1921: Inwood Teens Make Girl Scout History

The Evening Telegram, February 10, 1921 headline.
The Evening Telegram, February 10, 1921 headline.

On a March morning in 1921 two Inwood teens, Gertrude Nathan and Beatrice Cline, boarded the subway at 207th Street for one of the most memorable rides of their lives.

The girls were heading downtown on a very special mission on behalf of the Girl Scouts of America.

The Evening Telegram, February 10, 1921.
The Evening Telegram, February 10, 1921.

The organization’s national director, Jane D. Rippin, had directed Gertrude and Beatrice to the Ritz Carlton Hotel to pay a social call on the First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Warren G. Harding.

The day was to be a historic one in Girl Scout history.

Carrying a bouquet of Orchids, the teens had been tasked with notifying Florence Harding that she had been chosen as the honorary president of the organization.

Florence Harding, who was in Manhattan on a shopping excursion, spent an hour and a half with the star struck Scouts, telling them that she wished she were fourteen again so she could be a part of their proud institution, then 85,000 strong.

The First Lady even posed for a rare photograph and told the girls,  “I am sincerely and genuinely interested in the Girl Scout movement.  I think you all have a wonderful future in store.  What I wish is: that I were your age and could start life over again as a Girl Scout.”

Florence Harding poses with Girl Scouts in 1922. (Source: Library of Congress)
Florence Harding poses with Girl Scouts in 1922. (Source: Library of Congress)

The two teenagers from Seaman Avenue must have made quite an impression on the President’s wife.  For the rest of her life Florence Harding would be a powerful advocate for Girl Scouts of America.

What follows is an account of Harding’s meeting with “The Inwood Delegation”:

The Evening Telegram
February 10, 1921
“Greatest Day of Lives,” Say Girl Scouts Who Posed with Mrs. Harding for Picture
Gertrude Nathan and Beatrice Cline Proudest Members of Troop
Highly Praise First Lady
Says She Put Them at Ease—Have Written for Autographed Photos

By Elizabeth Smith

Mr. and Mrs. Warren G. Harding, 1920.
Mr. and Mrs. Warren G. Harding, 1920.

The big day was past, but Gertrude and Beatrice sat and discussed it with radiant and starry eyes.

Gertrude: “Mrs. Harding’s skirt was of black duvetyn and slashed at the hips to show her white crepe de chine blouse that came below the waist.”

Beatrice: “And the waist was trimmed in black chenille with a little lace vest with white moiré ribbon underneath the lace.”

Gertrude: “Only the ribbon doesn’t show in the picture, but it was just awfully pretty.”

Beatrice: “She had on black suede shoes.”

Gertrude: “They say she just loves black suede shoes.”

Then Gertrude and Beatrice both drew a long breath as the glorious memory of the day overcame them.

She was just wonderful,” they chanted in unison. “We hope Mr. Harding has three terms and runs a fourth and then we’ll be old enough to vote for him and keep Mr. Harding in the White House for still another four years.”

Which is loyalty for you all right.

Gertrude, whose last name is Nathan, and Beatrice, whose last name is Cline, are the two Girl Scouts who called upon Mrs. Warren G. Harding last week at the Hotel Ritz-Carlton and presented her with a bouquet of orchids from the Girl Scouts and with greetings from Mrs. Jane D. Rippin, the national director.  Mrs. Harding, as the wife of the President, will become the honorary president of the Girl Scouts of America.

Greatest Day in Lives

It was Gertrude and Beatrice who were photographed with Mrs. Harding after Mrs. Rippin’s greetings.  They were both scouts of Troop No. 50, Manhattan, with headquarters in Inwood.

The Yonkers Statesman, March 1, 1921.
The Yonkers Statesman, March 1, 1921.

Golden Days may come and go in their lives, but the day when they posed with Mrs. Harding between them and with her arms about their shoulders will always stand out as a red-lettered, double-starred one.

