The First Camps for Camp Fire Girls

          Summer camp has always been part of Camp Fire. The Gulicks developed the Camp Fire Girls’ program in a summer camp and a week at camp was a highlight for many Camp Fire Girls throughout the twentieth century. Before communities organized local Camp Fire councils and established their own camps, private girls’ camps often incorporated the Camp Fire program. Some of these camps also provided week-long training courses for Camp Fire guardians.

June 1919 WOHELO cover

          Three New England summer camps are of particular significance in Camp Fire’s history. In Maine Charlotte Vetter and Luther Halsey Gulick invited girls to join their daughters at their camp on Lake Sebago. Charlotte created the word WoHeLo from work, health, and love, and in the summer of 1910, with suggestions from Ernest Thompson Seton, she incorporated Indian Lore into the camp program.

            Luther Halsey Gulick’s brother, Edward, and his wife, Harriet Farnsworth Gulick, established Camp Aloha near Fairlee, Vermont in the early 1900s. Harriet Gulick became a Camp Fire guardian and many of the girls at Camp Aloha were Camp Fire Girls, so it was natural to use the Camp Fire program there. [1]


Aunt Hattie's Camp Fire Girls July 1917
Camp Fire Girls at Camp Aloha

            When Harriet’s brother, Charles Farnsworth, and his wife, Charlotte Joy Farnsworth, established Camp Hanoum near Thetford, Vermont in 1909 it was patterned after Camp Aloha. Camp Hanoum was involved in preparation for the Thetford Pageant of 1911 and a group of girls asked William Chauncey Langdon, the pageant’s director, if they could have a group like the Boy Scouts, who were in the pageant. Langdon then came up with the name “Camp Fire Girls” and the original three ranks. [2]

Hanoum Camp - Thetford Vt 27
Camp Hanoum near Thetford, Vermont

            Langdon, the Gulicks and the Farnsworths were all involved in shaping the Camp Fire Girls and Camp Fire ideas were used in their camps. Newspapers began publishing articles about the Camp Fire Girls in 1911 and other private camps also advertised that they had Camp Fire Girls’ councils, probably meaning Camp Fire groups. These included Winona Fields in New Hampshire, Setag in New York and Camp Minnehaha in North Carolina. According to Porter Sargent, after Charlotte Vetter Gulick worked out the “distinctive features” of the Camp Fire Girls “the program was further developed and worked out in the private camps. [3]

            Camp Fire Girls also got off to a strong start in Iowa. Luther Halsey Gulick and his daughter Frances provided training for Camp Fire guardians at the Rural Life Conference in Ames, Iowa in June 1914. Later that summer a camp under the auspices of the University of Iowa and Camp Fire was organized at Lake Okoboji for the purpose of training Camp Fire leaders. Sadie Holiday, a 1909 graduate of the University of Iowa, who had spent the summer of 1913 at the Gulicks’ camp in Maine, was in charge of the camp.  She was a member of Camp Fire’s National Board and continued to direct camps for Camp Fire Girls at Lake Okoboji into the 1920s. In 1918 the State University of Iowa published The Fifth Annual Recreational Camp for Girls,  illustrated with photographs, describing the camp. Holiday later directed a camp for older girls in Hackensack, Minnesota [4]

            Edith Kempthorne organized the first training course for Camp Fire guardians in the southern states at North Carolina’s Camp Minnehaha in 1920. Belle Abbott Roxby had established Camp Minnehaha, one mile from Bat Cave in western North Carolina, in 1912; it was the first girls’ camp in the region. Roxby soon incorporated the Camp Fire program and expressed interest in having a training course for Camp Fire leaders at her camp. For the training course the camp accommodated fifty older girls, students, or “young women interested in the development of leadership.” The course was offered again in 1921 and included a drive through the Vanderbilt estate in Asheville and an excursion to nearby Chimney Rock. A 1922 newspaper article described Minnehaha as the “first three part camp in the South.” The camp had separate counselors and activities for Blue Birds, who were eight- to twelve-years-old, and Camp Fire Girls from twelve to twenty with a Senior Rest Camp for women who wanted the freedom of camp life without the regular schedule.   [5]

          “Successful Camp Fire Camps” in the May 1920 Everygirl’s Magazine described four camps from the previous summer: Camp Keokuk in Georgetown, Massachusetts, Stockton, California’s Camp Minkalo, Camp Keewano Wohelo in Michigan and Camp Shawnee.   [6]

          Missouri’s Camp Shawnee  was probably the first permanent camp established especially for Camp Fire Girls. The camp began in 1914 at the Ruhl Farm, near Kansas City, Missouri and in 1915 moved to Frank G. Robinson’s property at Grandview, where it flourished for ten weeks despite much rain. Kate Nelson, the first director felt that the girls left camp with a “deeper understanding of the out-of-doors . . . a greater loyalty to Camp Fire, higher ideals, and a democratic outlook on life in general.” The Olathe Mirror said the camp was “a ‘democratic’ camp in that every girl present . . .  receives the same treatment.”  Kansas and Missouri girls continued to attend Camp Shawnee at the Robinson farm until 1928 when they attended Camp Towanyak in Kansas.  In 1937 a new Camp Shawnee was established at Knob Noster State Park in Missouri. This camp existed until 1970. [7]

Camp Shawnee swimming pool
Swimming Pool at Camp Shawnee

          Stella Swenson was instrumental in establishing Stockton’s Camp Minkalo. For several years Stockton Camp Fire Girls camped in a different place each year, always calling their camp Minkalo, which means “The Mountain Inn of the Starry Skies”  In 1923 they established a permanent camp on the northeast side of Silver Lake, not far from Stockton’s Municipal Camp, which is now the Silver Lake Stockton Family Camp.     Minkalo was a long-lived camp in a beautiful setting and its loss must be mourned by all who once camped there.[8]

Silver Lake
Silver Lake viewed from the site of Camp Minkalo

          In contrast to Camp Minkalo, Camp Keokuk probably lasted only a few years. The Boston Globe described this Camp Fire Girls camp on Pentucket Pond at Georgetown in July 1921 with a photo of girls rolling ponchos. Mrs. Margaret L. Fox of Danvers was the director; Keokuk means “watchful fox.”  The camp included a main building used for meals and rainy day activity and several conical tents for sleeping. Porter Sargent said that “Keokuk is a camp for Camp Fire Girls directed by Mrs. Margaret L. Fox.” Under “Camp Fire Girls”, he wrote “In addition, other camps, such as Keokuk, Georgetown, Mass., and Minnehaha, Bat Cave, N.C., use the Camp Fire Girls’ program.”[9]

Keewano Wohelo Girls at store
Campers visiting the store at Camp Keewano Wohelo

            Keewano Wohelo on Lake Michigan was the first of at least a dozen Michigan Camp Fire camps. The rented camp site was in “rather inaccessible sand dune country” about a mile from Grand Haven and included two well-equipped cottages, one of which had a dining hall large enough for sixty girls. A circle of tents surrounded this building. Florence Heintz, Executive of the Grand Rapids Camp Fire Girls, directed the camp and later worked for National Camp Fire.  She had been a Camp Fire Girl in high school. [10] 

Keewano Wohelo brochure cover
In 1931 Camp Keewano Wohelo was still at Ottawa Beach

          Camp Keewano Wohelo moved several times. In June 1922 Heintz reported on Camp Keewano Wohelo’s “third summer in its old site on Lake Michigan at Grand Haven.” A 1926 article in the Grand Rapids Press described new buildings at Camp Keewano Wohelo, north of Ottawa Beach that would be ready for camp when it opened on July 3. An ad for Ovaltine on the back cover of the November 1929 Everygirl’s featured girls from the Ottawa Beach Keewano Wohelo. Twenty years later the camp moved to a third site on Gillon Lake seven miles from Hesperia. Later newspaper articles locate the camp on Lake Tawas or Lake Tawa, also near Hesperia; it is not clear if there were two lakes near each other or if the camp moved again. I have not found any articles about the end of Camp Keewano. Developer Jim Jurries  bought the land in 1980; it has been privately owned since 2000.[11] 

Ovaltine Ad
Ovaltine add featuring Camp Keewano Wohelo girls
Thunderbird Dining Hall
Camp Keewano Wohelo near Hesperia, Michigan

          In 1924 Porter Sargent listed twenty Camp Fire Girls’ camps in twelve states in A Handbook of Summer Camps, but there is some inaccuracy; he listed two camps for Omaha, Nebraska, and Lincoln’s Camp Kiwanis is listed twice, once as Kiwanis Camp and once as Camp Kiwanis.  Nyoda, listed as a Camp Fire camp was always a private camp. Not all the camps are named and some did not yet have permanent names. Iowa’s Camp Hantesa and Washington’s Camp Samish are among those missing from the list. Two of the named camps, Namanu, and Sealth are among the centennial camps.  [12]

          Located at Horky’s Park on Nebraska’s Blue River, Camp Crete may have had the largest enrollment of any Camp Fire camp. Guardian Mrs. F. F. Teal first took her Camp Fire group to camp for a week at Horky’s Park in July 1917. A year later she had been elected president of the Lincoln Guardians’ Association and three-hundred-fifty Nebraska Camp Fire Girls gathered for a week at Camp Crete, again in Horky’s Park. The camp was four-and-a-half miles from the town of Crete and included seventy-five cottages, a store and a large dancing pavilion. The Lincoln Camp Fire Council was formed in 1920 with Mrs. Teal serving as field secretary. That summer nearly six hundred girls from Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and South Dakota gathered at Horky’s Park on June 12, 1920 and a second week of camp was added to accommodate four-hundred more.  The Lincoln Star reported that “special cars were coupled onto the regular Burlington trains to accommodate the wriggling mass of girls that swarmed the depot platforms in Lincoln.” Camp Crete, directed by Mrs. Teal and sometimes referred to as “Mrs. Teal’s camp” or Camp Metikameesh took place at Horky’s Park for a week every summer until at least 1932.[13]

First aid class at Camp Crete.1
Photograph from article about Camp Crete in the December 1919 WOHELO

          In 1924 Camp Fire awarded Mrs. Teal one of the first Wohelo awards for a “distinctive contribution to a deeper understanding and greater appreciation of Girls” and “for organizing the largest Camp Fire Girls camp in the world” In 1926 Nebraska girls were divided into two camps; those in the northern and western part of the state were accommodated at a new camp, Camp Long Pine, while those from Lincoln and Omaha returned to Camp Crete at Horky’s Park. Mrs. Teal directed both camps. By 1927 Mrs. Teal’s daughter, Dorothy Teal Ogden, was serving as swimming counselor at Camp Crete.   [14]

Horky's Park
Horky’s Park near Crete, Nebraska where Camp Crete was located

     Swimming was an important activity at Camp Crete. The 1929 Camp Crete brochure, announcing the twelfth season,  June 17 to June 23, describes the swimming program and  says that those who once “boarded the launch – two hundred of us at a time – to go for a swim in the Crete ‘Muny’ pool, can appreciate what it means to actually have a pool on our own grounds.”   There were morning and afternoon classes divided into three levels; yellow, red and green ribbons indicated each campers level.

