Local Girl Scout looks to mark woman’s legacy

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Courtesy photo
Sixth-grader Elise Clements stands in front of the Texas Normal College historical marker with a portrait of Beulah Harriss, who is credited with establishing the Girl Scouts movement in Denton in the early 1900s. For a project, Elise is looking to have Harriss' legacy remembered with its own historical marker.
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Beulah Ann Harriss was a lady of several firsts.

And a Denton sixth-grader is looking to ensure that Harriss’ legacy is remembered.

As part of a Girl Scout Silver Award project, Elise Clements is looking to have a historical marker placed at the University of North Texas that notes the impact Harriss had on the Denton community after arriving 100 years ago this year. Harriss is credited with launching the Girl Scout movement in Denton and was the first athletic teacher at the city’s college.

“I want to have a historical marker placed for Miss Beulah Harriss so future generations will know what an amazing woman she was,” Elise, a Strickland Middle School student, wrote in an e-mail.

Harriss completed school at the University of Nebraska and, in 1914, came to Denton to teach at North Texas Normal College, now known as the University of North Texas. She was the first physical education teacher at the college and established the program there where she taught both males and females initially in Swedish and German gymnastics, according to UNT documents.

Just under five years after arriving in Denton, Harriss — along with Della Marie Clark, her friend from Nebraska who also moved to Denton and became an educator — organized the first Girl Scout troop in Denton sponsoring a citizen’s troop of college girls.

In the 1920s, Harriss also was responsible for founding the Green Jackets, a women’s service organization that’s still in existence today. She was a charter member of the Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, and she organized the Texas Women’s Athletic Association. She was also one of the founders of what is known today as the Denton Area Teachers Credit Union (DATCU) and was a charter member of the Flow Memorial Hospital Auxiliary.

Throughout her career, she was also instrumental in organizing and leading several organizations.

She coached a women’s basketball team that went undefeated for three years and earned the college its first intercollegiate trophy.

Harriss taught at the university 46 years before retiring in 1960. She died in 1977 at the age of 88.

Throughout her career, and even after her death, she was awarded several accolades.

“I’m amazed that somebody can do that,” Elise said of Harriss. “She did so much in Denton. I don’t think anyone else could have done this.”

On Tuesday, Elise attended the Denton City Council meeting where Mayor Mark Burroughs proclaimed Feb. 27, 2014, Miss Beulah Harriss Day in Denton.

“You know the city’s built on a lot of pillars,” Burroughs said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Sometimes we forget them; sometimes people move on. But their legacy lives on and you see it with the spirit of young people that are still fulfilling the legacy that someone like that created so long ago. It’s pretty neat stuff.”

To celebrate Miss Beulah Harriss Day, Elise will have a reception in Harriss’ honor from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Girl Scout Denton Service Center located at 2317 W. University Drive, Suite No. 167 in Denton. At the reception will be displays about Harriss’ life and her accomplishments in Denton, Elise said. There will also be information on what Girl Scouts is all about, she said.

The Silver Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout Cadette, girls in grades six, seven and eight, can earn, and it recognizes a girl’s accomplishments as a Girl Scout and in her community, according to the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas.

To obtain the Silver Award, girls must exhibit skill and leadership, participate in community service and complete a “Take Action” volunteer project in which they perform 50 community service hours.

“Elise demonstrates immense dedication in researching and highlighting the many contributions of Miss Beulah Harriss in the Denton community,” said Colleen Walker, chief executive officer for Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas in a media release prepared by the group. “Our Girl Scouts are strong role models in their communities, inspiring many other younger Girl Scouts who want to make a difference on the issues they most care about.”

The desire to have a historical marker recognizing Harriss all started when Elise said she and her mother began researching online and at the city library on who started Girl Scouts in Denton.

“She’s never been heard of,” Elise said. “It took us forever to find a picture of her, actually.

“She did so much in Denton. She’s just amazing.

Judy Clements, Elise’s mother, said her daughter is looking to submit an outline to the Denton County Historical Commission for a historical marker. She said she’s excited for Elise.

The Texas Historical Commission will accept historical marker applications Sept. 1 through Nov. 15 and will announce 2015 markers next January, said Beth Stribling, Denton County Historical Commission chairwoman. County residents interested in submitting nominations for a historical marker must submit a historical narrative to the county’s historical commission by Aug. 1, she said.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.


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