An Evening with the D. A. R.
Welcome to the March 2013 edition of
Jud’s New England Journal, the rather
curious monthly musings of Judson Hale,
the Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine,
published since 1935 in Dublin, NH.
An Evening With the D. A. R.
Whenever I’ve stereotyped groups of
people in my mind, invariably something
occurs to prove me wrong…..
The Daughters of the American Revolution, founded in Washington, DC, but well established in New England, is very sensitive about being labeled snobbish. Some 208,000 Daughters strong, or thereabouts in years past, it is the largest patriotic -hereditary organization in the world and its library in Washington, open to the public, is regarded as second only to that of the Mormon Church among genealogical archives. It is crammed to the roof with copies of marriages, birth and death certificates, voting and property tax roles, deeds, war records and all the other public documents that establish a person’s existence. The purpose is to prove each member’s claim that one of her ancestors fought or had a big hand in the American Revolution. On our side. No Tories allowed. Only direct lineage is included–and, as I recall, excluded are descendants of illegitimate children and polygamous marriages.
Critics of the D. A. R. maintain that their apparent patriotism is actually a combination of thinly-veiled snobbery and the protection of privilege. Another side to the subject is often expressed in the simple and sincere statement by Daughters that it really is “an honor to have an ancestor who fought in the Revolution.”
In my younger days, I was often the speaker at New England chapters of the D.A.R. and I’ve found the members, almost always on the elderly side, to be charming. (I assume many have by now passed on.) And no more snobby that any of us New Englanders concerned with genealogy. Although the organization as a whole was often criticized in past years for its stand opposing the likes of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, federal aid to education and so forth, its individual members often say they only want to preserve family history for their grandchildren.
One particular D.A.R. dinner I attended as a speaker will always be vivid in my memory. The opening ceremonial procession was, as usual, complete with all sorts of flags and banners, and the marching Daughters, in gorgeous formal floor-length gowns, were wearing the official ribbons, bands, gold bars and pine that indicate ancestors, family ties, and positions in the local and national organizations.
An extremely elderly Daughter, dressed and decorated to the hilt, was at the piano, but I could hardly believe what she was doing. No doubt there had been a time when she knew piano chords and could actually play. No longer. All she had left was a marching rhythm–and enthusiasm. Pound pound de pound de pound…and every pound was a discord.
I felt distinctly uncomfortable and sort of embarrassed as I stood on the stage with the other chapter officers, facing the oncoming processional. However, no one else seemed to mind. All the ladies marched slowly down the aisle in time to this pounding as if Van Cliburn himself were at the keys. As each turned slowly in front of us to take their seats, I began to notice one and then another of the ladies I’d met prior to the meeting subtly catch my eye and give me an almost imperceptible wink. They knew. They all knew. Their tolerance of the struggling but still game lady at the piano was a kindness. And since then my feelings for the D.A.R. have been mixed with the emotions that, I must confess, brought a bit of a lump to my throat that evening long ago.