Philadelphia Friends Baked First Girl Scout Cookies

Americana, Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on September 2, 2001

Chances are good you’ve never heard of a woman named Midge Mason, but chances are slim to none that you haven’t come in contact with her claim to fame.

It all started one November morning 69 years ago, when young Midge stepped out of her house, and with her friend Virginia Marely by her side, walked to the Philadelphia Gas & Electric Company and into American history.

On that blustery morning, Midge and Virginia baked cookies at the gas company to give out to children’s nurseries as a public service project. The gas company partnered with the girls’ project by running a promotional sale on gas ovens.

“I don’t remember how many cookies we baked that day,” Midge laughs. “I do know that we baked a lot of cookies.”

If you still have no idea who Midge Mason is, here’s another hint: Midge and Virginia were Girl Scouts. She and Virginia baked the very first official Girl Scout cookies Nov. 11, 1932. Little did the two young girls realize that they had started an annual American tradition.

“A year later, the company decided to hold another cookie bake in the store front window because of the huge success of the first cookie bake,” Midge says.

Once again the cookie bake was a success, but it was the last time a Scout actually baked the cookies. “By 1934, the Keebler Baking Company had been hired by the Philadelphia Girl Scout Council to make cookies,” Midge says. The council believed that selling vanilla cookies in the shape of a trefoil, the Girl Scout emblem, would be an excellent fund-raising idea.

And they were right.

Two years later, spurred on by the fund-raising success of the Philadelphia Girl Scout Council, the Girl Scouts of the USA adopted cookie selling as a nationwide fund-raising project.

As the popularity of Girl Scout cookies grew, Midge and Virginia quietly continued on in Scouting. “I fell three merit badges short of earning the Golden Eaglet,” Midge says. “Back then, if a Girl Scout earned the Golden Eaglet, it meant that she had earned every merit badge that was available.

“I went back into Scouting as a troop leader when Susan, my daughter, became a Girl Scout. Susan earned every merit badge available at the time she was a Scout. That gave her the right to wear the Curved Bar,” she says proudly of the high-honor badge.

“Being in Scouting together brought me and Susan closer. It was a wonderful way for us to get to know each other,” Midge says.

Even after Susan left Scouting, Midge continued to participate as a troop leader for her church in Philadelphia for several more years. She also served as the chairwoman of the Philadelphia area cookie sale and on the Philadelphia Girl Scout Board throughout the 1970s. And in 1975, Midge’s work in Girl Scouting earned her the William Penn Award—created to recognize adult volunteers who have exhibited an extraordinary contribution to the region’s Girl Scouting program.

Midge, 81, has spent the last 21 years living with her husband of 59 years, Bill, in retirement in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. (pop. 20,990). She briefly stepped back into the limelight in January 2001 to attend a ceremony in Philadelphia unveiling a historical marker at the location where she and Virginia baked those first Girl Scout cookies.

“It was wonderful going up there for the marker’s unveiling and seeing so many generations of mothers, daughters, and grandmothers who had been in Girl Scouting together,” Midge says.

Unfortunately, Virginia Marely could not be reached for inclusion in the ceremony. But those who accompanied Midge on the platform—including Marty Evans, national executive director of the Girl Scouts of the USA, and Pennsylvania state Sen. Allyson Schwartz—were glad she was able to come.

“Midge is a treasure,” says Carol Harris of the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Pennsylvania. She’s also something quite rare in America—a living piece of history who continues to make a positive impact on the lives of young girls.

“I’m always still a bit surprised when business leaders and CEOs tell me that their first start in business was selling Girl Scout cookies and that’s what motivated them to go into business,” Harris adds.

While Midge hasn’t baked a Girl Scout cookie in decades, she faithfully buys cookies from young Girl Scouts at the local supermarket every year when they go on sale.

“The thin mints are our favorites.”