A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The (Wo)Man Scout: The book I was glad my mother did not hand me — and what I might have become

By Megan Cole
Special to NKyTribune

I weren’t no girl scout, neither.

You can call me Megan Cole: wife to Chris Cole and adventure partner. Chris is out for surgery and so we decided to switch places. Welcome to The Woman Scout.

My sister, Amber, went antiquing for Boy Scout books for Chris to leaf through post-surgery. In her digging she found a fun treasure: “The American Girls Handy Book.”

It is important to me that you understand that this is not a Girl Scouts handbook. However, it is interesting to imagine an alternative-history Christmas where Chris was gifted “The Boy Scouts Handbook of America” and I received “The American Girls Handy Book” instead. I wonder about who I would have become.

On the left: A copy of “The American Girls Handy Book” that Cole uses for this column, printed 1969. On the right, a woman tosses a ball up and down for exercise.

This book is a veritable feminist nightmare. It focuses on domestic activities rather than practical skills. On the other hand, it is also humorous and cause for celebration at how far we’ve come.

Three brief lessons from the Handy Book and their takeaways:

1. “The Walking Club”

Women walking in groups is no new thing. There is safety in numbers (always recommended), and it also provides companionship. But do you know the three rules for walking? First, one must get the posture correct. Next, one must “breathe through the nose while walking rapidly, otherwise the mouth will become dry and the breath short…”

Finally, there is an entire paragraph dedicated to proper attire, which includes “low, broad heels” and “skirts…supported from the shoulders” (?). Thanks for making walking stressful, book.

Takeaway: I am so glad to live in a society where there isn’t someone telling me how to walk before I tie up my tennies.

2. “Sea Cottage”

Did you know you can take a horseshoe crab and turn it into a lovely handbag? Just tie a ribbon on it! 
That’s…that’s it. There is one illustration of this monstrosity. It seems all one does is tie a bow on a horseshoe crab and call it a day. Some suggestions in this chapter were chic and useful (I see nets and oars used in modern sea cottage design), yet other horrors in this chapter included gathering live starfish and giving them a good “drying out” for decoration.

Here, Sally Pape (left) of Alexandria, Kentucky, rides a camel for the first time. (Photo provided)

Takeaway: I am grateful our society is starting to care more about sustainability. We can learn from the repurposing in this book, but we can also avoid killing sea creatures for stale décor.

3. “Home Gymnasium”

This chapter made me laugh so hard I cried. In it is a detailed series of exercises for women who wish to exert themselves yet still retain their ladylike figure. For instance, did you know that you can toss a wooden ball up and down into the air until one exhausts oneself? If you get bored of that, don’t worry – you can also balance a dowel rod on your finger, and so on and so forth. Other appropriate exercises for ladies as defined by this chapter included walking, tennis, archery, swimming, and horse riding. You know – lady stuff.

Takeaway: With the streaming boom, even the pandemic and subsequent closing of gyms cannot stop women from working out. There is bountiful access via YouTube to weight workouts, yoga routines, and more. There is also a sharp rise in companies and brands that care specifically about women’s unique needs in the outdoors, such as REI and Wondery. We are truly blessed by the health and wellness revolution of the last decade or so.

I have the great fortune of having inherited a whole family of adventurers. My mother and father met on a study abroad trip to Greece. This was not a trip to lie on the beaches, mind you; that trip was an archaeological history hunt. Likewise, my grandparents have been all over the world. My Grandma Sally cannot tell you whether the Amazon Rainforest or a journey to Egypt was her favorite trip of all time. How many people can say that?

I am proud of my roots and wings. I have been blessed to sand surf with my sisters in the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado and to have ziplined in the fog above the mountains of Guatemala. This world is breathtaking, and I am thankful for a world where women are finding new life and opportunities in the outdoor community.

Let us end this brief interlude with a toast:

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” (unknown)

Oh, and do a good turn daily. Want to join my walking club?

Megan Cole is a communications professor, writer, and community outreach specialist. When she is not working she is an active part of her family, friend group, church and surrounding community, and loves to cook, read, write, and go on adventures. She has currently explored 14 of the 63 United States’ National Parks and hopes to see each of them at least once her in lifetime.

Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Olivia B says:

    I really enjoyed this! Thank goodness things have changed; but that book is a GEM for the laughs. Thanks for sharing, Megan!

Leave a Comment