So it was natural for them to get as fired up for patriotism as their husbands after the Centennial Exposition of 1876. And while they began to get interested in the history of their country after the exposition, it wasn't until the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886 that they became truly active. Ladies browsed in libraries and began collecting information about their families. A humorist at the time remarked that "genealogy became the pastime of women and especially spinsters, who, with no offspring, concentrated on their forebearers."
Surprisingly, the immediate impetus for the founding of the DAR came as a result of "sex discrimination"— before it was so labeled. Men were the culprits. At their first annual conference in Louisville on April 30, 1890, the Sons of the American Revolution made a momentous decision when they voted to limit their member-ship to males exclusively.
Surprisingly, the impetus for the founding of the DAR came as a result of "sex discrimination"— before it was so labeled. At their first annual conference in Louisville on April 30, 1890, the SAR voted to limit their membership exclusively to men.
When Mary Smith Lockwood heard of this decision, she became indignant. She was aware of many heroic women who had actually fought in the Revolutionary War, and many who served the cause in other ways. She knew what she had to do. It would have been unladylike to call a press conference, stage a demonstration or pick up a sign. Instead, she wrote a letter of protest to the Washington Post, entitled "Women Worthy of Honor." The paper published it two days later.
It was the same William McDowell, who founded the Sons of the American Revolution, that read her article in the Post and sent in one of his own, asking ladies of Revolutionary descent to send him their names and addresses. He received letters from three women, among others, from the City of Washington—Mary Desha, Ellen Hardin Walworth and Eugenia Washington—who later would be designated as the founders of the D.A.R. Eugenia Washington volunteered to serve as Registrar and sent a notice to the Post inviting others to join the new organization.
To qualify women had to be able to trace and prove their roots to someone who fought for or otherwise supported the American Revolution.
Since the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the new world by Columbus was set for 1892 and because Queen Isabella, a woman, had sent him on the voyage, the founding ladies thought the 12th of October would be the perfect date for their first organizational meeting. Unfortunately, that date in 1890 fell on a Sunday, so the ladies rationalized that Columbus had surely sighted land the previous day. Thus, October 11, 1890 became the birth day of the DAR.
Mrs. Lockwood had asked Caroline Scott Harrison, the wife of President William Henry Harrison, to serve as the first President General of the national organization. The First Lady told Lockwood that she would accept on three conditions— if she ran unopposed, was elected unanimously, and if someone else would do the work. Mrs. William D. Cabell assured her that she would take care of the presidential duties. Mrs. Harrison graciously accepted the honor. Lending her name to the new Society helped the DAR gain national prominence.
Today, the DAR has expanded its goals to perpetuate the memory and spirit of the men and women who achieved American Independence, to promote American history through education and thus develop an enlightened public opinion, and to cherish, maintain and extend the institutions of American freedom, to foster true patriotism and love of country, and to aid in securing for mankind all the blessings of liberty.
One of the most cherished possessions of the DAR is its vast library, containing over 140,000 books, plus over half a million files, manuscripts, and other sources of interest to genealogists.
The Genealogical Records Committee collects and indexes unpublished genealogical material and source records. They copy and bind them and place them in the DAR Library. The Seimes Microfilm Center stores the society's applications, as well as other microfilm owned by it. Federal Census records, plus state, county, church, and cemetery records total over 10,000 reels of film.
The DAR publishes a 180-page manual, American Genealogical Research at the DAR, which sells for $25. For more information on membership, go to its website at www.dar.org.