Ann Pamela Cunningham: The Grandmother of Historic Preservation
We are currently living through the longest (partial) government shutdown in the history of our nation (we’re at 25 days now) and it’s having an effect on things that are often overlooked. It is affecting our history. The National Parks have been left to the wiles of the unsupervised, they’re being destroyed. We’re losing our landscapes, our history, our past.
Ann was born in 1816, the young nation of The United States of America had already fought two wars with the British empire. Ann was an early activist in historic preservation, something that is often taken for granted today. During the 1850s Ann’s mother passed by Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home) in Virginia, while traveling down the Potomac river. The structure had been in the Washington family for generations but had fallen into disrepair. Upon learning this, Ann decided to take action and founded the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association with a woman from each of the states (30 at that time). This was the first nationwide women’s organization of its kind. They raised $200,000 (over $5.7 million today) and purchased the Washington home and its 200 acres. The property had first been offered for purchase to the government but they had shown little interest. The state government was next on the docket for sale but yet again there was no interest in the first president's home. The sale was made in 1858 and the Association took possession early in 1860 and served as a neutral ground during the Civil War that followed shortly after. Members from each side of the war toured the estate and even dressed as civilians when asked.
Since then the mansion and it’s grounds have been fully restored and opened to the American public with no contribution from tax dollars.
It is because of Ann Pamela Cunningham and her hindsight as well as foresight that saves this historical setting for everyone to enjoy. She gathered her fellow women of the day to save something that she knew was important and they did so without the help of the government and it is because of this that we are still able to enjoy it. When you think back on school field trips you may think back on your trip through America’s past and it is because of people like her and their efforts that you are able to enjoy them. While our government is currently shutdown, at least partially, you are still able to see the home of our first president in all of its glory. She set the precedent for historic preservation and she brought it to the attention of the everyday person. If we ignore our past and take our landscapes for granted then they are going to disappear from our lives forever and we have learned by now that we cannot rely on our government to help us.
Written & Pictures Selected by: Alicia Whitcome