[Back to Formatted Version]

Noreen and Harriett Watts Camp Fire Girls Collection, 1917-1985

By Rachel Lilley

Collection Overview

Title: Noreen and Harriett Watts Camp Fire Girls Collection, 1917-1985

Predominant Dates: 1956-1961

ID: MSS CampFireGirls

Primary Creator: Watts, Noreen (1913-1995)

Extent: 0.75 cubic feet. More info below.

Arrangement: The collection is arranged chronologically.

Date Acquired: 00/00/2018

Languages of Materials: English [eng]


The Noreen and Harriett Watts Camp Fire Girls Collection documents the activities, membership, and organizational structure of a Blue Birds and Camp Fire Girls troop headquartered in Burbank, California. The collection consists predominantly of two scrapbooks kept by Noreen Watts and Harriett Watts, her mother and “guardian” of her daughter’s troop. Also included in the collection are a second edition Camp Fire Girls Book, published in 1947; a handmade, wooden scrapbook cover; and financial records documenting membership dues and other accounts payable for a Camp Fire Girls troop in Portland, Oregon from 1917 to 1919.

Scope and Content Notes

The Noreen and Harriett Watts Camp Fire Girls Collection documents the activities, membership, and organizational structure of the Blue Birds and the Camp Fire Girls. The collection consists predominantly of two scrapbooks kept by Noreen Ella Watts and Harriett Rosalie Billings Watts, her mother and “guardian” of her daughter’s troop. The troop – the Flying Little Blue Birds and, later, troop Ka Yus Kin – had its headquarters in the Bret Harte Elementary School in Burbank, California. Also included in the collection are a second edition Camp Fire Girls Book, published in 1947, and financial records documenting membership dues and other accounts payable from 1917 to 1919.

The first scrapbook, compiled by Noreen Watts between 1956 and 1961 and referred to in several places as her “memory book,” is roughly divided into sections documenting her graduation through the ranks, from Blue Bird to Trail Seeker, Wood Gatherer to Fire Maker. Also included are lists documenting the honors she earned as she progressed. Entitled “Happy Bluebird Days,” this scrapbook also documents that Noreen’s chosen Camp Fire Girls name was Winona, and that her Blue Bird’s troop name was The Flying Little Bluebirds.

There is a smattering of correspondence in this scrapbook, including Christmas cards, and a letter written to Noreen from her mother and father, Russ Watts, while she was away at camp in 1957. Events such as Father-Daughter banquets, “secret pal” parties, Easter and Christmas teas, a four-week long cooking school, and day- and overnight- camps are documented with ephemera and journal entries. Additional ephemeral items in this scrapbook include certificates and membership cards.

Photographs in this scrapbook include images taken at Camp Nawakwa (in the San Bernardino Mountains 30 miles east of Redlands, California) in 1955 and 1957, and at Camp Cohila (near Big Bear Lake) in 1961. The camp photographs include images showing Noreen and an unidentified friend before boarding the bus to camp, aboard the bus, and at camp. Landscapes of the areas surrounding the camps – for example, San Gorgonio Mountain in the Angeles National Forest, and the ski lift at Bear Mountain – are also included. A small series of photographs document an overnight camping trip to Refugio Beach Park in 1960; this set includes images of Refugio State Beach point, and of the Santa Barbara Mission and History Museum.

Of special note in Noreen’s scrapbook are the programs created for District Council Fire meetings. The programs list dates and locations of the meetings, names of the girls or leaders receiving awards, names of the Council Fire Committee members, and names of the girls being awarded new ranks. Also of interest are the autograph and signed photograph collected by Noreen. Their troop’s close proximity to Warner Brothers’ studios, the Walt Disney studios, and other Hollywood landmarks meant that stars were frequent guests at Camp Fire Girls events. In 1957, as 2nd place prize for selling peanuts – their troop’s primary fund-raising activity – each troop member received an autographed photograph of Tom Hatten, host of The Popeye Show (Noreen’s print is included in this scrapbook). At their “peanut party” in 1958, Pick Another Baby singer Johnny O’Neill and actor Doye O’Dell were guests. In 1959 the troop was selling peanuts outside the Bank of America near Warner Brothers’ studios when James “Jimmie” Dodd, MC of the Mickey Mouse Club, came out and gave all the girls autographs (included in the loose items folder for this scrapbook).