Horky's Park river
The river at Horky’s park
Horky's Park boats
Boats on the river at Horky’s Park

     In the 1930s Camp Kiwanis seems to have replaced Camp Crete although there are a few newspaper references to Camp Fire Girls at Camp Crete up to 1946. By that time Camp Fire Girls had been attending the smaller Camp Kiwanis, near Milford for a couple of decades.

Boat Landing, Camp Kiwanis (Nebraska)

           Camp Fire membership grew rapidly in the 1920s. By 1933 there were 1,500,000 Blue Birds, Camp Fire Girls and guardians. Porter Sargent listed 117 Camp Fire camps in thirty-three states in his 1929 camp directory.  [15]  After a community formed a local Camp Fire council the next step was usually to establish a camp, although sometimes, as in Bellingham, Washington, Lincoln, Nebraska and Kansas City, Missouri the camp came first. Private girls’ camps and Camp Fire Girls’ camps also grew farther apart. Most Camp Fire Girls went to camp for only a week or two while girls usually spent a month or longer at private camps. Some of the early leaders in Camp Fire like Barbara Ellen Joy, Sadie Holiday and Ruth A. Brown later directed their own private camps. Both kinds of camps developed beloved traditions and provided opportunities for friendship and life out-of-doors. Sadly, the decrease in the number of Camp Fire Girls’ camps means that far fewer girls have camp experience today.

July 1919 WOHELO cover


Camp Fire camps listed in Porter Sargent’s  A Handbook of Summer Camps 1924

Boston Camp Fire Girls Camp, Hanson, Mass. Miss Elizabeth Taylor, 2 Park Sq., Boston, Mass. Enr. 200

Camp Nyoda, Oak Ridge, N.J. Mrs. Grover D. Smith, P. O. Box 192 Montclair, N.J.

Camp Waiwanaissa, Earleigh Heights, Md. Mrs. Wm. C. Buttner, 5006 Densmore Ave., Baltimore, Md.

Camp Fire Girls Camp, Augusta. Mary Louise Wilson, 629 Green St., Augusta, Ga.

Municipal Camp (used by Camp Fire Girls), Cleveland Ohio. Ruth Bonsteel, Cleveland Girls’ Council, 503 Electric Bldg., Cleveland, Ohio.

Camp Sewanee, Berlin Center, Ohio, Claire McGuire, 14 E. Rayen Ave., Youngstown, Ohio.

Municipal Camp (used by Camp Fire Girls). Detroit, Mich. Grace Brown, 67 E. Adams Ae Detroit, Mich.

Camp Keewano Wohelo, Grand Haven, Mich. Margaret Thomas, Junior High Sch..Bdg., Grand Rapids, Mich.

Camp Nawakwa, South Haven, Mich. Mrs. John W. Moody, 1506 Kimball Bldg., Chicago, Ill.

Des Moines Camp Fire Girls Camp. Mrs. Clara S. Nelson 1107 Fleming Bldg., Des Moines, Ia.,

Camp Shawnee, Grandview, Mo. Cecil Francisco, 408 E. 11th St., Kansas City., Mo.

Camp Iwaqua, Valley, Nebraska, Omaha Council of Camp Fire Girls, Omaha, Nebr.

Kiwanis Camp, Milford, Nebr. Lincoln Camp Fire Council Lincoln, Nebr.

Camp Kiwanis, Lincoln, Nebr. Lola Duncan, 251 Fraternity Bldg., Lincoln, Nebr.

Camp Crete, Crete, Nebr., Mrs. C. C. Teal, 2044 C. St., Lincoln, Nebr.

Omaha Camp Fire Gils Cap, Valley Nebr. Mary Louise Guy, 17the & Farnum Sts., Omaha, Nebr.

Camp Namanu, Portland, Oregon. Mrs. Elizabeth White, care of Meier & Frank, Portland, Ore.

Camp Minkalo, Silver Lake, Cal. (Municipal Camp used by Camp Fire Girls.) Edith Tubbs, 1715 N. Commerce St., Stockton, Cal.

Spokane Camp Fire Girls Camp. Annette Francisco, 1019 W. 6th St., Spokane, Wash.

Camp Sealth, Vashon Island, Puget Sound, Wash. Ruth Brown, Arcade bldg.., Seattle, Wash.



[1] Harriet L. Barstow, “Camp Memories of 1913,” The Aloha Kanaka: A Story of Life at a Girls’ Camp (New Brunswick, N.J.: Harry Haywood, Jr., 1915), 148.

[2] Charlotte Joy Farnsworth was also preceptress of Horace Man School until 1911 when she resigned in order to devote all of her time to Camp Aloha.  William Ronald Lee, “Education Through Music: The Life and Work of Charles Hubert Farnsworth” (diss., University of Kentucky, 1982), 97-99; Helen Buckler, Mary F. Fiedler, Martha F. Allen WO-HE-LO: The Story of Camp Fire Girls 1910-1960 (New York: Holt Rinehart and /Winston, 1961), 9-10;  Allen F. Davis Postcards from Vermont: A Social History, 1905-1945 (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2002), 240-241.

[3] Porter E Sargent, The Handbook of American Private Schools (Boston, 1918),  326,  327,  332; Porter E. Sargent A Handbook of Summer Camps (Boston,  1924), 343.

4; “The Camp Fire Girls Afield” WOHELO 2, no 4 (October 1914): 8; Advertisement for Camp Holiday WOHELO 7, no. 1 (July 1919): 25; Wichita Daily Eagle April 8, 1911; Post-Star (Glens Falls, New York) April 7, 1911; Porter Sargent A Handbook of Summer Camps, (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1929), 547.

[4] “Summer Opportunities for Guardians” WOHELO 1, no. 11 (May 1914): 11; Cedar Rapids Republican (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) August 9, 1914; Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa) May 26, 1914; Iowa City Press-Citizen (Iowa City, Iowa) May 28, 1920; April 18, 1924; Porter E. Sargent A Handbook of Summer Camps (Boston,  1924), 377, 546.

[5] “Training Course in South” WOHELO 7, no. 8 (April 1920): 129; Charlotte News (North Carolina) April 19, 1920; Porter Sargent, A Handbook of Private Schools, Vol 4, (Boston, 1918); Western North Carolina Times (Hendersonville,) April 28, 1922; Melanie English Summer Camps around Asheville and Hendersonville (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2016); Everygirl’s Magazine  8, no. 7 (April 1921), 109.

[6] “Successful Camp Fire Camps” Everygirl’s Magazine 7, no.9 (May 1920), 155-159.

[7]  Camp Fire Girls (Kansas City, Mo.) Camp Fire Girls of Kansas City: Camp Shawnee, 1915, Grandview, Mo.,[Kansas City, Mo., 1915]; “At Camp Shawnee” Olathe Mirror (Olathe, Kansas), July 20, 1916.

8] Stockton Daily Evening Record October 1, 1919.

[9] Boston Globe  July 3, 1921; Porter Sargent A Handbook of Summer Camps (1924), 97, 254. 

[10] “Successful Camp Fire Camps” Everygirl’s Magazine 7, no.9 (May 1920), 159; Everygirl’s Magazine 8, no 9 (June 1921), 155-159; “When We Were Younger Than We Are Now” Everygirl’s 13, no. 7 (March 1926), 6-7.

[11] Florence Heintz “Report: Camp Keewano Wohelo of the Camp Fire Girls of Grand Rapids Michigan” Everygirl’s Magazine 8, no. 9 (June 1922), 149; Grand Rapids Press, June 25, 1926; April 26, 1958; July 9, 1965;  August 5, 1967; Ludington Daily News (Ludington, Michigan), August 12, 1959;

[12] Porter Sargent, A Handbook of Summer Camps (1924), 97-98.

[13] Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln) July 22, 1917; Lincoln Star (Nebraska) January 22, 1918; June 23, 1918; February 20, 1920;

[14] “Camp Metikameesh, Crete, Neb.”, WOHELO 7, no. 4 (December 1919), 66-67; Lincoln Star  June 17, 1920; February 10, 1920; June 13, 1920 Weekly Schuyler Sun (Schuyler, Nebraska) June 24, 1920; Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln) April 1, 1924; May 2, 1926; April. 3, 1927.

[15] Jennifer Hillman Helgren “Inventing American Girlhood: Gender and Citizenship in the Twentieth-Century Camp Fire Girls” (PhD.  diss. Claremont Graduate University, 2005)

The Oldest Camp Fire Camps

More than one-hundred years ago the first Camp Fire Girls discovered the joys of outdoor life in summer camps from Maine to Washington State. In the 1920s and 1930s many Camp Fire camps existed for only a few years; others grew and developed traditions for decades. By 1966 the American Camping Association’s Directory of Accredited Camps listed more than one-hundred Camp Fire Girls’ camps located in 29 different states. A few of these camps have celebrated or will soon celebrate their centennials.

Four of the oldest camps, Namanu (1924), Sweyolakan (1922),  Sealth (1920), and Kirby (1923), are located in the Pacific Northwest. Others are Hantesa (1919) in Iowa, Toccoa (1927) in Georgia, Tanadoona in Minnesota (1924) and Tannadoonah (1923) in Michigan. Wathana (1922), also in Michigan may be among these centennial camps if it is still being operated by Camp Fire.

Camp Fire got an early start in Iowa when Luther Halsey Gulick and his daughter Frances directed guardians’ training as part of the 1914 Rural Life Conference. For a few years Sadie Holiday, who had attended Camp Wohelo on Lake Sebago directed guardians’ training and a camp for Camp Fire Girls on Lake Okoboji. [1]

Iowa’s Camp Hantesa might be depicted by more different postcards than any other Camp Fire camp. More than two dozen different cards, spanning fifty years or longer, present Hantesa scenes. The earliest card I own is postmarked 1935, when the camp was sixteen-years-old and the newest is postmarked 1985. The Des Moines Register reported that Camp Fire Girls were enjoying camp at the Ledges near Boone in August 1919. That year groups of Camp Fire Girls from all over central Iowa were attending the camp for a week before returning to school. The director was Mrs. W.C. Nelson and she was assisted by “Miss Baker of Nevada”.[2]

Hantesa - Trading Post and dining Room
Trading Post and Dining Room at Camp Hantesa

Hantesa - tent
Tent at Camp Hantesa

Hantesa - Happy Hill Lodge
Happy Hill Lodge at Camp Hantesa

Hantesa is on the west edge of Ledges State Park. The camp, which started with the purchase of a few acres, grew when Mr. and Mrs. Albert Rocho of Boone donated 40 acres of land along with a log house. Later 40 more acres were leased from Mr. and Mrs. L. D. Langworthy. By 1965 Camp Hantesa had grown to 132 acres of wooded land and it accommodated 300-375 girls each week during the summer. It is also used for year round camping.[3] Another camp, Hitaga was founded in 1931 and is listed in the 1966 directory but was sold in 2016. In 2020 Camp Fire Iowa provided a wide variety of programs for boys and girls throughout the year at Camp Hantesa.

