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The organization Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is a lineage-based membership service organization for women who are directly descended from a person involved in United States' independence. A non-profit group, they work to promote historic preservation, education and patriotism. The DAR has chapters in all 50 U.S. states as well as in the District of Columbia. DAR chapters have been founded in Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, and the United Kingdom. As of 2012, over 850,000 women have been able to trace their lineage to join this organization. Although it is referred to as the DAR, the official name of this organization is the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).
National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution patriotic society organized October 11, 1890, and chartered by Congress December 2, 1896. Membership is limited to direct lineal descendants of soldiers or others of the Revolutionary period who aided the cause of independence; applicants must have reached 18 years of age and must be “personally acceptable” to the society. In the late 20th century the society's membership totaled approximately 180,000, with some 3,000 local chapters throughout the United States and in several other countries. In 1889 the centennial of President George Washington's inauguration was celebrated, and Americans looked for additional ways to recognize their past. Out of the renewed interest in United States history, numerous patriotic and preservation societies were founded. One of the society's four co-founders was Eugenia Washington, a great-grandniece of George Washington. The First Lady, Caroline Lavina Scott Harrison, wife of the United States President Benjamin Harrison, lent her prestige to the founding of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR). She served as its first President General. She had initiated a renovation of the White House to update its infrastructure and was interested in historic preservation. She helped establish the goals of NSDAR. Four Washington, DC women founded the first chapter on October 11, 1890. The National Society of the DAR was incorporated by congressional charter in 1896.
DAR's motto is "God, Home, and Country."
In this same period, such organizations as the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), the Colonial Dames of America, the Mary Washington Memorial Society, Preservation of the Virginia Antiquities, United Daughters of the Confederacy, and Sons of Confederate Veterans were also founded. This was in addition to numerous fraternal and civic organizations.
The DAR chapters raised funds to initiate a number of historic preservation and patriotic endeavors. They began a practice of installing small markers at the graves of Revolutionary War veterans to indicate their service, and adding small flags at their gravesites on Memorial Day.
Other activities included commissioning and installing monuments to battles and other sites related to the War. The DAR women's contributions as well as those of soldiers. For instance, they installed a monument at the site of a spring where Polly Hawkins Craig and other women got water to use against flaming arrows, in the defense of Bryan Station (present-day Lexington, Kentucky).
In addition to installing markers and monuments, DAR chapters have purchased, preserved and operated historic houses and other sites associated with the war. See "DAR Historic Sites and Database" for a map and database of DAR sites.
Membership in the DAR today is open to all women, regardless of race or religion, who can prove lineal bloodline descent from an ancestor who aided in achieving United States independence. The National Society of DAR is the final arbiter of the acceptability of the documentation of all applications for membership.
Qualifying participation in achieving independence includes the following:
The DAR contributes more than $1 million annually to support six schools that provide for a variety of special student needs. Supported schools include:
In addition, the DAR provides $70,000 to $100,000 in scholarships and funds to American Indian youth at Chemawa Indian School, Salem, Oregon; Bacone College, Muskogee, Oklahoma; and the Indian Youth of America Summer Camp Program.
Each year, the DAR conducts a national American history essay contest among students in grades 5 through 8. A different topic is selected each year. Essays are judged "for historical accuracy, adherence to topic, organization of materials, interest, originality, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and neatness." The contest is conducted locally by the DAR chapters. Chapter winners compete against each other by region and nationally; national winners receive a monetary award.
The DAR awards $150,000 per year in scholarships to high school graduates, and music, law, nursing, and medical school students. Only two of the 20 scholarships offered are restricted to DAR members or their descendants.
In 1989, the DAR established the NSDAR Literacy Promotion Committee, which coordinates the efforts of DAR volunteers to promote child and adult literacy. Volunteers teach English, tutor reading, prepare students for GED examinations, raise funds for literacy programs, and participate in many other ways.
The DAR maintains an extensive genealogical library at its headquarters in Washington, DC and provides guides for individuals doing family research. Its bookstore presents the latest scholarship on United States and women's history.
Temporary exhibits in the galleries have featured women's arts and crafts, including items from the DAR's valuable quilt and embroidery collections. Exhibit curators provide a social and historical context for girls' and women's arts in such exhibits, for instance, explaining practices of mourning reflected in certain kinds of embroidery samplers, as well as ideals expressed about the new republic. Permanent exhibits include American furniture, silver and furnishings.
|The neutrality of this section is disputed. (November 2012)|
Although the DAR now forbids discrimination in membership based on race or creed, some members earlier advocated for segregation and discrimination. In 1932, Washington, D.C. still had segregated facilities under laws established by a Southern-dominated Congress, which then administered the city. The DAR adopted a rule excluding African-American musicians from performing at Constitution Hall. This decision had followed complaints by some members against "mixed seating," as both blacks and whites were attracted to concerts of black artists.
In 1936, Sol Hurok, the manager since 1935 of Marian Anderson, an African-American contralto, tried to book her at the DAR Constitution Hall. Owing to the "white performers only" policy, the DAR refused the booking. As the issue became public, Anderson performed at a Washington-area black high school. The First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to the White House to perform especially for her and President Roosevelt. During this time, Anderson came under considerable pressure from the NAACP not to perform for segregated audiences.
In 1939, Hurok, along with the NAACP and Howard University, petitioned the DAR to make an exception to the "white performers only" policy for a new booking of his renowned singer, which the organization declined. Hurok tried to find a local high school for the performance, but the only suitable venue was an auditorium at a white high school (the public schools were segregated). The school board refused to allow Anderson to perform there.
