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.
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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