In 1853, the group of patriotic women who rescued Mount Vernon was truly ahead of its time. Nearly 70 years before American women secured the right to vote, the founding members of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) defied all preconceptions about a woman’s role in society as they sought to purchase the home of George Washington for the people of the United States.
To succeed, the members of the MVLA naturally turned to other women. In one of her appeals, MVLA founder Ann Pamela Cunningham urged “any lady” receiving a copy of her missive to “please show it to her friends, and strive to awaken an interest among them,” noting that “there can be no truer cause to plead for than that of Washington, nor one more dear to the heart of patriotic women.”
This year, as historic sites and museums throughout the country mark the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement and the ratification of the 19th amendment, we too at Mount Vernon have an opportunity to showcase the pioneering roles that women played, and continue to play, at the home of our Founding Father. The stories of various women who challenged, moved, and inspired George Washington, and later sought to protect not only his home, but his enduring legacy, are powerful stories in and of themselves.
In the pages that follow, historian Martha Saxton offers her perspective on George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, whose oft-misunderstood relationship with her famous son continues to intrigue and confound biographers today.
We also examine the women who made their homes at Mount Vernon during George Washington’s lifetime, beginning with Martha Washington. Curator Amanda Isaac takes a closer look at Martha’s masterfully crafted quilts, three surviving examples of which have recently returned to Mount Vernon. Exploring another aspect of 18th-century life at Mount Vernon, Alexi Garrett discusses Martha’s thriving business enterprises. We also present the manner in which Mount Vernon’s modern-day interpretation has evolved to more accurately depict enslaved women and the roles they played in the operations of the estate.
Finally, addressing the particular interest in suffrage, MVLA archivist Rebecca Baird and Mount Vernon curator Jessie MacLeod delve into the MVLA’s relation to the historic movement—and where its members engaged and abstained—as this polarizing issue took center stage a century ago.
As Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, there is both honor and responsibility in seeking to showcase these notable women and their quiet but impactful contributions to both Mount Vernon and the nation. I hope their stories will captivate and inspire.
We are ever grateful for your support.
Sarah Miller Coulson, Regent
Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association
A new History series, new acquisitions, and the latest information of preservation initiatives. Read
How MVLA archivist Rebecca Baird keeps thousands of historical documents organized. Read
Una Davis honors her history-loving late mother with a generous gift. Read
Shell cushions showcase Martha Washington’s fancy fingerwork. Read
The contributions of women take center stage in history teacher Bonnie Belshe’s California classroom. Read
The Neighborhood Friends hosted the Birthnight Ball, raising funds to support preservation efforts. Read
Mrs. Washington’s business savvy is best seen during her two periods of widowhood. Read
A wedding invitation for Sarah Johnson, a formerly enslaved worker, surfaces in the MVLA archives. Read
New research unveils a more nuanced portrait of George Washington’s mother, and her fight for independence.READ THE STORY
Women’s suffrage? The strong and independent members of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association were divided on the issue.
Out of the folds of the three known quilts Martha Washington's hand sewed, a historical tapestry emerges.READ THE STORY