According to a June 1922 article published in newspapers from Massachusetts to Utah, one summer evening a few years earlier, three young women, Grace and Ruth Brown, and Cecil Francisco, made a wager. The one who accomplished the most for girls would win a box of chocolates. Sisters, Ruth and Grace Brown lived in Michigan. Ruth was still a student at Michigan State Normal College. Grace, five years older than Ruth, taught high school and in the early 1920s was executive secretary of the Detroit Camp Fire Girls while also attending law school. Cecil Francisco was a native of Missouri. Did the three young women meet at Camp Shawnee? [4]

Kansas City, Missouri was the first community to begin the process of forming a local Camp Fire Council by organizing an executive board in July 1917. Soon a secretary was hired and by 1920 Cecil Francisco, a native of Missouri, had become executive director of the Kansas City, Missouri Camp Fire Girls. She also directed Camp Shawnee, near Grandview, Missouri, one of the earliest Camp Fire Camps. Meanwhile, Ruth Brown began teaching in Washington State, and in 1918 moved to Seattle with her friend Ellen Bringloe. Both were teachers and started Camp Fire groups. [5]

Seattle had Camp Fire Girls soon after the organization was introduced in 1912. However, it was after World War I ended that Ruth Brown’s sprit, vision and enthusiasm spurred Camp Fire’s growth in Seattle. She was named Seattle’s executive director soon after the Seattle Camp Fire council was formed in December 1919 and the next summer she directed the first Camp Sealth on Puget Sound‘s Trimble Island. When that location was unavailable for the summer of 1921 Seattle Camp Fire purchased a former resort, called Luceta Beach, on the southwest edge of Vashon Island for Camp Sealth. With additional purchases in the 1940s and 1950s the original 186 acres had grown to 400 acres by 1968. [6]

Sealth - Dock photo
The Dock at Camp Sealth

Sealth - Flag Raising
Flag Raising at Camp Sealth

In 1922 Edith Kempthorne, Camp Fire’s national field secretary, declared that Camp Sealth was the model camp in the country. At Camp Sealth Kempthorne found everything she had observed at the Gulicks’ Camp Wohelo, on Maine’s Lake Sebago transferred to a saltwater setting. Camp Fire Girls from as far north as Port Angeles and as far south as Centralia, besides those from Seattle, were welcomed at Sealth. However, other Washington communities soon sought to establish their own Camp Fire camps. In Bellingham, Carrie Kirby was instrumental in founding Camp Samish on Samish Island in 1923. After she died in 1932 the camp’s name was changed to Camp Carrie Kirby. The Yakima Camp Fire Girls had Camp Roganunda by 1923 and the Wenatchee Camp Fire Girls had Camp Zanika in 1932. [7]

Cecil Francisco’s sister, Annette, began teaching Latin and French in Spokane in 1917. Spokane had five active Camp Fire groups in the spring of 1921 when a new student from Kansas City asked her to be guardian of the Chemawa Camp Fire group. In February 1922 Ruth Brown visited Spokane to help the city form a Camp Fire Council and by the following October seventeen groups had been formed, a local council chartered, and the search for a campsite had begun. The council purchased sixteen acres on Idaho’s Lake Coeur d’Alene in June 1922 and in July the first campers from Spokane, traveling by train and boat, arrived at Camp Sweyolakan directed by Annette Francisco. Sweyolakan, meaning “Sigh of the Pines” is one of the most beautiful and evocative names of a Camp Fire camp. The camp has grown to 300 acres since the initial purchase and offers more than seven weeks of camping every summer. [9]

Sweyolakan - RPPC - 1946 postmark
Camp Sweyolakan – Postcard with 1946 postmark

Portland girls were also eager to join Camp Fire and the Portland Council was chartered in 1921. Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Jackson loaned Camp Fire property at the mouth of Clear Creek on the south shore of the Clackamas River for a camp that summer but Camp Namanu did not become official until the summer of 1922. The camp moved to Eagle Creek in 1923 and that fall the council began searching for a permanent site. They found land belonging to a Portland lumberman “near the junction of the Sandy River and the Bull Run River” and he agreed to give it to them. The Portland Kiwanis Club provided labor and funds to prepare the camp on the 160 acre site. [10]

Namanu - 1951 Postmark
Namanu postcard with 1951 postmark

In March 1924 Ruth Brown traveled from Seattle to Camp Fire’s national headquarters in New York City, stopping in Minneapolis on her way. Minneapolis had many active Camp Fire groups and Brown spoke to Camp Fire Guardians about Seattle Camp Fire. In the following days and weeks Minneapolis newspapers reported plans for Camp Fire camps at Long Lake, Janette Merrill Park, and Rainy Lake the following summer.  [11]

Minneapolis Camp Fire acquired the former summer home of Minnesota’s fourteenth governor, John Lind, which included a mansion and 62 acres of land on Lake Minnewashta in July 1924 and opened the camp that would be named Tanadoona in August. At that time the trip to Lake Minnewashta was a long journey into the wilderness. Today the 103 acres of Camp Tanadoona are surrounded by the city of Chanhassen but the camp remains much as it was in 1924. Minneapolis Camp Fire Girls found “Tan ha doonah” meaning “lives out of doors” in the Camp Fire Girls name book and selected this name for their camp, spelling it “Tanadoona.” Since a photo in the January 1924 Everygirl’s magazine shows “The Akiyuhapi girls of Minneapolis at their Camp, Tanadoona, the name may have been used for an earlier camp. [14]

Tanadoona Everygirl's January 1924
Photograph in January 1924 Everygirl’s magazine

Cabins at Camp Tanadoona in Minnesota
Cabins at Camp Tanadoona in Minnesota

Girls in Michigan and Indiana were also joining Camp Fire and were eager to go to camp. In 1921 Col. And Mrs. C. Seymour Bullock directed “Wohelo Camp” at Pleasant Lake near Edwardsburg, Michigan for girls from South Bend, Indiana. The third season they named their camp Tannadoonah and in 1929 Camp Tannadoonah moved to its current site on Birch Lake, near Vandalia, Michigan. Multiple Camp Fire councils have served this region of southern Michigan and northern Indiana, sometimes called Michiana, and the name and geographic jurisdiction of the council operating Camp Tannadoonah has changed accordingly. In 1993 the South Bend and Mishawaka councils merged to form Michiana Camp Fire. Michiana later became Camp Fire River Bends serving Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties in Indiana and Cass and Berrien Counties in Michigan. The council now serves southwest Michigan and northwest Indiana. [15]

Tannadoonah cabins
Cabins at Camp Tannadoonah in Michigan

Camp Wathana was also established in the early 1920s, probably while Grace Brown was Detroit’s Camp Fie executive. A 1928 Camp Wathana brochure says “Sixth Season” on the front. Brown passed the Michigan State bar exam in 1922 and began a fifty-year career as an attorney sometime after that. [16] Although no longer a Camp Fire executive she often presented awards at Camp Fire ceremonials and was also involved in debates and other activities related to women’s rights. There are no currant activities or program on the Camp Fire’s Camp Wathana page.

Camp Wathana brochure
1928 Brochure for Camp Wathana

The southern states never had as many Camp Fire groups or camps as the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest; however there were Camp Fire Girls in Georgia as early as 1913 and in 1927 Camp Fire Girls began camping at Toccoa Falls. The Kiwanis Club had helped Camp Fire locate a beautiful site with mountains, waterfalls and rushing streams which was easily reached by trains from Atlanta to the town of Toccoa. The first summer Mary Caroline Wallace and Mary Haralson won scholarships to camp for the best essays on “The Need of Reforestation in Georgia. Nearly one-hundred years later Camp Toccoa continues to offer weeks of fun outdoors on a 176-acre site. [17]

Camp Toccoa Postcard
Undated Postcard from Camp Toccoa

Many more camps were established after those described above. Today some of them still provide opportunities for children and youth to find the joys of outdoor life, make new friends, and participate in beloved traditions. Outdoor education programs in schools often depend upon these camps to give their students the chance to experience nature, fulfilling the prophecy of the Vacation Book of the Camp Fire Girls that “the summer camp may some day become a required part of the education of boys and girls.” [18] Those who have spent a summer week at Camp Fire camp will always cherish their memories of campfires and hikes, new friends and days spent singing and adventuring.

[1] Iowa City Press-Citizen May 28, 1920.

[2] “Open Girls’ Camp at the Ledges this week” The Des Moines Register August 24, 1919.

[3] “Hantesa Oldest Girls Camp in Iowa “The Boone News-Republican September 13, 1965.

[4] Detroit Free Press December 18, 1921; Salt Lake Telegram June 4, 1922; The Springfield News-Leader (Springfield, Missouri) June 3, 1922; The New York Herald (New York, N.Y.) June 4, 1922; Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts) June 4, 1922; Worcester Telegram (Worcester, Massachusetts) June 4, 1922.

[5] Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), July 24, 1917; December 30, 1920; July 17, 1915; June 3, 1921; Camp Fire Georgia .

[6] “Council Decides on a Secretary,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Junior P.-I. [Seattle, Washington] February 8, 1920; “Camp Sealth – 1920-1936.”; “New Camp Site on Vashon Island,” Post-Intelligencer: Junior P.-I. [Seattle, Washington] May 8, 1921.

[7] “Why Seattle Camp Fire Girls Retreat has Been Chosen National Model” The Seattle Daily Times October 1, 1922; Bellingham Herald May 23, 1932; “Roganunda Girls Happy” Semi-Weekly spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) July 29, 1924..

[9] Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) August 14, 1917; February 26, 1922; March 2, 1922: July 23, 1972; Annette Francisco “Spokane Camp Fire Girls are Enthusiastic” Semi Weekly Spokesman Review October 23, 1921; Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) March 23, 1921; Helen Buckler, Mary F. Fiedler, Martha F. Allen WO-HE-LO: The Story of Camp Fire Girls 1910-1960 New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961, 151-152.

[10] 75th Anniversary: Camp Namanu 7-10; Oregonian May 17, 1925.

[11] Minneapolis Star (Minneapolis, Minnesota) March 5, 1924; Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) March 7, 1924; June 15, 1924; June 14, 1924..

[12] Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) March 7, 1924; June 15, 1924; June 14, 1924.

[13] Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) July 9, 1924.

[14] Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) July 9, 1924; “Tanadoona Retrospective” Camp Fire USA Minnesota Council Newsletter April 2010  , 2020; Charlotte V. Gulick, The Name Book New York, Camp Fire Girls, Inc., 1968, 20; Kelly Abraham, email to the author May 7, 2020; Everygirl’s January 1922, 166; Camp Fire Minnesota .

[15] Camp Fire River Bend/Camp Tannadoonah: History accessed Mary 3, 2020.

[16] Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) September 1922; April 10, 1979.

[17] The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) June 4, 1913; March 22, 1927; May 10, 1927; Camp Fire Georgia.

