Some embers from 75 years of Camp Fire Inc. . . .
Shirley Temple Black remembers when she was a Camp Fire Girl and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was Camp Fire's "chairlady." In 1937 or 1938, Black said by telephone from her home in Woodside, Calif., Roosevelt stopped at the child star's movie set for 15 minutes, "and she stayed the whole day.
"So she, in return, invited my mother and me to Hyde Park for a barbecue. I was all dressed up in my frilly dress and little white socks and little white shoes and my little white purse -- with my slingshot in it. In spite of my screen image, I was a tomboy. I never went anywhere without my slingshot.
"Mrs. Roosevelt was bending over the outdoor grill, cooking. I couldn't resist. I picked up a pebble, eased my slingshot out of my purse and shot her. She straightened up quickly and said 'Oooh!' "
The Secret Service looked all around. The youngster was the picture of innocence.
"My mother was the only one who saw me. She gave me a dour look. And afterward in the hotel she punished me in the same place I hit Mrs. Roosevelt. After that, first ladies had nothing to fear from me."
A couple of years later, on Jan. 9, 1940, at 12 years old, she became a Camp Fire Girl, at her first real school off the movie set.
"Being a Camp Fire Girl was a major event for me," Black recalled. "I liked the monogrammed shirt, the sweater and the beanie. I liked most of all the sense of belonging. Our chapter was called Oki-Hi. We were eight girls, and we met in each other's homes. All of us were friends at West Lake School for Girls. I studied all my work very hard. I did all the Indian lore. I learned how to make a fire with sticks and stone. I got all my beads. We did good works for children in hospitals. I took it very seriously."
Yesterday, to celebrate Camp Fire's 75 years, President Reagan met seven Camp Fire Girls and one Camp Fire Boy, along with Phyllis Dolvin Schoedel, president of Camp Fire Inc.
Patrick Hills, the Camp Fire Boy, has been a member for seven years -- just four years less than boys have been Camp Fire members and the name changed to Camp Fire Inc. He has something in common with Black -- both worked their way through school. He cooks in a restaurant 35 hours a week. He's a high school senior in South Portland, Maine, a National Merit Scholar.
As a Camp Fire Boy, "I learned to use a computer," Hills said. "I wrote a story for Camp Fire Flame publication about Dungeons and Dragons. But for me the great thing about Camp Fire is togetherness with friends."
The Camp Fire Blue Bird program was officially introduced in 1913. A charming sketch of the period shows the "feathered" ceremonial outfit, designed to make a little girl look birdlike. In the sketch, a shy, sidelong glance and rosebud mouth can barely be seen from under the encompassing helmet. The bodice looks more like petals than feathers and the skirt comes up almost to the girl's knees.
The first decade of the 20th century was a time of vast changes for women. They began to work away from home, to fight for the right to vote and to manage their own affairs, and to wear workable clothes. The Camp Fire movement was part of this new women's rights effort. Camp Fire was also part of a trend toward health and nature, exemplified by the American Indian.
Charlotte Gulick, with her husband, Luther Halsey Gulick, was one of a coterie of high-minded, health-oriented thinkers who founded Camp Fire. They had a summer camp in Maine. They knew other people, such as William Chauncy Langdon and Ernest Thompson Seton, great Indian buffs who gave the early movement its pseudo-Indian mysticism. The name of the Gulick camp became the rallying cry for Camp Fire: Wo-He-Lo, for "work, health and love."
An early picture of Gulick shows her wearing a long brown dress fringed in leather. Camp Fire provided a pattern for making such a dress for 60 cents. A beaded band encircles her hair, parted in the middle and worn in long braids. She's trying to start a fire with sticks.
As "Wo-He-Lo," the official history, points out, "the floor-dragging, heel-catching hobble skirt and the furbelowed bodices were ridiculous for the school girl or the business girl . . . "
Rose O'Neill, designer of the Kewpie doll, issued a statement at the time that "woman's waist and legs must be released. The force a woman expends bending a corset and waggling a skirt every time she bends her body, could be put to better use if she is to be of the greatest service to the world and herself."
Camp Fire's organizing committee issued guidelines, urging skirts 7 to 10 inches off the floor, with pockets. Even more daring, it suggested bloomers for biking or hiking.
Today Camp Fire boys and girls wear blue jeans or denim skirts, red vests and scarves, and white shirts. Some changes are planned in the fall.
Donna Franklin, 17, a senior at High Point High School in Beltsville, is the Horizon representative from Patuxent on the Camp Fire Inc. board. She remembers the time her mother, a Camp Fire leader, had a camp for them in Winchester, W. Va., where the Franklins have a house. "Twelve of us girls slept out in tents," she said. "I still remember it taking us three hours to cook spaghetti on a fire in a coffee can. In the snow.
"The greatest times for me were the big processionals, when the aides would march in with torches, light the big fires, and after the skits and speeches, the silver and gold closing ceremonies, when we'd cross hands and sing."
Donna's mother, Betty Franklin, and friends have baked 2,200 cupcakes for today's birthday celebrated with balloons, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Washington Monument.
The Potomac Area Council has about 5,000 Camp Fire boys and girls, said Priscilla Henry, director of office services and a volunteer leader for a decade. The total enrollment is somewhere around 350,000.
At the national headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., Karen Bartz, program director, said that Camp Fire is beginning many programs to respond to the way children live in 1985. Now kindergarteners are enrolled, as Sparks. Older members have a coed Adventure program.
"We know that not all kids are able to have a club," said Bartz, "so we are offering a reliance course including what to do if you come home and find the front door open sometimes taught in schools.
"The reality today is that children are facing more risks. We're moving into before- and after-school child care with programs that are more than just an extension of the school day. This fall we'll have a new initiative on peace education, exploring the fears, myths and realities children have about war. We hope to show children that peace can be far more exciting than war."
Some of Reagan's Camp Fire callers yesterday had other reasons to belong.
"We make a lot of things," said Alia Hartman, 12, of Toms River, N.J. "We go camping, hiking, roller skating. We learn to get along with a lot of different people."
"Camp Fire has helped me learn about the wilderness -- and that bark grows on the south side of trees," said Melinda McDonald, 14, of Piedmont, Calif.