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|National Society Daughters of the American Revolution|
DAR Constitution Hall, Washington, DC
|Abbreviation||DAR / NSDAR|
|Founded||October 11, 1890
Incorporated 1896 by an Act of Congress
|Focus||Historic preservation, education, patriotism|
|Headquarters||Washington, D.C., United States|
The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is a lineage-based membership service organization for women who are directly descended from a person involved in the United States' efforts towards independence. A non-profit group, they work to promote historic preservation, education, and patriotism. The organization's 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 are reviewed at the chapter level for admission. It currently has approximately 185,000 members in the United States and in several other countries. Its motto is "God, Home, and Country."
Since the late 20th century, following the civil rights movement and changes in historic scholarship, the organization has expanded its membership, recognizing minority contributions and expanding the definition of those whose work is considered to have aided the Revolution, and recognizing more ways in which women and other people served.
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. On July 13, 1890, after the Sons of the American Revolution refused to allow women to join their group, Mary Smith Lockwood published the story of patriot Hannah White Arnett in the Washington Post, asking, "Where will the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution place Hannah Arnett?"  On July 21 of that year, William O. McDowell, a great-grandson of Hannah White Arnett, published an article in the Washington Post offering to help form a society to be known as the Daughters of the American Revolution. The first meeting of the society was held August 9, 1890.
The first DAR chapter was organized on October 11, 1890, at the Strathmore Arms, the home of Mary Smith Lockwood, one of the DAR's four co-founders. Other founders were Eugenia Washington, a great-grandniece of George Washington, Ellen Hardin Walworth, and Mary Desha. They had also held organizational meetings in August 1890. Other attendees in October were Sons of the American Revolution members Registrar General Dr. George Brown Goode, Secretary General A. Howard Clark, William O. McDowell (SAR member #1), Wilson L. Gill (secretary at the inaugural meeting), and 18 other people.
The First Lady, Caroline Lavina Scott Harrison, wife of President Benjamin Harrison, lent her prestige to the founding of DAR, and served as its first President General. Having initiated a renovation of the White House, she was interested in historic preservation. She helped establish the goals of DAR, which was incorporated by congressional charter in 1896.
In this same period, such organizations as 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 flourishing in this period.
The DAR chapters raised funds to initiate a number of historic preservation and patriotic endeavors. They began a practice of installing 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 recognized women patriots' 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.
In 1932 the DAR adopted a rule excluding African-American musicians from performing at DAR Constitution Hall in response to complaints by some members against "mixed seating," as both blacks and whites were attracted to concerts of black artists. Washington, D.C., had segregated facilities under laws established by a Congress that supported segregation, which administered the city at the time. In 1945, African-American jazz singer Hazel Scott (then the wife of New York Democratic Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.) was excluded from performing at Constitution Hall.
In October 1945, the DAR invited First Lady Bess Truman to a tea at the hall, which she accepted. Congressman Powell protested and asked Truman not to attend the tea. She chose to go, but said publicly that she opposed discrimination (as did her husband). The White House received letters asking Bess Truman to resign from the DAR in protest of their policy; she declined to do so. Other letters supported her having attended the tea. The DAR did not officially reverse its "white performers only" policy until 1952.
During the period of segregation and exclusion, in 1936 Sol Hurok, the manager of noted singer 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. In 1939, Hurok, along with the NAACP and Howard University, petitioned the DAR to make an exception to their policy for Anderson, which the organization declined. Hurok tried to find a local high school for a 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.
The First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited Anderson to the White House to perform especially for her and President Roosevelt. During this time, Anderson came under considerable pressure from the NAACP to refuse to perform for segregated audiences. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from her membership of the DAR in protest at their treatment of Anderson. Roosevelt and the Marian Anderson Committee arranged for the singer to give her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with the Mall of Washington as her auditorium. Symbolically, the concert took place on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939.