[18] Vacation Book of the Camp Fire Girls New York, N.Y.: The Camp Fire Girls, 1914, 50.

California’s Camp Fire Girls’ Camps: The Los Angeles Area

During the summer of 1967 the Angeles Oaks Post Office in the San Bernardino National Forest served nearly 70,000 campers. With more than two dozen camps sponsored by the Boy Scouts, the Y. M.C. A., churches and other groups, the mountains northeast of Los Angeles had the largest concentration of summer camps in the United States. During the previous forty years the camps’ post office addresses had changed but the camps mostly remained in the same places. Three of these camps, Yallani, Wasewagan and Nawakwa, belonged to the Camp Fire Girls. [1] All three camps had long histories but they were not the first, or the only camps attended by the region’s Camp Fire Girls.

In the 1920s Camp Fire Girls camped at the Y. W. C. A.’s Camp Estelle in San Antonio Canyon and at Camp Torqua on Catalina Island as well as the Los Aneles municipal camp, Camp Seeley. Some camps such as Mawahua (1926), Ah-Da Hi (1927) and Talahe (1929) are mentioned in only one edition of Porter Sargent’s Handbook of Summer Camps, but by 1930 five permanent – or semi-permanent – camps, Hemohme, Yallani, Temescal, Wasewagan and Nawakwa, had been established for Los Angeles area Camp Fire Girls. [2]

Temescal in the Pacific Palisades and Yallani three miles above Seven Oaks may have been the first of these camps. A picture of two Camp Fire Girls “preparing to roast a couple of joints before an open fire” at Camp Temescal appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 1927. When Camp Temescal was selected for a leaders’ training course in 1940 the San Bernardino County Sun reported that it consisted “of a lodge, craft cabins and sleeping tents, and offers both the ocean and the foothills for recreation and training.” [3] It is not clear if the Camp Fire council ever owned the camp; apparently they stopped using it in the early 1940s.

Yallani Brochure cover

Yallani means “mountain” so the name distinguished this camp from Temescal. In 1933 girls could choose from four one-week sessions at Camp Yallani or from two one-week sessions at Griffith Park. At this time, before sleeping bags were commonly purchased, the list of “What to Bring” included four heavy blankets as well as sheets, a pillow and a hot water bottle. The Griffith Park girls’ camp was also an option for Los Angeles Camp Fire Girls in 1933 and 1934. Here they slept in cabins. Except for blankets which Griffith Park provided, the clothing and equipment lists were the same. As at most Camp Fire Girls’ camps at this time, girls were expected to wear bloomers and middies; shorts, overalls and daytime pajamas were not permitted. Griffith Park campers had to be six or older. Girls going to Yallani had to be ten or older. During the summer of 1948 over 500 Los Angeles Camp Fire Girls attended Yallani and in the 1950s a second camp, Yallani-Laheta, five miles from Yallani, accommodated 320 more girls for four one-week sessions. [4]

Camp Yallani composite

The demographic and social changes of the 1970s and 1980s meant that fewer children were in elementary school and fewer children attended summer camps. Camp Fire accepted boys in the mid-1970s and Yallani introduced Mother-Daughter camps and family camps but attendance declined. In 1985 the Los Angeles Area Camp Fire Council offered only two eight-day sessions and one five-day session at Yallani, compared to four two-week and ten one-week sessions (probably running concurrently) in 1966. Sometime after 1985 Camp Fire sold their permit for Camp Yallani to the First Missionary Baptist Church in Bellflower which renamed the camp Metoche.[5] Camp Yallani and the Pasadena area camp, Camp Wasewagan, also established in the 1920s, were located near each other on the Santa Ana River, among pine and cedar trees. At Yallani tents were available for sleeping if it rained but girls preferred sleeping outdoors under the stars.

Yallani tents cropped
Tents at Camp Yallani

Camp Wasewagan’s official founding date is 1936. However it is listed in the 1930 Handbook of Summer Camps and newspapers report that in July 1931, 1933 and 1934 groups of San Marino Camp Fire Girls enjoyed weeks at “Camp Wasewagan Camp Fire Girls’ summer camp in the San Bernardino mountains. . .” According to the San Marino Tribune, “Camp Wasewagan is between San Gorgonio and Sugarloaf mountains in the San Bernardino range. It lies in the beautiful Santa River canyon near Seven Oaks and Camp Radford.”   Evidently Camp Wasewagan moved from a rented camp to land purchased by the Pasadena Camp Fire Girls’ council in 1936. Purchase of the new four-acre camp, less than half-a-mile from the first Wasewagan was partly made possible with $500 from the fall doughnut sale. The camp, which already had a lodge, was below Barton Flats on the Redlands Road to Big Bear. [6] Wasewagan was still a Camp Fire Camp in 2001 but by 2005 it had been sold and was advertised as a private camp connected to the Lazy “J” Ranch Camp.

Wasewagan staff in 1933
Counselors at Wasewagan in 1933

Another early camp was Hemohme, established by the Long Beach Camp Fire Girls around 1926. Hemohme was first located near Swartout. Guardians’ Training Courses were held here in 1930 and again in 1936. The 1936 “Summer Training Course Announcement” published in the April 1936 Guardian located Hemohme in “Mescal Canyon on the north slope of the San Gabriel mountains.” According to the announcement there were two mountain creeks providing water, the Mohave Desert was only two and a half miles north and three miles south was a mountain ridge. Pines oaks and cedars shaded the camp. Eldora DeMots, who had started her Camp Fire career at Kern County Union High School only 150 miles away a decade earlier, and Edith Kempthorne, Camp Fire’s national field secretary, directed the course. [7]

Hemohme Camp Suit in 1939
Camp Clothes for Hemohme Girls

In 1938 the first Hemohme began “washing away.” A new Hemohme was established near Jackson Lake at an elevation over 6,000 feet, east of Wrightwood and Big Pines. This camp with “lodge and shower house complete enough to use” opened in 1945. The cost for seven days was $15.00. The Long Beach Independent reported that the camp had been acquired “through a citywide drive, donations from citizens, business firms and organizations.” Long Beach Camp Fire Girls enjoyed Hemohme until 1957 when the council opened Camp Wintaka on the Virginia Reid Moore Camp Fire Girls Reservation near Running Spring, about seventy miles southeast of Jackson Lake.

Hemohme 1 photo
Hemohme Campers in 1939

Hemohme was sold to a church and is now known as the Wrightwood Camp and Conference Center. Camp Wintaka opened with seventeen tents and a 50,000 gallon water storage tank. There was space for fifty girls the first year and Camp Fire Girls in sixth grade or older from other councils were invited to share the camp; the following year a lodge and shower facilities were added and the camp could accommodate a hundred girls. Wintaka means “the happy camp on the mountain.” Camp Fire Girls and Boys still enjoy Wintaka although the council offers only one week of resident camp. The rest of the year the camp is rented to other groups. [8]

Wintaka sign in color cropped

Camp Nawakwa, near Big Bear Lake, is mentioned as early as 1931 when Corona Camp Fire Girls camped there. Pomona Camp Fire Girls rented space at Camp Yallani from 1929 until 1935 and then held Nawakwa, which means “deep in the heart of the forest”, at the Boy Scouts’ Tulakes Camp. When that site was no longer available the Pomona Valley Council raised $20,000 and purchased a site in the Barton Flats camping area near Jenks Lake. In 1959 the council which then included the east San Gabriel Valley and the west end of San Bernardino County changed its name to the Mt. San Antonio Council. By 1961 the original Nawakwa site was no longer big enough so in 1963 the Mt. San Antonio Council purchased an adjoining camp, LiTanda, from the Compton Camp Fire council, increasing Nawakwa by ten acres. Camp Fire continued operating Camp Nawakwa into the twenty-first century. However, although the web page for the Inland Camp Fire Council has a link to Camp Nawakwa, it now seems to be a private camp. [9]

For about twenty years, from 1940 until 1961 the San Bernardino Camp Fire Girls sponsored Camp Acremolo in Waterman Canyon. In 1961 the council, with help from the Zonta Club, a service group for women executives, was able to purchase a former Girl Scout camp, Deer Ridge, in the San Gabriel Mountains. Ten years later both day camp and resident amp were being held at Deer Ridge. The camp apparently closed or was sold some time after 1973. [10]

Camp Metaka, at Jackson Lake near Big Pines, was a Y. M. C. A. camp in the 1940s. However, from 1958 until at least 1971 it served as the Rio Hondo Camp Fire Council’s camp and girls from San Bernardino who had already been to Acremolo could register to go to Metaka. In 1975 it was being advertised for group and family camping. Camp Cohila at Big Bear was dedicated by the Burbank Council of Camp Fire Girls in 1958. The name came from the first two letters of three words in “COmpanions among HIlls and Lakes” In 1979 Camp Cohila was sold to the Beverly Pines Development Company which planned to build houses. However due to the water moratorium of the early 1980s they defaulted on their loan and the camp was returned to Camp Fire. In 1992 Camp Fire put it on the market again. [11]

Metaka sign cropped

In 1965 Camp Fire guardians in Arcadia were told that five different resident camps were available to Camp Fire Girls from the Lost Angeles area, Cohila at Big Bear Lake, Metaka at Wrightwood, Nawakwa and Wasewagan at Barton Flats and Wintaka at Running Springs. Yallani should also have been mentioned.[12] A year later, in the summer of 1966 I was a counselor for five weeks at Camp Yenis Hante. At the end of the fourth week we faced a final week with only twenty-four campers. Since the council could not afford to pay a staff of fourteen, six counselors were let go. Camp Fire staff members had called other camps in California trying to find positions for these six counselors but all the camps had similar stories. It was the beginning of the decline in camp enrollments that echoed changing demographics and social change. The next decades saw closed schools and closed camps. Many of the camps are gone forever.



[1] Valley News September 4, 1967.

[2] Porter Sargent, A Handbook of Summer Camps Boston Massachusetts, 1930, 187-188.

[3] Los Angeles Times June 27, 1927;. San Bernardino County Sun Jul 6, 1940.

[4] At least two other camps, on in Oregon and one in northern California, have used the name “Yallani.”. Los Angeles Times June 22, 1958; June 1, 1958.

[5] Los Angeles Times June 20, 1976; April 4, 1978; May 23, 1985; American Camping Association Directory of Accredited Camps for Boys and Girls, Martinsville, Indiana, 1966, 29; YouthWorker Journal accessed February 24, 2019. .

[6] The San Marino Tribune (and the San Marino News) July 24, 1931; July 14, 1933; July 27, 1934; June 21, 1935; San Marino Tribune April 10, 1936.

[7] Long Beach Independent June 29, 1941; Oakland Tribune July 5, 1936; The Guardian “National Summer Training Courses” April 1930, 7; “Summer training Course Announcement” April 1936 .

