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Biography Timeline


When 23 year-old Olave St Claire Soames married 55 year old Robert Baden-Powell in 1912, she caused an international sensation, and despair to 100,000 Boy Scouts who speculated that the marriage would bring an end to the Chief's Scouting.

Instead the exuberant tomboy's boundless energy lead to an unflagging support of BP and helped Scouting to grow even faster. Her own vision saw Guiding become the largest organisation for girls and women ever seen, and led her to be called "The Mother of Millions".
Guiding has significantly influenced the shape of our society, and will continue to do so into the future. I hope you can capture here a piece of the vibrant vision of this extraordinary woman.
This site is endeavoring to cover much of her life, from birth, through her time with BP, and the work she carried on long after his death.

When they married, Robert was 55, Olave was 23.

He died on 7th January, 1941, aged nearly 84, when she was only 51.

They were married for 28 years, but she was a widow for 36 years.

In 1916 Olave was enrolled as a Guide. Love and service to God, country and other people were the powers that directed her life.
In 1938 the World Chief Guide went with BP, whose health was failing, to their home 'Paxtu' in Kenya. There they lived the open-air life they both loved, and there two years later Robert Baden-Powell died.
In 1973 the United Nations honoured Olave Baden Powell as Woman of the Year by awarding her the Ceres Medal.
She was decorated with national honours by Chile, Finland, Greece, Haiti, Japan, Lebanon, Panama, Peru, Poland and the United Kingdom.
She was an indefatigable traveller, visiting 111 countries in all.
Her role in Guiding changed with age, but she constantly kept its growth foremost in her life, identifying opportunities for established Guiding countries to assist new ones. She redirected many personal gifts to Guiding. She told would-be flower donors that "flowers do not go with Guide uniform", and "souvenirs are an embarrassment to carry around when one is travelling light, hurrying from city to city by car or train or plane for weeks and months on end ". Australian Guiding developed a unique gift idea, 'Ice-cream for the Chief', and American Scouts generously supplied a credit card for her use from 1968 until her death.


1889

22 February
Olave St Clair Soames is born in Stubbing Court, Chesterfield, England
At the time of her birth, her mother was unsure if either of them would survive
Also on this day, Robert Baden Powell celebrated his 32nd birthday

 

1907
Robert Baden Powell runs the first Boy Scout Camp at Brownsea, England

 

1910-1912
The Girl Guides Association of the United Kingdom was formed for those "Girl Scouts" who had presented themselves at the 1909 rally of Boy Scouts in Crystal Palace, London. BP Asked his sister, Agnes, to write a book for them, along the lines of Scouting for Boys. She became the Association's first President
The first Girl Guide groups start in various parts of Australia

 

1912 - Age 23
Olave meets Robert Baden-Powell during a cruise on the Arcadian to the West Indies. He was "The only interesting person on board!"
September 20
Olave and BP become engaged
October 30
Olave and BP are married
Girl Scouting begins in the USA, by Juliette Gordon-Lowe

1913 - Age 24
January 14-March 1 Holiday Cruise with BP - Algiers, Sahara, Carthage, Tunis, Valetta (Malta)
April
Move into their first home, Ewhurst Place, Sussex
June
Olave becomes a warranted Scoutmaster in Sussex
October
Peter, their first child is born
BP's mother dies

 

1914
Olave learns to drive, acts as BP's chauffeur - he didn't like driving
Olave was a warranted Scout leader. It was with 1st Ewhurst Scout Troop, the troop she and BP started at their home for their staff 


1915
Heather, elder daughter, born (her name chosen by the Guides)
September
Olave arrives in France as a Scout recruit to work with YMCA in 'respite huts' for troops. Children cared for by Olave's mother 

1916
Olave is enrolled as a Guide
Appointed County Commissioner for Sussex
First Commissioners' Conference, Matlock

 

1917
Olave sets up an International Committee and an Overseas Council
April - Betty born
Move to Horley after sale of Ewhurst Place after owner killed in the war

 

1918
Olave becomes Chief Guide of England
Olave receives the Silver Fish Award - made especially in gold just for Olave
Pax Hill purchased with a gift from Olave's father

 

1919, aged 30
Olave forms the International Council - the forerunner of WAGGGS
Olave writes to women in Brazil, asking them to consider starting Girl Guides

Olave's sister Auriol dies; Robert and Olave take over the up-bringing of her three little girls, so effectively now have six children.

