Historic marker was dedicated in Nashville for Josephine Groves Holloway. Photo submitted

NASHVILLE, TN — Recently, Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, along with Metro Council member Angie Henderson and the Metro Historical Commission, honored Josephine Groves Holloway, a civil rights pioneer and founder of Middle Tennessee’s first Girl Scout troops for African-American girls, with a dedication ceremony for the 200th Metro Historical Marker at Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee’s Council headquarters. Members of Josephine Holloway’s family were in attendance.

Josephine Groves Holloway

Inspired to properly recognize a woman once honored as a “Hidden Heroine” for her significant but unrecognized contributions to Girl Scouting and the advancement of civil rights, members of Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee’s Troop 1347 spearheaded the approval and installation of a Historical Marker in her honor. The resolution for the Historical Marker was presented by Council member Angie Henderson during the March 19 Metro Council meeting, and the Historical Marker was installed on July 16.

“As a former Girl Scout and one of 16 women serving on the Metro Council, my colleagues and I realize that tenacious female leaders like Josephine Holloway, who made progress over many years for the civil rights of girls and women of color, have often gone unrecognized,” said Henderson. “I am very glad the Metro Council funded more historical markers this term so that our city can better honor and highlight the diversity of our history. Troop 1347’s Bronze Award project encompasses the significance of female trailblazers and civil rights pioneers throughout history, and I am grateful I was able to join the  troop in learning about and honoring Josephine Holloway, who played such an important role in shaping the future of women’s leadership.”

Members of Troop 1347 researched Holloway’s life, helped draft the language of both the marker text and Council resolution, and attended the Metro Historical Commission’s marker committee meeting to present the marker for approval. They were also involved in planning the unveiling ceremony and hosted a breakfast with the Holloway family beforehand. Their work to honor Holloway was a part the troop’s Bronze Award project, the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior can achieve.

The historical marker was approved by the Commission and funded by the Council District Marker Project. Council member Henderson chose Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee and Josephine Holloway as her district’s marker topic and sponsored the resolution. It marks the 200th Historical Marker approved by the Commission.

“I cannot stress enough how proud I am of our troop members for choosing this as their Bronze Award project, and of all of the time and hard work they put in to seeing this through until the very end,” said Tracy Rokas, Troop Leader for Girl Scout Troop 1347. “Josephine Holloway is an inspiring example of female leadership, especially having overcome the many societal barriers of her time, and we’re honored to help share her story to inspire even more young girls. We are so thankful to the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, Metro Council member Angie Henderson and the Metro Historical Commission. Without their leadership, knowledge and commitment to honoring Mrs. Holloway as well, this would never have been possible.”

A 1923 graduate of Fisk University, Holloway received a degree in sociology and started her career as social worker at the Bethlehem Center on Charlotte Avenue. Charged with developing programs for black girls and women at the Bethlehem Center, she attended a Girl Scout Leader training with Juliet Gordon Low, founder of Girl Scouts, in January 1924, and established the first African-American Girl Scout troops in Middle Tennessee. However, her troops would remain “unofficial” until 1943, when Holloway finally successfully petitioned for Troop 200’s formal acceptance.

“Josephine Holloway is one of only three African American women in Davidson County who have been honored with a Metro Historical Marker,” said Jessica Reeves, Historic Preservationist at the Metro Historical Commission. “We are excited to see more previously unrecognized female leaders being honored in this way, so it’s only fitting that our 200th Historical Marker is honoring someone who is both an inspiration to young women and a civil rights pioneer. It is truly a special story.”

Holloway became the first black professional employee of Girl Scouts of the Cumberland Valley in 1944. Determined to create outdoor adventure opportunities for African-American girls, Holloway opened what is now known as Camp Holloway in Millersville. Camp Holloway now serves as a camp for all Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee.

Remembering the words of  the late Dr. Harriette Allen Insignares  who said Josephine Groves Holloway was a “pioneer,” a “lamplighter,” a “hidden heroine.” Armed with determination, an old Willis Jeep, and a dream of equality for African – American girls, Josephine Groves Holloway became the founder of the first black Girl Scout troop and was the first black Girl Scout executive in Middle Tennessee. Her father referred to Josephine as “my missionary,” and his early perception proved to be accurate when she set out, with missionary zeal, to make the name “Girl Scouts of America” mean what the name implies. 

