Preserving An American Treasure: The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association's Early Records & Archives from 1852 to 1951

Material Description

Our Early Records document MVLA's inception and evolution. The source materials for digitization consist of approximately 7,000 items such as manuscripts, financial and administrative records, printed material, bound volumes, and photographs. The provenance for much of this treasure trove of women's history stems directly from the MVLA founder, Ann Pamela Cunningham, and was acquired soon after her death in 1875. Later accessions were added during the 20th century, provided by family members of the first MVLA board (aka-Vice Regents). The portfolio has undergone major reorganization so it can be studied with the full leverage of 21st-century scholarship. No digitization has occurred, but prior work included indexing and preservation efforts undertaken in the 1940s and 1960s, resulting in a detailed, item-level card catalog filed by date and by subject. To protect from disaster or theft, the content was microfilmed in 1964. Comprising 13 reels, only two copies were produced - one for MVLA and one for our longtime research partner, the University of Virginia. This project will open these items up to be viewed universally. Ann Pamela Cunningham, her secretaries, and other board members were key figures represented in the early records. Their papers describe the MVLA’s formative years, including struggles with fundraising to purchase the property and challenges to gain credibility as an organization made up entirely of women. Letters, reports, and military passes help evidence the difficulty of maintaining an historic site during the Civil War. This time capsule of information is valuable to several disciplines.


The MVLA has been a pathfinder for the American preservation movement. This two-year project will allow MVLA to immediately open up our own early history, as we digitize, organize, describe, and make publicly accessible about 7,000 items (largely pre-1900). Primary source material includes manuscripts, letters, newspaper clippings, and images related to the rich history of the MVLA. The archival collection will be processed to include the most modern of searchable finding aids, making this fascinating story widely available to benefit scholars, teachers, students, and life-long learners. This project illuminates an institutional history with a very human story. Founded and governed by resourceful women, the MVLA forged a new industry for protecting America's cultural and historical heritage, while fulfilling their mission to preserve the legacy of George Washington's leadership and character along with his iconic home. The MVLA's patriotic leadership and resolve, individually and collectively, represents an important American achievement.


Digitizing Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded


Year Added



Mount Vernon's Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington (aka- Washington Library)


  • Dr. Douglas Bradburn (The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington)
  • Mr. Mark Santangelo

Date Range

1852 - 1951

Geographic Scope

The majority of the collection reflects activity at or near Mount Vernon, Virginia and Washington, D.C. However, Vice Regents often wrote letters and fundraising appeals from home, especially Miss Cunningham of South Carolina. Over a 99 year period, 168 women served as Vice Regents from 41 states plus DC.


  • 7000 Mixed Archival Collections