[8] Camp Fire accessed February 19, 2019; Long Bach Independent June 16, 1946; Press Telegram January 27, 1959. ; Pat Krig and Barbara Van Houten Wrightwood and Big Pines Arcadia Publishing, 2004, 106

[9] “Nawakwa” has been a popular camp name across the United States. Camp Fire Girls have used the name in Michigan and Illinois. There is a church camp named Nawakwa in Pennsylvania and there are Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps that have also been called Nawakwa as well as other Camp Fire Girls’ camps; Corona Daily Independent May 26, 1931; Chino Champion April 23, 1948; August 9, 2003; Betty Stolte “History of Camp Fire USA Mt. San Antonio Council” 2001; Los Angeles Times April 28, 1963; April 28, 1963

[10] San Bernardino County Sun June 4, 1940; March 6, 1960; June 9, 1961; June 26, 1961; July 30, 1961; August 6, 1961.

[11] Los Angeles Times June 18, 1944; August 18, 1957; August 1, 1971; San Bernardino County Sun May 24, 1958; September 16, 1975; Pat Krig and Barbara Van Houten Wrightwood and Big Pines Arcadia Publishing, 2004, 104; Los Angeles Times May 25, 1958; July 22, 1962.

[12] Arcadia Tribune April 11, 1965.



California: The San Francisco Bay Area and Other Northern California Camps – Part 2

Several years ago there were Camp Thayer postcards on eBay. I was outbid but remained curious about Camp Thayer. Recently, while searching randomly in I typed in “Camp Thayer” and California, and a long list of articles, mostly in the San Anselmo Herald appeared. I began reading them in chronological order.

P.R. Thayer, president of the Marin Lumber Company, provided land for Camp Thayer and also donated lumber for buildings. In 1928 Camp Fire supporters in Marin and Sonoma County were busy preparing for campers by constructing a kitchen and other buildings. The twenty-acre camp was located five-and-one-half miles from Monte Rio in the Cazadero section of Austin Creek, and the director was Dorothy Bitner, head of the Marin County Camp Fire Girls. [1] I already knew Dorothy Bitner’s name, both from my Kern County Camp Fire research, and from hearing my father and uncle mention the Bitners, long ago friends from their school days.

I continued reading and there, at the bottom of a June 15 San Anselmo Herald article I found “Marie Sanguinetti has arrived from Bakersfield to take charge of the Camp Library.” Marie Sanguinetti was my aunt! My father had said that he thought his oldest sister, who died before I was born, had worked at a Camp Fire camp, but finding out which camp seemed like finding the proverbial “needle in a haystack.” Marie had attended the University of California in Berkeley, graduating in 1922, so the bay area connection was not surprising. Dorothy Bitner was another link form Bakersfield; she and Marie may have been classmates at Kern County Union High School. As a retired librarian, I was also pleased to see that Marie was in charge of the camp library. She died of cancer six years later. I wish I could have heard about her summer at Camp Thayer. [2]

Camp Thayer was a summer home to Sonoma and Marin County Camp Fire Girls for almost twenty years and Dorothy Bitner was not the only director from Bakersfield. In 1933 Dorothy Chenoweth, who was a Bakersfield Camp Fire Girl in the 1920s and who had attended special Camp Fire training in New York, directed Camp Thayer. Later, when I was in high school in the 1960s she was executive director of the Kern County Council of Camp Fire Girls and her daughter directed Camp Yenis Hante. [3]

Girls at Camp Thayer enjoyed swimming, canoeing, and crafts like girls at other camps. In 1928 they made 38 pine needle waste baskets as well as developing a discriminating taste in literature. Campers were also enjoying horseback riding, swimming, canoeing and archery. [4]

Postcard showing scenery near Camp Thayer


By 1945 Camp Fire’s growth in Marin County made Camp Thayer inadequate. The Livermore family provided twenty-five acres on their ranch in the St. Helena foothills and this became Camp Kilowana. At an elevation of 1800 feet, the site provide a meadow, a tree-lined mountain stream, and timbered hills with Douglas fir, knob-cone pine, black oak, alder and madrone. The site already had a swimming pool and several buildings which could be adapted to camp use.

Camp Kilowana was still operating in 1961, but I have not been able to find any information about it after that date. That year Laura Warren was the camp director. Other staff included an assistant director from Michigan, a water director, a nature counselor, six unit directors, seven counselors and the cooks Mr. and Mrs. Porter. Kilowana offered the four-week counselor-in-training course, starting on July 14th and concluding on August 14th. The four regular one-week sessions started on July 7th, so the counselors-in-training had the camp to themselves for their last week. [5]

The most northern Camp Fire Girls’ camp in California was Kimtu in Humboldt County. Kimtu had two different locations. The camp is mentioned in the May 1929 Everygirl’s which says, “This camp site, consisting of four acres, is located on the bank of the beautiful South Fork of Eel River . . . . It is truly a community camp, for the Kiwanis Club, the school superintendent and members of this staff, as well as generous fathers and mothers have helped to make it a reality.” [6] In 1931 the Ukiah Daily Journal reported “Camp Kimtu lies in a beautiful grove of redwood trees on the south fork of the Eel river near Garberville.” This camp was relocated to a site near Willow Creek in 1946. [7] The Willow Creek site provided native clay which campers used for pottery. However by 1956 growth surrounding Camp Kimtu was making the Humboldt Camp Fire Council consider searching for a new location. The camp also needed repairs after winter floods and in 1968 the Humboldt Camp Fire council decided it would be more cost effective to transport girls to a camp in Mendocino County than to maintain Camp Kimtu. [8] Kimtu was subsequently sold to Humboldt County and is now a county sponsored campsite.

Camp Kimtu campers in Everygirl’s magazine


Seabow, established by the West Contra Costa Council in 1939, served girls from Richmond. [9] Girls from Ukiah, who had attended Camp Kimtu in the 1930s, began attending Camp Seabow in the 1940s. By 1967 more than 600 girls from Contra Costa County were going to Camp Seabow for two weeks each and in 1968 girls who had formerly gone to Camp Kimtu were being bused from Eureka to Seabow.[10] Seabow closed in the 1970s but there is an alumni group.

Two other northern California camps were Maacama near Healdsburg and Wastahi, originally at Big Basin in Redwood State Park. The 1966 ACA directory listing for Maacama is unusually brief, stating only “MAACAMA – Camp Fire Girls, Helen Hermann, P.O. Box 895, Petaluma, California.” Ukiah girls enjoyed Camp Maacama in 1950. [11] In 1959 Camp Fire Girls and Blue Birds planted eleven redwood trees at Camp Maacama to help celebrate Camp Fire’s Golden Jubilee and to honor Luther Burbank. One tree was dedicated to George Pitts of Healdsburg who built Camp Maacama and donated the twelve acres where the camp was located. [12] The Redwood Empire Council Camp Fire Girls still sponsored Camp Maacama in 1975 and was raising funds for the camp at a flea market at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. [13]

The ACA directory entry for Wastahi is longer and says the camp, founded in 1955 near Felton, was sponsored by the Santa Clara County Council Camp Fire Girls. However, Wastahi is mentioned in newspaper articles throughout the 1930s and 1940s. A “National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form” for the National Park Service says that Wastahi “was established in 1925 in Dolenz Grove, off of Lodge Road.” [14]   In 1954 the Santa Clara council welcomed girls from the newly formed Peninsula council to Camp Wastahi. [15] The camp in Big Basin included “an up-to-date heated swimming pool, drama den, two crafts centers, library, archery range, and ping-pong tables.” [16] In 1956 Camp Wastahi moved to a new site near Felton in the Santa Clara mountains. Plans for the 158-acre site included a swimming pool, a large dining hall and kitchen, an infirmary and twelve kiosks in which girls could sleep. [17] By 1964 the Big Basin site was being developed as a campsite The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported, “This area, incidentally, is a former Campfire [sic] girls camp, and was named by that group by taking the initial letters of the words WAter-STAr Hill. . . .” [18] The Felton Wastahi was still a Camp Fire camp in 1996 but is now a camp for children no longer affiliated with Camp Fire. [19]

These camps live on in the memories of former campers. Sadly, many of today’s children will never know the peaceful joy of days in the woods and nights singing around a camp-fire.

[1] San Anselmo Herald May 11, 1928; Oakland Tribune May 30, 1928.

[2]. San Anselmo Herald June 15, 1928.

[3] Bakersfield Californian June 23, 1933.

[4] San Anselmo Herald June 22, 1928; San Anselmo Herald June 15, 1928.

[5] San Rafael Daily Independent Journal May 30, 1961; Independent Journal June 2, 1961.

[6] “Station EGM Broadcasting Camp Fire Girls Good Times Hour” Everygirl’s May 1929, p. 18.

[7] The Times Standard (Eureka, California May 21, 1952.

[8] The Times Standard (Eureka California) February 28, 1956; April 23, 1968.

[9] 1966 Directory of Accredited Camps for Boys & Girls Martinsville, Indiana: American Camping Association, 1966, p. 25.

[10] Ukiah Daily Journal May 10, 1967; Times Standard (Eureka, California) April 23, 1968,

[11] Ukiah Daily Journal 7-7-1950, August 21, 1950; Redwood Journal Press Dispatch July 7, 1950.

[12] Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar June 11, 1959.

[13] San Rafael Independent Journal February 10, 1975.

[14] “National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form” Section E Page 7.

[15] The Times (San Mateo, California)­ January 19, 1954; February 11, 1954.

[16] The Times (San Mateo, California May 26, 1954.

[17] The Times (San Mateo, California) May 30, 1957.

[18] Santa Cruz Sentinel August 6, 1964.

[19] Santa Cruz Sentinel April 28, 1996.


California: The San Francisco Bay Area and Other Northern California Camps – Part 1

San Francisco and other Bay area Camp Fire councils sponsored more than a dozen resident camps for varying lengths of time during the twentieth century. Among these were Wasibo, 1923-1948; Caniya, 1948-1986; Kilowana, 1946-1961; Maacama, 1948-1986; Thayer, 1928-1945; and Wastahi, 1927-1975. North of San Francisco were Seabow, 1939-1975 and, the most northern Camp Fire Girls’ camp in California, Kimtu, 1929-1967.

Wasibo in the Santa Cruz Mountains was one of California’s first Camp Fire camps. A 1943 article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel refers to the twentieth season of Camp Wasibo and the 1938 camp brochure says “Fifteenth Season” so the camp was probably established in 1923. [1]

Brochure 1

The brochure briefly describes the camp.

“Camp Wasibo is in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the heart of a once famous redwood country. Since its development by the Camp Fire Girls fourteen years ago, great care has been taken to preserve the beauty of the site, and to increase its usefulness to the campers. Two streams flow through the property. One gives an abundance of clear spring water which is piped for drinking and cooking purposes, the other supplies the swimming pool. Tents, each with accommodations for four girls, are grouped under the trees. There is sufficient open space for games and a secluded hilltop for Evening Fires and Council Fires.”

During a 1931 visit the Red Cross suggested ways to use the seventy-five square foot swimming area more efficiently and to incorporate aspects of the Red Cross program. [2] In 1938 girls were required to purchase bathing caps in colors to indicate swimming ability for 10¢. Health certificates were also required and the Council had arranged for women physicians to examine the girls at the San Francisco Camp Fire headquarters.

