Olave St Clair Baden Powell, Baroness
Baden-Powell, GBE was born Olave St Clair Soames on February 22, 1889 at
Chesterfield, England, the younger daughter of brewery heir Harold
Soames (himself descended from a landed gentry family paternally and
maternally from a self-made man, Joseph Gilstrap Gelthorpe, who had been
Mayor of Newark in Nottinghamshire. She died on 19 June 1977 as Olave,
Lady Baden-Powell, or The Dowager Lady Baden-Powell, having outlived her
husband, the founder of Scouting, by 35+ years.
Her father - brewery owner and artist Harold Soames - continually moved
house as he travelled. He, her mother Katharine (nee Hill), and a number
of governesses educated Olave at home. She became keen on outdoor sports
including tennis, swimming, football, skating and canoeing, and also
played the violin.
In January 1912, Olave met Boer War hero and founder of the Scouts and
Girl Guides Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Baden-Powell on an ocean liner
(Arcadia) on the way to New York to start one of his Scouting World
Tours. She was 23, he 55, and they shared the same birthday. They became
engaged in September of the same year, causing a media sensation. To
avoid press intrusion, they married in secret on October 30, 1912.
The Baden-Powells had three children - one son and two daughters (who
took the courtesy titles of Honourable in 1929; the son later succeeding
his father in 1941):
Peter, later 2nd Baron Baden-Powell (1913-1962) and
Hon. Heather Baden-Powell (1915-1986), and
Hon. Betty Baden-Powell (1917-2004) who married 1936 Gervase Charles
Robert Clay (b. 1912, and had issue 3 sons and 1 daughter
During World War I Olave left her children to help the war effort in
Olave became a County Commissioner in the Girl Guides in 1916, became
English Chief Guide in 1918 and was elected World Chief Guide in 1930.
The same year she was awarded the British honour of Grand Dame of the
British Empire King George V. In 1932 she was awarded the Dame Grand
Cross of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) by Queen
Elizabeth II. As well making a major contribution to the development of
the Guide / Girl Scout movements, she visited 111 countries during her
life visiting Jamborees and national Guide and Scout associations.
In October 1939 Olave moved to Kenya with her husband, where he died in
January 1941. In 1942 she braved U-boat attacks to return to a 'grace
and favour' apartment in Hampton Court Palace (in which she lived from
1943 to 1976), since her own home Pax Hill had been taken over by the
Canadian military. Through World War II she toured the United Kingom.
Fortunately she was on a visit when a V2 missile damaged her apartment
in 1944. As soon as she could after D-Day, she went to France, toured
throughout Europe as the war ended to help revive Guiding and Scouting.
Having suffered a heart attack in 1961, she was finally banned from
travelling at the age of 80 in 1970 when she was diagnosed with
Olave died on June 19, 1977 at Birtley House, Bramley, England. Her
ashes were taken to Kenya to be placed next to her husband's. The Olave
Centre for guides was built in north London in her memory.
Scouts and Guides mark Februay 22nd as B-P Day or Thinking Day, the
joint birthdays of Robert and Olave Bade-Powell, to remember and
celebrate the work of the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World.
She was survived by her two daughters, her son having predeceased her.