The DAR later apologized to Anderson and welcomed her to Constitution Hall on a number of occasions. In 1942 she starred at a benefit concert for war relief during World War II. In 1964, the year of passage of the Civil Rights Act, Anderson chose Constitution Hall as the place to launch her farewell American tour. In 1992, at the opening night ceremonies of the DAR annual convention, the DAR awarded Marian Anderson the Centennial Medallion, which honors women who gave outstanding service to the nation. Owing to poor health, Anderson was unable to attend; the medallion and certificate were delivered to her at her home. On January 27, 2005, the DAR co-hosted the first "day of issue" dedication ceremony with the U.S. Postal Service, at which the Marian Anderson commemorative stamp was introduced and 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. Batchelor traced part of her ancestry to a patriot, William Hood, an Irish-born soldier 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. 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 John Lindsay, former mayor of New York and regular guest host.
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, Lena Lorraine Santos Ferguson, a retired school secretary, was denied membership in a Washington, D.C. chapter of the DAR because she was black, according to a report by the Washington Post. Her two white sponsors, Margaret M. Johnston and Elizabeth E. Thompson, were dismayed at their chapter response. Ferguson met the lineage requirements and could trace her ancestry to Jonah Gay, a white man who fought in Maine.
When asked for comment, Sarah M. King, the President General of the DAR, told the Washington Post that the DAR's chapters have autonomy in determining members. She made impolitic comments about the chapter's decision. After King's comments were reported, outrage erupted and the D.C. City Council threatened to revoke the DAR's real estate tax exemption. King quickly corrected her error, saying that Ferguson should have been admitted, and that her application had been handled "inappropriately." Representing Ferguson pro bono, lawyers from the Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson began working with King to develop positive ways for the DAR to ensure that blacks would not be discriminated against in future application for membership. The DAR changed its bylaws to bar discrimination "on the basis of race or creed." In addition, King announced a resolution to recognize "the heroic contributions of black patriots in the American Revolution".
Ferguson 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 chairwoman and founder of the D.C. DAR Scholarship Committee. Ferguson died in March 2004 at the age of 75.
Since the mid-1980s, the DAR has supported a project to identify the names of African Americans, Native Americans, and individuals of mixed race who were patriots of the American Revolution, expanding their recognition beyond soldiers. In 2008, DAR published Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War. This is available for free online, as is a supplement published in 2012.
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 the state capital Richmond to work for him after he was elected governor of Virginia. When the British invaded the city, they took Hemings and the other slaves at the governor's house as prisoners; Hemings and the other slaves were later released. (The American government officials had already escaped to Monticello and Charlottesville.)
After the war, Hemings gained informal freedom when her common-law husband, Thomas Bell, a white merchant from 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 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, she purchased family members to help keep families intact. Since Hemings Bell has been honored as a Patriot, all of her female descendants qualify for membership in the DAR.
In June 2012, Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelly and Dr. Olivia Cousins became charter members of a chapter with numerous African-American members, 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, pledged to travel to Queens for the monthly chapter meetings.
There are nearly 180,000 current members of the DAR in approximately 3,000 chapters across the United States and in several other countries. More than 940,000 women have joined the organization since its founding 125 years ago. The organization describes itself as,"one of the most inclusive genealogical societies" in the United States, noting on its website that, "any woman 18 years or older — regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background — who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution, is eligible for membership".
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 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 published a book, available online, an extensive resource with the names of thousands of minority patriots, to enable family and historical research. Its online Genealogical Research System (GRS) provides access to an extensive database, and it is digitizing family Bibles to collect more information for research.
The organization has chapters in all 50 U.S. states and 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.
The DAR contributes more than $1 million annually to support six schools that provide for a variety of special student needs. Supported schools:
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.
DAR members participate in a variety of veteran and citizenship-oriented projects, including:
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.
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.
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.
A memorial to the Daughters of the American Revolution's four founders, at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated on April 17, 1929. It was sculpted by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a DAR member.
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