A fine tribute to the Father of Our Country and to his home–one of the most impressive attractions in the D.C. area–as preserved by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association:
As we celebrate our nation’s independence midway through a year of rabid presidential politics, it is refreshing to reflect upon our first president, the hero of America’s revolution and commander in chief upon our liberation from King George.
To say that they don’t make them like George Washington anymore is to insult understatement. But those who admire him have a duty, today of all days, to remember him before he is forgotten by younger generations who, through no fault of their own, have no sense of him. They haven’t been taught, and the shame of this belongs to all, with a few notable exceptions.
Among these is a handful of ladies (and no, copy editors, you may not change “ladies” to “women”) who strive daily to keep Washington’s name and legacy in the dimming lights of history. Unheralded and largely unknown, they deserve recognition for their valiant and extravagant efforts to preserve one of America’s most valuable assets, including the original ruminations of its greatest thinkers.
These would be the members of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, who volunteer their time and talents — and open their wallets — to maintain Washington’s home on the Potomac. . . .
Unbeknown to most visitors to Mount Vernon — and certainly the millions who don’t know it exists — Washington’s home was saved and is maintained without a penny of public funds. (Disclosure: I serve on the Mount Vernon advisory board, a collection of private citizens who meet twice a year to offer advice, which the ladies are utterly free to ignore.)The ladies’ association is a lesson in volunteerism worthy of its own chapter. The association was formed in 1853 by South Carolina native Ann Pamela Cunningham, whose mother had noticed a large, dilapidated house perched on a hill along the Potomac River and was outraged to learn it was Washington’s home. Inspired by her mother, Cunningham reached out to Southern women to raise funds to buy the estate and, in 1860, open it to the public, thus beginning a 152-year-old tradition.
Since then, more than 80 million have visited the house and grounds, which include an underground museum (so as not to mar the landscape), gardens, a slave burial ground, and the final resting place of George and Martha Washington. Even the opposite shore of the Potomac has been preserved so that visitors can enjoy the same view that Washington did.
The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, named for its most generous donor, is an overdue addition to Washington’s home. In a time of self-reverential politicians and presidential libraries erected as monuments to ego, it is odd, if also characteristic, that the first president had none. Just as he resisted becoming the nation’s first president, feeling himself unworthy, he would have found a library in his honor, indulging today’s vernacular, “over the top.”
There is a useful new word: “self-reverential”! Washington was never that. He was a truly great man who deserves our salute this July the 4th.