Papers of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
Scope and Contents
This collection documents the care and management of Mount Vernon through the work of the MVLA. Types of material include correspondence, reports, memos, notes, personal and biographical information, news clippings, meeting agendas, photographs, scrapbooks, and ephemera. Several highlights of the collection include the original minutes of Council meetings, scrapbooks and ledgers created by Vice Regents, and early correspondence with Regents and Vice Regents. While the library’s collection “Early Records of the MVLA” documents the founding and early years of the organization, the Papers of the MVLA continues where that collection ended and preserves the ongoing story of these women and the fulfillment of their mission. Creators of the collection are largely the board members themselves, along with staff and employees who worked directly with them. Scope notes have been added before the content list of each series to better describe its specific provenance and content. The bulk of the collection dates from the 1950s to the 1990s, however there is a very wide range represented overall, 1858-2016.
- Creation: 1858-2016
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to research during scheduled appointments. Researchers must complete the Washington Library’s Special Collections and Archives Registration Form before access is provided. According to the policies of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, certain records in the archives may only be available for research 30 years after creation or file date. The library reserves the right to restrict access to items for preservation purposes.
Biographical / Historical
The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union was founded in 1853 by Ann Pamela Cunningham. The purpose of the Association was to purchase Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, in order to restore the property and open the grounds to visitors and admirers who desired to see Washington's house and tomb. Ann Pamela Cunningham became interested in the preservation of Mount Vernon when her mother, traveling down the Potomac River in 1853, saw 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 women of like mind together to raise money to purchase the property, pay off all debt, and return the 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. The MVLA is the owner and executive board of Mount Vernon. Membership is made up of one Regent and 20-30 Vice Regents, each from a different state. All MVLA members assemble twice a year in April and October for Council, where they hear motions and reports concerning projects or issues at the estate. The Vice Regents also divide into committees focused on different functions and operations, and rotate members every few years. Today the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association is remembered as the first organization dedicated to historic preservation in the United States, and as innovators in the field of preservation. The Association remains loyal to its original goals, the restoration and care of Mount Vernon, and educating people all over the world about George Washington’s life and legacy. Mount Vernon is open to visitors 365 days a year. The estate now consists of not only the Mansion and tomb of Washington, but restored gardens, outbuildings, Pioneer Farm, Gristmill, Distillery, museum and orientation center, the National Library for the Study of George Washington, gift shops, food pavilion, and the Mount Vernon Inn restaurant. List of Regents of the MVLA: • Ann Pamela Cunningham, 1853-1874 resigned 1874, died 1875 • Lily Macalester Berghmans Laughton, 1874-1891, died 1891 • Justine Van Rensselaer Townsend, 1891-1909, died 1912 • Harriet Clayton Comegys, 1909-1927, died 1927 • Alice Haliburton King Richards, 1927-1936, died 1936 • Harriet Cole Towner, 1937-1942, died 1942 • Mary Vilas Hanks, 1943-1948, died 1959 • Hope Hodgman Harkness (formerly Hope H. Powel), 1948-1958, died 1974 • Rosamond Harding Randall Beirne, 1958-1968, died 1968 • Elizabeth Throckmorton Cooke, 1968-1976, died 1993 • Frances Claiborne Guy, Jr., 1976-1982 • Helen Sharp Anderson, 1982-1986, died 2013 • Eugenia Ayer Merrill Seamans, Jr., 1986-1990, died 2010 • Mabel Alleyne Livingstone Bishop, 1990-1993, died 2007 • Laura Vaughan Inge Morrissette, 1993-1996 • Jane Carew Lee, 1996-1999 • Ellen Carroll Walton, 1999-2004 • Gay Hart Gaines, 2004-2007 • Boyce Lineberger Ansley, 2007-2010, died 2016 • Ann Haunschild Bookout III, 2010-2013 • Barbara Bourgeois Lucas II, 2013-2016 • Sarah Miller Coulson, 2016-
72 Linear Feet (99 containers plus 14 oversize items, approx. 72 linear feet)
Language of Materials
The Papers of the MVLA is divided into six series, one of which has been further split into two subseries. The majority of material is organized alphabetically, however each series has an arrangement note to explain unique caveats to the organizational structure. The series and subseries are arranged as follows:
Series 1. Committee Files Series 2. Council Files Series 3. Minutes of the Council, original Series 4. Regent’s Files Series 5. Papers of the Vice Regents Series 6. Vice Regents Files Series 6.1. General Series 6.2. Alphabetical
Many of these files, especially from the earlier years of the MVLA, were previously arranged in filing cabinets in the old Mount Vernon Library in the basement of the Ann Pamela Cunningham Administration Building. When possible, the original order of these files and their file names were kept during arrangement and description in this finding aid. All series in this collection are currently open-ended and small accruals will be added from time to time. Series 6 is especially fluid, as single items are often added to a specific Vice Regent’s folder (such as an obituary or retirement tribute).
- Papers of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
- Rebecca Baird, Project Archivist
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description