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The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association: The Possibilities and Debates in a Civil Society

Are you looking for a way to incorporate civics into your high school classroom? These learning resources connect the concept of civic agency to George Washington’s significance as a national symbol.  Through the analysis of a primary source and a civics activity, this learning resource empowers students to see themselves as citizens whose voices matter and who have agency to collaboratively confront problems in our world today.

Lesson Narrative (5Es)

This learning experience is inquiry-based and built on the 5E model. Students will be engaged by thinking about forgotten historic figures. Students will explore and explain Anne Pamela Cunningham's “To the Ladies of the South" letter, which rallied women to help preserve George Washington's Mount Vernon. Student understanding will be evaluated through the creation of their own persuasive letter. Finally, learning can extend by having the students actually publish their letter through social media or newspaper outlets.


  • Tell the students to think about a historic structure, event, figure, or issue that they think is unfairly neglected. Ask: what would it look like to adequately commemorate this history in your community?


  • Have the students read Ann Pamela Cunningham’s letter to the “Ladies of the South.” How did she connect her community to the goal of preserving Mount Vernon as a crucial civic project?
  • Ask: what do you find effective/ineffective of her work?


  • Have the students create a type of communication to raise awareness, funds, and enthusiasm for the neglected historic event/issue/figure/structure that elevates this history.
  • Tell the students to think about the audience they want to get on board—can they connect and motivate them?
  • Who is included and excluded in the audience the students are addressing and the community they hope to serve?


Students can have the opportunity to actually publish their communication in a school newspaper, Twitter or Facebook page, or address it to the school, local parks department, or whatever agency or office that might have authority over the preservation or creation of the historical site in question.

Student Portal

Students can explore the timeline to learn more about George Washington as a National Symbol

Explore the Timeline

Civic Connections: A People with Contemporary Debates & Possibilities

This lesson focuses on the ideas of A People with Contemporary Debates & Possibilities, which has a definition within the Educating for American Democracy Framework. Here are the specific civic components that connect to this lesson.

9-12 Key Concept: Cultivate an understanding of personal interests, motivations, and decisions as civic agents

Driving Questions:

History: HDQ7.4A. How can your learning from U.S. history suggest strategies for how to address our shared contemporary problems?

Civics: CDQ7.4B. What specific methods have Americans developed for adapting or preserving their society, and what are the strengths and limitations of each as we look toward challenges in the future?

Design Challenge 1: Motivating Agency, Sustaining the Republic

DC1.3: How can we help students pursue civic action that is authentic, responsible, and informed?

Educating for American Democracy