TIME photography

The First Girl Scout: Portraits of Daisy Gordon Lawrence

Lawrence was the first girl to sign the organization's register when it was founded by her aunt in 1912

How often is a preteen celebrated as a genuine pioneer? In 1912, in Savannah, Ga., an 11-year-old girl named Daisy Gordon earned that lofty, evocative appellation when she became the first-ever Girl Scout in the United States.

Daisy’s aunt, Juliette Gordon Low—also known as “Daisy” to family and friends—was the founder of the Girl Scouts of America. Juliette was inspired to start the organization during a trip to the United Kingdom in early 1912. When she returned to Savannah in March of that year, she resolved to create a new type of sorority for girls modeled on the Boy Scout movement she’d witnessed and so admired in England. On March 12, 1912, at a “Girl Scout” party at Juliette’s Savannah home, her niece Daisy was the first to sign the new organization’s membership register. The rest, as they say, is history.

Here, more than a century after the founding of the Girl Scouts of America—an organization that today boasts more than 3 million members and has been central to the lives of more than 50 million American girls and women through the years—LIFE.com pays tribute to the GSA with a gallery of pictures featuring none other than “the first Girl Scout,” Daisy Gordon herself.

In its November 22, 1948 issue, LIFE—a magazine as proudly and forthrightly patriotic as the Girl Scouts themselves—ran a feature titled, like this gallery, “The First Girl Scout.” The subtitle of the article, meanwhile, was even more enticing—”She shows off a new uniform and some old tricks”— and indicated what was to come: namely, pictures of Daisy Gordon Lawrence (47 years old and married when the article appeared) wearing new Girl Scout duds while also showing contemporary Girl Scouts how to tie knots, start a fire with a “firebow” and work semaphore flags.

“Girl Scouts,” LIFE wrote, “have proved an important force in the nation’s youth. Today they can get proficiency badges in anything from journalism to international affairs. When Daisy was a Scout, the program was more violent. Her guidebook taught how to stop runaway horses (‘run as fast as the horse and throw your full weight on the reins’), how to shoot guns, and fly airplanes (‘it is best not to go out in a hurricane.’) ‘Rubber,’ it warned, ’causes paralysis.’ To make First Class Scout a girl had to ‘show a list of 12 satisfactory good turns’ or ‘swim 50 yards in her clothes.’ Daisy stayed Second Class.'”

Daisy remained active in the GSA for years; in 1958 she co-authored a book on her aunt, titled Lady of Savannah: The Life of Juliette Low. Daisy Gordon Lawrence died in Seattle in 1982.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

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