1920
First World Conference, Oxford

 

1922
World Conference, Cambridge

 

1923
Foxlease opened - first Guiders' training

 

1924 - Age 35
The first World Camp at Foxlease, England. Forty countries represented

 

1926
Australian states form the Federal Council of Girl Guides Associations in Australia
Thinking Day originates at the 4th World Conference in New York
World Conference, Camp Edith Macy, USA
Three month tour of USA, visiting Girl Scouts
Six months in South Africa

 

1928
World Conference, Parad, Hungary - where the World Association of Girl Guides & Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) is established, with offices in London
Lady BP visits Australia

 

1929 Aged 40
August - Liverpool Jamboree
Pax Hill burgled, many souvenirs stolen
Another cruise to the West Indies, on the Alcantara
Visit to the USA  

1930
January
Visits West Indies
July 16 1930
World Conference at Foxlease
Olave is elected World Chief Guide
Presented with award Grand Dame of the British Empire by King George V
Unveils two railway engines called "The Boy Scout" and "The Girl Guide"
  

1931
Our Chalet gifted by Mrs Storrow
Family economies introduced - staff reduced to five maids, two gardeners
Olave's mother moves in. Shortly thereafter has a stroke and requires extensive care
January-June: Visits Australia, New Zealand and South Africa

 

1932
Olave's mother dies. Olave is left out of the will. 
21st celebrations of Guiding - 5000 guides renew their promise at St Paul's Cathedral
Olave receives GBE in Queen's Birthday Honours List
Visits to Paris, Switzerland for Our Chalet opening, 7th World Guide Conference in Kattawice, Poland - August
Thinking Day Fund started

 

1933
Visit to Malta
Heather makes her 'debut'
Guide/Scout Cruises begin on White Star Lines' Calgaric with 650 Guides and Scouts 

 

1934
Betty has emergency appendectomy
BP has prostate removal surgery, emergency blood transfusions
Peter goes to South Africa to join the British South African Police
Olave attends 8th World Conference at Our Chalet, August
Chiefs cruise on the Adriatic to Gibraltar, France, Malta, Algiers, Lisbon
Visit to Australia, stopping in: Egypt, greeted by 1600 Guides, Scouts, Cubs, Brownies. Netherlands East Indies (Batavia, Samarang, Sorubaya)


1935
BP's ill health continues. Visit Kenya to recover

 

1936
Betty marries Gervas Clay
World Conference, Rattvik, Sweden

1937
Visit to India (January to April)  for Jamboree and country wide tour
5th World Jamboree, Holland 

Gillian born to Betty in Rhodesia

Silver wedding anniversary celebrations

1938
Visit to Kenya - BP ill again
Olave makes first TV appearance
Cruise to Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium
Visit to South Africa
World Conference, Ireland

 

1939 - Age 50
'Paxtu' completed, BPs move to Kenya in October 

They acquire a hyrax as a house pet 

Olave becomes Colony Commissioner of Kenya
Olave decides to learn Swahili at the mission at Nyeri
Betty's second baby born
BP ill again
Our Ark opened in London
World Camp.  Godollo, Hungary, where the World Flag was flown for the first time
Outbreak of WW2

 

1940
Family reunion in Kenya. Heather was in the ATS so missed the reunion
BP ill again
World Conference in France - not held because of WW2

 

1941
8 January. BP Dies at Paxtu, Kenya. Olave could not attend, spent the day of the funeral weeping and walking "in agonised grief" Olave was 51
Thousands of letters from all over the world are sent to Kenya
Olave goes on a 3 month tour of Africa in a truck with niece Christian

 

1942
Depression set in on return to Nyeri
Tours South Africa
Moves back to UK - very frightening cruise back through u-boat attacks
Guiding starts to raise funds for relief teams to assist in liberated areas of Europe. (Guide International Service) (GIS)
No home- Pax Hill was occupied by Canadian troops. She was awarded a 'grace and favour' apartment in Hampton Court
Birth of Heather's son Michael

 

1943
Although rationing bites hard, Olave entertains many ex-Scout servicemen from all over the world
Cycling became part of her life again to overcome crowded, limited, and slow transport
Baden Powell Memorial fund appeal launched - Princess Margaret was the star in first fund-raising concert

 

1944 - Age 55
First relief teams are sent to assist in liberated areas of Europe (Guide International Service)
Continual touring of UK to "keep the spirits high and the ideals bright"
A V2 Rocket brings down ceiling of Olave's apartment in summer - she was touring the Midlands at the time
Olave starts to learn French so she can go into Europe
Lays wreaths at war memorials in towns all over France, Switzerland, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium

 

1945
Agnes Baden Powell dies
Olave wishing 'God-speed' to a GIS team off to The Netherlands 

Olave starts to travel to the war-torn countries of Europe, to revive Guiding and Scouting
From Olave's diary (as noted in welcome booklet, visit to Australia 1958)
St. George's Day., Attended Scout and Guide celebrations of freedom in Paris. Toured through Normandy with General Lafont, Chief Scout of France. Continued through Alsace and Lorraine, and on VE Day crossed into Switzerland, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, England, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland. 

 

1946
Olave begins world tour to raise funds to assist Guiding and Scouting to resume in Europe
September - Olave visits Slovakia
World Conference, Evian, France
World Badge adopted
From Olave's diary (as noted in welcome booklet, visit to Australia 1958)
West Indies, British Guiana, Cuba, Mexico, the Unites Staets, Canada and Newfoundland. Travelled 3720 miles by sea, 6355 miles by train, 16,610 miles by air, and 3565 miles by road. Made 231 speeches to audiences varying in number (from 30 to 20,000, gave 62 press interviews or radio talks. Attended World Conference at Evian, France. Visited Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and Holland.

