Portrait of Ann Pamela Cunningham

Founder’s Farewell Address

To The Council of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of June, 1874:

It was my intention as well as my duty to have met you at this time, and conformed in person to the legal requisition accompanying a resignation so important as mine, but Providence does not permit.

I am at present not only unequal to such a journey, but the serious state of my health requires me, instead of turning my face towards the “spot” for which, since 1853, I have lived, labored and almost died, to seek the best medical skill, with the hope of prolonging, if possible, a life yet needed to finish what I began so many long years ago. One more duty is before me—one I regard as important—though circumstances have combined to make it now a very sad one.

It would have been a pleasure to have met, once more, those who have labored with me in our vineyard from the “early hour,” though now their numbers are so few; those who appreciated my work; its motives, its sacrifices; whether they were of the “early” or “eleventh” hour sister laborers; and to have taken a kindly farewell of all whose hearts have been, like my own, single unto their patriotic work—but it is not to be.

I will not yet, however, utterly resign the hope that I may be permitted to reappear among you some day, with my last self-imposed task performed; ready to say, “Now let thy servant depart in peace.”

But in parting, I feel it due to you as to me; to the responsibilities I solemnly assumed, which were so important in their results; to those you have taken upon yourselves, to say a few words as to those responsibilities, or duties laid down in the beginning of our work—not to be lightly regarded, for they were pledges to future generations as well as to ours. The minds and hearts which conceived the rescue of the Home of Washington; of the completion of a worthy “tribute” to public integrity, private virtue; an expression of the gratitude due and felt by a country destined to act such an important part in the drama of the world; conceived it with all the reverence felt in older regions for the resting places of their honored dead; where only pious hands are permitted to be in “charge,” so as to have them carried down to admiring ages in the same condition as when left.

Such was the pledge made to the American heart when an appeal was made to it to save the Home and Tomb of Washington, of the Father of his Country, from all changes, whether by law or desecration. Such, to the last owner of Mt. Vernon, ere he was willing to permit it to pass from his hands. Such to the Legislature of his mother State, ere she gave us legal rights over it. Such we are bound to keep. Our honor is concerned, as well as our intelligence and legal obligations. The mansion, and the grounds around it, should be religiously guarded from changes—should be kept as Washington left them.

Ladies, the Home of Washington is in your charge. See to it that you keep it the Home of Washington! Let no irreverent hand change it; no vandal hands desecrate with the fingers of—progress! Those who go to the Home in which he lived and died, wish to see in what he lived and died! Let one spot in this grand country of ours be saved from “change!” Upon you rests this duty.

When the Centennial comes, bringing with it its thousands from the ends of the earth, to whom the Home of Washington will be the place of places in our country, let them see that, though we slay our forests, remove our dead, pull down our churches, remove from home to home till the “hearthstone” seems to have no resting place in America; let them see that we do know how to care for the Home of our Hero! Farewell!

Ladies, I return to your hands the office held—so long under another name—since December 2d, 1853.

Ann Pamela Cunningham