National Geographic : 1953 Nov
676 National Geographic Photographer John E. Fletcher Who Laid Mount Vernon's Cornerstone? Historians Cannot Agree Initials on this block could refer to George's half brother or to their grandfather, both named Lawrence Washington. Superintendent Charles Wall (pointing) believes the elder Lawrence installed the stone in the 1690's when he built the first house on the site. This stone is a copy; the museum keeps the original. Already the Federal Government and Vir ginia had declined to buy the estate from its last private owner, for whom it had become an intolerable burden. Miss Cunningham de cided to go to the women about it. On December 2, 1853, an open letter ap peared in the Charleston Mercury. Addressed to the "Ladies of the South," it called for funds to purchase Mount Vernon "as a monu ment of love and patriotism." The writer signed herself "A Southern Ma tron," lest readers criticize an unmarried woman seeking public attention. Several other letters from the Southern Matron were published before Ann Cunningham grew bold enough to set up a committee in her own name. Later she gathered about her a group of outstanding women, one from each State. Their society was incorporated under Virginia law as the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union. With Miss Cunningham as regent, each of the other members held the title of vice regent-an all-officer structure still in effect. Meanwhile, the project was catching on. Around the country, women-and men-con tributed to the cause. Clubs, school children, newsboys, the Naval Academy, West Point, the Seventh Regiment of New York, and actor Edwin Booth were among those who gave. The greatest single lift to the campaign came through the efforts of the gifted orator and well-known statesman, Edward Everett. Ann Cunningham Missed the Boat Everett, who was to become the forgotten earlier speaker when Lincoln made his Gettys burg Address, donated the entire proceeds of a series of lectures and articles. In all, he collected more than $69,000 toward the total goal of $200,000. By 1856 the Ladies had the money to ne gotiate for Mount Vernon. But the owner, John Augustine Washington, Jr., had changed his mind about selling! Stubborn Ann Cunningham refused to ac cept no for an answer. To persuade Wash ington to reconsider, she made the painful journey to Mount Vernon, where she argued for her project with all her woman's power of persuasion. It was no use.