Now on display inside the exhibition Mount Vernon: The Story of an American Icon is a rare, early map of Washington, D.C., embroidered and painted around 1802 by a teenaged Grace Turner Cleaver at an Alexandria, Virginia, school for young women.

The combination of a watercolor portrait of George Washington with a very precisely rendered replica of the city map published by Thackara & Vallance in 1795 results in an impressive commemorative image that celebrates Washington’s role in the creation of the Federal City and the new nation.

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Exhibit Details

In addition to enhancing Mount Vernon’s growing strength as a repository of early maps of America, Cleaver’s work provides a glimpse of the changes in the education of girls and young women. Beginning in the 1790s, academies began introducing formal instruction in subjects such as geography, civics, and history, in addition to traditional, gendered instruction in embroidery, drawing, painting, and music.

This combination of intellectual and “ornamental” curricula aimed to refine young women both intellectually and socially, preparing them to become active members of civil society, as well as mothers and teachers who would raise the next generation of American citizens. Cleaver’s work is doubly interesting as she was an English emigrant. As she drew and stitched, Cleaver may have mused upon her own hopes and dreams, contemplating where she would fit, geographically and politically, into the picture of her new homeland.

Exhibit Dates

On display inside the Gilder Lehrman Gallery in the exhibition Mount Vernon: The Story of an American Icon through March 2023.

Gilder Lehrman Gallery

  • Needlework map of Washington, D.C., and portrait of George Washington by Alexandria student Grace Turner Cleaver, ca. 1802.
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