Fourth Regent (1909-1927)

Born on September 9, 1840, in Dover, Delaware, Harriet Comegys succeeded to the post her mother had held for 30 years as Vice Regent for Delaware. Her paternal grandfather, Cornelius Parsons Comegys VI, was both a Delaware legislator and governor, while her father, Joseph Parsons Comegys, was a state legislator, U.S. Senator, and chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. Both of Harriet’s parents were involved in preserving George Washington’s home. Her mother, born Margaret Ann Douglass, was chosen as Delaware’s first Vice Regent in 1858 by Ann Pamela Cunningham, who was a close friend. Her father served on Mount Vernon’s Advisory Committee from 1874 until his death in 1893.

Regent

One significant development during Miss Comegys’s 18 years as Regent was the removal of relic cases from the Mansion. These displayed items such as clothing, tableware, and small artworks that George and Martha Washington had owned. This change helped restore “the atmosphere of a home” to the building.

In 1918 Miss Comegys secured the services of the Harvard horticulturalist Charles Sprague Sargent. His job, in her words, was to “take charge of Mount Vernon’s arboreal invalids and treasures.” Over the course of eight years, Sargent offered his expertise regarding trees and planting schemes at Mount Vernon and created a treemap of the entire estate.

The Diaries of Washington

The first of The Diaries of George Washington (1926), published for the Association by Houghton Mifflin. MVLA.

The first of The Diaries of George Washington (1926), published for the Association by Houghton Mifflin. MVLA.

Her proudest accomplishment was the publication in 1926 of George Washington’s diaries in a four-volume set, edited by John Clement Fitzpatrick, a Washington biographer and assistant chief of the Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress. “This marvelous record will prove to be an important contribution to American history,” Miss Comegys wrote in her 1925 report to the Council, “and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association is blessed in having the privilege of publishing the Diaries.”

The novelist and historian Elswyth Thane described Miss Comegys as “a lonely, lovable, if acerbic character,” possessed of “Victorian imperiousness.” Her longtime friend Mrs. Henry W. Rogers, Vice Regent for Maryland, offered a more nuanced view: “It was not granted to all to see the human side, but to those nearest to her, affection and sympathy were ever ready and a saving sense of humor beneath all made her a charming companion.” She added that Miss Comegys had kept “uppermost in [her] mind . . . the feeling that Mount Vernon was a sacred trust that the Association held for the Nation.”

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