 

1947
World tour - 12 months!
Visits to Australia

 

1948
All Africa Conference, Johannesburg 1948
World Conference, Cooperstown, USA 
Olave threw the baseball at the World Series

 

1949 - Age 60
Returns to Paxtu for solitary Christmas
Peter and family return to England to live
Visits to Malta, Italy, Greece and France
From Olave's diary (as noted in welcome booklet, visit to Australia 1958)
Visited Holland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, France and Denmark and many parts of the British Isles; in a five months' tour of Africa travelled over 23,000 miles by air and visited 20 territories.

 

1950
World Song adopted at World conference in England
The Mayor of Poole, UK, presenting Olave the Freedom of The City in recognition of her service in the cause of youth 

1952
World Tour 
Lecture tour of USA and Canada
Hilda Baden Powell moves in with Olave, very frail following a fall
World Conference, Dombas, Norway

 

1953
Coronation Year - Olave hosts 128 Guiding and Scouting guests from all over the world
Appears in a TV special on Hampton Court
Lecture tour of USA - 42,000 miles in six months, 57 cities, 25 states, 158 talks!

 

1954
Olave attends the World Conference in The Hague
World Brownie Badge adopted

 

1955
Hilda dies
Another tour of the USA - eight months, Canada (Niagara Falls Jamboree) 86 talks, USA 186 talks,  Mexico

 

1956
Tour of Africa - interrupted by Egypt/Israeli war

 

1957
50th Anniversary of Brownsea Camp - worldwide celebrations
Olave presides at opening of Our Cabana, the Third World Centre
Olave visits Ghana, Sri Lanka, Australia
While staying with friends in Australia, Olave, who says "I am never ill", found herself in hospital. She suffered with gall stones. But, she was a hardy woman and attended the planned Rally 18 day later

 

1958
Olave visits Australia, Malaya, Hong Kong, Philippines, Uruguay
Dedication of 'Our Cabana', Cuernavaca, Mexico

 

1959 - Age 70
Olave tours South America
Receives 'Freedom' of the Cities of Panama and Reno!
Opens Our Cabana 
In a celebration on 17 October 1959 the Foundation Stone for Baden-Powell House was laid by the World Chief Guide Olave, Lady Baden-Powell

 

1960
Olave visits Nigeria, Portugal, Germany, Gibraltar, Denmark, Greece, Finland, Switzerland, Lebanon and Pakistan
Golden Jubilee of Guiding

 

1961
BP House in Kensington opens
Olave continues to host many houseguests
Olave visits India, East Pakistan, Burma, Ceylon, Italy, Isle of Wight and United States of America
During Canada tour - Olave has a heart attack while on Price Edward Island

 

1962
Returns to England, fully recovered
Olave's brother Arthur dies
Olave's son Peter dies
Olave visits Japan, India, Hong Kong, other parts of Asia
Appears on a stamp issued in Haiti, to honour the 22nd Anniversary of Scouting in Haiti

 

1963
Our Ark moves to larger premises and is renamed Olave House

 

1964
Olave visits: Israel, Trinidad & Tobago and Surinam

 

1965
Olave visits Kenya

 

1966
Sangam, our fourth World Centre, opens in Pune, India
Olave visits Philippines, to attend the Closing Ceremonies of the GSP's 25th anniversary held at the Luneta Grandstand

 

1967
Olave tours Australia
Olave had received £300.00 from the Australian 'Ice-Cream for the Chief' fund. It had been given to her to do something for herself. Olave was such an unselfish woman. She had many thoughts on treats for herself but chose to spend the money on books. She had been in South Africa and saw the lack of books and illiteracy so when arriving in Mexico, she rushed from shop to shop and delighted in buying £300.00 worth of books. Her words - "Blew the $300.00 - it was the greatest fun". These became to be known as the 'ice-cream books'

 

1969 Aged 80
Attends 'Jubilations', Guiding's Diamond Jubilee celebrations at Westminster Abbey on Thinking Day
Jubilee celebrations in Finland, Belgium, Kenya, South Africa, USA, Denmark
An ice-cream for the Chief in Brisbane, May

 

1970
Diagnosed with diabetes, ordered to stop travelling!

 

1971
September Unveiled David Wynne's sculpture of BP at Gilwell's International Centre

 

1972
The Olave Baden-Powell Rose is introduced (Germany)

 

1973
Her Autobiography, Window on my Heart, appears
World Food and Agriculture organisation awards Olave the Ceres Medal

 

1975
Thinking Day Symbol introduced

 

1977
19 June Death of Olave Baden-Powell,  aged 88  in Birtley House
9 August Olave's ashes placed beside BP's at Paxtu in Kenya
Donations made in Olave's name were assigned to the building of the Olave Centre, in London

 

1991
Pax Lodge in the Olave Centre opens, 15 March.




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