Celebrating 125! at the October National Board Events

Written by: Denise Doring VanBuren, Organizing Secretary General and Executive Liaison to the Celebrate 125! Committee
October 15, 2015

How fortunate I feel as an active member of the DAR to have not only walked in the footsteps of America’s first family last week but to have also once again realized that we stand on the shoulders of giants in the preservation movement – the early  Daughters who came before us in protecting the heritage of this great nation.

It is difficult to adequately convey the overwhelming sense of meaning and purpose that accompanied the privilege of joining President General Lynn Forney Young and the other members of the National Board of Management in the days leading up to our National Society’s 125th anniversary. On Thursday, October 8, we dedicated the beautiful new Daughters Tribute in the D Street Memorial Garden; it honors the 950,000 members who have sustained our Society since its founding in 1890. That evening, we participated in the opening of the marvelous new DAR Museum exhibit, Remembering the American Revolution: 1776-1890, that showcases many of the astounding Revolutionary War and Colonial Revival Movement items from our own collection, most of which were donated by our members through the decades.

On Friday morning, we boarded two buses for a tour that had been more than a year in the making – in fact, in development from the very first moment that our Celebrate 125! Committee members realized that we must return to the original project adopted by our Society at its inaugural meeting by visiting the monument erected atop the grave of Mary Ball Washington.  We had pre-arranged to dress in pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month – imagine our surprise to learn during the course of the day that Washington’s mother had died of breast cancer in 1789.

Our day actually began at the site where the George Washington Foundation is working to recreate his boyhood home in Fredericksburg, Va., on a parcel of land nearly lost to the development of a Wal-Mart a decade ago. Augustine Washington had moved his family here along the Rappahannock River in 1738 when George was just six. Augustine died in 1743, after stipulating in his will that George was to receive Ferry Farm when he turned 21. His widowed mother Mary would manage the farm until that time. What a thrill it was to walk the same property where Washington spent his youth – and to witness Mrs. Young’s presentation of a $5,000 donation from the National Society to Foundation President Bill Garner in support of the effort to recreate the original farmhouse on its recently discovered original foundation. The project is also being supported with a significant commitment from Virginia Daughters under the leadership of State Regent Virginia Storage.

The next stop was at Historic Kenmore, the Georgian-style brick mansion built by successful merchant Fielding Lewis for his wife, Elizabeth “Betty” Washington Lewis, George Washington’s sister, in 1775. It was originally the centerpiece of a 1,300-acre estate but is today protected behind manicured grounds along a lovely residential village street in Fredericksburg. In the 1920s, it, too, was nearly lost to development when plans were announced to construct six homes on the site. But DAR came to the rescue when Virginia State Regent Kate Waller Barrett rallied local women to form the Washington-Lewis DAR Chapter. Organizing Regent Vivian Minor Fleming began a letter-writing campaign, and chapters across the nation contributed to saving the property. On display during our visit were the glass slides that were sent across America to demonstrate to interested chapters the importance of saving the landmark.

Our group next headed several blocks west to pay respects at the grave of the Washingtons’ mother.  The original marker atop her grave had been damaged during the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg, and DAR members had provided three quarters of the $11,500 necessary to erect a replacement – an endeavor supported at our Society’s organizational meeting on Oct. 11, 1890.  President Calvin Coolidge was among the thousands of people on hand for its dedication. It was certainly quite moving to place an NSDAR wreath on this sacred spot and to take part in the beautiful service of remembrance conducted by Chaplain General Ann Salley Crider and Historian General Bana Weems Caskey in memory of the woman who, largely alone, raised our nation’s first president.

Back on the buses for the final stop of the day: the placement of a memorial wreath on the grave of DAR Founder Eugenia Washington, great grandniece of George Washington. Miss Washington was inspired by her experiences during the Civil War to help found DAR as a way that women from the North and the South could reunite to share a common heritage. Our first Registrar General, she held National Number 1. Eugenia died on Thanksgiving, 1900, and her sister, Jean Washington Moncure, arranged for her interment next to their mother at the Moncure estate, "Glencairne," on the Rappahannock River. Virginia Daughters met the funeral train and escorted Miss Washington's remains to the pastoral cemetery where she rests today. The farm and graveyard are still privately held by the Chichester family, who graciously welcomed us to their lovely property for the solemn service of remembrance.

It was impossible not to be inspired by the example of these women. In the course of 24 hours, we recalled the service and sacrifice of the women who have sustained the important work of the DAR for 125 years; the members who contributed artifacts to our museum in order to preserve the memory of the men and women who achieved American independence; a DAR chapter that saved an important Revolutionary War-era home from demolition, with support from their sisters across the country; one of the visionary Founders of our National Society; and the very woman who reared the father of our nation. The lives of these and other amazing women in American and DAR history compel us forward in continued service to America – just imagine what we will together accomplish in the next 125 years!

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