Ladies of Lent #22… Olave Baden Powell
Olave Baden-Powell, Lady Boden-Powell, or even The Dowager Lady Boden-Powell, as I believe her bezzies called her. Haven’t heard of her? Sorry but that must make you a girl-guiding idiot. Not an idiot girl guide, but an idiot to the world of girl guiding. (Sorry, you, dressed in blue, please don’t take it the wrong way and carry on with your knotting practise so no one else calls you a girl-guiding idiot).
Wikipedia is quick to proclaim that Olave outlived her husband, Robert Baden-Powell by over 35 years as one of her big achievements. In honesty I imagine this was one of her great sadnesses, but let’s give credit where it’s due; Olave, my dear, we applaud your longevity. However he was 22 years older than her so was already at a disadvantage. Maybe the answer here is, wikipedia, that marriage is not a competition to see who lives the longest. Now stop being so callous and going on about who lived the longest. It’s clearly irrelevant.
In other Olave-related news, Olave Baden-Powell is known as the Chief Guide, Miss Girl Guiding UK, as she was so instrumental in the growth of the Girl Guiding movement.
Robert Baden-Powell, (you know, the one who wasn’t very good at living for as long as those around him?), scored a number one when he founded the Scouts in 1908. But this movement was threatened when it transpired that some girls might even enjoy the rough and tumble adventure activities of the wild outdoors. If you’re a man from the early twentieth century reading this and are incredibly shocked, please steer clear of Kerry Katona… you’d be totally appauled.
The outrageous question was asked, posing a dilemma for Robert, (long deceased husband of Olave);
"If a girl is not allowed to run, or even hurry, to swim, ride a bike, or raise her arms above her head, how can she become a Scout?" [Actually extracted from a scout magazine]
Luckily two significant things developed…
1. The evolution of women over the last 100 years has meant that some women are actually capable of raising their arms above their head. This can be seen in real life where women are now using this power for good: reaching things from tall shelves in the supermarket; dusting above wardrobes, and hanging out the washing to dry.
2. Girl Guiding came into being. This provided a forum for women to learn skills that it had never previously been expected of them; swimming, cycling, running, or even hurrying from time to time.
Seriously, Girl Guiding was clearly a radical movement; empowering women to learn skills in roles typically more exclusive to men. Having married the rugged outdoorsy type, Robert, (who despite being rugged and outdoorsy had a predisposition to dying a little earlier than preferred), Olave committed her life to investing into the Girl Guiding movement, and in doing so invested into the millions of young women who’ve passed through Guiding, and have been invested in through it.
Girl Guiding has become an amazing movement of countless volunteers over generations delivering good youth work to young women. Olave obviously had a vision that was caught by many- as Guiding is so very dependant on the incredible women who’ve served this cause with their time and energy, but have so significantly shared their lives with developing young women who thrive from having these great role models. Trust me, I’ve got first hand experience…
I was a guide. At the very tender age of 9 I went to my first Girl Guiding meeting, visiting it from a Brownie pack. I was very young in my year which was why I was little. Weeks late I broke my foot, thus cementing a relationship with my Guider, the saintly Ruth Strudwick, who impacted by life greatly both in and out of A&E, (bit of an ‘in-joke’, soz… particularly accident prone throughout adolesence & Ruth got front row seats).
I was a rubbish Brownie. There, I said it. I was the only Brownie in my school year to be made a joint ‘Sixer’ by someone younger than me. This was because I was a little excitable and naughty as we gathered for our pow-wows and what-nots. I think it was all that yellow.
However when I moved up to Guides it all changed. I’m being a bit tongue in cheek, but I do genuinely believe Guides was a massively positive factor to my whole, (otherwise traumatic at the best of times) adolescent experience. I was not one blessed with a massive attention span, and school report after school report confirmed that I could do better if I applied myself more.
Well, in guiding I found something that really did bring the best out in me. It was a safe place to play in years where there was a lot of pressure to grow up. It was a place to burn restless energy and focus my attention on practical skills that consumed me; making fires in the rain, storm lashing tents, and the greatest challenge known to man, making a bedding roll.
It was a place to invest in new skills and learn the value of excellence and achievement. With great pride I would sew each newly acquired badge onto my sash. (Not really, with great hypocrisy I would show off the expertly-sewn-on newly-acquired-badge that my mum would obediently sew on and then I would take the credit).
It felt good to have learnt things that most girls my age didn’t know about. I’m still a smug tent-putter-upper, and a couple of years ago I reached the epitomy of self-satisfied-git when I lit a fire at a bonfire party that 5 boys had been struggling for hours to get alight. It is empowering knowing how to put someone in a sling, or to build a wood pile, or to be able to lash together a washing up bowl stand using just string and wood.
And in my stressful years of not quite fitting in at school, my happiest memories are of guide camps, a place where I could be as unmade-up as I wanted and totally scruffy, (which I clearly was), and be enjoyed and encouraged to be a young woman of character, and skilled at being able to look after herself.
So thanks Olave, thanks Ruth, and thanks Kerry, (who also helped at guides, not another Kerry Katona reference). I love Guiding and everywhere I go I take a little piece of Olave’s investment, as I’m sure do many other women all over the world. I definitely know that my experience in Guiding was very instrumental to who I am now, personally, and as a youth worker. And I’m also very pleased that women are now able to lift their arms above their heads, (apart from days where I have sweat marks or am wearing a short sleeved top and have forgotten to shave my armpits).
Now enjoy this pic of Olave and her husband before he went and died on her, leaving her widowed for more longer than really necessary.