In 1912, Juliette “Daisy” Low gathered 18 girls from her cousin Nina Pape’s school in her hometown to share exciting plans for a new outdoors and educational club for girls. From that first troop of 18 Savannah girls, Daisy’s club grew quickly to become Girl Scouts of the USA, an organization that today serves millions of girls all over the United States and abroad. In the midst of the Progressive Era, and at a time when women in the United States did not yet have the right to vote, 51-year-old Daisy sparked a worldwide movement that inspired girls to learn new skills, embrace adventure, and be their best selves.
Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born on October 31, 1860. An uncle called the baby “a Daisy” and the nickname stuck. Friends and family called her “Daisy” for the rest of her life. (Since she was a friend to all Girl Scouts, we like to call her Daisy at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace.) The second child of six of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon (“Nellie”) of Chicago, Illinois, and William Washington Gordon II (“Willie”) of Savannah, Daisy was raised in a family that believed their privilege gave them a duty to give back to community and country.
Daisy’s early childhood was marked by the American Civil War (1861–1865). Her father went away to fight for the Confederacy. Her mother Nellie’s Illinois family fought for the Union. At home in Savannah, Daisy’s mother, her grandmother Sarah Gordon, Aunt Eliza, and enslaved women workers, like cook Nancy and nurse May, struggled to make sure the children had enough to eat.
Daisy was a sensitive, curious, and adventurous girl known for her sense of humor, compassion, and concern for others. She was interested in animals, nature, sports, and the arts. Summers were spent in north Georgia with her siblings and many cousins, swimming in the Etowah River, climbing trees, and playing make-believe. Daisy showed a talent for gathering children for organized fun, writing and directing plays with her siblings and cousins as actors, and devising games and projects.
Daisy’s parents could afford to send their children to elite schools to continue their educations. She attended boarding schools in Virginia and New Jersey and, as a young woman, attended finishing school in New York City. Daisy’s favorite subject in school was art, and she enjoyed painting, drawing, and sculpting for the rest of her life.
Daisy fell in love with handsome William Low (called “Billow”), son of a wealthy British businessman, Andrew Low, who had a house in Savannah. Her parents worried that Billow did not work for a living, but when Billow’s father died and Billow inherited his fortune, they did not stand in Daisy’s way. Daisy was old enough to make her own decisions and, despite her family’s concerns, she married Billow in 1886. Together, they set up homes in both England and Georgia.
Daisy had trouble hearing because of childhood ear infections and an improperly treated ear abscess as a young adult. After her wedding, as guests were throwing rice at the newlyweds for good luck, a piece of rice lodged in Daisy’s ear. The resulting infection and operation to remove the rice damaged her hearing even more. For the rest of her life, Daisy struggled with almost total hearing loss.
Despite this initial setback, Daisy became a popular hostess among her husband’s society friends in England and Scotland. Daisy’s husband enjoyed the high life, and she entered into a life of hunting parties, society dances, and presentations at court. Although most of her married life was spent in England, Daisy returned often to the United States to connect with friends and family members—and also to find support during what ultimately proved to be an unhappy marriage, ended by Billow’s death in 1905.
After her husband’s death, Daisy embarked on a search for meaning in her life. She confided to family that she feared living life as “an idle woman of the world.” Daisy and Billow never had children, and she felt that she’d failed at marriage and motherhood. What was her life’s purpose? In her search, Daisy turned to her family and friends, to her artwork, and also to adventure—traveling to faraway places like Egypt and India. On her return to London in 1911, a meeting with Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts, changed the course of Daisy’s life.
What happened next? Read the history of Early Girl Scouting to learn how Daisy found her calling.