Agnes Smyth Baden-Powell

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Agnes Powell (Smyth Powell)

Birthdate: (86)
Death: June 2, 1945 (86)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Reverend Baden Powell (Cornthwaite) and Henrietta Grace Powell (Smyth)
Sister of Henry Warington Smyth Baden-Powell; Sir George Smyth Baden-Powell; Augustus Smyth Powell; Francis Smyth Baden-Powell; Henrietta Smyth Powell and 4 others
Half sister of Charlotte Elizabeth Powell; Baden Henry Powell; Louisa Ann Powell and Laetitia Mary Powell

Occupation: Founder and President of the Girl Guide Movement, Honorary companion of the Royal Aeronautical Society from 1938, President of the Westminster Division of the Red Cross, worked for the League of Mercy and Queen Mary's Needlework Guild
Managed by: Caroline Brock
Last Updated:

About Agnes Smyth Baden-Powell

Agnes Smyth Baden-Powell (16 December 1858 – 2 June 1945) was the younger sister of Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, and was most noted for her work in establishing the Girl Guide movement as a female counterpart to her older brother's Scouting Movement.

Early life

Agnes was the ninth of ten children, and the third daughter. Her father, the Reverend Baden Powell, was the Savilian Chair of Geometry at the University of Oxford. Three of her brothers were Warington Baden-Powell, George Baden-Powell, and Baden Baden-Powell. She was also the aunt of Peter Baden-Powell, 2nd Baron Baden-Powell and Betty Clay, and the great-aunt of Robert Baden-Powell, 3rd Baron Baden-Powell and Michael Baden-Powell.

Her mother, Henrietta Grace Smyth, was the third wife of Rev. Baden Powell (the previous two having died), and was a gifted musician and artist.

When Agnes was only two years of age, the Reverend Baden Powell died. In order to honor him after his death, Henrietta added Baden to their surname and the family has since been known as Baden-Powell.

This left the family under the firm control of Henrietta, who was determined to instill in her children a desire to succeed. As Agnes' brother, Robert, has been quoted "The whole secret of my getting on lay with my mother."

Agnes went on to become an accomplished musician, playing the organ, piano and violin. She also had many varied interests, including natural history and astronomy, and kept bees, birds and butterflies in her home. With her brother Baden Fletcher Smyth Baden-Powell she made balloons, working the silk for the envelope and made many flights together. Later she helped him with aeroplane-building. Agnes was an honorary companion of the Royal Aeronautical Society from 1938.

She was for some years President of the Westminster Division of the Red Cross, and worked for the League of Mercy and Queen Mary's Needlework Guild.

The Guide Movement

Following the creation of the Boy Scout Association, Robert Baden-Powell organised a gathering of Scouts at the Crystal Palace in London in 1909. He was upset to see amongst the many Girl Scouts gathered a small group without tickets who had gatecrashed the event.

Popular opinion at this time was against mixed activities for girls, growing pressure forced Robert Baden-Powell to consider setting up a separate organisation for the Girl Scouts, and having been turned down by first aid societies, he approached his only surviving sister, Agnes, who reluctantly agreed to take on the organising of the new sister group, Girl Guides. Agnes Baden-Powell's character was useful in counteracting negative opinions of the new Girl Guides. A friend wrote of her:

Anyone who had come into touch with her gentle influence, her interest in all womanly arts, and her love of birds, insects, and flowers, would scoff at the idea of her being the president of a sort of Amazon Cadet Corps.

In 1909, Robert Baden-Powell published "Pamphlet A: Baden-Powell Girl Guides, a Suggestion for Character Training for Girls" and "Pamphlet B: Baden-Powell Girl Guides, a Suggestion for Character Training for Girls". These were precursors to the handbook.

By April, 1910, there were 6,000 young girls registered as Girl Guides. In 1912, Agnes brought about the formation of the 1st Lone Company and was the de facto President of The Girl Guide Association.

During this time, Agnes set to create the Guides' first handbook. Entitled "The Handbook for the Girl Guides or How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire", and published in 1912, it was a reworking of the Scouting for Boys book written by Robert several years earlier. The Girl Guide Movement was given official recognition in 1915. In 1916 the new County Commissioners voted Olave Baden-Powell into the new post of Chief Guide, and Agnes was offered the honorary post of President which she reluctantly accepted.

In 1917, following pressure, Agnes resigned from the Presidency in favor of Princess Mary, who was also a keen supporter of the Girl Guides.

Agnes continued in her role as Vice-President until her death.

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Agnes Smyth Baden-Powell's Timeline

December 16, 1858
June 2, 1945
Age 86