The seventh child and the second gal of John Wesley Groves and Emma Mae Gray, Josephine Amanda was born on March l9, l898, in a Methodist parsonage in Cowpens, South Carolina. Although ten children were born to this union, only three boys and two girls reached adulthood. 

Her father, a Methodist minister as his father before him, valued education. John Wesley Groves moved his family to Greenwood, South Carolina, where they remained until Josephine finished Brewer Normal School in Beaufort. On the advice of a teacher, Josephine enrolled in Fisk University during the fall of 1919. She worked through college by mending tablecloths in the dining room and winding clocks in the music practice rooms. Illness from an influenza epidemic and a shortage of funds did not keep her from receiving a degree in sociology from Fisk in June of 1923. 

Josephine Groves returned to South Carolina and took a job as a recreational and community worker for the summer while sending out job applications. She said, “The job that appealed to me most was Girls’ Worker at Bethlehem Center. In this I could imagine using all of my skills and, at the same time, have a hand in reforming the world.” 

She became Girls’ Worker in September of 1923 and organized the first Girl Scout group in 1924, after completing training with Juliette Low during a special training session at the George Peabody College for Teachers. Josephine’s time with the group came to an abrupt end when she married a former schoolmate and co-worker, Guerney Holloway, the Boys’ Worker at Bethlehem Center. After the June 30, 1925, wedding, Miss Mathee Nutt, center director, informed the new Mrs. Holloway that a married Girls’ Worker would not have enough time for the girls. Holloway resigned in the fall of 1925. Not sharing the same enthusiasm and persistence of Mrs. Holloway, the next Girls’ Worker allowed the troop to fold. 

Almost twenty years passed before the black troop was reinstated in 1943 through Mrs. Holloway’s efforts. Josephine Holloway returned to school and received a bachelor’s degree in business from Tennessee A. & I. State College. She served as assistant registrar at Fisk University (1927-34), before taking a job with the state Tennessee Department of Welfare. 

 When resistance to her petitions to the all-white Girl Scout Council continued. He “organized an unofficial club for black girls, with gingham uniforms, but soon learned the girls longed to become ‘real Girl Scouts.”’ With  her husband, Dr. Guerney Holloway, she began removing the obstacles. During her husband’s studies at the University of Chicago, he was able to purchase the handbooks which the local Girl Scout Council would not allow her to buy. Mrs. Holloway taught the girls the Girl Scout promise, the laws, and everything needed for their investiture into Girl Scouting. Former Council president Juli Mosley said in a tribute to Mrs. Holloway: “With this trained group of girls, the Council could not deny membership. So, in 1943 troop 200 became a reality and began Girl Scouting in Nashville for black girls.” Holloway’s three daughters Nareda, Josephine, and Weslia, became members of her troop. 

In November of 1944, Mrs. Holloway joined the Girl Scout Council’s professional staff as an organizer and field advisor. She also served as a district director and a camp director. In 1951, the Council honored her by naming its new camp for Negro girls “Camp Holloway. Other honors include the “Sojourner Truth Award” from the Nashville Chapter, of the National Association of Business and Professional Women and the “Zeta of the Year Award” from Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. 

“Without women like Josephine Holloway, many of us would not be who we are today,” said Agenia Clark, President and CEO of Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee. “Everyday we are charged with shaping Girl Scouts to become the female leaders of our future, but we simply could not do this without inspiring stories like this. Mrs. Holloway paved the way for so many young girls to strive for greatness no matter what obstacles they might face. Today’s unveiling ceremony was an honor for many of us to be involved in, and we’re so grateful that members of the Holloway family were in attendance to see all that she did and how appreciated she is by so many.”

Mrs. Holloway retired from her scouting career on June 15, 1963. She died on December 7, 1988.

The Historical Marker was installed at Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee’s Council headquarters at the corner of Granny White Pike and Harding Place on July 16.