119th Spring Outing Recap
I sit here today, reflecting on another successful Spring Outing. It was an incredible day full of familiar and new faces, the making of new memories, wondering if the weather would hold out and a wonderful speech from our keynote speaker, the Honorable Christine Todd Whitman, who served as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. As I reflect on the day, I stand encouraged and refreshed by the remarks she made. While my short letter does not do her speech the honor it deserves, it is my hope that a few takeaways may also inspire you.
One, we owe thanks to the extraordinary women, who have, since our country’s founding, committed themselves to preserving our history. It was South Carolina’s Ann Pamela Cunningham, who founded the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, thus beginning the work of restoring the home of our first president. Natalie Curtis Burlin, a native of New York City, worked among Native American tribes in Arizona in the early 20th century to preserve the languages, music and history of these tribes. Helen Douglass worked to save Frederick Douglass’ home in Washington, D.C. Marie Beale saved the Decatur House in our nation’s capital. Dolly Madison had the presence of mind to save the historic portrait of George Washington in the White House just minutes before the British burned the executive mansion in 1814.
And, of course, we cannot talk about the efforts women have undertaken to preserve history without once again talking about the group of seven women, who 130 years ago, overcame the objections of powerful men to preserve The Hermitage for all time. Those women, who formed the Ladies’ Hermitage Association, were dedicated to preserving Jackson’s legacy, and since then, our commitment has been on preserving this piece of national history.
Two, while efforts to safeguard pieces of history are underway, those who value what has happened in our nation—all of it, warts and all—are facing an even greater challenge: A movement led by small but vocal groups determined to erase much of America’s history in the service of contemporary political and social norms. Efforts to destroy monuments of the past actually threaten to produce the opposite effect intended by these activities. One cannot remember the past—and learn from it—if every painful reminder of what has happened is swept onto the ash heap of history. As The Honorable Whitman noted, “Attempting to sanitize history by judging people from the past by contemporary standards reflects a profound misunderstanding of how history should be studied and how it should teach us.”
Three, the life and legacy of an historical figure, like Jackson, cannot be understood without also understanding the times in which that person lived. Every man and woman who has made a mark on history has had his or her flaws. But we honor them in spite of their flaws, not because of them. In doing so, however, we have to confront those aspects of their legacy that are disturbing and educate people about how and why they occurred, not to excuse but to understand them and their legacy.
Finally, for a nation to remain strong and prosperous, it must believe in itself. Its people must believe that, while their country may not be perfect, it is nevertheless worth protecting and perfecting for the generations that follow. The charge that Whitman left us with was this: Help others understand America’s past and help guide them closer to that perfect mission on which our country was founded—to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and all of America’s posterity.
Howard J. Kittell
President & CEO