By SUSAN TOBIAS
---- — The first time I traveled to Washington, D.C., was in June 2010 to attend the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution national convention, known as Continental Congress.
Thankfully, I had a veteran DAR member with me, Muriel Henry, our Regent.
She explained the whys and wherefores of wearing white gloves and being part of an organization whose motto is “God, Home, Country.”
This June, I was the regent, leading a first-timer, our vice regent, Lee Lambert. I was just as impressed with the DAR convention as I was the first time.
The National DAR was founded in October 1890 at a time when patriotism was on the rise, as well as a desire on the part of women to perpetuate the memory of ancestors who had served in previous wars.
At that time, women were barred from men’s organizations that preserved military history. So being the industrious beings that women are, they started their own organization: the DAR.
Any woman at least 18 years old who can document a direct lineage to a patriot of the Revolutionary War can become a member.
Some may say the DAR is too exclusive to even consider being a member, but it’s the guidelines and steadfast bylaws that make it a highly respected source of accurate historical information. Genealogy that is approved by DAR researchers and archivists can be trusted.
The DAR comprises local chapters, large and small, across the United States and Canada. Chapters also exist as far away as Australia and in several European and Asian countries.
Each year, daughters, as members are known, converge on Washington for the annual meeting at Constitution Hall, headquarters for the DAR.
This year, daughters were 3,500 strong, one of the largest gatherings ever. Hotels and restaurants in Washington must be happy to see the DAR visit because rooms are reserved a year ahead of time.
Each year, opening night is a gala affair with women wearing their best evening gowns, elbow-length gloves and jewelry. We locals call it our “Cinderella” clothes.
The U.S. Marine Band plays patriotic music while flags from every state and country that has a chapter are marched into the hall, followed by DAR dignitaries.
After all the introductions came this year’s DAR Historic Preservation Recognition Award recipient and keynote speaker: Leigh Keno of “Antiques Roadshow” fame. A personable fellow, he charmed the audience with his knowledge and appreciation.
The DAR Americanism Medal was presented to comedian Rich Little, whose depiction of famous Americans has captured our laughter for ages.
As with most organizations, reports, business sessions and workshops are held throughout the week, with many ideas shared on how to help a chapter appreciate the older members and gain younger members to carry on the mission of the society.
Education Awards Night puts the spotlight on our wonderful teachers and students who have excelled in the education realm. Award winners, young and old, from across the country, receive recognition for American History, Good Citizenship, Outstanding Teacher and many more.
DAR chapters support a number of DAR schools: Berry College in Mount Berry, Ga.; the Crossnore School in Crossnore, N.C.; Hillside School Inc., Marlborough, Mass.; Hindman Settlement School, Hindman, Ky.; Kate Duncan Smith DAR School in Gunter Mountain, Ala.; and Tamassee DAR School in South Carolina.
Each school serves a special need in society, such as ADD, adult literacy, dyslexia and families in crisis.
National Defense Night is when our men and women in uniform are recognized for their selfless sacrifice on behalf of our freedoms.
This year’s dignitary was Vice Admiral Robin R. Braun, chief of Navy Reserve, commander Navy Reserve Forces. Her address to the audience was personable, encouraging and appreciative of DAR support for the military.
A gala awards banquet, held on Saturday night, seemed to have a Hollywood theme, as solo artist and former Eagles band member Don Henley was presented with the Conservation Medal.
Henley founded the Walden Woods Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the historic woods in Massachusetts where author/philosopher Henry David Thoreau first championed the concept of land conservation.
Also recognized was actress Connie Stevens, who was awarded the Founders Medal for Patriotism for her many years of devotion, time and influence “to help those less fortunate and her work with American Indians.”
Her project, Windfeather, has given countless American Indian young people educational opportunities through college scholarships, delivered surplus goods to Indian reservations throughout the country and supported summer camps for Native American children.
Sunday morning, the last before the daughters head home, is devoted to a congregate church service at Constitution Hall to bring to mind the members who passed away in the previous year.
Every three years, a new national roster is elected to oversee the organization’s massive properties and membership of 170,000 people in 3,000 chapters across the country and internationally.
The promotion of historic preservation, education and patriotism is governed by national, state and local committees and officers.
Locally, the Adirondack Chapter DAR in Franklin County has invested thousands of dollars in rescuing and restoring the Webster Street Cemetery in Malone, where many of the town’s Revolutionary and Civil War veterans are buried.
The Saranac Chapter in Plattsburgh, Clinton County, maintains a stately brick home at the corner of Oak and Cornelia streets, despite expensive repairs and a difficult economy. Its members are active participants in the Battle of Plattsburgh commemorations, the Fort Chambly, Que., memorial services and local historical societies.
In Essex County, the Champlain Chapter, named after Samuel de Champlain, encompasses five towns around Westport and rotates meeting sites. The Ticonderoga Chapter celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011. The members support local history projects, including the Penfield Homestead, and contribute regularly to the Veterans Hospital in Albany.
DAR chapters offer scholarships and support of education, historic preservation and patriotism. They lay memorial wreaths at gravesites and are proud to share the reason for our flag. They perpetuate the memory of the Revolutionary War soldiers who laid life, limb and fortunes on the altar of freedom to give us the great country we live in today.
Like most civic organizations that have been around a long time, DAR has members who are growing older. Membership needs a fresh injection of youthful energy and ideas, or the ideals these organizations were founded on will disappear.
What a tragedy that would be for our communities and our country.
TO LEARN MORE
To explore all that the Daughters of the American Revolution has to offer, visit www.dar.org.
In Clinton, Franklin and Essex counties, contact New York State District IV Director Betty White at 962-8287 or email@example.com.