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Cordery pens biography in celebration of Girls Scouts centennial

Barry McNamara
01/20/2012
Monmouth College history professor Stacy Cordery has wanted to write about Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low for a long while. Now, just in the nick of time, she has, and the biography is receiving favorable reviews.

Cordery’s book, “Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts,” will be released on Feb. 16 by Viking, less than one month before the official centennial of the Girl Scouts of the USA on March 12. Cordery didn’t actually cut it that close – she completed the biography about a year ago – but that doesn’t mean she didn’t feel the deadline pressure.

“After I finished ‘Alice’ (Cordery’s best-selling biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, which was a New York Times Notable Book), my editor asked, ‘What can we do next?,’” said Cordery. “I gave her three ideas. One of the topics was ‘Daisy’ Low. This was in early 2008, and the stipulation was that the book had to be completed before the centennial.”

Cordery said she has long been interested in the “amazing” woman.

“I was a Girl Scout; my mother was a Girl Scout; my grandmother was a Girl Scout,” said Cordery. “That almost takes us right back to the start of Girl Scouts. My mother’s generation believed that if you didn’t wear clothing regularly, you threw it out. The fact that she broke that rule and saved her Girl Scout uniform for all those years spoke volumes to me. And from my own personal experience, the Girl Scouts had a profound influence.”

She continued, “I had thought my dissertation would be on Daisy Low, but the archives were not as open as they are today, so I could not pursue it at the time.”

Cordery did write a chapter on Low for a 2002 book about philanthropists edited by one of her former students, Robert T. Grimm ’95. Already having that accumulated research, in addition to her personal and family background with Girl Scouts, made it easy for Cordery to decide to write the first biography of Low for adults in more than 50 years, but the clock was ticking. She said three factors helped speed up a process that could otherwise have taken much longer.

“First, there was a sea change by the Girl Scouts of the USA. They were thrilled to help me. At Daisy’s birthplace in Savannah, Ga., they couldn’t have been more forthcoming, kind and helpful.”

Cordery also expressed appreciation to Monmouth College for being allowed to take unpaid semesters off for research. Finally, she said she was “on a roll” from the success of “Alice.”

“That gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” she said. “I knew what I was getting into.”

That’s Cordery’s story; as for Low’s, readers will have to wait for the book. But among the new facts that Cordery’s research uncovered, there are a few details she’s willing to reveal.

“As a historian of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, we study reformers, such as Jane Addams,” said Cordery. “Juliette Gordon Low is a part of the same era, but she’s not part of the community of reformers of the time. That stunned me. She just about founded the Girl Scouts by herself. She was of that moment in time, but outside that moment, simultaneously.”

Cordery was also struck by Low’s entrepreneurial instincts regarding such issues as hiring, finances, publicity and, ultimately, when to walk away.

“She was known for being on ‘Daisy time,’ which was usually late,” said Cordery. “But she could organize her organization. She had the tenacity, the vision and the entrepreneurial skills to make the Girl Scouts a success.”

And she did it all while being deaf.

Today, there are 3.2 million Girl Scouts – more than two million girl members and almost a million adult members working primarily as volunteers. Many Girl Scouts, past and present, will want to read Cordery’s book.

“Many women, like me, have their rose-colored memories of being in Girl Scouts,” said Cordery. “They have very warm feelings about Girl Scouts and about Juliette Gordon Low.”

Here’s what they will find when they read the book, according to Kirkus Reviews:

“This biography brings to life the woman whose efforts galvanized an entire nation of young women. ‘Long Live Girl Scouts!’ may be the cry on readers’ lips after finishing this tribute to a spirited and inspirational American leader.”

The Library Journal wrote: “Cordery paints a vivid portrait of the woman who, despite physical challenges, romantic disappointment, and having no children of her own, founded the largest educational organization in the world for girls.”

The biography has been named one of Christian Science Monitor’s 20 non-fiction books to watch for in 2012 and is on USA Today’s list of “This Winter’s Biggest Books.”

A book tour will start in Savannah on Feb. 22. The next day, Cordery will appear at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., where she also spoke about “Alice.” Several other appearances have been scheduled, including one at the National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio. An authority on First Ladies, Cordery serves as the library’s bibliographer.

Monmouth College alumni should also take note. Cordery will attend MC gatherings in Washington, D.C. (Feb. 23) and Chicago (March 6) to promote the book.

While traditional book signings and appearances remain part of the marketing strategy, Cordery is also relying on social media to promote her latest biography. She is providing regular updates through a blog at www.stacycordery.com and is also a presence on Facebook (Stacy A. Cordery, Author) and Twitter (@StacyCordery). A recent guest blog was written by Low’s grandniece.