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Practical Patriotism: Camp Fire Girls, Girl Scouts, and Americanization

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Drawing primarily on discourses and events from the period surrounding World War I, this essay examines the methods deployed by Camp Fire Girls and Girls Scouts to recruit the daughters of immigrants and, upon joining, acculturate these new members to the American way of life. The argument begins by analyzing those discourses describing the so-called “new immigrant” from southern and eastern Europe as a threat to national unity. Turning to the ways in which the new immigrant problem was gendered through the rhetorical construction of a “girl problem,” this author argues that the advocates describing the girl problem leveraged the presumed cultural rift between foreign-born parents and their new-world children in order to induce the daughters of the foreign-born to perform as American. The essay closely analyzes the discourses of two groups committed to the project of Americanizing the daughters of immigrants: the Camp Fire Girls and Girl Scouts. The article contends that these groups, the two most popular of the period, Americanized the daughter of the foreign-born by using recruitment tactics that invited her to dissociate from an old-world ethnicity, deploying legendary heroines re-figuring the girl's American belonging, and engineering patriotic regimens habituating her to American customs. Ultimately, this essay demonstrates how these groups rhetorically refigured the cultural and social belonging of their members in order to assuage public concerns about national unity.

Keywords: Americanization; Camp Fire Girls; Ethnicity; Girl Scouts; Nationalism

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2008-06-01

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