Join the Ann Pamela Cunningham Legacy Society
Ann Pamela Cunningham Legacy Society
The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association would be honored to enroll you in the Ann Pamela Cunningham Society, which recognizes supporters who have included a bequest in their will or made another estate provision. The group is named in honor of the great American visionary who led the effort to save and preserve Mount Vernon.
In 1853 South Carolinian Ann Pamela Cunningham founded the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and tirelessly gathered support from other like-minded patriots across our great nation to rescue George Washington’s home. Mount Vernon stands today as a symbol of the Father of Our Country, thanks to Miss Cunningham’s unwavering dedication and vision and the continued vision of generations of patriotic, philanthropic Americans who have followed in her footsteps.
A Tradition of Giving
More than a century and a half has passed since the purchase of Mount Vernon from the Washington family in 1858. Since that time the estate of George Washington has thrived and benefited from the foresight and generosity of patriotic Americans who recognize that this historic home is priceless in every sense of the word.
Ann Pamela Cunningham, the founder of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, did not fit the mold of a revolutionary leader, particularly during the tumultuous period leading up to the Civil War. Born and raised on a plantation in South Carolina suffering from a debilitating spinal injury, Miss Cunningham devoted her life to the Mount Vernon cause. In an age when most women were far from the mainstream of business and government, Miss Cunningham organized a national campaign to save Mount Vernon from destruction. And once this historic purchase was completed, Miss Cunningham moved into the mansion itself to supervise the first steps toward a complete restoration.
Fortunately, the sacrifices of Miss Cunningham served as an example for others to follow. Noted orator and statesman Edward Everett traveled the nation to deliver inspiring lectures about Washington and the importance of saving his home. Years later, Thomas Edison designed the original electrical system for the mansion. Henry Ford donated Mount Vernon’s first fire truck. The Masonic Lodge of Texas paid for the construction of Mount Vernon’s handsome wrought-iron entrance gate. Even schoolchildren contributed nickels and dimes to build a brick boundary wall. Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst understood the importance of maintaining a wharf on the Potomac River and generously supported the construction of a riverside retaining wall.
If it had not been for the foresight and influence of Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton, visitors to Mount Vernon today would view an oil refinery and a sewage treatment plant on the Maryland shoreline instead of one of the most remarkable homestead vistas known to man. The generosity of these Americans—and hundreds of others—has touched the lives of millions of visitors who appreciate the authenticity, the beauty, the dignity, and the traditional values that are the hallmarks of Mount Vernon.
While the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association continued to follow the principal philosophies and methods of the historic preservation movement, by the mid-1980s its members acknowledged the need to seriously reconsider the messages Mount Vernon conveyed as well as how they were presented. Recognizing—and disheartened by—the dimming appreciation and knowledge of George Washington, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association accepted its largest challenge since rescuing the property in the 1950s. Not since Ann Pamela Cunningham’s campaign to raise the seemingly unattainable $200,000 needed to purchase the estate had such a bold and ambitious effort been undertaken. Determined to rescue and restore Washington’s name and rightful place in American history, the Association launched multiple campaigns that eventually would generate tremendous public support.
The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is the most generous donor in Mount Vernon’s history, making contributions to advance the Association’s educational mission. The Foundation has made a lasting mark with exceptional patriotic gifts in support of the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, the traveling exhibition Discovering the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon, lead gift to the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, and the endowment of the James C. Rees Fellowship of the Entrepreneurship of George Washington. Much like George Washington himself, Donald W. Reynolds was a savvy entrepreneur with a deep sense of patriotism and civic responsibility. These buildings and programs now provide an enriching, educational experience for estate visitors and anchor an outreach program that touches people around the world.
The openings of the Ford Orientation Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center in 2006 and the opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington in 2013 do not represent an end of a journey but rather the beginning of a far greater one. Mount Vernon—the place and its people—has become a world-class learning center with a focus unlike that of any other institution. Simply put, George Washington is the greatest leader of the greatest nation the world has ever known. The lessons his life can teach us would fill a hundred galleries, a thousand books, and countless websites. It is our job to take the study of Washington to a new level and to disseminate this knowledge in imaginative ways to the widest range of audiences possible. Just like George Washington was ever eager to break new ground, we must call upon the most creative minds and the most advanced technologies to make him relevant and meaningful to different people and cultures. In doing so, however, we must keep one foot firmly rooted in the past, recognizing that his achievements continue to shape the United States today.