From the greater heights of her fifteen years and attendance at business college, Gertrude is less openly “thrilled” by the experience that has been hers.  Beatrice, however, who is only fourteen and goes to Hunter High School, says it was all just too wonderful to be true.

Why, afterward I was so excited I trod on air all the way home, “ she confided at her home, No. 15 Seaman Avenue, where she and Gertrude were talking “it” and “her” over.  “I don’t know just how we got out of the hotel and into the street.  Then we went to a soda fountain for a sundae, where we could sit still and think about it.”

Coming home in the subway crush I was on pins and needles until I could tell the family.  I saw a friend of ours getting out of the train and I walked along with her and told her where we had been.”

Beatrice fingered one of her long, curling, golden locks for a moment thoughtfully.

Not a Bit Formal

Mrs. Warren G. Harding
Mrs. Warren G. Harding

Mrs. Harding said that once she had hair just like mine,” she said with glistening eyes.

Gertrude then took up the story.

I didn’t know a thing about it until the very morning of the day we went,” she said.  “It was Saturday and I was in bed when my mother brought me a letter from Scout headquarters. I was cross, for I wanted to sleep.”

When I opened it, though, and read that they wanted me to go see Mrs. Harding and have my picture taken with her, you can imagine how surprised I was.  I’ve often had my pictures taken before in Scout costume.  I don’t know how many times, for they think I photograph well.  Helen Reubens and I always pose for the pictures.  They wanted Helen Reubens to go with me to pose with Mrs. Harding.  She was out of town, however.”

Then I thought of “B.”—that’s what we call Beatrice, you know. She never had her picture taken for the papers before, but she has the loveliest dimples in the world, and I knew she would look just too sweet.”

I asked Beatrice how she felt when Gertrude told her the news.

Oh, at first I thought I couldn’t, because it was Saturday, and maybe my mother would want me to do something for her,” she answered, “and then I thought she wouldn’t when she knew what they wanted me to do.  I was so happy.  It didn’t seem true.”

Gertrude took up the story once more.

Mrs. Harding’s ever so stately,” she continued, “but she isn’t a single bit formal. She has the friendliest eyes. Laughing eyes are what I call them.  And she is so gracious.”

She seemed so pleased with the orchids when she thanked us for them.  I read in the paper later that she carried them with her in her arms to Washington.  She asked us to come and visit her there if we were ever in the city.  I know that she said it in all sincerity, too.  She told us that she loved girls.  She hugged us. We were there and hour and a half.”

Hope for Pictures

President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence Harding, early 1920's
President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence Harding, early 1920’s

We were the first members of any delegation or organization that she has posed with for a photograph.  We surely ought to feel honored.”

She’s told us that she was tired of posing for pictures, though,” interrupted Beatrice.  “She said that after they left the White House she was going to South America, where they wouldn’t want to take any more pictures of her ever.  But I believe they would want to even there.”

The very night of the big day Gertrude and Beatrice sat down and with long and thoughtful deliberation, penned a letter to Mrs. Harding.  Gertrude did the actual writing, she explained because she went to business school, and learned at business school just how to write a letter.  However, both girls signed their names to it, and both are waiting with quickened pulses for each visit of the postman.

The letter thanked Mrs. Harding for her kindness to them and contained an eloquent request for an autographed photograph of herself.

Wouldn’t it be just dreadful if she just sent us only one photograph for both of us,” meditates Beatrice.

She won’t. She’ll send us each one,” reassures Gertrude with all the sophistication of her fifteen years.

There once was a time when Gertrude hoped to be a private secretary and Beatrice aspired to be a kindergarten teacher.  That was before Florence Harding came into their lives like some fairy queen out of a storybook.  Now their ambitions have changed.

Only when each walks into the White House as its mistress will their dreams come true.

In the meantime Gertrude is saying: “We mailed that letter Saturday night to her, and she must have received it Monday.”

And Beatrice answers: “Oh, I hope she sends us her picture soon.”

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