The second scrapbook, kept by Harriett Watts between 1959 and 1985, is entitled “Memories I Want to Cherish of My Blue Bird Leader Days.” The Camp Fire Girls name Harriett chose for herself was Tonahi. Many of the events documented in Noreen’s scrapbook are also in Harriett’s (e.g. a slumber party on February 28, 1958), and it is interesting to see the same events described from two different perspectives. The six photographs in this scrapbook document Harriett’s troop’s graduation from Blue Birds to Camp Fire Girls in 1957. On this same page – page 6 of the scrapbook – is a photograph of the girls in the troop in black face. Ephemera includes a certificate documenting Harriett’s completion of “Camp Fire Basic,” the training course required of troop guardians, and the program from her Leaders Certificate Awarding Ceremony. Also included are favors from parties and, in cases where this was not feasible, sketches of the favors given.

Harriett’s scrapbook contains a small amount of correspondence – the majority of which is foldered with the loose items for this scrapbook – including a letter from Noreen in which Noreen begs her mother to come get her from camp. Other correspondence includes letters of appreciation, official letters from the Burbank Camp Fire Girls Council regarding Noreen’s progress, and Valentine’s, Christmas, and Easter cards. Three pages at the end of the scrapbook that appear to be unrelated to the Camp Fire Girls or Blue Birds material document a trip to New York City in December 1985. Ephemera on these pages document attendance at several Broadway shows, including Lily Tomlin in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Biloxi Blues, and Cats.

The first page of the Book of the Camp Fire Girls includes the “Law of the Camp Fire Girls:” worship God, seek beauty, give service, pursue knowledge, be trustworthy, hold on to health, glorify work, and be happy. Divided into three sections – Introducing the Camp Fire Girls, How You Can Do It, and The Ranks and Honors – each chapter provides useful organizational information, including how to organize a Camp Fire group, how to have fun “out of doors,” and how to design and structure ceremonials. The book also contains a complete list of the honors for which girls could earn beads, and the ranks through which they progressed while in Camp Fire Girls.

It’s unclear whether the financial records in the collection were created or collected by a relation of the Watts family, but they document the membership, dues, and other financial information of a Camp Fire Girls troop in Portland, Oregon. Receipts – made out to a Mrs. Nona Kuck – include those for charter fees, annual membership dues, beads and “patriotic buttons,” and for leather and fringe for “ceremonial dresses.” The account ledger pages document payments from Camp Fire Girls for beads and monthly membership dues; also included is a membership list.

The wooden scrapbook cover was removed from Harriett's scrapbook. The front cover is hinged, and bears a hand-painted, wooden applique of a camp fire.

Biographical / Historical Notes

A contemporary of the Boy Scouts of America and other similar “scouting” organizations, the Camp Fire Girls was established out of a collaboration between Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick and his wife Charlotte Vetter Gulick, and William Chauncy Langdon, in Maine in the first decade of the 20th century. Born of an early 20th-century movement towards establishing organizations that would benefit young people – and a concurrent, burgeoning interest in child psychology and development – these organizations placed a strong emphasis on outdoor experiences and survival skills.

A lifelong and vocal advocate for, and educator in, physical education, Luther Gulick was appointed the first Director of physical education in the public schools of New York City in 1903; founded the Academy of Physical Education in New York in 1905; was a member of the Olympic Games Committee for the 1906 (Athens) and 1908 (London) games; and lectured on hygiene at New York University from 1906 to 1909. Gulick, as the head of the physical education department of the Young Men’s Christian Education’s Springfield Training School (now Springfield College) from 1887 to 1900, designed the triangle that is the primary component of the YMCA symbol, with each point representing one of the three “necessary and eternal [parts] of man:” spirit, mind, and body. While at the Springfield Training School, Gulick also served as the international secretary for the physical training department of the YMCA. Charlotte Gulick was a well-respected youth reformer and child development scholar in her own right. She studied medicine with her husband at the City University of New York, and helped to pen a five-book series on hygiene, The Gulick Hygiene Series.

