Early Records of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
Scope and Contents
The nucleus of this collection was created from papers given to the Association by Ann Pamela Cunningham around the time of her retirement as Regent. Several other Vice Regents followed her example and later donated their papers as well. These records were referred to as the “Early Records” since the time they were first established as an archival collection. A large portion of this collection is correspondence concerning the founding of the MVLA and the operation of Mount Vernon as a historic site. Other important resources are the appeals written by Ann Pamela Cunningham and the Vice Regents, governing documents, subscription or donation lists, printed material or publications, and bound volumes such as ledgers or scrapbooks. Individual items were added to the collection as they were acquired. The Early Records includes items dated 1852-1951, however the bulk of the material dates from 1858 to around 1880.
- 1853 - 1951
- Majority of material found within 1853-1875
- Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research during scheduled appointments. Researchers must complete the Washington Library’s Special Collections and Archives Registration Form before access is provided. The library reserves the right to restrict access to certain material for preservation purposes.
Conditions Governing Use
Material can be reproduced for study or personal use upon written approval from library staff.
Biographical / Historical
The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association (MVLA) was founded in 1853 by Ann Pamela Cunningham, the first Regent of the Association. The purpose of the MVLA was to purchase Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, in order to restore the property and open the grounds to patriots and admirers who wanted to visit Washington's home and tomb. Ann Pamela Cunningham became interested in the preservation of Mount Vernon when her mother, traveling down the Potomac River in 1853, viewed the house in its neglected and dilapidated state and wrote to her daughter of its condition. Both women thought it shameful to allow the first President's home to fall into ruin. A determined Ann Pamela Cunningham assembled twenty-two likeminded women, each one from a different state, to be Vice Regents of the MVLA. Together they aimed to raise money to purchase the property, pay off all debt, and return the Mansion, gardens and grounds to the condition in which they were left by Washington himself. John Augustine Washington III, George Washington's great-grandnephew and the owner of Mount Vernon at the time, delayed several years in selling the home to the Ladies' Association. He preferred a sale to the State of Virginia or the federal government, both of which declined purchase. In 1858, he finally agreed to sell Mount Vernon to Ann Pamela Cunningham and the MVLA for $200,000.
For the next few years, the women of the MVLA endeavored to make other Americans aware of their quest to save Mount Vernon, often via newspaper articles and pamphlets, in order to raise enough money to purchase the property. As Regent, Ann Pamela Cunningham spearheaded these efforts, while the Vice Regents oversaw fundraising in their individual states. Their cause was soon interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War. Mount Vernon’s contentious location between Union and Confederate boundaries made it very difficult for potential visitors to travel there. In spite of these unfavorable conditions, the Ladies of the MVLA continued to raise money for the care of Mount Vernon, and hosted hundreds of visitors including Union and Confederate troops. The post-war period brought other challenges, but the MVLA always maintained constant care and security of the historic areas at Mount Vernon.
Today the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association is remembered as the first organization in the United States dedicated solely to historic preservation. The Association remains loyal to its original goals, the restoration and care of George Washington's Mount Vernon, while also opening the estate to visitors 365 days a year. Members of the MVLA continue under the structure designed by the first women who joined, operating as the executive board of this historic home with one Regent and over twenty Vice Regents, each from a different state. The estate now consists of not only the Mansion, outbuildings, gardens, and tomb of Washington, but also a Pioneer Farm, Gristmill, Distillery, museum and education center, the National Library for the Study of George Washington, gift shops, a food pavilion, and a restaurant.
25 Linear Feet (117 legal-size clamshell flat storage boxes, 1 oversize clamshell flat storage box )
Language of Materials
The original organization of the collection was item-level in chronological order. A card catalog was created for the collection with detailed information on each item. Later attempts to reorganize the collection led to its current arrangement. Correspondence, the bulk of the material, remained intact in chronological order but other records were pulled out and filed by content or subject matter, such as financial documents, appeals, etc. The separated material was placed into series and subseries, and then filed chronologically. The correspondence series still holds several financial and administrative items that were never removed. The Early Records of the MVLA contains the following series:
Series 1. Administrative Records Series 1.1. Administrative, General Series 1.2. Governing Documents (Acts of Incorporation, Bylaws) Series 1.3. Civil War Series 1.4. Minutes of the Council Series 1.5. Reports Series 1.6. Wills Series 2. Appeals Series 2.1. Appeals of the MVLA Series 2.2. Appeals to States Series 3. Financial Documents Series 3.1. Financial Documents, General Series 3.2. Checks and Receipts Series 3.3. Subscriptions Series 4. MVLA Histories and Biographies Series 5. Printed Material and News Clippings Series 6. Correspondence Series 7. Bound Volumes Series 8. Photographs
- Early Records of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
- Rebecca Baird, Archivist and Rachel Baer, Intern
- Language of description
- Script of description