Sixth Regent (1937-1942)

Harriet Elizabeth Cole was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in April 1869. In the 1870s, she moved with her family to Corning, Iowa, where, in 1886, she married Horace Mann Towner, an attorney who became a district judge. Mrs. Towner was instrumental in establishing Corning’s first public library; she served on its board for 41 years and was its president for 27 years. She was also a founder of the Iowa Library Commission and its president for four years.

In 1910 Judge Towner was elected to represent Iowa’s Eighth District in the U.S. Congress. The couple moved to Washington, where Mrs. Towner became president of the Congressional Club, a nonpartisan organization for spouses of legislators. Three years later, she was elected Vice Regent for Iowa.

In 1923 President Warren G. Harding appointed Mr. Towner governor of Puerto Rico. Mrs. Towner published a history of La Forteleza, the historic governor’s residence where the couple lived in San Juan, in 1927. Governor Towner served in that post until 1929. He died in November 1937.

Regent

George Washington's library in the 1930s. MVLA.

George Washington's library in the 1930s. MVLA.

In October 1936, following the sudden death of Mrs. Alice Haliburton Richards, Mrs. Towner became acting Regent; she was elected Regent the following May. She moved back to Washington and soon revealed her impressive knowledge of the Association’s history and mission. For instance, the year she became Regent saw the publication of her book The Mount Vernon Library.

During Mrs. Towner’s first year in office, she promoted Charles Cecil Wall, who had joined the staff in 1929, to resident superintendent. (In 1955, the job title became resident director.) Wall, who would remain at Mount Vernon until 1976, became an acclaimed Washington scholar and played a vital role in the successful campaign to save the Potomac shore opposite Mount Vernon from commercial and industrial development following World War II.

Welcoming Royalty

Mrs. Towner gives King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain on a tour of Mount Vernon in 1939. MVLA.

Mrs. Towner gives King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain on a tour of Mount Vernon in 1939. MVLA.

During World War II, Mrs. Towner hosted such illustrious visitors as England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Queen Wilhelmena of the Netherlands, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

In September 1942, Mrs. Towner became ill, and Mr. Wall asked the Association’s recording secretary, Mrs. Henry Gold Danforth, Vice Regent for New York, to assume the Regent’s responsibilities. Mrs. Towner died that November 6 in an Alexandria, Virginia, hospital.

Famous Visitors to Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon during World War II

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