Eugenia Washington: Number One

In honor of the 128th anniversary of the founding of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), I researched the beginnings of the organization which started October 11, 1890. I discovered four determined women who saw the need to preserve our country’s heritage.

These women were brave in not only laying the groundwork for DAR but brave and courageous in their daily lives as they made an impact in many areas of society. And even though they came from prominent families they were not ladies of leisure. The four founders were anything but traditional. Dare I say they were Spunky? As each woman joined the organization they were given a membership number.

I will begin with Number One, Eugenia Washington. It’s because of her that I became interested in the beginnings of DAR.

Eugenia Washington was born on June 24, 1840, near Charlestown in what is now West Virginia.  She was the daughter of William Temple Washington and Margaret Calhoun Fletcher. Eugenia’s Mother Margaret was a great niece of Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. 

Eugenia’s Revolutionary Ancestor was her great grandfather, Col. Samuel Washington, brother of General George Washington.

She was educated by her father, who was a graduate of William and Mary College. Eugenia never married. In 1859, when she was nineteen years old, her father moved the family to Falmouth, Virginia, just north of Fredericksburg.  During the Civil War, her mother had died, their property destroyed and the family had little money. And Eugenia’s father was disabled (paralyzed in fact) and he relied on her to care for him. 

When the Battle of Fredericksburg was imminent in December 1862, Miss Washington wanted to escape with her father to a place of safety quickly, but was delayed one full day because a wounded federal officer was brought to her door and placed in her care while he waited for a surgeon.  The battle had begun by the time she was ready to flee and she and her father were caught on the battlefield. 

Eugenia found shelter for both of them in a small trench left by a cannon.  They were forced to remain in that spot for a whole day and witnessed the entire battle from that position.  It is said that Miss Washington’s experiences that day inspired in her a will to assist women from both the North and the South; in the worthy cause of preserving their shared heritage and that this was her purpose in helping to found DAR. 

At the close of the war, Miss Washington was offered a government position with the U.S. Post Office Department, and so she and her father moved to Washington, DC.  Known fondly as “Miss Eugie,” she was considered quite attractive and always received a great deal of attention wherever she went. 

Eugenia was one of the charter members of the Dolly Madison Chapter in the District of Columbia but later transferred her membership to the George Washington Chapter in Galveston, Texas, when it was organized in 1895 by another direct descendant of Samuel Washington. Eugenia Washington died at her home in Washington on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1900.

The other three founders of DAR were notable as well.

Mary Desha was born on March 8, 1850, in Lexington, Kentucky. She was well educated and for a short time studied at what is now the University of Kentucky. When her family was impoverished by the Civil War; the women in her family needed to work, Miss Desha and her mother opened a private school. Later, Mary accepted a position with the Lexington public school system and then took a job as a clerk in Washington, DC, in December 1885.

After spending a few years in Washington, Miss Desha accepted a teaching position in Sitka, Alaska, in 1888! I can only imagine what she faced in the bush-territories of Alaska in 1888.

One thing Mary discovered was the living conditions endured by the Alaskan natives were unacceptable and her written protest to the government in Washington resulted in a federal investigation. She returned to Lexington in 1889, but shortly thereafter accepted a post in Washington as a clerk in the pension office. She later worked as a copyist in the Office of Indian Affairs.

Next is Mary S. Lockwood; she was born in New York, on October 24, 1831, and moved to Washington in 1878.  Her residence was Washington’s elegant and imposing Strathmore Arms, and it was there on October 11, 1890, the formal organization of the national society of the DAR took place. 

Mrs. Lockwood was the first DAR historian. And the society was inspired by Mrs. Lockwood’s commitment to historic preservation and resolved on October 18, 1890, to “provide a place for the collection of historical relics which will accumulate…and for historical portraits, pictures, etc.  This may first be in rooms, and later in the erection of a fire-proof building.”

She also served as editor of the DAR Magazine from 1894 to 1900. She was an avid promoter of the work of women’s clubs and was both the founder of the famous Travel Club and for a time president of the Women’s Press Club.  She also held the position of Lady Manager at Large at the World’s Columbian Exposition.

And it was Mrs. Lockwood who coined the phrase, “Were there no mothers of the Revolution?” This was said in response to the following.

The Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) had recently been founded in New York City on April 30, 1889 (almost a year before DAR) Some SAR societies permitted women and some did not. At the next year’s general meeting on April 30, 1890, the matter was put to a vote and the SAR decided to officially exclude women from its membership.

This event sparked controversy and discussion in the national press, and caught the attention of Mary Lockwood. Incensed that the contributions of women to the American Revolution were not being recognized, Mrs. Lockwood wrote a fiery editorial that was published in the Washington Post on July 13, 1890. In it, she demonstrated convincingly that women had contributed much to the Revolutionary cause that had previously been overlooked and ignored. That’ when she coined her famous question… “Were there no mothers of the Revolution?”

The last of the four women founders is Ellen Walworth, born on October 20, 1832. Mrs. Walworth earned her law degree at New York University and was entitled to practice before the Court of New York and the District of Columbia.  After her husband’s death in 1873 she opened her home as a boarding and day school.  Finally the cold New York winters affected her health and she began to make her home in Washington, DC. One of Mrs. Walworth's earliest public efforts was her moving plea to the members of her local community to contribute to the fund to renovate George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, in Alexandria, Virginia. 

In closing, I’m proud of my heritage and honored to be a member of the Jacksonville Chapter of DAR, Major Thaddeus Beall. As such, I’m counted in the growing number of members of DAR. Miss Eugenia Washington’s number was one, mine is 908,502.

(Note: If you would like to research your heritage and join us please contact Jacksonville’s DAR Registrar, Mary Taylor at marydtaylor@suddenlink.com)

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