Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Campfire Girls in High School (Campfire Girls #5)

The Campfire Girls in High School (Campfire Girls #5)
Helen Hart
Whitman, n.d. (Estimated ~1920)

Genre: Realistic, Historical


The main character of this series is an orphaned girl named Mary Lee. She was taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Quinn as a mother’s helper but has come to be considered part of the family. They had been living in a crowded tenement district of New York City. Luckily, Mrs. Quinn’s health deteriorated so much that Dr. Anderson got Mr. Quinn a job in the country and they moved for Mrs. Quinn’s health. Mary Lee saved a young crippled boy, Bob Cameron, from drowning. His family is rich and it was through his mother that Mary Lee became a Campfire Girl. The other main girls are Ruth, Edith, and Letty. They all have meetings with Aunt Madge who is going to marry Dr. Anderson.

Dr. Anderson tells Mary Lee that come fall she will move to the city to attend high school. She’ll have classes with the other Campfire Girls and Bob. Aunt Madge tells her, “You see, you really need the schooling. You're getting older and there are things you must learn in which you cannot acquire except in school. You must have an education to get on in the world.”

Mary Lee wants to be a nurse when she grows up and Dr. Anderson helps her get a job as a doctor’s assistant with a friend of his, Dr. Payson, who hires her for afterschool hours and Saturday mornings. The narration lets us know that “Mary Lee did not know that Dr. Anderson had given a full account of her sense of responsibility and likable qualities and that it was his enthusiastic recommendation that had persuaded his friends to try Mary Lee instead of employing an older assistant for full-time.”

There is a big side mystery going on in the novel which isn’t concluded in this volume (which is kind of unusual as most series books were self-contained stories in one volume but the characters were featured in each volume—so to see an actual book-to-book cliffhanger is rare!). It turns out that Mary Lee uses her first-aid knowledge to help rescue a tramp who had suffered heat stroke. In the hospital he tells Mary Lee who he is. The man is Tom Marshall. He was in Mexico when two months ago he felt the desire to go back to his childhood home that he hasn't seen in 15 years. He and his partner own a mine. In St. Louis, Tom received a letter from his cousin that stated that his dad had been dead for three years and that his mother was very ill. He got as far as Mary's town when his money ran out. He asks Mary to dictate a letter from him to his mother. Mr. Quinn lends Tom the money to get home and once he is there he sends it back with a thank you letter. A number of months later Mary receives another letter from Tom saying that he is back in Mexico. His mother died peacefully but he is glad that he got to be with her in the end.

Meanwhile, Mary Lee attends school, works with Dr. Payson, and helps the Campfire Girls do lots of things for the war effort (see more details in the next section).

Readers still learn more about Tom. Tom's partner thinks they have finally struck something, possibly silver. Tom shows him Mary's stuff. The Indian (as he is called for the longest time) gets excited and Tom realizes that Jim Lee and Mary Lee are similar in name but “surely the girl was not Indian.” Jim tells Tom his story. More than 15 years ago he was in Alaska when a stranger risked his life to save Jim. When this man, Stewart, returned home he invited Jim along. Unfortunately, he died leaving behind a wife and a young daughter. The girl was named Mary and was just two years old but they got along great. The little girl was eight when her mother died. Unfortunately, the states decided that Jim, because he was an Indian, was not the proper person to take care of Mary. They took her away and sent her East and refused to tell him where to. Now Tom has brought him news of Mary. They learn that their mine is good and Jim says that he will share his half with Mary. In two months both men gather $50,000. Unfortunately, rumors and revolutionaries start sniffing around so they decide to hide all evidence of the mine and head towards the states for a year.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

The Campfire Girls series is a horrible series to attempt to collect or even read because (a) the series that this book was actually a part of was written by various children’s authors (using their real names and pseudonyms) and lasted from 1912 well into the 1930s and (b) there were so many other series also called Campfire Girls which aren’t related to this one. The ones written by Helen Hart where published by Whitman and were actually written by Samuel E. Lowe. There appear to be six or seven titles in this “sub-series” of the Campfire Girls series. While the book doesn’t have a copyright date it looks to be about 1920 as the “war” is being discussed and President Woodrow Wilson himself is mentioned by name and he was president from 1913-1921.