Girl Jumping into Water
Real Photo Postcard of girl at Camp Wasibo


Photos of Wasibo’s outdoor dining hall appeared in Everygirl’s in April 1926 and on real photo and Artvue postcards. Tents where the girls slept are shown on other postcards. Six real photo postcards, mentioned in a previous post, show the same two girls in various parts of Camp Wasibo. The girls’ shorts and ankle socks worn with middies suggest the photos were taken in the 1930s.

Dining - Everygirls's
Photo which appeared in April 1926 Everygirl’s


Wasibo was located “about a mile and a half from Zayante R.R. station.” In 1938 girls could travel to camp by train from the Southern Pacific Station at Third and Townsend for $1.45, or 75¢ if under twelve. They left at 8:17 in the morning and were accompanied by counselors. That year there were four camp periods, each of a different length, twelve days, ten days, fourteen days and seventeen days. The final seventeen day period was reserved for high school and college girls.

Tents 1
Real Photo Postcard of Tents at Camp Wasibo


In 1948 the San Francisco Camp Fire Council acquired Camp Caniya near Sierra City. Caniya, more than two-hundred miles from San Francisco, required a bus ride of several hours. At an elevation of 5,200 feet Bay Area Camp Fire Girls experienced the cold Sierra nights. While Caniya was being prepared for campers, San Francisco girls were invited to Oakland’s Camp Celio. In 1949 fifty San Francisco girls twelve or older were invited to live outdoors, hike and take pack trips “over the well marked trails to the many mountain lakes” at Caniya. For almost forty years Caniya campers enjoyed the wealth of beautiful cirque lakes and the towering Sierra Buttes. When I was a counselor there in 1968 girls came for two weeks and slept outdoors; tents, large enough for six or seven cots were used for dressing and for shelter when it rained. Campers enjoyed exploring the creek which ran through camp, and sailing on nearby Packer Lake. The camp had a swimming pool and dining room. [3]


Campers enjoying the Creek at Camp Caniya in 1968


When other Camp Fire Girls’ camps closed girls were welcomed at Camp Caniya. In 1963 the San Francisco and San Mateo Camp Fire Girls merged, forming the Golden Gate Council and making Caniya available Marin County girls. At that time Camp Caniya accommodated 175 girls for each of three sessions. By 1968 there were four two-week sessions. In the 1970s Ukiah Camp Fire Girls were also attending Camp Caniya.[4] In the 1980s Caniya was sold to the Girl Scouts, as Wasibo had been more than thirty years earlier. Today Camp Fire Golden Empire, located in Vallejo, serves the San Francisco Bay area and sponsors Camp Gold Hollow.

[1] Santa Cruz Evening News June 26, 1925; Santa Cruz Sentinel June 10, 1943; “Camp Wasibo for the Camp Fire Girls of San Francisco” 1938 brochure.

[2] Santa Cruz Evening News August 18, 1939; Van Slyck, Abigail A. A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth, 1890-1960 Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006, p. 84.

[3] “San Francisco Camp Fire Girls: Summer Activities 1949”

[4] Ukiah Daily Journal June 13, 1977; Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California) April 1, 1963.

California: The Lake Vera Camps


Lake Vera Postcard (color)
Postcard view of Lake Vera



Among my postcards of Camp Fire Girls’ camps are five green letters. Each one is a single sheet, folded like the blue airmail letters I used to send to friends in Europe and Australia; one side serves as the envelope and the letter is on the other. Unlike the airmail letters, these have the stamps affixed instead of printed, and the return address “Camp Celio, Nevada City, California” is printed on the envelope with a pine tree underneath. The letters were sent by fifteen-year-old Lorraine Peterson to her parents in Oregon in July 1938. In the first one she writes “Don’t you think the stationary cute? They gave everyone twelve of these and twelve Celio post card. They do not sell stamps here so would you please send me some.” I have no postcards from Camp Celio, but a brochure, published by the Artvue Postcard Co., and possibly from about the same time, includes 10 photos of the camp, accordion-folded and ready to be stamped, addressed and mailed.

Green Celio letter
One of Lorraine Peterson’s letters from Camp Celio


Lorraine was one of six exchange campers from Oregon’s Camp Namanu who were sent to different west coast camps in 1938. She traveled by train from Portland to Auburn, California where she was met and continued her trip to Celio by one “of those new streamlined greyhound buses”. Another Portland girl would go to the Sacramento camp, Minaluta, also on Lake Vera. Celio and Minaluta were two of the three Camp Fire camps on fifteen-acre Lake Vera near Nevada City in 1938. [1]

Ten years earlier, under the leadership of Lucia Searls, the Oakland Camp Fire Girls had begun looking for a permanent camp. They sought a site that was “located near a city where supplies might be obtained . . . free from poison oak, well wooded, [and] with a stream or pond suitable for swimming.” At the same time Nevada City leaders thought that a girls’ camp on Lake Vera would bring tourists to Nevada City. W. H. Celio and his son Gove, purchased twenty acres of land on Lake Vera, and gave it to the Oakland Camp Fire Girls. The land adjoined that belonging to Mills College. [2]

Celio folder 10
Photo from Camp Celio folder


In April construction of a dining room, kitchen and sanitary system commenced and on June 11, 1928 Camp Celio opened for three two-week sessions. In December 1929 the Oakland Tribune provided a detailed description of Camp Celio’s lodge which contained a forty by forty-foot screened dining room, an immense fireplace and a sixteen by twenty-four foot kitchen. With thirty tent platforms and a washhouse Camp Celio was equipped for 150 campers. That year the Oakland Camp Fire Council was able to purchase sixty more acres. The Kiwanis, East Bay Camp Fire councils and Camp Fire Girls all helped with the buildings and equipment. Girls could travel from the East Bay to Colfax by train and then transfer to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad which ran to Nevada City where they boarded buses for the nearby camp. Oakland Camp Fire Girls, joined by Berkeley Camp Fire Girls in 1930, continued to attend Camp Celio for more than six decades. Activities and events at Camp Celio were well-covered by the Oakland Tribune and Berkeley Daily Gazette throughout the 1930s and 40s. [3]

Camp Minaluta, the Sacramento Camp Fire camp was also established in 1928 and was enjoyed for more than six decades, but I have found no information about it before 1940 when, twelve years after its founding, the Sacramento Camp Fire Council was able to pay off their mortgage on the camp. In the 1970s, when the Sacramento Camp Fire Camp Fire Council suffered from financial problems the Alameda-Contra Costa Council ran both Celio and Camp Minaluta, calling the two camps Camp Okizu. In 1982 Camp Fire Girls from as far away as Ukiah were attending Camp Okizu. [4]

In the early 1980s John Bell and Dr. Michael Amylon acquired Camp Okizu and started a camp for children with cancer. In 1999 they needed a larger camp and moved to a site above Lake Oroville. It is not clear what became of the original Okizu – i.e. Celio and Minaluta – property.

While the Berkeley, Oakland and Sacramento Camp Fire Girls were establishing their camps on Lake Vera, Piedmont Camp Fire Girls had been visiting various camps in California. Rhea Rupert, who had been in “charge of all Piedmont Camp Fire Girls camps” dreamed of a permanent camp on Lake Vera for Piedmont Camp Fire Girls. She was introduced to William and Charlotte Ehmann who had inherited $3,900.00 from Charlotte’s mother, Augusta J. Collins. The Ehmanns agreed to finance property on Lake Vera; this became Camp Augusta which Rhea Rupert directed from 1930 until 1947. Camp Augusta was the site of a Camp Fire Guardians’ course in the summer of 1939 and the Guardian, a Camp Fire publication for leaders of Camp Fire groups described the camp:

“Picturesque Camp Augusta is on Lake Vera (near Nevada City). It is full of surprises for the new visitor – delightful spots reached by winding trails. There is the outdoor theater, for instance, where a tinkling brook, separates audiences from actors and furnishes incidental music. In a pine grove overlooking the lake there is the Council Ring, guarded by a tall totem carved by campers with the symbols of their happy days. There is the beautifully proportioned and appropriately furnished rustic lodge given by Mr. E. W. Ehmann in memory of his mother. There is the Big Oak under whose branches campers and counselors gather to discuss their plans, and many other places of charm and interest which you will discover for yourselves if you attend this course.”  [5]


Lake Vera postcard B & W
Real Photo Postcard of Lake Vera – probably taken at one of the Camp Fire Girls’ camps



In 1993, after the national Camp Fire organization ordered the Piedmont Camp Fire Council to merge with San Francisco or Oakland, the Piedmont Camp Fire Council became a new entity called Camp Augusta Inc. They continue to operate Camp Augusta as a non-profit camp for boys and girls. [6]

In 1927, before Camp Celio, Camp Minaluta or Camp Augusta was established, Mills College in Oakland was looking for a camp site. W.H. Griffith offered the college trustees fifty acres of land on Lake Vera; an adjoining fifty acres, called the reserve, could be sold to faculty and alumnae. A rustic lodge one-hundred by thirty-five-feet was built on the Lake Vera property and called Gold Hollow Lodge. Mills College students sometimes spent weekends there and in the summer of 1928 the college opened a summer camp for girls aged fourteen to twenty and called it Gold Hollow. During the 1930s the Girl Reserves of the Y.W. C.A. held camps at Gold Hollow and in the early 1940s Girl Scouts used the camp. [7]

In 1944 Luther Gibson, a senator and newspaper owner from Vallejo, purchased Gold Hollow from Mills College for the Vallejo Camp Fire Girls. In July 1946 the four Camp Fire Girls’ camps held their “second annual all-camp water carnival”. The carnival included swimming and canoeing contests, as well as various kinds of races and each camp elected a Queen. [8] The Vallejo Camp Fire Girls, formally the Sem Yeta Council became the Camp Fire Golden Empire Council and  operates Camp Gold Hollow.



Camp Gold Hollow
Undated Postcard of Camp Gold Hollow


Piedmont Girls Community Services Inc. acquired land on Lake Vera in 1934. In 1955 the Alameda Camp Fire Council acquired forty-four acres of this land and in 1956 they opened Camp Watanda, which then accommodated thirty girls; by 1966 the camp had grown to accommodate fifty girls. In the late 1960s, Celio and Watanda were administered together by the Alameda and Contra Costa Camp Fire Councils as Camp Celio-Watanda. When the Alameda-Contra Costa Camp Fire Council merged with the Columbia Park Boys and Girls Club in 1998 the camp was too small for the Boys and Girls Club; they sold Watanda to John and Kathryn McNitt in 2002.

Lorraine Peterson was not the only girl to participate in a camper exchange among West Coast Camp Fire Girls’ camps in the 1930s. Their names are found in Oakland, Portland and Seattle newspapers, but their stories and adventures are mostly unknown. Lorraine’s five letters provide a glimpse of these stories.

