl Scouts taught girls the citizenship and homemaking skills they would need to practice as adults, and also provided them opportunities for health-building physical activity. Due in large part to an ambitious 1929 "Five-Year Plan" to boost membership and make the organization financially self-supporting, the national Girl Scout Council was able to weather the Great Depression without serious financial difficulty.

With the finances of the Girl Scouts secure, Honorary President Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of President Herbert Hoover, guided the Girl Scouts to activities geared toward relief work. While the Scouts were encouraged - even expected - to participate in national charities like the Red Cross, the Depression demonstrated the need to attack problems at the local level as well.

In 1930, Girl Scouts teamed with Boy Scout troops to collect 21,583 garments for distribution to those left destitute by the Depression. At the First Lady's urging, Girl Scout representatives met at the Hoovers' rustic Virginia getaway, Camp Rapidan, on September 23, 1931, and there developed a program known as the Rapidan Plan, which called for the nation's Girl Scouts to help form the first line of defense against poverty. "This is a year for us to take stock of the serious side of Girl Scouting," Hoover stated that October, "[and] of its much encouraged ‘service'."

Relief efforts began at the troop level, with more affluent Scouts making sure that their less fortunate companions had enough food and school materials. Entire troops adopted those from the hardest-hit areas. Individual troops also worked with disabled children, staged circuses to raise money for the unemployed, bought milk for babies, and provided food and supplies for the needy.

While the Girl Scouts lacked the resources to make a significant difference on the national level, the relief programs did help teach young women civic responsibility, and to take action during both local and national emergencies. The Girl Scout Council's activities also helped boost membership from about 276,000 in 1931 to close to 383,000 by 1935.

Four girl scouts gather around a stove. One stirs something in a pan as Eleanor Roosevelt stands nearby looking on.
Girl Scouts cooking for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Washington, DC, April...
Girl Scout troops had begun local "cookie" sales as early as 1917 when the Mistletoe Troop of Muskogee, Oklahoma, baked and sold cookies in a local high school cafeteria. In the 1920s local cookie sales had expanded after the Girl Scouts began building laboratory homes, called "Little Houses," which provided kitchens and gardens in which girls could practice their domestic skills. By the early 1930s, Girl Scouts were selling cookies in a number of cities, but it was the Philadelphia Girl Scouts who took it to a new level. The story goes as follows.

According to Girl Scout legend, in 1932 a Philadelphia Girl Scout told her parents that she wanted to bake cookies for local children's nurseries through the United Campaign. Her parents, who worked for the Philadelphia Gas and Electric Company (PGE), got permission for the Scouts to use the company's demonstration ovens to bake cookies.

On November 12, 1932, the aroma of cookies baked by Philadelphia Girl Scouts in the PGE windows attracted passersby, who inquired if the cookies were for sale, and the Girl Scouts agreed to sell to the public whatever extra cookies remained from the nursery project. "I don't remember how many cookies we baked that day. I do know that we baked a lot of cookies," recalled Girl Scout Midge Mason. "A year later the company decided to hold another cookie bake in the store front window because of the huge success of the first cookie sale."

Mrs. Harry S. Truman, wife of the President, opens the 1951 Girl Scout cookie sale by accepting the first box of cookies at Blair House from three representatives of the National Capital Federation of Girl Scouts. L to r are Tommie Andersn, 12, Mrs. Truman, Gloria Williams and Joy Rice.
Mrs. Harry S. Truman opens the annual Girl Scout sale by accepting the first...
In 1934 the Philadelphia-area Girl Scout Council decided to use cookie sales to raise money for its Camp Indian Run in Glenmoore, Chester County, which offered summer recreation activities for Girl Scouts in grades one through nine. It was then that a Girl Scout leader asked the head of Keebler-Wyl Baking Company to bake and package Girl Scout cookies. Keebler-Wyl baked 100,000 boxes of the first commercially produced Girl Scout Cookie - a vanilla cookie in the form of the Girl Scout symbol, the trefoil - at 260 North 22nd Street, for the Girl Scouts' December cookie sale.

The Philadelphia sale so impressed the national Girl Scout office that they contracted Keebler-Wyl in 1936 to be the national supplier for the trefoil Girl Scout Cookie. Between October 24 and November 7, the Girl Scouts of America held their first official nation-wide sale of Girl Scout cookies. The sale became an annual tradition until shortages in sugar, flour, and butter during World War II forced the Girl Scouts to switch from selling cookies to calendars. Resumed in 1945, the annual Girl Scout Cookie sale remains a hallmark of the organization to this day.

The Girl Scout cookie sales of the 1930s helped local troops raise the money they needed to carry out local charitable activities. More importantly, the sales also taught girls lessons in money management, teamwork, and commerce. These lessons in economics and volunteerism they would carry through the rest of their lives.
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