Weathering The Storm – A History of Fundraising

In 1889, the State of Tennessee transferred the Hermitage mansion and 25 surrounding acres to the Ladies’ Hermitage Association (LHA) by trust deed to preserve Andrew Jackson’s home. However, this gift did not include any operating or maintenance support. Raising money became the first project the Ladies undertook – a project that continues today.

The early fundraising had a few general sources: Memberships, financial gifts and net proceeds from theatrical and musical entertainments. Memberships were the first means of raising money. Originally annual dues were $1. The LHA board members solicited memberships, but they also appointed “Regents” from other states to solicit memberships. The organization also had several women who would assume the roles usually assigned to development departments today. They represented the LHA at various conventions and meetings to solicit memberships and donations and were reimbursed for expenses although not paid a salary. Amelia Binns Hollenberg (Mrs. Henry George Hollenberg) of Little Rock (1841-1918) represented the LHA at the World’s Columbian exposition in Chicago in 1893. After the fair, the Board decided that the money raised didn’t justify the expenses and so discontinued her services.

Later, three membership levels were introduced: $1 annual memberships, $5 honorary memberships and $25 life memberships. Ladies who joined at the $5 level were not expected to undertake committee or planning work, although they could still be solicited for gifts. At the $25 level, they were freed from gift solicitations.

Financial gifts ranged from large pledges of $100 to donations collected at The Hermitage. Their charter prohibited charging admission to the grounds, but a donation box was placed by the mansion. It was proposed to have a fundraising campaign for donations of pennies from school children, but that doesn’t seem to have gone far.

Entertainments sponsored by the LHA seem to have been their least successful strategy. These activities—planned with high hopes—seem to have never reaped the predicted rewards. By the time expenses were deducted, little was left for the treasury. One theatrical lost money, and for several months, the Board voted sums to repay Mary Dorris, who had covered the expenses.

In 1892, three years after the LHA was organized, the group had $2,082.08 in the treasury (according to one inflation calculator, that would equal about $60,000 today). The money went out as fast as it came in: Expenses included repairs on the buildings, paying Andrew Jackson III a percentage as option on the furnishings (which was in lieu of a salary) and later, after the Jacksons moved out, a salary to a caretaker. There were also miscellaneous expenses: Insurance, supplies, stationary, the annual January 8 celebration and railroad fares to go out to The Hermitage to supervise.

This early note from the minutes shows the difficulties in planning and coordinating work with limited and irregular funds:

Shortly after the educational meeting the precarious condition of the old historic cabins was pointed out to the Ladies of the Association and although limited in funds the order was given, and contract made for its proper preservation. (Sept. 1889)

This is the way repair projects were generally covered – as soon as the Ladies had enough money to cover the job, they would have the work done. While they were able to keep up the most important building repairs in that way, they never could accumulate enough to purchase all of the furnishings from Andrew Jackson III. He offered them at a total cost of $17,000 ($490,000 today), and that amount was never accumulated. Instead, the LHA purchased the furnishings piecemeal over the next 40 years in much the same way they covered repairs, accumulating some cash and then finding out what they could purchase for the sum.

In 1892, Mary Dorris wrote an article for the Daily American regarding the confusion arising from the establishment of the Tennessee Confederate Soldiers’ Home and the Ladies’ Hermitage Association at the same time and located on Andrew Jackson’s farm. Not only did the public confuse the two organizations, but the Ladies were charged with taking money raised for the Soldiers’ Home and using it for The Hermitage. As Mary Dorris pointed out, the Soldiers’ Home was given money by the state to operate the home, and the Ladies had to raise all their own funds. The confusion by the public only increased the difficulty the Ladies had in raising money.

Eventually things improved, and the difficulties were slowly overcome. This was helped especially by easier transportation access to the Hermitage in the early years of the 20th century.

Fundraising has been essential to our organization since its founding, and now, more than ever, your support is critical. Your gift will ensure the hard work of the Ladies–and those since–will continue for generations to come.

We need your help. Please make your gift to the Weathering the Storm campaign.