Camp Fire (Girls) and Blue Birds

When we decided to write this post it came as a strange surprise to see how many women we knew come forward with their own memories of being a Camp Fire Girl. In fact, to any devotee of Camp Fire Girls (or its younger group called Blue Birds), the biggest mistake you can make is to equate the organization with the now better known Girl Scouts (or Brownies). It is a mistake that is a bit unfair considering Camp Fire actually came before Girl Scouts. Actually, it was born from the fact that girls at the time had no organization comparable to the Boy Scouts. So, in 1910, in the state of Vermont, Camp Fire Girls was established.

We felt it was important, on the eve of Camp Fire's centenary celebration, to share with you something that was very important to many young girls during an equally influential part of their lives. An organization that has been handed down from mother to daughter over many decades (boys were finally encouraged to join when Camp Fire became co-ed in 1975).

Leslie H, our friend in Long Beach, CA, has shared with us many of her own fond memories of being a Blue Bird first, and then achieving the level of a Camp Fire Girl. She told us a story of how her mother was a group leader, the Camp Fire meetings held at her house, the summers spent at camp and the 'ceremonials' where the girls would dress up in American Indian influenced outfits and receive new honors. She said she was excited to fly up through the various levels. Both her parents organized meetings and the girls would learn macrame, sewing, beading and would produce every kind of craft imaginable. A Camp Fire group is usually 10 to 15 girls, meets weekly to do projects which will earn each girl a patch and/or bead. There is still a curriculum for leaders but Camp Fire is set up to be fairly flexible when it comes to the weekly activities. Leslie tells us she was in CFG for 10 years and enjoyed every minute.

The Girls in Leslie's group make clothes for their barbies!

The CFG started with their earliest inspirational word/motto created by co-founder Charlotte Gulick in 1910, which was (and still apparently is) used as a greeting among members and as a sort of password. WoHeLo stands for Work, Health, and Love. The meaning was important in introducing the progressive programs designed to encourage strength, compassion, and wisdom in the young girls and was a strong basis for allowing the girls to recognize the importance of self respect, service to their community and country, and openness to diversity in others and the environment as a whole. Through the decades the organization fostered programs encouraging the girls to helpful action, starting with World War I. The vintage Camp Fire books describe a Camp Fire girl as someone with high ideals, a quiet pride in being a girl, deep love for her country, a good friend, can do work skillfully and takes pleasure in hard work, has interests and hobbies enjoyed with others and alone, has good health and good habits and a love for the outdoors.

Today, the numbers of members has sadly diminished with the rise of many other activities for girls and boys - as well as the better known Boy Scouts fostering their own sister organizations like Brownies and Girl Scouts. In fact, Leslie told us that one of the hardest things is to find a mother (or father) willing to commit the time to engage in forming and maintaining a group. This is a modern problem considering that many families now have both parents working full time - which is one significant change from 100 years ago. In fact, it is the very thing she struggled to come to terms with a few years ago when her own daughter came of age. Leslie has found a way to balance her own busy schedule and thinks that other parents could do it too. As the Camp Fire organization enters into its 100 year celebration in 2010, we are told that the organization as a whole has steadily declined in interest for some years now. Some fear that it will one day soon just disappear as anything viable. But, we remain optimistic that it can find a new meaning in the coming years and once again inspire.

a vintage shot of a CFG camp

If you'd like further information about the organization you can go to the Camp Fire website. And, if you'd like to get some insight into a particular group Leslie has agreed to share with us her blog called 'From Blue Birds to Bear Cubs'. It goes without saying that if this story triggers your own memories of being a Camp Fire Girl we'd love for you to share them with us. It really seems to have been a special time for many mothers and daughters through the years. And, that alone, is worth celebrating!!! WoHeLo......!