uliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1860, the second of six children. Her father was a wealthy and well-known citizen in Savannah, and a Captain in the Confederate army during the American Civil War. Juliette received a debutante’s upbringing, attending several boarding schools before graduating from Mesdemoselles Charbonniers French finishing school in New York City. She was well-known for her vibrant sense of humor and her artistic abilities; she wrote poems, acted in plays, drew, painted, and sculpted. Unfortunately, Juliette’s early years were also plagued with chronic ear infections. When she was 25, one of these ear infections was improperly treated with Silver Nitrate, leaving her almost completely deaf in one ear.
In New York City Juliette met William MacKay Low, the son of a wealthy land owner in England. They dated for four years before getting married. At the wedding, a grain of good-luck rice got lodged in Juliette’s good ear. The doctor who removed it punctured her eardrum and destroyed most of the nerves inside her ear, rendering her completely deaf. That didn’t stop Juliette. She and William moved to his estate in England. He was away a good portion of the time, and he tended to drink a lot, so Juliette proceeded to travel. She divided her time between Scotland, England, and America.
When the Spanish American War broke out at home, Juliette felt it was her duty to move back to America and help her mother establish a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers returning from the war. When she returned to England several years later, she found that William had been having an affair. The two agreed to start divorce proceedings, officially separating in 1902. But before the divorce could be finalized, William died of a stroke and left his entire fortune to his mistress. After months of legal negotiations, Juliette was granted the sum of $500,000, which would enable her to continue living her life as she liked.
Again, Juliette went traveling, this time in hopes that she would find something productive to do with her life. In 1911, she met the founder of the Scouting movement, Robert Baden-Powell, and his sister Agnes. Agnes had started a Scouting group for girls in England, called the Girl Guides. Juliette was excited. She immediately started a troop for poor girls in Scotland, and then two more troops in London. In 1912, she moved her permanent residence back to America and imediately started a group of Girl Guides in Savannah.
In 1913, the name of Juliette’s group was changed to the “Girl Scouts of America.” It took off like wildfire, and in 1915 the organization was incorporated. Juliette put everything she could into the organization, even going without electricity so she could pump more of her money into making the Girl Scouts wonderful. She served as the president until 1920, when she was granted the title of Founder.
In 1923, Juliette learned that she had Breast Cancer. Refusing to let others feel sorry for her, she hid her condition and continued working tirelessly for the Girl Scouts. She died in 1927 and was burried in her Scout uniform in Savannah, Georgia. Though many disheartening things happened to Juliette, she never lost her positive outlook and quirky sense of humor. She fostered pride and self-worth in millions of girls in an era when they were being told to stay at home and have babies. And she did it all without being able to hear.