As mentioned earlier, the side mystery of Mr. Quinn and Dr. Anderson trying to find if Mary’s parents are alive and then the story of Tom and Mr. Lee is a mystery that is not wrapped up by the end of the novel. This is kind of unusual as most series books were self-contained stories in one volume but the characters were the featured element that carried over in each volume. So to see an actual book-to-book cliffhanger is a rare thing indeed. And I’m a bit sad because I don’t have any other books in this series yet so I don’t know what is going to happen with Mary Lee!

This is a small book compared to other series books of its time. When most were 200-250 pages, the Campfire Girls series is just a little over 100 pages. Surprisingly, not much really happens in the book plot wise. Asides from the introduction of Tom and Jim and the possible future reuniting of Jim and Mary, there is Aunt Madge’s wedding, Mary starting high school, and a lot of talk about what the girls do for the Red Cross war effort. Shockingly, for a book called The Campfire Girls in High School the high school really isn’t featured that much.

First let’s talk about some of the minor elements in the book important to my research. There is some racism in regards to Jim Lee. For most of the book he is referred to as “the Indian.” Tom tells Mary’s family that “my partner is an Indian but he would shame many white men. I have never known a squarer, whiter man.” When Dr. Anderson and Mr. Quinn hear that Tom’s partner is an Indian they are shocked—the thought of a white man being equal partners with an Indian? The horror! Later when Jim is introduced the narration says, “The Indian smiled his pleasure. He associated so long with the white people that he spoke, except at rare moments, after the manner of his white brothers. Even his habits, thoughts and manners were no different and to the ordinary observer it would have been impossible to recognize him as an Indian, except for his copper hued complexion.”

There is some talk of the marvel of automobiles! Early on when Dr. Anderson and Aunt Madge come over for dinner there is talk of driving when Mr. Anderson says, “I suppose you will accept our invitation to go out in the automobile after supper, Mary Lee? We thought you and Mrs. Quinn would like a ride.” Later when they are visiting again, the girls notice “with astonishment” that Aunt Madge is driving the auto. She tells them proudly, “Oh, yes, Dr. Anderson taught me. I find it easy to drive here in comparison with the city. It isn't hard,” she added with “all the certainty of one who had already learned.” Dr. Anderson even decides to let Mary drive his car. He found her to be an “apt pupil and after the first hour he let her drive the car alone, taking the precaution, of course, by keeping his foot on the emergency clutch.”

A negative attitude toward disabilities is also noted in the story. Bob was the “cripple” boy who Mary Lee saved from drowning (which seems to be a scene that was written in an earlier volume). At the time this story opens, Bob is in France where the good news comes to them that he has been cured. He is no longer crippled. When they hear he is coming home everyone’s attitude is along the lines of “isn't it marvelous that Bobbie is cured and will be just like other boys?” Bob even later admits the same attitude: “Dad’s great and he teaches me many things. I tell you, it's wonderful to be like other boys and be able to do what they do. It seems to me I will never cease marveling at it.”

Like Cherry Ames, there is a lot of talk about how noble the nursing profession is. Girls being nurses was even more important in the early 1900s-1920s as the thought of them doing anything besides cooking, cleaning, and raising children was rare. At one point, Mary Lee says, “When I grow up, I am going to be a nurse—a Red Cross nurse. In the meantime I'm going to help in such work.” To which Dr. Anderson says, “Why of course, I remember now that you did say last year that you wanted to be a nurse when you grew older. Isn't it fortunate that I can help you because I'm a physician? We'll certainly give you lots of chances to become a good nurse and in the meantime you can learn by helping me in one or two ways.” Aunt Madge throws in that “what Mary Lee has learned in the way of first aid to the injured as a Campfire Girl, will help her materially to be a good and capable assistant later.”

