A Presidential Library for George Washington without Government Funding
Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act in 1955, funding modern presidential libraries through taxation. Mount Vernon accepts no funding from the government, so how did the George Washington Presidential Library come to be?
During his retirement, Washington wrote that he had devoted his infrequent leisure time "to the arrangement, and overhaul of my voluminous Public Papers—Civil & Military—that, they may go into secure deposits.”
Washington planned to erect a building at Mount Vernon. Even on the last day of his life, Washington worried about his papers. His friend and longtime secretary Tobias Lear recorded that, hours before his death, Washington told him, "I find I am going, my breath cannot continue long. . . do you arrange & record all my late Military letters & papers—arrange my accounts & settle my books."
After the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association purchased Mount Vernon from the Washington family in 1858, preservation of the Mansion and outbuildings began immediately. In 1859, John Augustine Washington gifted Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association founder and first Regent Ann Pamela Cunningham four original Washington papers. He thought of them as useful in terms of repairs and restoration, but of course, the Ladies prized them because they were Washington’s.
In 1983, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association officially broadened its vision beyond the preservation of Mount Vernon, and sought to extend the education of Washington’s life, achievements, and character to the entire world. As part of this new vision, Mount Vernon constructed the Ann Pamela Cunningham Administration Building, which opened in 1983, and provided space for a new education department and additional space for a library and research center.
In 2010, that mission expanded to include the construction of a new research library. The MVLA announced the creation of the George Washington Presidential Library to further the organization’s mission of advancing appreciation and understanding of George Washington. The announcement resulted from a remarkable gift of $38 million from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the largest received in the history of the MVLA. The Campaign for the Library – with Gay Hart Gaines, the Vice Regent for Florida, as chair – set an ambitious goal to raise $100 million to construct the library. The Campaign exceeded its goal by raising $106.4 million by June 2013, all provided by private donors, and was officially opened on September 27, 2013.