Women’s Heritage

"Ladies, the home of Washington is in your charge."

Posted on: March 11th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Mount Vernon (Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey)

Mount Vernon (Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey)

The story goes like this: Louisa Cunningham was traveling down the Potomac on her way back to South Carolina after a trip to Philadelphia. At one point along the river she looked out the window and saw a once stately manor staring down at her, clearly having seen better days. Its columns were crumbling, the landscape untended, and the roof propped up by the masts of ships.

The year was 1853 and the manor was Mount Vernon the home of George Washington.

At the time John Augustine Washington III, the great grand-nephew of President Washington owned Mount Vernon. Lack of funds and the wear and tear of thousands of visitors left him fielding offers to sell, despite his wish that the house be placed in government hands.

Shocked, astounded, and maybe a little disgusted, Louisa writes a scathing letter to her daughter, Ann Pamela, asking why it was not possible for women to fight for the estate when it was clear that the men would not. Ann Pamela agreed with her mother and wrote an anonymous letter to the Charleston Mercury asking for action. By April 6, 1858 the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union signed a contract with John Washington III for $200,000, eventually taking charge of the mansion on February 22, 1860, on the 128th Anniversary of George Washington's birth.

Mount Vernon (Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey)

Mount Vernon (Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey)

It seems easy, right? A group of women, from the upper class of American society, gathering together from across the nation to raise the money to save the home of the father of our country. How could anyone oppose this cause? Unfortunately, in 1853 the United States was on the brink of civil war, and tensions were high. Despite Ann Pamela’s initial plan to raise money and buy the house for the Commonwealth of Virginia it soon became clear that the state would not support them. In 1858, she approached Washington directly and was rebuffed. Not to be deterred she waited a night and approached Washington’s wife, who was able to convince her husband to sign the contract on April 6. Since that day the Mount Vernon Ladies Association has worked to preserve and protect the home of George Washington.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Call for Abstracts: International Archive of Women in Architecture Center (IAWA)

Posted on: March 10th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Editor's Note: As part of our ongoing Women's History Month coverage, we're sharing the request below, which came to us via the Society of Architectural Historians email list.

Due Date: March 15, 2009

The International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) organization was founded in 1985 as a joint commitment of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the University Libraries at Virginia Tech. The mission of the IAWA organization was and continues to be to document the history of women’s involvement in architecture, interior and industrial design, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, architectural history and criticism, and the records of women’s professional organizations through the collection of material evidence. These collected works of women are housed in the Special Collections Department of the University Libraries. The IAWA scope is international, and therefore, is administered by an international board of advisors.

Goals of the IAWA:

  • Find and preserve the records of the pioneer generation of women;
  • Serve as a center for research about these occupations;
  • Appeal to retired and active women in these professions to save their papers and to consider donating them;
  • Act as a clearing house of information on the history and activities of all women in architecture…and further public education through research on the history of women in these professions through seminars, exhibits, and publications;
  • Foster cooperation between all libraries or archives containing data on, or collecting material on, women in architecture, design, and planning.

The IAWA Center collects books, biographical information, and published materials as part of its mission to act as a clearinghouse of information about all women in architecture, past and present.

In celebration of the 25th year anniversary of the Archives, an International Conference of the IAWA Center will be held in Blacksburg, Virginia at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University where the archives are held.

Scholars are asked to submit a 500 word abstract in English describing their research on women in architecture and the related fields as defined by the IAWA Center. Please include name, professional affiliation (if applicable), address, telephone numbers, e-mail address, and a current CV.

Preference will be given to papers that address women whose materials are contained within the collection of the IAWA Center. Selected authors will be asked to develop their research into a paper (2500-5000 words) for publication in the IAWA Center 25th Anniversary Monograph to accompany the conference.

All submissions should be sent to ltucker@vt.edu Dr. Lisa Tucker, IAWA Advisor Executive Committee, School of Architecture + Design, 201 Cowgill Hall (0205), Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061 USA.

Information about the archives can be found at http://spec.lib.vt.edu/IAWA/

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Women Writing Women's Places

Posted on: March 9th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

When Jennifer Goodman, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, thinks about historic places, she often thinks about the places that tell the stories of women’s lives in America.

As a nation, we have not always been very good at telling the history of women, especially women whose stories were not intimately tied to famous--read white male--historical figures. Luckily, women have always been at the forefront of saving historic places. Jennifer Goodman and Gail Lee Dubrow, editors of Restoring Women’s History through Historic Preservation, continue this important work. Their book not only brings alive women’s stories through women’s places, its essays teach us to explore and uncover, explain and exploit and, most importantly, preserve the very places that give voice to the history of women in America.

This book argues that not only do women populate the pages of American history, they shape it in significant and poignant ways. Research and preservation projects allow prostitutes in Los Angeles, nurses in Montreal, and the women of the coalfields of West Virginia to have their say. The book is also a call to action, making the case for preserving and promoting women’s history wherever it is found: in libraries, on the National Register of Historic Places, in our own city streets.

