A decade ago, the eminent historian David McCullough told The Wall Street Journal, “We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate.” This bold statement is borne out by the data: surveys show that only 22% of college students can name James Madison as the principal author of the Constitution. Eight percent can associate slavery as a cause of the Civil War. Just 2% can answer any questions about Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that abolished legal segregation in the United States.
At a time when many are rightly worried about a decline in historical and civic understanding and education, the Lee-Fendall House Museum is uniquely positioned among small museums to help start conversations about our shared history. When Lee-Fendall was built, the Constitution had not yet been written, and we were still occupied as a family home when people first walked on the moon. Over those 184 years, the hundreds of individuals who lived and worked on the property made incalculable contributions to Alexandria’s history and the nation’s.
That means we can tell an expansive story, one that reflects how profoundly life has changed in Alexandria over the past two hundred years. The story includes the early days of the new American republic, when George Washington came often to visit his friends, the Fendalls. It reflects the years when the house saw service as a U.S. Army hospital during the Civil War, with dozens of recuperating Union soldiers camped under our roof at any given time. Our story includes the changing lives of those who lived here through major times of upheaval, from Reconstruction to Prohibition. It embraces the story of our last resident owner, labor leader John L. Lewis, who lived here for three decades while fighting for workers’ rights. And it includes the stories of the enslaved and free African-Americans who lived and worked on the property over the decades.
We’re excited to continue telling these stories and more in 2019. With the approaching centennial of the 19th Amendment, when American women won the right to vote, we’ll be debuting a new exhibit about the lives of the women who lived and worked at Lee-Fendall. We’re also launching a new field trip program, The War at Home, for elementary and middle school students to consider the complex choices that civilians, soldiers, and enslaved individuals faced in Civil war Alexandria. And we’re carrying on with our many popular tours and programs covering topics from the War of 1812 to the effects of Prohibition to the lives of free and enslaved African-Americans at Lee-Fendall.
During Spring2ACTion, please support these core programs as a critical opportunity for Alexandrians and others to come together and understand our shared history – how life has changed, how it hasn’t, and how the past is still relevant to our present.
Visit our Fundraising Page, donate directly through the button below, or join us at the Light Horse Tavern from 5:30-7:30 PM on Wednesday, April 3 for door prizes and other fun!