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June 2017

June 2017 — Learn to Think Like a Historian at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Fred W. Smith National Library

It was the day before the presidential inauguration of 2017 when a school bus filled with students from Lake Forest Academy in Illinois pulled into the lot of George Washington's Mount Vernon for a visit.

Their mission, explain Lake Forest Advanced Placement U.S. history teachers Suzy Vaughn and Christian Dozois (pictured below), was to explore the plantation that was home to the nation's first U.S. president — and to learn about the treasures found in the stacks of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.

"These students are very interested in history and politics," explains Dozois.

"Being that we are in town to experience a historic occasion, we also thought it was essential that they see firsthand the places that they'd usually only read about in history books."

What they saw throughout Mount Vernon didn't disappoint Kayla, a high school junior: "I am realizing more and more how important it is to preserve history. Today, we had the chance to look up close at the leaders who lived during the American Revolution, and I think that’s really important because it makes it easier to understand what they did, and why they did it. I really enjoy getting to look into their daily lives."

Scroll down to learn more about their trip — and discover how you and your family can use the resources at Mount Vernon to learn to think like a historian, too.

Here’s to bringing history to life!David Bruce Smith, founder, and Hope Katz Gibbs, executive producer, Grateful American Foundation / Grateful American Kids

Treasures Await in the Library at Mount Vernon

Here’s a little bit of history about the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon:

  • In 1986, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association (MVLA) broadened its vision beyond the preservation of Mount Vernon, to include Washington's life, achievements, and character.
  • By 2010, that mission had expanded to the construction of a new research library. The MVLA announced the creation of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington to advance the appreciation/understanding of George Washington.
  • The Library was funded in part by a gift of $38 million from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the largest received in the history of the MVLA.
  • The Campaign for the Library — with Gay Hart Gaines, the vice regent for Florida, as chair — set an ambitious goal: to raise $100 million to construct the Library.
  • The Campaign exceeded its goal; it raised $106.4 million by June 2013 — all provided by private donors. Groundbreaking took place in April 2011, and the Library opened on Sept. 27, 2013.

Click here to learn more about the Library.

Grateful American™ Series

History Comes to Life at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington

When a busload of history students from Lake Forest Academy in Illinois arrived at Mount Vernon in January, they had no idea of the adventure in store for them.

Not only did they get a tour of the estate, but they spent part of their day exploring the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, located adjacent to the main house and plantation.

Students were intrigued by a bas-relief of George Washington’s bookplate.

Created by Washington, DC, area sculptor Raymond Kaskey, it displays the maxim “exitus acta probat” — “the outcome justifies the deed."

But it was the $9.8 million book — the Acts of Congress — acquired by the Library in June of 2012, that impressed Caleb, a sophomore. “The artifacts that we were shown in the Library really stunned me, especially seeing that in the collection there is a book from Washington's era that today is worth nearly $10 million. I think that’s amazing! I had no clue that such a book existed!”

That book is one of the most treasured items in the collection, explains Chief Librarian and Archivist Mark Santangelo (pictured right).

“Our copy is a replica, of course, which is why I can handle it,” Santangelo says. “Its value is tremendous, not only because of its financial value, but also because of what is inside the book, which is the president’s first draft of his own job description.”

Making it all the more valuable are Washington’s handwritten notes, penciled in the margins.

“This book is a tremendous asset to have in the Library, and it wasn’t very easy to acquire,” Santangelo admits, noting there was a gentleman overseas who wanted it as much as the Library. That’s when a bidding war began, with the Library being the victor. “We all knew it was essential to secure this book so that the American public could have access to it.”

The students’ enthusiasm about the Library’s manuscripts and artifacts came as a happy surprise to teachers Vaughn and Dozois.

"We didn’t realize the students would appreciate the scholarly area of the estate as much as they did the main house and plantation, which is more of a glimpse into living history," Vaughn says with a smile. "But the students were really curious to see what a presidential library looks like and even more intrigued by the historical importance of the items in the collection."

Seeing students engaged and excited on their tour of the Library is always a thrill for the vice president for education at the Library, Allison Wickens (pictured below).

“The 45,000 square-foot facility that safeguards Washington's books and manuscripts was built to be a resource for scholars, students, and all those interested in George Washington, Colonial America, and the Revolutionary and founding eras,” she says.

"The Library has more than 1,500 18th-century books, and thousands of important 19th-century newspapers, manuscripts, and documents,” she adds. “And, it serves as a scholarly retreat, creates educational outreach programs, and provides seminars and training programs with a special focus on Washington's leadership. The Library emphasizes educational outreach, touching the lives of students, teachers, and scholars around the world.”

Most importantly, she notes, visitors of all ages are welcome to take a tour, and do research in the beautifully appointed main research area, the Karen Buchwald Wright Reading Room (pictured right).

“Each year, hundreds of students and adults experience what it’s like to be a researcher," she says. "We don’t care at what age level they are. In fact, we love to have students come and utilize the collection, whether it’s a digital version or our primary resources. We can put so much information about George Washington at the fingertips of so many people, and we’re doing our best to make that access as seamless as possible.”

Click here to watch our interview with the founding director of Mount Vernon's Fred W. Smith National Library, Dr. Douglas Bradburn.

This month in history

June 14 Is a Big Day in American History

June 14, 1775 — The U.S. Army is born. Established by the Second Continental Congress, it begins to grow to six companies of riflemen. On June 15, George Washington is appointed by unanimous vote to command the army. —

June 14, 1777 — Flag Day is established. Today, John Adams introduces a resolution before Congress mandating a United States flag. This anniversary has been celebrated each year since. Adams stated: "… that the flag of the thirteen United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation."  —

June 14, 1922 — Warren G. Harding becomes the first U.S. president to broadcast a radio message. The event is the dedication of the Francis Scott Key Memorial in Baltimore. –

Read more…

Words of Wisdom

“I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.”

— Martha Washington (June 13, 1731– May 22, 1802) was the wife of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington is considered to be the first First Lady of the United States. During her lifetime she was often referred to as "Lady Washington."

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Book Club

"The Washingtons: George and Martha, ‘Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love"

By Flora Fraser

Reviewed by
Dr. Cassandra Good

Associate Editor,
The Papers of James
Monroe at the University
of Mary Washington

Author, "Founding Friendships" 

British biographer Flora Fraser has taken on a daunting task: telling the story of a relationship between a famous couple who left only three surviving letters to one another. After George Washington's death, Martha burned her correspondence with her beloved husband. However, Fraser carefully mines George and Martha's letters to other family and friends, correspondence and memoirs by people who observed the pair, and even financial records to offer a narrative of their marriage.

While George Washington's military and political career — and increasingly his personal life and character — have been the subjects of many books, his relationship with Martha is a newer topic of interest. Fraser argues that it is a vital one: "Washington's marriage was," she writes, "the making of him." This was most clearly the case in financial terms — Martha was a wealthy widow when she married George — but also in emboldening her husband to take on a prominent role in the founding of the country.

Read more…

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