What I Learned from a (Deaf) Girl Scout

Girl Scout Founder Daisy Low

If I could go back in time, it would be 1912. I would meet the woman founder of an organization that taught me how to love nature as an 8-year-old girl growing up in rural Oklahoma. Recently, I learned how to embrace my life with hearing loss because of her. The founder of the Girl Scouts inspires because she didn’t let deafness stop her from pursuing her vision.

Meet Daisy, the First Girl Scout
I love reading biographies. This week, I finished Stacy A. Cordery’s heavily researched book about Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low.

The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, Written by Stacy A. Cordery

In the early 1900s, Daisy lived an extraordinary life. She had homes on two continents: Europe and America. Her Georgia family was wealthy, and she had famous friends. But Daisy was restless. Her premature widowhood and lifelong hearing loss caused frustration. She was lonely.

In her 50s, Daisy wondered what legacy, if any, she would leave for her nieces and god-daughter. Daisy’s insatiable curiosity crescendoed when she met the English founder of the Boy Scouts. She asked Sir Robert Baden-Powell what propelled him to organize an organization that would go on to mentor boys worldwide. His answer: achieving a lasting peace.

In 1912, Daisy rallied young girls in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, to give Girl Scouts, known then as Girl Guides, a try. Within a decade, thousands of girls had joined troops.

Innovator and Lip Reader
I imagine myself in Daisy’s shoes then. How did her hearing loss disrupt her life? Was it hard for her to understand Sir Baden-Powell as they discussed scouting? The man wore a mustache that covered his lips. If I had been her, I would have failed to lip read him effectively.

Daisy with Sir Baden-Powell of the Boy Scouts

Treatment options for hearing loss in the early 19th century were scarce. Daisy suffered chronic ear infections before the invention of healing antibiotics. On her wedding day, a piece of rice that was thrown for good luck after the ceremony lodged in her ear. It was painful to remove with tongs, and the procedure stole more of her hearing.

My Life as a Girl Scout
Unlike Daisy, I didn’t suffer hearing loss while scouting; that came in my adulthood. Other than that, my similarities to the Girl Scout founder are many.

Lipreading Mom as a Girl Scout, 1980

Daisy’s mom was her most ardent supporter when the organization launched. In the 1980s, my mom served as my Brownie troop’s leader for four years. Weekly, our group gathered in the cafeteria of the Prague, Oklahoma, public school, which was built underground to protect us in case of tornadoes. My dad rigged his pickup with hay and flannel blankets for the annual troop cookout and bonfire on our 80-acre farm. I couldn’t imagine lipreading by campfire light under the night sky, like Daisy had nearly 100 years before me.

One thing I admire about Daisy was her unwillingness to accept “no” as an answer. Maybe she didn’t acknowledge the word because she couldn’t hear it. But I could. My Girl Scout troop and mom nicknamed me “Mule-Headed” for my stubbornness in selling as many Girl Scout cookies and completing as many badges as humanly possible. It was a competition with myself; I’d set goals and make myself surpass them. A lot like Daisy did.

What Can We Learn From Daisy?
In an era in which childless, widowed women were considered spinsters, Daisy didn’t sit on her fanny. True, her family had the funds to bankroll some of her business ventures. But Girl Scouts was in every way a grassroots effort when it started. Funding came from Daisy’s personal solicitations, and she traveled by ship and train to secure benefactors. Her health and hearing suffered from the hectic schedule and changes of climate. She continued to hold meetings, speak to civic groups, and filmed a short movie when filmmaking was in its infancy.

Without hearing aids, cochlear implants, or a sign language education, Daisy did the remarkable: She read lips to “hear” others. She wrote as many as 50 letters a day by hand on behalf of the Girl Scouts. The day before she died of cancer, she had just written a letter to a dear and longtime friend. Communication was important to Daisy, and it is important to me. In college, I majored in Communication studies.

If a woman with hearing loss before the onset of assistive technology can achieve her dreams, what’s stopping me? I have every bit and more of the opportunities she had: an optimistic personality, loving family, financial resources, and a love of communication. Plus, I wear two state-of-the-art hearing aids and have access to captioning and other technology to aid with lipreading. If a deaf Girl Scout can make a global impact, why can’t this Lipreading Mom?

What’s stopping you?


12 thoughts on “What I Learned from a (Deaf) Girl Scout

  1. How inspiring! I had no idea the founder of the Girl Scouts was hard of hearing. I’m going to have to look for the biography.
    I’ve always had a thing about Helen Keller, ever since I saw the TV special when I was 11 years old… before I even lost my hearing. I think of what Helen did and know if I put my mind to it, I could too.
    It’s good to have heroines.

  2. Very interesting article. Thank you Chelle. Stacy…I am fully aware of Juliette Low’s hearing challenges. How much of her hearing actually remained in later adulthood? There are references in your book to her listening to the Victrola with BP and loving to attend the opera, particularly in London. I was under the impression she had a 90 percent overall loss….And that she had impairment in both ears. Was her eardrum punctured by the doctor? Punctured ear drums can now be repaired with skin graphs…I know..I had two such surgeries in high school and still have no hearing loss. And how much was improved by using the ear trumpets in her day?
    There are no know pics of her using such a tool but apparently she did and it is common knowledge she was fascinated with hearing airs of her time.

    • Christie – Those are good questions about how Daisy Low could hear the music so well with her profound hearing loss. Apparently, her loss was one that enabled her to hear some tones in music, although neither Stacy Cordery’s book nor records that I’ve come across mention which tones Daisy could/couldn’t hear. That would be worth looking into. Thanks for commenting.

      Shanna / Lipreading Mom

  3. I would go to Guide meetings with my mom before I was old enough to enroll in Brownies. Spent 3 years as a Brownie, 3 (or 4) years as a Guide, 2 years as a Pathfinder, and a couple of years ‘helping’ a Brownie troupe. I wasn’t the best knitter, but I managed to get that badge and many more. The Girl Guide program (at the time we weren’t ‘Scoutls’) taught me TONS. Life skills like: outdoor survival, improvisation, being prepared, listening, getting along with individuals & groups, learning new skills, the confidence to believe that I could do new things….I could go on for hours.

    I didn’t know our founder was deaf! That’s so cool because I’ve always given a lot of credit for who I am today to my experience in the Scouting program. Always be prepared, be honorable and never give up. I can’t say enough good things about the experience I had.

    I’m even guilty of telling interviewers of my Guiding experience….some look at me like I’m crazy, but those who experienced the program know what I’m talking about.

    Thanks for sharing this blog Shanna.
    BTW, I was hard of hearing when I was a child, but didn’t know it. Figured it out at the age of 30.

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