Girl Peace Scouts: a prophylactic against hoydenish romps

Girl Peace Scouts: a prophylactic against hoydenish romps

The Girl Peace Scout movement was developed in New Zealand by Lieutenant Colonel David Cossgrove and his wife Selina in 1908, in response to his daughter Muriel’s request for a scouting organisation for girls. Based in Christchurch, Cossgrove had been responsible for translating Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys into a New Zealand context. In 1909 Cossgrove and Selina wrote Peace Scouting for Girls  – a guide that came to be used internationally. By 1912 there were over 2,000 Girl Peace Scouts throughout New Zealand, including several troops in the Wellington area. The photograph below, taken by the Wellington photography studio Berry & Co, features a Miss Harris, who proudly held the rank of corporal in the Peace Scouts as her stripes show.

The young Miss Harris gives the three-fingered salute of the scout movement. Berry & Co, 1913-1919

Originally, the Girl Peace Scouts were attired in ‘unlovely khaki’, but fearing that the ‘movement would lapse into hoydenish romps on the hills’, some troops replaced their khaki dresses with a less ‘blatantly aggressive’ uniform of navy blue with brown facings in 1913. (We would been keen to hear from anyone who just might have an early Girl Peace Scout uniform tucked away in their closet or under the bed – we don’t mind if its ‘unlovely khaki’ or blue!)  While girls had to be twelve or older to join the Peace Scouts, younger girls could also get in on the action. From the age of seven they could join the Fairy Peace Scouts. The latter wore white with Peter Pan hats, and were instructed by a Fairy Mistress who commanded her troop with what else but a wand.

While ‘hoydenish romps’ were actively discouraged, Girl Peace Scouts took part in a range of healthy outdoor activities including camping and nature studies. They were also instructed in ambulance, first aid, home nursing, care of infants, and invalid cookery, and other ‘housewifely arts’, along resourcefulness, self-honour and reliance.  It was through these activities that advocates of the movement claimed that even the ‘the most wayward girl’ could be transformed into a good citizen and ‘empire builder’.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, the ample skills of the Girl Peace Scouts were engaged to raise funds for the war effort. In September 1914, a Wellington troop answered Her Majesty Queen Mary’s appeal for more socks, caps and belts for the troop, and attended knitting circles in Constable Street in Newtown. Girl Peace Scouts throughout the country also rolled bandages for hospital ships, held flower days and concerts to raise funds for sick and wounded soldiers. They did so under the patronage of Lady Liverpool, a charismatic and tireless fundraiser, who even compiled a knitting book featuring patterns for soldiers needs.

‘Her Excellency’s Knitting Book’ by Annette Louise Foljambe, Lady Liverpool, 1915, New Zealand, published by Ferguson and Osborn, Ltd. Gift of Miss Molly Gambrill, 1990

Under the patronage of Lady Liverpool, the Girl Peace Scout movement continued until the early 1920’s when it was subsumed into the Girl Guides.

One of the Harris sisters in her Peace Scout uniform. The girls’ mother ordered six post-card sized prints of each image. Photo by Berry & Co, 1913-1919

For more stories of children’s participation in the New Zealand war effort look out for Kate Hunter and Kirstie Ross’ forthcoming book Holding onto Home from Te Papa Press, which features a beautifully illustrated chapter on ‘Little Britons and future citizens’. The book will be available in stores from 23 August 2014. If you recognise the girls in the photographs please contact us at – we’d love know more!

Holding onto Home, available in book stores from 22 August, 2014.


This post is part of a month-long series of blogs commenting on the start of World War I in August 1914. 

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