At one point, Mary Lee is out walking and sees some withering flowers and decides to get water and practice first aid. The narration reads that this kind act was in preparation for “her future when she would be a Red Cross nurse and of Dr. Anderson who was to give her the opportunity to gain the necessary experience. It was great work to relieve and cure the sick.”

When Mary visits the sanitarium where Dr. Anderson works he sees her attention centered on a nurse taking the temperature of the patient. Dr. Anderson tells her, “Yes, Mary Lee, that is what you will be doing some day. You have made a splendid choice of profession. It will take many years—there is much for you to learn. I know folks will be glad to get sick just so they can have Dr. Anderson treat them and Nurse Mary Lee take care of them.”

However, the biggest aspect of this book (that I wasn’t suspecting at all) was all the talk of what girls could do to support the war effort since, clearly being the inferior gender, they couldn’t fight in the war themselves. Ruth, who is the secretary, wrote a letter to the Red Cross committee volunteering the services of the seven Campfire Girls. While they wait for a reply, the girls decide that they can make some bandages after a few lessons and some can sew and knit things.

Before they get a reply to their letter, the president and Congress declare war against Germany. This makes them doubly eager for their answer and with the idea of preparing ahead of time, at Mary Lee's suggestion, they immediately invite Ms. Walker, a friend of Madge, who is a trained nurse, to teach them how to make bandages. Ms. Walker readily consents to give one evening a week to teaching them. At one of the campfire meetings Mary Lee suggests to the other girls that they start a larger Junior Campfire group at the high school. The idea takes off like wildfire and over 40 girls come to the first meeting.

The girls finally receive a letter from the Red Cross. It is of considerable length. It tells the girls that the help they could give at the time was threefold: “While some of it might not at first thought be nursing work, as they probably have associated their idea of it, it was, as they would realize after little thought, the best kind of useful help. The letter closed very nicely, after outlining the things that they could do, with an appreciation of their offer which was so opportune and the assurance that their help was greatly needed.”

Their advisor tells them, “You see, girls, they want us to plan along three different lines. First, and this is the plan that we all had—we should turn to making useful things which would be used by our soldiers and our allies. You see, they want us to be very practical about this. Second, they want every member of this group to help in the planting of some vegetable garden. That is a splendid practical idea, not hard to follow and it should prove of great benefit in as much as the food supply of the country would be materially increased. Third, they want us to form a division whose work will be to call attention of households to the great need of eliminating luxuries, and being economical and frugal. That, too, is possible for us to do.”

Mary Lee says, “President Wilson said the other day that help, such as this, is just as necessary and useful as the service the soldier gives.”

It doesn’t take long for the Campfire group at the high school to be busily at work, following the outline suggested by the Red Cross committee. The group is made up of 30 girls, each of whom gave five hours a week to sewing, knitting and, in a smaller measure, preparing bandages. Another group of about the same number has prepared gardens for the growth of vegetables and berries. Letty and Mary Lee planned for gardens of string beans. It was Letty's suggestion that each girl specializes in one thing and that all the vegetables were to be brought to the school and sold when ready. The third group had set to work to canvass a district of the town which had been assigned to the high school and in twos and threes were already earnestly bringing to the attention of the neighborhood people to both the thoughtful and thoughtless need of economizing.

Mary Lee says, “It isn't so much that we ourselves will need it. The president has told us how much the other warring countries wasted at the beginning and that they were now suffering in consequence. It is our duty to help our allies as much as we can and this way will be your share and my share.”

What the girls are doing it the way of getting stockings, mittens and shirts is of great value. Thanks to the cooperation of all groups, they are told that their soldiers will be fairly well supplied. Mary Lee really believes that the girls visiting families and making them think of the economy were doing just as effective and valuable work. Plus, the gardeners were going to get a lot of satisfaction from their work.

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