First Girl Scout Camp in America
By David Wright
Member Board of Governors of the Stratford Historical Society,
Recently, we discovered that Billie Howell created, ostensibly, the first Girl Scout Camp in America. Before further expounding upon that achievement, let us recall some of Billie Howell’s plethora of accomplishments.
Billie, a Vaudeville comedienne, moved to town when she was just 22 years of age and resided with her husband, Richard Howell, in a beautiful mansion, which, at the time, was located at 1585 Elm Street (corner of South Avenue and Elm Street).
Billie’s husband, Richard, was the owner of the Bridgeport Herald and had been the reporter on the scene of Gustave Whitehead’s historic flights in 1901 in Fairfield, Bridgeport, and Stratford.
Billie had no children of her own, but she rapidly became known as the “big sister” of Stratford’s children. Her particular focus was ensuring that the roughly 400 hungry children in the town in the early 1920’s were properly nourished.
To that end, Billie created the Boys and Girls Useful Club in 1918, comprised of some 45 Stratford children, whose primary goal was to grow garden vegetables for the impoverished youngsters in town and to assist with the war effort.
When Billie first learned of the Girl Scout organization, sometime before 1921, she formed three Stratford Girl Scout troops: one at Sedgewick School, one in Lordship, and one at Nichols School. The focus of these 75 girl scouts was to extend the reach of the Boys and Girls Useful club in providing sustenance for Stratford’s hungry children.
In 1922 Billie wished to create a camp for training her girl scouts and furthering their scouting skills. There was no scout camp in Stratford at the time. Billie leased land in Redding Ridge and created what as best we can determine, was the very first Girl Scout camp in America.
Billie built the camp with her and her husband’s private funds, and transported the girl scouts to the camp each summer at her own expense. Because there was no other Girl Scout camp in Fairfield County, Billie offered the camp to Girl Scout troops throughout the county.
Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of America in 1912. A park was created and named for Juliette Gordon Low in the south end of Stratford by way of Town Council Ordinance in 1973.
The Juliette Low Park is located at the site of the old Sedgewick School at the corner of Woodend Road and Sedgewick Avenue. Billie Howell, although childless herself, was president of the Sedgewick School PTA.
Billie died at the much too young age of 35. You might think Billie’s legendary life would be well-documented in Stratford’s history. Billie is unknown to Stratford’s written history, and to its Girl Scouts.
One marker exists for just one of Stratford’s Suffragettes, Edith Hastings. That marker is located at Academy Hill across the street from the David Judson house.
We have proposed to the Parks & Recreation Committee of the town that we create a marker to commemorate Billie Howell, Stratford’s first Girl Scout leader, Sedgewick School PTA President, and Suffragette extraordinaire, at the site of the old Sedgewick School, now the Juliette Low Park. We believe we can secure a grant to fund the placement of such a marker.
Further, we suggested that the committee consider renaming the Juliette Low Park in honor of Stratford’s first Girl Scout leader, Billie Howell.