In response, Eleanor Roosevelt immediately resigned her membership in the DAR. The organization later apologized to Anderson and welcomed her to Constitution Hall on a number of occasions, starting in 1942 with a benefit concert for war relief during World War II. But, the DAR did not officially reverse its "white performers only" policy until 1952.
In 1945, the African-American jazz singer Hazel Scott (then the wife of Democratic congressmen Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.) was excluded from performing at Constitution Hall. In October 1945, the first lady Bess Truman was invited to a tea by the DAR at the locale. Truman accepted without realizing there would be a controversy. Congressman Powell protested and asked Truman not to attend the tea. She chose to go, but said that she opposed discrimination (as did her husband). Letters of protest sent to the White House asked Bess Truman to resign from the DAR, but she declined to do so. Other letters supported her attendance at the tea.
In 1964, Anderson chose Constitution Hall as the place to launch her farewell American tour.
On January 27, 2005, the DAR co-hosted with the U.S. Postal Service the first "day of issue" dedication ceremony of the Marian Anderson commemorative stamp, at which Anderson's family was honored.
In October 1977, Karen Batchelor Farmer (now Karen Batchelor) of Detroit, Michigan was admitted as the first known African-American member of the DAR. Batchelor started her genealogical research in 1976 as a young mother who wanted to commemorate the American bicentennial year in a way that had special meaning for her family. Within 26 months, she had traced her family history back to the American Revolution—a completely unexpected result. Batchelor traced her ancestry to a patriot, William Hood, who served in the colonial militia in Pennsylvania during the Revolution in the defense of Fort Freeland.
With the help of the late James Dent Walker, head of Genealogical Services at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Batchelor was contacted by the Ezra Parker Chapter in Royal Oak, Michigan, who invited her to join their chapter; she officially became DAR member #623,128. In December 1977, Batchelor's admission as the first known African-American member of DAR sparked international interest after it was featured in a story on page one of the New York Times. She was invited to appear on Good Morning America, where she was interviewed by the regular guest host John Lindsay, former mayor of New York.
Batchelor co-founded the Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society in 1979, an organization in Detroit for African-American family research. She continues to research her own family history and inspire others to do the same.
In March 1984, a controversy arose when Lena Lorraine Santos Ferguson said she had been denied membership in a Washington, D.C. chapter of the DAR because she was black. The reporter Ronald Kessler quoted Ferguson's two white sponsors, Margaret M. Johnston and Elizabeth E. Thompson, as saying that although Ferguson met the lineage requirements and could trace her ancestry to Jonah Gay, fellow DAR members told them that Ferguson was not wanted because she was black.
Sarah M. King, the President General of the DAR, said that the DAR's chapters have autonomy in determining members. Asked if she thought this acceptable, she said, "If you give a dinner party, and someone insisted on coming and you didn't want them, what would you do?" King continued,
"Being black is not the only reason why some people have not been accepted into chapters. There are other reasons: divorce, spite, neighbors' dislike. I would say being black is very far down the line ... There are a lot of people who are troublemakers. You wouldn't want them in there because they could cause some problems."
After her comments were reported, the D.C. City Council threatened to revoke the DAR's real estate tax exemption. King said that Ferguson should have been admitted, and her application to join the DAR was handled "inappropriately". Representing Ferguson free of charge, lawyers from the Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson began working with King to develop positive ways to ensure that blacks would not be discriminated against when applying for membership. The DAR changed its bylaws to bar discrimination "on the basis of race or creed". King announced a resolution to recognize "the heroic contributions of black patriots in the American Revolution".
As a result of the Washington Post story, Ferguson, a retired school secretary, was admitted to the DAR chapter. "I wanted to honor my mother and father as well as my black and white heritage," Ferguson said after being admitted. "And I want to encourage other black women to embrace their own rich history, because we're all Americans." She became chairman and founder of the D.C. DAR Scholarship Committee. She died in March 2004 at the age of 75.
As noted above in the requirements section, the DAR has recognized that a wide variety of people contributed to the war effort, and has broadened its guidelines to reflect that. As an example of such changes, in 2007 the DAR posthumously honored Mary Hemings Bell, a former slave of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, as a "Patriot of the Revolution." During the war, Hemings and other household slaves had been taken by Jefferson to Richmond to work for him after he was elected as governor of Virginia. When the British invaded the city, they took Hemings and the other slaves at the governor's house as prisoner. The American government officials had escaped to Monticello and Charlottesville. Hemings and the other slaves were later released. Since Hemings Bell has been honored as a Patriot, all of her female descendants qualify for membership in the DAR.
After the war, Hemings gained informal freedom when her common-law husband, Thomas Bell, a white merchant of Charlottesville, purchased her and their two mixed-race children from Jefferson. She was forced to leave her two older children, Joseph Fossett and Betsy Hemmings (as she spelled it), enslaved at Monticello. After Bell's death, Mary and their two children inherited his estate. She kept in touch with her large extended Hemings family, still enslaved at Monticello, and aided her children there. When Jefferson's slaves were sold after his death in 1826 to settle his debts, Mary Hemings Bell was able to purchase family members to help keep families intact.
In June 2012, Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelly and Dr. Olivia Cousins became charter members of a chapter with more than one African-American member, in Queens, New York. Five of the 13 charter members are African American. Kelly, who organized the diverse chapter, was installed as the Charter Regent and Dr. Cousins as a chapter officer. Two of Dr. Cousins' sisters, Collette Cousins, who lives in Durham, North Carolina, and Michelle Wherry, who lives in Lewis Center, Ohio, have pledged to travel to Queens for the monthly chapter meetings.