Juliette Gordon Low was born on Halloween, October 31, 1860, to William Washington Gordon and Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, in Savannah, Georgia. Her father's family was local to Savannah, while her mother was from Chicago. She had family on both sides of the Civil War.
She was a honest child. She would get into trouble, but would tell the truth and take her punishment. She spent time in Europe as well as the United States. She was seen by many as eccentric. "When in England, she used to drive on the right side of the road 'because I am an American,' and in her native Savannah she drove on the left side of the road 'because I am English.'" Rudyard Kipling said of her: "And she had her own ways of driving her Ford in Scotland that chilled my blood and even impressed our daughter. But her own good angels looked after her even when she was on one wheel over a precipice; and there was nobody like her." (Lady from Savannah, pp. 16-17).
In 1885, she had an ear infection that was treated with silver nitrate. As a result, she lost most of her hearing in that ear. In 1886, she married an Englishman named William Mackay Low. A grain of "good luck" rice thrown at the wedding lodged in her good ear, and caused her a lot of pain on her honeymoon. After it was removed, she lost all hearing in that ear.
At social occasions, she compensated for her deafness by talking a lot and becoming "the life of the party." "I got tired of straining to hear conversations that weren't particularly interesting anyway. I decided it was simpler to take things into my own hands!" (Lady from Savannah, p. 198.)
She said her deafness also affected her sense of balance. Once she came to a bridge across a river that had gone out, and had been replaced by a log thrown across it. She pestered a man nearby who was resting on a cane, not understanding his protestations, saying she would tip him well, until he helped her across the log. She kept her eyes shut as he led her across. When she got to the other side, she realized he was blind! (Lady from Savannah, p. 199.)
Around 1900, her marriage started to degenerate. She was separated from her husband, and they filed for divorce. According to English law at the time, they had to prove separation and adultery, but he wasn't willing to name his mistress. He didn't want to tarnish her reputation. Before their divorce could be finalized, he died in 1905. (Lady from Savannah, pp 231-250.)
"Juliette Gordon Low spent several years searching for something useful to do with her life. Her search ended in 1911, when she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and became interested in the new youth movement. Afterwards, she channeled all her considerable energies into the fledgling movement." (History: Juliette Gordon Low Biography.)
She started a Girl Guides troop in Glenlyon, Scotland, and two troops in London, in 1911. (Juliette Gordon Low biography.) Then, March 12, 1912, she founded a troop of Girl Guides in Savannah, Georgia. The first registered member was her niece, Margaret "Daisy Doots" Gordon (History: Juliette Gordon Low Biography). In 1913 they were renamed to the Girl Scouts. "At an early scout board meeting she stood on her head to display the new Girl Scout shoes that she happened to be wearing." (Juliette Gordon Low biography.)
The Girl Scouts continued to grow through her efforts. In 1923 she contracted breast cancer but kept it a secret. In 1926, she helped organize the world Girl Scout camp in the U.S. while still hiding her illness. Less than a year later, she died on January 17, 1927. She was 66 years old, and there were 168,000 Girl Scouts in the U.S. then, only 10 years after she started the group. She was buried in a Girl Scout uniform. (Juliette Gordon Low biography.)
She made an impact on countless lives. "Her friends honored her by establishing the Juliette Low World Friendship Fund, which finances international projects for Girl Scouts and Girl Guides around the world." She was memorialized in a stamp, and had two schools, a ship, and a federal building named for her. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, honored as one of the Georgia Women of Achievement, and has a bronze medallion in the Extra Mile Points of Light Volunteer Pathway in Washington, D.C. (History: Juliette Gordon Low Biography.)
"History: Juliette Gordon Low Biography." Girl Scouts of the USA. 3 May 2006 <http://www.girlscouts.org/who_we_are/history/low_biography/>.
"Juliette Gordon Low Biography." Women in History. Lakewood Public Library. 3 May 2006 <http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/low-jul.htm>.
Shultz, Gladys D., and Daisy G. Lawrence. Lady From Savannah: the Life of Juliette Low. New York, NY: Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., 1958.