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Renovated Waltham museum showcases Girl Scout history

Girl Scouts in vintage uniforms (top) prepared for the flag ceremony at the Girl Scout Museum’s reopening; a Scout (right) learned about old-fashioned communication; and a visitor examined archival photos and artifacts.
Randy H. Goodman
Girl Scouts in vintage uniforms (top) prepared for the flag ceremony at the Girl Scout Museum’s reopening; a Scout (right) learned about old-fashioned communication; and a visitor examined archival photos and artifacts.

Letters from Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low. The original flag from the first Girl Scouts troop in Massachusetts. Photos and diaries from as early as 1912 along with Girl Scouts badges and uniforms.

What do all these pieces of Girl Scout memorabilia have in common? They currently reside in Waltham at the Girl Scout Museum at Cedar Hill.

“I would say, although we can’t prove it, we have the largest collection — one of the largest and most extensive collections of Girl Scout memorabilia in the country,” said Lynn Saunders Cutter, museum volunteer and board of directors member.

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In 2016, the museum received an anonymous donation that allowed it to expand and renovate. On Oct. 28, the museum celebrated the completion of the $450,000 project with a flag ceremony that featured Girl Scouts from Waltham, Lexington, and Chelmsford.

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The museum reopened with temporary exhibits, as Phase 2 of the reimagining has begun. This will be focused on integrating technology and creating digitized collections.

“I think that we’re excited that our renovated and enlarged museum gives us the opportunity to better preserve and showcase our history,” said Janet Coombs, the volunteer museum director. “We’re wanting to find ways for the girls to learn it all and bring it up to date in [the] 21st century.”

In 1916, Low befriended Boston philanthropist Helen Osborne Storrow. Storrow went on to serve on the National Girl Scout Board and secured the Massachusetts Girl Scout Charter 1919. It was Storrow who acquired the 75 acres of the Cedar Hill Warren Estate, which would go on to become the museum’s site.

Storrow renovated the property at her own expense and chaired the Cedar Hill Committee until her death in 1944.

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Cedar Hill’s importance has continued to grow. Girls and adults use the property for summer day camp, troop camping, community activities, and volunteer meetings. From 2014 to 2015, the number of girls served by programs increased by 85 percent (432 to 800). Over 1,000 girls were served in 2016.

“Troops can come to the museum and a docent will tell them the history of whatever aspect of Girl Scouting they’re looking at, what it was like to earn badges in the old days, what it was like in the camps,” Coombs said. “If the troop can’t come to the museum . . . we have program kits that they can borrow for a small rental fee to learn about Juliette Low.”

Coombs has been a staunch supporter of the Girl Scouts. She has been involved for the last 55 years — ever since she became a brownie in Belmont — and has volunteered at the museum for nearly 20 years.

“I just thoroughly believe in the organization,” she said. “It teaches good morals and values and ethics. And as they study all the women that have been in Girl Scouting over the years, they realize how valuable a woman can be.”

Randy H. Goodman
Two girl Scouts in vintage uniforms learn about the flag semaphore system.
Randy H. Goodman
A Girl Scout in vintage uniform learns how people called each other before cell phones.

Sophia Eppolito can be reached at sophia.eppolito@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaEppolito.