Girl Scout archivist Sue Belden displays old scouting badges. Photos by Donna P. Williams

It all began in a rec room in Sue Belden’s Marietta basement.

The repository of artifacts that is now the local Girl Scout Archive was born in 1989, when Belden joined a committee charged with figuring out what to do with boxes of artifacts that had been piling up at the local Girl Scout council for decades.
Her basement was home to these items for 10 years as the collection got organized, grew and moved back onto Girl Scouts turf.

Belden, 84, now of Austell, is the official volunteer archivist of the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta and caretaker of the archive now located at the organization’s Mableton headquarters.

“We’re excited that we have all this space to show what we have and be able to teach girls and the community our rich history,” Belden said.

Her efforts have landed Belden the prestigious Thanks Badge, a Girl Scout national recognition awarded to a volunteer for outstanding service to a local Girl Scout council.

“Sue is the guardian of our treasures and the keeper of our memories,” said Leslie Gilliam, spokesperson for the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta. “She’s a history detective, finding pieces of the past that surprise, entertain, and educate both our members and the community. Her years of commitment mean our stories are preserved for future generations. We’re thankful for her and the archive committee’s work.”

Working with a small but dedicated committee, Belden is the curator of everything from historic Girl Scout records, photos and publications to old troop pictures and other memorabilia unearthed from attics.

Just about every available inch of space is filled with relics such as troop scrapbooks dating back to 1922, Girl Scout lunch boxes, vintage Girl Scout Barbie dolls and camp items. Girl Scout story books written from the 1920s to the 1950s line a shelf and retro cookie boxes and old cookie sale incentive items are on display.

Fun fact: Girl Scout cookies were made in homes until 1936 when a company was hired to make them, Belden said.

A collection of hanging uniforms includes almost every uniform worn by Girl Scouts and their leaders since the national organization’s 1912 launch. Accessories and the more fragile uniforms are boxed. Among Belden’s favorite archive holdings are two statuettes of national Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low.

A glass case in the entry area displays photos and articles related to the history of the local Girl Scouts council, which began as the Atlanta Girl Scout Council in 1921.
Many of these relics were donated by Girl Scout volunteers or their families. Some were rescued from garage sales by people who thought the Girl Scouts would like to have them.

Belden delights in talking with potential donors.

“I like to hear what their experiences were and how they enjoyed Girl Scouting,” she said. “But the main reason for keeping all this is I love going out and talking to troops and taking some memorabilia with me to show them their history.”

Belden’s lifelong association with Girl Scouts began at the age of 10 in Irvington, N.Y.
“For girls, there really wasn’t another organization in that small town and everybody belonged. I mean we had three big troops,” she said. “What I really liked was the fact that I was learning things. And we went camping. We learned how to care for a home and the world around us, and there were wonderful women willing to be our leaders.”
Belden particularly remembers a Mariner Girl Scout trip through Cape Cod with no one on a 92-foot schooner but the troop, the boat’s captain and a cook.

“So, we had to hoist up those five sails and bring them down and navigate and do all that stuff. And, of course, we all got seasick,” she said, laughing. “But it was fun.”

The mother of three sons, Belden has always been a Girl Scout volunteer, leading troops in Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio as her family moved around the country. After their move to Atlanta in 1979, she volunteered with the local Girl Scout council and was employed in the membership department from 1984 to 1994 and from 2000 to 2003.

She’s a steadfast believer in Girl Scout traditions and practices who meets regularly for lunch and activities with a group of Girl Scout alums known as the Trefoil Guild.
“Girl Scouts is an amazing organization,” Belden said. “This is one organization where you don’t tell girls what to do. They tell you what they want to do. … So, they learn how to organize and how to make things happen for themselves.”

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Donna Williams Lewis

Donna Williams Lewis a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She previously worked as an editor and journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.