It was no surprise then that Gulick was asked to serve as a member of the organizational committee whose meetings would result in the founding of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In fact, he and Charlotte, together with New England-based writer William Chauncy Langdon, established a non-denominational camp for girls on Lake Sebago, near South Casco, Maine in 1909 (this date is sometimes given as 1910 or 1907). The first group of seventeen campers gathered at Lake Sebago in the summer of 1910, arriving in South Casco by train, and crossing the lake by steamer. Once at camp, the girls were allowed to trade their long skirts for bloomers, and wore bathing dresses – without tights – to swim in the lake.

Charlotte was the primary driver behind the day-to-day operations of this original camp, designing both the symbol of the organization, and the curriculum of recreational activities and educational programs that would be offered to the campers. Charlotte based the Camp Fire Girls symbol – a triangle with rounded edges sitting on it base – on the YMCA’s symbol, with each point representing one of the three core tenets of Camp Fire Girls: Work, Health, Love, or WoHeLo. The programs and activities offered were intended to marry fun with practical skills; campers engaged in educational programs that ran the gamut from jewelry making and pottery, to gardening and fire making. Instead of badges, girls earned beads; by 1947 there were over 1000 different “honors” a girl could earn in one of the seven “Craft” categories (Home, Outdoors, Creative Arts, Frontiers, Business, Sports and Games, and Citizenship). The traditions and ritualized components of the camps were ostensibly based in Native American beliefs and traditions. Campers were encouraged to choose a Camp Fire name by which they would be known at camp and at Camp Fire gatherings, and Charlotte subsequently wrote several books related to this lore, including A Book of Symbols for Camp Fire Girls, and A List of Indian Words from Which Girls Can Derive Their Camp Fire Names.

On March 17, 1912 the Camp Fire Girls – a name believed to have been coined by Langdon – was officially incorporated. In 1913, the Bluebird program was introduced for younger girls. By 1914, between 7000 and 8000 girls were involved; by 1930 over 200,000 girls around the county were participating in 9000 local groups. During World War I, Camp Fire Girls helped to sell over one million dollars in Liberty Bonds, and over $900,000 in Thrift Stamps. Nearly 68,000 girls received commendations for conservation of food. In the 1970s, when the organization was officially opened to boys as well as girls, the name was changed to the Camp Fire Boys and Girls; Bluebirds became Starflight in 1989. In 2001, Camp Fire Girls was shortened to Camp Fire U.S.A, and in 2012 it became simply Camp Fire.

Author: Rachel Lilley

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 2 boxes, including 1 oversize box and 30 photographs

Statement on Access: Collection is open for research.

Acquisition Note: Collection was purchased in June 2018.

Related Materials:

Additional collections relating to the Boy Scouts include the Boy Scouts of America Troop 1 (Corvallis, Or.) Records (MSS BoyScouts), the After 8 Records (MSS After8), and the World War I Poster Collection (MSS WW1Posters).

Collections related to youth organizations and clubs include the Oregon State University Extension Association/4-H Records (MSS OSUEA4H), the Extension Service Photographs (P 062), the 4-H Photograph Collection (P 146), and the Malheur County 4-H Leaders Council Records (MSS Malheur).

Collections that document camping and hiking include the Lucy Lewis Scrapbook (MSS Lewis), the Banes-Howland Crater Lake Auto Trip Photograph Album (P 339), and the Helen H. Marburger Photograph Album (P 341).

Preferred Citation: Noreen and Harriett Watts Camp Fire Girls Collection (MSS CampFireGirls), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.

Processing Information:

We acknowledge that materials in SCARC collections and the language that describes them may be harmful.  We are actively working to address our descriptive practices; for more information please see our SCARC Anti-Racist Actions Statement online.

An image included in this collection features children in blackface. We acknowledge the racism represented by this image and the harm it may cause our users. Providing access to these historical materials does not endorse any attitudes or behavior depicted therein.

[Date of acknowledgement: April 2022]


Watts, Noreen (1913-1995)
Watts, Harriett (1947-)

People, Places, and Topics

Blue Birds (Program)
Camp Fire Girls--History.
Girls--Education--United States.
Girls--Health and hygiene--Study and teaching.
Scouting (Youth activity)--United States--History.
Wilderness survival--Study and teaching

Forms of Material

Photographic prints.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.