The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon will open to the public on Friday, September 27, 2013. The Grand Opening Ceremony will be at 11:00 a.m.
Housed in a 45,000-square-foot facility on the grounds of the president’s Mount Vernon estate – now George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens – which has been owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association since 1858, The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington is a repository of Washington’s books, correspondence, and papers. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association is also calling it George Washington’s Presidential Library.
It is operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, and is not part of the National Archives and Records Administration (N.A.R.A.) system of presidential libraries, which are built with private funds and staffed by the NARA. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association held a press conference at the National Press Club on Thursday, July 11, 2013 in Washington, D.C. that included a preview of artifacts and books that will be at The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.
The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association stated in July, “The Library marks the realization of an aspiration put forth by General Washington himself; in a 1797 letter to a friend, James McHenry, he expressed a desire to someday build a library in which to house his books and papers. Washington did not live to see that dream become a reality, but thanks to an outpouring of support from patriotic citizens, foundations, and corporations, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association will open a magnificent new building to serve that very purpose—and a much broader one—on September 27, 2013. Located on a fifteen-acre site just outside the main entrance to the Mount Vernon estate, the 45,000-square-foot Library will safeguard original Washington books and manuscripts. It will also serve as a center for new and ongoing scholarly research, educational outreach, and leadership training inspired by Washington’s example.”
Last fall, I wrote about The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, which was then gearing up to open. Without businessman Fred W. Smith, the George Washington Presidential Library simply would not exist. One morning in February of 2001, Smith was disturbed to read that the famous Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington was about to be removed from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery and placed on the auction block in London.
Since 1968, the Lansdowne Portrait has hung in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, but for most of that time it was on loan from a British lord. Before 1968, the Lansdowne Portrait had only been displayed in the U.S. twice, in 1876 during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and in 1932 during the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth.
F.W. Smith showed the article to Steven Anderson, President of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Within a week, the Las Vegas-based Reynolds Foundation offered the Smithsonian $30,000,000 – $20,000,000 to purchase the Lansdowne Portrait and $10,000,000 to give it a dedicated space in the renovated National Portrait Gallery and place it on a three-year-long national tour with supplementary educational materials.
On one of Smith’s trips to Washington, D.C., he accepted an invitation from James C. Rees III, then Executive Director of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens, to tour Mount Vernon, which he did in May of 2001. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association wanted to construct an educational center at Mount Vernon that would combine a traditional museum and an interactive educational center.
The Reynolds Foundation became Mount Vernon’s largest donor in the 150-year history of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. By the fall of 2003, the Reynolds Foundation had agreed to support both areas with grants totaling $24,000,000 toward construction of this 25,000-square-foot facility, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center, which opened in the fall of 2006. Four years later, under the leadership of Chairman Fred W. Smith, the Reynolds Foundation jump-started the library capital campaign with a pledge to donate $38,000,000.
In supporting Mount Vernon, the focus of the Reynolds Foundation from the start has been education. Reynolds Foundation grants have supported teacher training programs; classroom materials; a major traveling exhibition; and a full time “George Washington Ambassador” for Oklahoma, who travels to schools throughout the state. The Reynolds Foundation’s total commitments to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens, including that the new Fred W. Smith National Library, are over $69,000,000.
The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington announced on Friday, January 11, 2013 the names of the first group of scholars to receive fellowships. “Drawing from a pool of highly-qualified applicants from around the world, Mount Vernon has selected seven scholars to serve as the inaugural class of fellows for the new Fred W. Smith National Library… The fellows will reside and study at George Washington’s estate between September 2013 and August 2014 for short- and long-term fellowships.”
During the course of their residence, the scholars will generate new research on the life, leadership, and legacy of Washington. They will also explore topics related to early America and engage in ground-breaking historic preservation-focused studies inspired by the enterprising efforts of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The fellows, who range from doctoral candidates to seasoned scholars, were selected after a review by an independent jury of five prominent scholars who met at Mount Vernon in December 2012.
The establishment of a new fellowship program is a key objective of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, the latest initiative from George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the historic home of the first president. Currently under construction just outside the main entrance to the estate, the 45,000 square-foot National Library is designed to serve as a ‘presidential library’ for the first president, housing many of his original books and manuscripts and fueling new scholarly research about, and influenced by, the Founding Era. During their time in residence, the fellows will live on site at a new scholars’ home, the DeVos House, located just 150 feet from the Library.
The four professors and two doctoral candidates who won fellowships and their proposed topics of study are:
Dr. Lydia Brandt, University of South Carolina: “Making Mount Vernon Anew”
Trenton Cole Jones, Doctoral Candidate, The Johns Hopkins University: “Deprived of Liberty: Enemy Prisoners and the Culture War in Revolutionary America, 1775-1783” (Recipient of the Amanda and Greg Gregory Family Fellowship)
Dr. James Kirby Martin, University of Houston: “George Washington: The Greatest Character of the Age” (recipient of the James C. Rees Fellowship on the Leadership of George Washington)
Dr. Edward Larson, Pepperdine University: “George Washington’s Role in Shaping the Constitution”
Dr. Sandra Moats, University of Wisconsin, Parkside: “George Washington and the Advent of American Neutrality as a Post-Revolutionary Concept, 1776-1779”
Dr. Jon E. Taylor, University of Central Missouri: “Genesis of America’s Historic Preservation Impulse: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association”
Gwendolyn K. White, Doctoral Candidate, George Mason University: “Commerce and Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 1754-1799” (recipient of the James C. Rees Entrepreneurship Fellowship funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation)
“With the establishment of the National Library, we have an unprecedented opportunity to expand scholarship about George Washington and the Founding Era, and to make those findings available to new audiences,” said Curtis G. Viebranz, President & C.E.O. of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. “Our fellows have submitted proposals that are creative and compelling, and we look forward to supporting their research.”
 The wealthy banker and statesman William Bingham (1752-1804), and his wife Anne Willing Bingham (1764-1801) commissioned the Lansdowne Portrait of Washington, painted by the prolific portrait-painter Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) in 1796, as a gift for William Petty-FitzMaurice (1737-1805), 1st Marquess of Lansdowne. As Prime Minister of Great Britain, at which time he was known as The Earl of Shelburne, having inherited the title as the 2nd Earl of Shelburne (in the Irish Peerage) in 1761, he negotiated the Peace of Paris treaty with the U.S.A. In 1783, when William Pitt the Younger (1709-1806) became Prime Minister, he arranged for Shelburne to be made Marquess of Lansdowne in the British Peerage (rather than giving him a cabinet post) in 1784.