In the spring of 2015 my niece and I visited Lake Vera. Driving from Nevada City we came first to Camp gold Hollow. Just past it was Camp Watanda. Across the road from Watanda was Camp Augusta, where crews were working on construction and maintenance. We did not find signs for Celio, Minaluta or Okizu. There was another camp, Camp Del Oro, which is run by the Salvation Army but I have found no history about this camp.


Road from Camp Augusta
Road away from Camp Augusta (left side) toward Camp Del Oro – Lake Vera on the right



[1] Mowrey, Freda Goodrich, “Girls Named to Represent Namanu at Neighboring Camps,” Oregonian 3 July 1938;

Lorraine Peterson, Camp Celio, to Mrs. W.C. Peterson, 8 July 1938, in collection of Mary Alice Sanguinetti; Kaiser, Marge “The History of Camp Augusta” October 2013

[2] Oakland Tribune 22 January 1928, 4 March 1928; Berkeley Daily Gazette 21 April 1933; Kaiser p. 14.

[3] Oakland Tribune 1 July 1928, 11 May 1941; San Francisco Chronicle 21 May 1930, 9 June 1930, 22 May 1932; Berkeley Daily Gazette 21 April 1933; Kaiser 21-22.

[4] Sacramento Bee 20 April 194, 25 April 1940; Daily Review (Hayward, California) 23 May 1974; Oakland Tribune 19 May 1974; Ukiah Daily Journal 16 April 1982..

[5] The Guardian April 1939.

[6] Oakland Tribune 29 June 1924, 14 July 1925, 12 June 1930; Kaiser p. 17, 24; “Mrs. Collins Leaves Bulk of Wealth To Daughter” Oakland Tribune 5 June 1930.

[7] San Francisco Chronicle 12 September 1927, 12 November 1927, 20 May 1928, 18 May 1937, 17 April 1938, 13 May 1938; Oakland Tribune 8 September, 1940, 21 June 1942; San Mateo Times 8 June 1944.

[8] Oakland Tribune 28 July 1946; Sacramento Bee 13 July 1946; The History of Gold Hollow.

California: Camp Minkalo


The Sierra Nevada mountains will always be a magic place. When I was growing up we would get in our car, or board a bus, in the hot, flat Central Valley and drive and drive, and then, finally, get out into a cool, shady forest of towering conifers, filled with the scent of sun-warmed pine.

My mountain days began when I was two months old, so I was well imprinted with pine forests by the time I went to Yenis Hante for the first time. The quintessential Camp Fire Girls’ camp is in the Sierra Nevada, where we could sleep outdoors every night for an entire summer, after sunny days among the pines, firs and cedars.

I have a Camp Minkalo postcard that evokes the enchantment of a Sierra Nevada summer. The card shows sailboats, water, and granite rocks; behind them is a large building with a stone chimney. Another Minkalo card also shows boats, water, rocks and lodge but the color is unnatural and it lacks the beauty of the first card.


Minkalo 1
A postcard view of Camp Minkalo

Minkalo was one the earliest permanent Camp Fire Girls’ camps. However, before a permanent camp was established on Silver Lake, the Stockton Camp Fire Girls camped in several different places, calling each Camp Minkalo. These camps are recorded in four brown paper books preserved in the Holt-Atherton Special Collections of the University of the Pacific.

The first book, dated 1919, was written, and decorated by the girls and counselors at camp that year. For this camp, in August 1919, the girls traveled to the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, not far from Yosemite Valley. One day they visited Hetch Hetchy where the controversial dam was being built. They do not mention John Muir or the controversy over Hetch Hetchy.

On the evening of the tenth day, August 8, 1919, the name Minkalo, Meaning “Mountain Inn of the Starry Sky” was selected. [1] The girls conclude the record of their two-week camp with the words:

Tribute warm, sincere and tender

Do they bring to leaders splendid—

Mrs. Swenson, the great-hearted, Mother, sister, leader, friend,

With her strong and patient chieftain

Ever ready by her side;

To the citizens of Stockton, who in gifts

In time, in thought, forget self

In deeds of service, Made the

Way of Wohelo a pleasant path

To be remembered as the years may come and go. [2]

The name Camp Minkalo traveled with the Camp Fire Girls to Tomales Bay in Marin County in 1920 and 1921 and then to Silver Lake in 1922. [3]

Stella Swenson, the camp director praised in the conclusion of the camp record, was twenty-nine years old in the summer of 1919. A native of Nebraska, she and her husband Bert had first moved to River Falls, Wisconsin where she taught in the state normal school and became involved with the Camp Fire Girls, and where her son Harold was born in September 1915. [4] In 1918 the family moved to Stockton where Bert was Superintendent of City Playgrounds. Their daughter Helen Jean was born in September 1918, making her almost a year old when Stella Swenson directed the first Camp Minkalo. The camp record does not mention a baby, although babies spent summers at both Camp Sebago-Wohelo and Camp Sealth, and “babycraft” was part of the Camp Fire Girls’ program. In September 1925 the Oakland Tribune gave Stella Swenson credit for bringing Camp Fire to California. [5] This might be difficult to prove, however, Stella Swenson helped the Stockton Camp Fire Girls become leaders in California. The following May a national convention of Camp Fire Girls executives was held in Stockton. [6]

Everygirl's Minkalo 1
This photo and caption appeared in the April 1926 Everygirl’s, a magazine published for Camp Fire Girls.


Bert Swenson was among those who helped arrange for the City of Stockton to lease 30.2 acres of Forest Service land to use as a public family camp. Another member of this group was Edith Tubbs, a graduate of the River Falls State Normal School, whom the Swensons had encouraged to come to Stockton. She would also serve as director of Camp Minkalo.

Everygirl's Minkalo 2
A second photo and caption which appeared in the April 1926 Everygirl’s

In July 1922 when Camp Minkalo came to Silver Lake the Camp Fire Girls opened the new Stockton Municipal Camp on the south end of the lake. The Oakland Tribune reported that the 150 girls from Stockton and twelve girls from Lodi were “under the chaperonage of Miss Edith Tubbs, San Joaquin county Camp Fire Girl executive. Mrs. Stella S. Swenson, manager of the municipal camp, is in supreme charge,” and continued “The girls will occupy the camp during the pioneering period and on their return will leave their entire equipment for the use of Stockton residents who may pass part of the summer at the lake.” [7]

A year later Camp Minkalo moved to its own site a quarter mile from the Municipal Camp. In 1936 they moved again, to the northeast end of Silver Lake. Chuck Stewart, who worked at a camp on Treasure Island in the late 1930s, remembers visiting Minkalo and seeing the “lodge that was rather large and fitting well its location among the granite outcroppings.” Chuck also remembered that sometimes staff from Minkalo would come down to Plasse’s Resort at the south end of the lake, traveling “in a large ‘war’ canoe that the camp used for boating.”

Minkalo 2
Another postcard of Camp Minkalo with unnatural color

The 1966 ACA directory says that Camp Minkalo had cabins, and a tipi. There were four ten-day and one seven-day sessions for almost seven weeks of camp. The camp accommodated one-hundred girls, seven to seventeen years old. I have not found the reason for giving up the camp twenty years later; it may have been declining camp attendance, increased costs or a problem with the water supply. Lack of potable water was a problem for the Boy Scouts who bought the camp but could not afford to install the necessary water system, and in the 1990s they also gave up the camp and the land reverted to the Forest Service. The large lodge is gone and today there is little left to tell the stories of thousands of girls who once sang and paddled their canoes across Silver Lake.

[1] “Register of the Camp Fire Girls (Stockton, Calif.) Summer Camp Scrapbooks, 1919-1922” 1919, 15. Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University Library, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California.

[2] Ibid. 23.

[3] Ibid. 1922, [1].

[4] “Marginalia,” California Historical Society Quarterly 28, no. 2 (1949): 190.

[5] “U.C. Girl Aids Camp Fire Head,” Oakland Tribune 25 September 1925; “Pioneer in Work Will Head Camp Fire Girls,” Oakland Tribune 27 May 1925.

[6] “Camp Fire Girls Prepare for Big Stockton Meet” Oakland Tribune 11 May 1926; “California Sparks,” Everygirl’s April 1926, 16-17.

[7] “Girls Camping at Silver Lake” Oakland Tribune 17 July 1922; Swenson, Stella S. One Hundred Years at Silver Lake – Amador County California: 1848-1948 –The Swenson Team (Bert & Ella) A Report presented to Doctor Rockwell D. Hunt, Director of California History Foundation, College of the Pacific, April 1948, 47-49.

California’s Camp Fire Girls’ Camps: Introduction


On my desk I have the 1966 Directory of Accredited Camps for Boys and Girls published by the American Camping Association. I used this directory when applying for summer jobs many years ago. Yenis Hante was a small camp with a relatively short season of only five weeks. I wanted to work as a camp counselor for at least two months. At Yenis Hante I had met counselors who had worked at other camps and sometimes had jobs lined up for the month of August after Yenis Hante closed.

Crafts at Yenis Hante
Crafts at Camp Yenis Hante 1967


In 1966 California had twenty-one Camp Fire Girls’ resident camps accredited by the American Camping Association. (Now the American Camp Association) They spread north from Camp Wolahi, the San Diego camp near Julian, to Camp Kimtu in Humboldt County and east into the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Using  ACA directories from libraries along with the earlier Sargent handbooks I have collected data about Camp Fire Girls’ camps during the last century . However, directories and handbooks were not available for every year, and camps were not always accredited. Also, sometimes there were errors and discrepancies from one directory to another, such as the year a camp was established. In 1967 we assumed Yenis Hante was opened in 1927 because that date was on the bell; later newspaper research showed that Yenis Hante opened in 1930. Camp Kimtu is not in the 1966 directory but an article in the Times Standard (Eureka, California) for August 14, 1967 reports “Camp Fire Sessions Under Way at Kimtu.” A year later the Eureka Camp Fire Council offered the 364 acre camp site to the county for $4,500 because they had found that sending girls by bus to a camp in Mendocino County would be less expensive than continuing to maintain their own camp. [1]

Bell at Yenis Hante
The Bell at Camp Yenis Hante


During the twentieth century there were more than three score Camp Fire Girls’ camps in California. Some of these, for example Mawahua and Woape, were ephemeral, listed only once in The Handbook of Summer Camps or a newspaper article. There might have been others which left no record at all.

In 1915 Los Angeles introduced the concept of municipal summer camps. These city- owned and operated camps in national forests were available to families and to groups such as the Camp Fire Girls. Usually a camp had a kitchen, an open air dining room, an assembly hall and cabins or tents on platforms. By 1921 Oakland, Sacramento and Stockton each had a municipal camp and Lost Angeles had two. Camp Seeley, owned by Los Angeles, and the Oakland camp were both used by Camp Fire Girls for a summer or two. [2] Camp Fire Girls also used camps belonging to other groups such as the YWCA’s Camp Estelle in the San Bernardino Mountains, the “Kiddie Camp” at Glennville and Boy Scout camps.