Restoring Women’s History through Historic Preservation is available from the Johns Hopkins University Press. Jennifer Goodman can be found fighting for historic buildings of all kinds in New Hampshire. Her organization, the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, is a Statewide Partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

-- Susan West Montgomery

Susan West Montgomery is associate director for Statewide and Local Partnerships in the Center for Preservation Leadership at National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Sarah Elizabeth Ray and the SS Columbia: The Unknown Story of One Woman's Fight for Racial Freedom

Posted on: March 3rd, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The above historic image of the SS Columbia dates to the interwar period and was taken by the noted marine photographer Bill Taylor. (Bill Taylor and the Marine Historical Society of Detroit)

The above historic image of the SS Columbia dates to the interwar period and was taken by the noted marine photographer Bill Taylor. (Bill Taylor and the Marine Historical Society of Detroit)

Sarah Elizabeth Ray was born in 1921 to a family of 13 children in an all-black community in Wauhatchie, TN. Ray’s upbringing was a relatively isolated one and spared from much of the sting of Jim Crow. She moved to Detroit in her 20’s with her first husband to find a better life and enrolled in a federally-funded secretarial program, the only African-American among forty girls. Upon graduating in June 1945, the girls decided to celebrate by taking the short boat ride to Boblo Island.

Bois Blanc Island (commonly known as Boblo, or Bob-Lo Island) was considered the region’s Coney Island. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves escaping to Canada, the island is located on the Detroit River just over the Canadian border. Between 1898 up until its closing in 1993, the entire island was privately owned by Michigan’s Bob-Lo Excursion Company as an amusement park and serviced by two now-historic vessels: the SS Ste. Clair and the SS Columbia.*

On the morning of June 21, 1945, Ray and her classmates boarded the Columbia to be ferried to Bob-Lo Amusement Park. One of the girls collected the class money and bought all the tickets at once. In a Feb 28, 2006 article in the Detroit Free Press, Ray recalled as she walked onto the boat that the man taking tickets noticed her brown hand and looked up, but said nothing. All were welcome at Boblo, except for disorderly people and colored people. After taking their seats on the top deck, two men walked toward them and asked the white girls next to Sarah whether they knew her. Her teacher was then told she could not continue on because she was black. Initially Ray refused to leave the ship, but after one of the men instructed a group of waiters to throw her off, she left. But Sarah hadn’t given up the fight. When she got to shore, she threw her 85 cent refund back at the boat and called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Let's Do It For Our Daughters (& Our Sons)

Posted on: March 2nd, 2009 by Dolores McDonagh

 

The author takes her guys on a hunt for women's history at the Forest Glen Seminary in Silver Spring, Maryland.

I grew up in a very female-centric world – one mom, seven sisters and the ubiquitous nuns all through my Catholic school days. Sure, I had a dad and two brothers, but we definitely skewed "girl." But nature has a way of evening things out, so I wasn’t really surprised to be blessed with two sons. A little intimidated, but not surprised.

It turns out boys are pretty great - if for no other reason than they give me an opportunity to channel my inner guy. You see, I love trains, baseball and visiting historic sites (including battlefields). And since we live in the Washington, D.C. area, there are plenty of those to go around. There’s the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Mount Vernon in Northern Virginia, Fort Stevens in northwest D.C., and one of the National Trust’s newest sites, President’s Lincoln Cottage, in northeast D.C.

But I recently got to thinking, "What if I’d had two girls?" Would it be as easy to find historic sites that daughters could identify with? Sites that told the story of the girls and the women who helped forge our nation? Well, it turns out that it’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard. A perusal of dc.about.com lists just four "women’s" historic sites, and one of those is an art museum.

So then I think, "Maybe it’s just D.C." But sadly, it seems to be a more widespread phenomenon. When I asked our National Trust Historic Sites staff for information about women’s history at our own sites, more often than not the I answer I received was "Well, the house was donated to the Trust by a woman."

The fact is, we (and I include the National Trust in this indictment) do a pretty bad job of telling the story of women’s history – and of the role of women in historic preservation. Kind of ironic as it’s often women who are at the forefront of preservation battles. Hell, the movement was "birthed" by a woman – Anne Pamela Cunningham, who in 1853 thought maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to let them tear down Mount Vernon. She galvanized a national fundraising effort to buy, restore and operate the home of the "father" of our country, and today, Mount Vernon is still faithfully stewarded by the Ladies’ Association of Mount Vernon.

So, let’s change this sorry state of affairs, shall we? Starting right now on just the second day of Women's History Month, let’s take some time to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women – undaunted and unsung, famous and infamous, daring, and yes, domestic.

We’ll start with a few stories on our own Women's History Month website on PreservationNation.org, but we really want to hear from you. Post a picture to our This Place Matters photo-sharing campaign or share a story of a women who made a difference in history (yours or our nation’s) by posting a comment below.

Let’s do it for our daughters – and our sons.

Dolores McDonagh is the vice president for membership development at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Learn more about how the National Trust is celebrating the accomplishments of women in preservation by visiting our new Women's History Month website.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.