In 1876, a wave of patriotic fervor swept over the United States in the aftermath of its centennial anniversary. In February of that year, John Austin Stevens and members of the Society of the Cincinnati, which was created in 1783 by American and French officers who’d served in the Continental Army, organized the Sons of the Revolution in the San Francisco Bay area. Then there were the Sons of Revolutionary Sires, and in the 1880s, William Osborn McDowell began a different historical lineage group, the Sons of the American Revolution.
That was all well and good for male descendants of Revolutionary Patriots, but what about women whose ancestors had served that noble cause? Many felt like they were going begging. Some SAR chapters admitted them, but there was disagreement about the issue until 1889 when the organization officially voted to exclude women. A national controversy ensued and in July, author and historic preservationist Mary Smith Lockwood wrote an editorial in the Washington Post in which she asked, “Were there no mothers of the American Revolution?” William Osborn McDowell answered with his own newspaper
editorial encouraging the ladies to form their own society. In October 1890, Lockwood and several other remarkable, pioneering females met in Washington, D.C.. Among them was Mary Desha, a teacher who had worked among native Alaskans and then worked to improve their living conditions. There was also the lawyer, educator, and activist Ellen Walworth. Another DAR founder, Eugenia Washington, had witnessed the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, a turning point in her own life. She and her father were planning to flee their home when a wounded Union officer was brought to them to care for. Delayed by the incident, they left the next day only to be caught in the middle of the fight. That experience prompted Washington to want to bring both Northern and Southern women together to promote their shared heritage.
The DAR says of these women, “Decidedly not ladies of leisure, the four founders of the DAR were anything but traditional. Two were single and two were widowed, and all four were working women who supported either children or extended family.”
When they established the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in 1890, these and other early members adopted the motto “God, Home and Country,” and decided that membership would be open to women 18 and over who could prove they were direct descendants of an ancestor who had supported the Revolutionary War. That could include actual soldiers, those who had served in the government, paid taxes for the effort, or given other forms of aid, women Patriots included.
Membership since the NSDAR’s founding has reached nearly a million members in all fifty states and several countries, women who are deeply committed to patriotism, historical preservation, and education. Currently there are just under 180,000 members in 3,000 chapters. Every year they donate countless hours of community service and many dollars to support these endeavors, including six schools for children with special needs, scholarships, and schools that assist Native American children. They are also involved in many activities that promote the welfare of America’s veterans.
Led by its current President General, Lynn Fornay Young, the DAR has its headquarters in Washington, D.C. where it covers a huge city block and is renowned for its genealogical library, concert hall, and collection of decorative arts, manuscripts, and imprints. Every June the organization welcomes about 3,000 Daughters for “Continental Congress,” its annual meeting named after the Continental Congress that governed America’s colonies during the Revolutionary War.
Many famous American women have been DAR members including Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Grandma Moses, Ginger Rogers, Barbara and Laura Bush, Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Bo Derek, Elizabeth Dole, Janet Reno, and Phyllis Schlafly. The iconic organization also has been mentioned, featured, and written about in many artistic venues such as “The Music Man,” Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, “The West Wing,” “The Gilmore Girls,” “M*A*S*H,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “The Help,” and even “Gilligan’s Island”—Lovey Howell was a member!
Did you grow up knowing about the DAR? Are you a member, or have any of your relatives been?
Dr. Rebecca Price Janney is an award winning writer of fiction and nonfiction for adults and children, including Great Stories in American History and Great Women in American History. She lives in suburban Philadelphia where she is a member of the Valley Forge Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution; her original Patriot Ancestor was Charles Kichline, a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her husband, Scott, is an SAR, and their son, David, is a CAR. Rebecca will be attending her first Continental Congress this June. www.rebeccapricejanney.com