Just over a dozen of the sixty camps, mostly sponsored by San Francisco Bay area or Los Angeles area Camp Fire councils, operated for fifty years or longer. Those with the longest time spans are Nawakwa, Wolahi, Gold Hollow, Wastahi, Wasewagan, Minaluta and Minkalo. Other long-lived camps were Celio, Yallani, Augusta, Metaka and Okizu.

California is blessed with magnificent mountains. The San Bernardino Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and coast ranges have all been the summer homes of California’s Camp Fire Girls. Camps in the Sierra Nevada include Me-Wa-Hi near Sattley, Nawata near Placerville, Yenis Hante at Greenhorn Mountain, Minkalo in Amador County, Caniya in Sierra County and the camps around Lake Vera, near Nevada City, Augusta, Gold Hollow, Celio, Watanda, Okizu and Minaluta. A newer camp, Adahi, is located near Oakhurst. A number of Los Angeles area camps have been located in the San Bernardino Mountains; these include Wasewagan, Nawakwa, Li Tanda and Yallani near Seven Oaks, Metaka, Hemohme and Deer Ridge near Wrightwood, Wintaka at Running Springs, Cohila at Big Bear Lake, and the elusive Mawahua.

Skit at Caniya
Campers performing a skit at Camp Caniya in 1968


Other camps have been located up and down the coast. One of the earliest was Wasibo, a San Francisco camp located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Pacific Palisades in the Santa Monica Mountains was the location of at least two camps, Temescal and Wasewagan. Wasewagan later moved to Seven Oaks. Camp Wa-Sta-Hi was located in Big Basin, south of San Jose and Campbell.

Although it did not yet have a permanent site Camp Minkalo was founded in 1919 making it California’s first Camp Fire Girls’ camp. The number of camps increased during the 1920s and through the depression and World War II. At the end of World War II there were more than twenty and by 1960 there were nearly thirty. In the 1960s camps began to close but there were still at least twenty-five in 1970. They continued to close through the rest of the century until there were only six in the year 2000. Today, in 2016, Wintaka, Adahi, Gold Hollow, Natoma and Nawakwa are the only resident camps in California listed on the National Camp Fire web page. I can only feel sad when I think of the mountain days that many of today’s children are missing.


[1] “County May Acquire Kimtu Site for Park” Times Standard (Eureka, California) July 25, 1968, p. 15. The Mendocino County camp is not named but might have been Seabow, near Laytonville, about 45 miles south of Camp Kimtu.

[2] “Municipal Summer Camps of the West” New York Times January 16, 1921, p. R7; Swenson, Stella S. One Hundred Years at Sliver Lake – Amador County: 1848-1948 – The Swenson Team (Bert & Stella), A Report Presented to Doctor Rockwell D. Hunt, Director of California History Foundation, College of the Pacific, April 1948, page 48.

Names of Camp Fire Girls’ Camps


Places, people and Native American words have all been used for the names of Camp Fire Girls’ camps. At least 153 camps have had unique names; many of these are based on words in Native American languages. Camps named after people include Harriet Harding in Nebraska and Camps Kirby and Sealth in Washington; Chief Sealth was the Native American after whom Seattle was named. Camps in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas Montana, Michigan and Washington have been named Kiwanis or Rotary, after the organizations which helped many Camp Fire Girls’ camps get started and sometimes owned and maintained the camps. A number of camps, including Cimarron in Oklahoma, Tuckabatche or Tuckabatchee in Michigan and Ohio, Toccoa in Georgia and Wyandot in Ohio have been named for places.

Camp Kiwanis Massachusetts

Two books often used by Camp Fire Girls for selecting personal names as well as for naming camps are The Name Book and Indian Names: Facts and Games for Camp Fire Girls.. The Name Book, researched and compiled by Charlotte Vetter Gulick, has been reprinted many times. My Camp Fire group used this twenty-nine-page book in 1957 when we selected our names. The book contains an alphabetical list of English words followed by Native American words with the same or similar meanings. Abbreviations indicate if the Native American words are from the Chippewa, Dakota, Klamath, Lenape, Natick or Biloxi and Ofo languages.

The other useful book is Indian Names: Facts and Games for Camp Fire Girls by Florence M. Poast. Published in 1916, this book is now out-of-print but was digitized by Google and can be acquired from Google books. Florence Poast introduces her book by a warning that it is “disrespectful and unrefined” to refer to Indians by some of their common nicknames. She then discusses Native American culture and European mistreatment of Native Americans. Pages fifty to seventy-four have lists of Native American names, subdivided into “Personal Names,” “Camp Names,” “Boat Names” etc. In each subdivision the names are grouped by the language. Several camp names found here, Adahi, Talahi, and Nawakwa, mean “in the forest,” “in the woods,” “in the oaks” or “in the midst of the forest.” Two others are Nissaki, meaning “at the food of the mountain” and Wetomachick meaning “friends.”

Enough camps took the name Wohelo that the first Camp Wohelo, on Lake Sebago in Maine, became Sebago-Wohelo.[1] Another popular name, Kiloqua, means “Lake of the Great Star.” [2] At least two camps one in Oregon and one in California were called Yallani; Yallani means mountain. [3] (The name also appears on a 1915 Camp Fire Girls’ postcard of a girl sitting on a rock, with the caption “Yallani, a Camp Fire Girl.”)

Some names combine Native American words or syllables from words. Zanika Lache, on Lake Wenatchee, combines Zanika, healthy, with Lache, lake for “healthiness by the lake.” I-Wa-Su in New York and Iwaqua in Colorado both use “Iwa” meaning “among the hills or mountains”. Since “Su” means “lake,” I-Wa Su” must have been a camp on a lake in the mountains.

Other groups including the Boy Scouts and YMCA and YWCA have used some of the same names; sometimes, but not always, this is because they have acquired camps that were formerly Camp Fire camps. Far more names are not found in either of the two books above and are probably based on local Native American languages.


[1] Dorgan, Ethel Josephine Luther Halsey Gulick: 1865-1918, New York, New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University 1934, p. 113.

[2] Gulick, Charlotte Vetter The Name Book of Camp Fire Girls, New York, New York: Camp Fire Girls, Incorporated, p. 17.

[3] The Name Book, p. 19.

The Postcards

The only Yenis Hante postcard in my collection is one of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, with Yenis Hante printed on a sign. We were given these cards on the first day of camp so we could write a note telling our parents of our safe arrival. The card served as a “ticket” to dinner that evening. This one is unused and may have been an extra when, as a counselor, I distributed cards to the girls in my cabin.

Tony Tiger at Yenis Hante

Girls at some camps had a greater selection. My postcard collection currently comprises more than three-hundred cards from sixty-six camps in twenty-five states. Occasionally I have found a set of cards from one camp. However, seventy-two percent of these sixty-five camps are represented by fewer than six cards. Only four camps, Iowa’s Camp Hantesa, New York’s Aloha, California’s Wasibo and Camp Kiwanis in Massachusetts are represented by more than eleven different cards.

Hantesa, one of the oldest Camp Fire camps in the United States seems to have the greatest variety of cards, created over the longest span of time. I have twenty-three different cards for Camp Hantesa; they depict the camp’s swimming pool, swinging bridge, tents, cabins, lodge, campers and staff. The cards include real photo postcards, black-and-white Artvue lithographs and more modern cards in color. The earliest legible postmark is 1946. Eight of the other nine mailed cards have postmarks in the 1950s or 60s; one is postmarked 1985. The oldest are real photo post cards showing tents on platforms in an area called Shady Glade. Hantesa campers acquired and sent black-and-white real photo postcards as recently as the 1980s and may still be sending them today. Of the four camps, Hantesa is the only one that remains a Camp Fire camp, now attended by both girls and boys.


Tent at Hantesa
Artvue postcard mailed June 12, 1946

Camp Fire has a long history in Iowa and I also have eight cards from another Iowa Camp Fire Girls’ camp, Hitaga. In my current collection, New York with forty-eight cards, and California with thirty-two, are the only states for which there are more Camp Fire Girls camp postcards than Iowa. Massachusetts, with thirty cards, has almost as many as Iowa.

Swinging Bridge at Hantesa
Real photo postcard mailed July 22, 1952

New York’s Camp Aloha is represented by twenty cards showing fourteen different scenes. The swimming pool, “Sky Pond,” and “Stony Bottom Creek” are all featured on Aloha’s cards as well as girls preparing a campsite, raising the flag, hiking, practicing archery and playing volley ball. Their shorts, instead of bloomers, and triangular Camp Fire scarves with white blouses, instead of middies, indicate that the photos were probably taken in the 1940s and 50s. A majority of the Aloha cards are real photo post cards and the seven that were mailed are all postmarked in the 1950s. One of three unmailed Artvue cards has a back matching another Artvue card with a 1938 postmark. Camp Aloha celebrated its 75th birthday in 2004 but had been sold by 2009.

Aloha girls preparing campsite
Real photo postcard mailed August 14, 1952

Sometimes camps move and keep the same name. Camp Kiwanis in Massachusetts remained in the same place but changed its name, becoming Camp Kiwanee in 1957. Camp Kiwanis opened on June 25, 1923. All together I have twenty postcards for Kiwanis and Kiwanee. The most popular subject is Maquan Lake where the girls swam, sailed and canoed. There are also cards of the store and main lodge and of girls raising the flag and riding horses. Almost all the Kiwanis/Kiwanee cards were mailed and the postmarks span the years from 1923, the year the camp was established, to 1966. Only three of these are real photo postcards; Artvue printed more than half and the oldest cards were made by the Albertype Company.


Waterfront - Camp Kiwanee
Waterfront at Camp Kiwanee

Camp Wasibo was one of the first Camp Fire Girls’ camps established in California. Sponsored by the San Francisco Camp Fire Council from 1925 until 1949, Wasibo was located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1949 it was acquired by the Girl Scouts. Available newspaper articles don’t give reasons for this transfer; however, the Golden Gate Council opened Camp Caniya near Sierra City in 1948. My thirteen Camp Wasibo cards include seven real photo post cards which appear to have been made at the same time. They have much wider borders than most postcards, giving them a homemade look, and several of them feature the same two girls possibly sisters, in various places around the camp. The girls wear middies with long ties rather than the triangular ties introduced in the late 1930s. Other cards show tents, and girls eating at long tables under the trees. The only mailed cared is an Artvue lithograph postmarked 1938.

2 Girls at Camp Wasibo
Real photo postcard with wide border


The cards described above show the range of subjects shown on postcards of Camp Fire Girls’ camps. Camps on lakes naturally wanted to show off their waterfront facilities. Camp stores, lodges and tents or cabins were also popular subjects. Including campers in the photos helped to illustrate the fun girls might have at Camp Fire camp. More unusual scenes such as a swinging bridge or the inside of a cabin also appeared on postcards. Today we can look at these postcards and get a glimpse of twentieth century Camp Fire camp life.

Dining at Camp Wasibo
Artvue postcard – Outdoor dining at Camp Wasibo