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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Joyska Nunez-Medina
Girl Scout troops are groups where girls can come together to learn and grow. The Girl Scouts of America started in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia. Juliette Gordon Low, the organization’s founder, visited Britain in 1911 and learned about the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides. She thought that a similar organization in the United States could teach girls important skills and lessons.
Girl Scouting was supposed to be open to all girls, but that was not the case everywhere. In Southern states, segregation laws kept Black and white people in separate spaces. The national Girl Scout leaders had to come up with rules about who can be in troops. They worried that people in the South would not get involved if there were Black troops. The leaders decided to leave the decision of what to do with Black Girl Scouts up to the local councils.
Meanwhile, many women in the United States saw how important Girl Scouting could be for young girls. Since the beginning, Black women fought for the acceptance of Black girls into the Girl Scouts. One of those amazing women was Josephine Groves Holloway.
Josephine Groves Holloway photographed with her a portrait of her in her Girl Scout leader uniform behind her.
(Courtesy of the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee)
Josephine was born in South Carolina and moved to Tennessee in 1919 to study at the famous Fisk University in Nashville. After she graduated in 1923, Josephine began working with the girls at the Bethlehem Center. The organization helped poor young mothers and children. After learning about the Girl Scouts, Josephine wanted to create a troop at the Bethlehem Center for Black girls. She trained to be a scout leader from Juliette Gordon Low herself! This training allowed her to create the first Black Girl Scout troops in Middle Tennessee.
At the time there was not an official council in the area, so nothing held her back. She started out with over 150 girls in 10 troops and it kept growing! By the end of 1924 there were over 300 girls. In 1925, she married Guerney Holloway, who worked with the boys in the Bethlehem Center. The director of the center thought it best for her to leave her job after she got married. Even though she did not want to leave, Josephine gave up her job. After she left, the troops fell apart. But this was not the end of Josephine’s story.
By 1927, Girl Scouting got popular in Middle Tennessee in the white, middle class community and an official council was created. As Girl Scouting grew, so did Josephine’s family. She had three daughters and she wanted them to join the Girl Scouts. She asked the council to start a troop for Black girls in 1933. The council said no. The world was living through The Great Depression and there was little money. But Josephine and the other Black people knew it was also because of the color of their skin.
Josephine did not take no for an answer. She asked Mr. Holloway to buy Girl Scout handbooks when he was studying medicine in Chicago. With those books and earlier training, Josephine brought together her own unofficial troop. She also inspired other Black women to start their own troops.
Josephine and her troops kept trying to be recognized by the council. In 1941, the United States joined World War II and thousands of people of all races were sent off to war. Everyone, even the Girl Scouts, began to do what they could to support the troops. Because of this, more girls got involved. The change pushed the national council to recognize all troops. In 1942, Black Girl Scout troops were made official by the Nashville Council!
Josephine Groves Holloway and the first Black Girl Scout troop to register after the Nashville council agreed to accept Black troops in 1942.
Josephine is the first person on the top left. (Courtesy of the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee)
So many Black girls were signing up to be Girl Scouts in Nashville. By 1944, there were 13 troops with 252 Black Girl Scouts and 82 adults! To help manage the new Black troops coming in, the council hired Josephine. She was the first Black woman to work with the council.
Josephine did everything she could to help Black girls get the full Girl Scout experience. But there was not a good place for them to camp. Josephine reached out to Black landowners near White House, Tennessee. The council was able to buy land for a new camp for Black girls through Josephine’s connection to these landowners. They named the camp after her, Camp Holloway.
Unfortunately, the council did not put a lot of money into taking care of the camp. Josephine took that into her hands too. She and her family took care of the campgrounds, they brought in old Army cabins called barracks for the camp, and even built a pool for the girls. As the camp got better, more people wanted to go.
The Nashville council integrated from 1960 to 1965. The first integrated Brownie troop was started at the integrated Clemons Elementary School.
Josephine retired in 1963, ending her official service to the Girl Scouts, but not her life’s mission. Upon her death in 1988, she left 50 acres of land next to Camp Holloway to the council. This helped the camp grow. Through her hard work, the unstoppable Josephine Groves Holloway helped make a space for Black girls in Girl Scouting. She is an inspiration to us all!
This poster was used at the Tennessee State Museum for their celebration of the Girl Scouts' 100 Year Anniversary in 2012, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Organization- A group of people who came together to work toward a common goal.
Segregation- To set apart or divide groups of people. For example, segregating people based on the color of their skin.
Council- Like an organization, a group of people that who work to organize or give advice to other people, for example, Girl Scout troops.
Great Depression – An event that lasted from 1929-1933 where more than ¼ or 25% of Americans were out of work and many businesses failed.
Barrack- A building or group of buildings used usually during wars for soldiers to sleep in.
Integration - To bring different groups of people together. Ex: integrating a school with both white and Black students.
Where did Josephine Groves Holloway first learn about the Girl Scouts?
Why do you think Josephine asked Mr. Holloway to buy Girl Scout handbooks in Chicago?
What was the name of the Girl Scout camp that was created for Black Girl Scouts?
Why do you think Josephine worked so hard to create Girl Scout troops for young Black girls?
Learn about the work Girl Scout troop 1347 did to honor Josephine Groves Holloway and earn their Bronze Award.
Learn more about the history of Girl Scouting!
Tennessee State Social Studies Standard:
5.22 Examine the growth of the U.S. as a consumer and entertainment society after World War II, including:
• Increased access to automobiles
• Interstate Highway System
• Television, radio, and movie theaters
5.52 Identify influential Tennesseans from the late 20th century.
AAH.21 Assess the economic and social impact of Jim Crow laws on African Americans.
AAH.23 Compare and contrast organized responses to Jim Crow laws.
AAH.24 Identify influential African Americans of the time period and analyze their impact on American and Tennessee society.
Joyska Nunez-Medina is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.