Contributions of Lasting Importance
Planned giving offers friends of Mount Vernon an ideal opportunity to support the continuing restoration and interpretation of George Washington’s home without sacrificing current income. During your lifetime, you can make a meaningful contribution to Mount Vernon and play an important role in ensuring the future of America’s most treasured historic home. In addition, you may benefit from a tax-deductible contribution and let your family and friends follow your example as an American helping preserve our national treasures.
When considering a planned gift, individuals often search for an institution that possesses a well-defined mission, stable finances, and a track record of strong leadership. Potential contributors ask themselves, “Will this institution survive and prosper for decades to come and be able to serve new generations of Americans?” “Does management make plans for the future, rather than dwell on the achievements of the past?” “Will my involvement with this institution truly make a difference?”
Mount Vernon takes pride in its standing as the oldest national preservation project in America; and with each year that passes, the Association reaffirms its devotion to the memory of George Washington. Foremost on its list of goals is the education and inspiration of the one million people who visit Mount Vernon annually. Thus, for the past several years and ongoing, this goal is being accomplished by the educational programs and opportunities that the Association has been developing.
This includes the Donald W. Reynolds Education Center and Museum, designed for visual lessons about Washington and his life. The museum is first-class and houses many original artifacts of the Washingtons. It holds the famous Houdun bust of Washington made from life. The Education Center, housed together with the museum, is especially appealing to young people and gives them an overview of our first president while they are visiting. And even for those whose only contact may be through our innovative, newly revamped website, the educational opportunities afforded to everyone continue to grow.
Washington wrote to a friend in 1787 expressing his desire to build a library to house his books and papers, which he described as “voluminous” and potentially “interesting” to future generations. That desire was achieved in 2013 with the opening of the Fred W. Smith Library for the Study of George Washington. This has given Mount Vernon’s mission a drive forward by creating a revolutionary new center for scholarly research and educational outreach. Its programs include resident and visiting scholars, luncheon and evening lectures by visiting experts, and special tours for groups from the United States and abroad. Particularly important is the creation of a vast educational computer system that will allow people from all over the world to access information about Washington’s legacy: his times, his life and accomplishments, and his wisdom.
The gates of Mount Vernon are open 365 days a year, and the admission fee remains substantially lower than that at similar historic homes. The vast majority of Mount Vernon employees have direct contact with the public. It is estimated that 60 million people have been welcomed to Mount Vernon—arriving by carriage, automobile, boat, streetcar, and bus—from every town and village in our nation and around the world.
In addition, although it is now recognized as the matriarch of historic preservation organizations, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association has faced a number of hard times over the past century and a half. These difficult times demanded an entrepreneurial approach to a series of financial challenges. When the South teetered on economic collapse after the Civil War, Miss Cunningham and her staff planted additional rose bushes and sold homemade bouquets grown in George Washington’s soil. And with the ever-increasing costs of operating the Mount Vernon estate, several concerned vice regents in the 1870s organized amateur theatricals and other entertainments in their home states to raise endowment funds.
Through it all, the Association maintained its character, its pride, and its zealous devotion to the Mount Vernon cause. It also retained a rare and much-praised independence from both state and federal governments. The Association has a policy of not accepting government funds, and it has learned to prosper by adopting strong management principles and a conservative investment policy. As a result, it remains a private institution that anyone can visit at any time that they are in Washington, including days that the national government may be shut down.
No monument—whether it is constructed of wood, stone, or steel—can lay claim to lasting forever. Yet Mount Vernon has withstood the passage of time and the pounding of countless footsteps with remarkable aplomb. It has depended upon the expertise of the world’s most respected preservationists and engineers. It has counted on the direction of inspired board members. Further, it has benefited greatly from the love of Americans who see in Mount Vernon an unmistakable part of our history. Because so many people feel that they share in the future of Mount Vernon, the road ahead promises to be never-ending and always exciting. Mount Vernon is truly a historic home that continues to make history. Our Planned Giving Program gives all Mount Vernon friends many options for participating in the future sustainability of the estate.