The director of Mount Vernon’s library says it’s difficult to pierce the Washington myth (Interview)Historians in the News
tags: George Washington, Mount Vernon library, Grateful American Foundation
What made George Washington the profoundly effective leader that he was? That’s the question we asked Doug Bradburn, the founding director of Mount Vernon’s Fred W. Smith National Library. In this episode of the Grateful American™ TV Show, co-hosts David Bruce Smith and Hope Katz Gibbs interview the specialist on GW, and you’ll be fascinated by the insights that Bradburn provides about the man behind the myth.
“Washington has been the subject of thousands of books and articles, and yet he still remains a distant figure to many of us,” says Douglas Bradburn, PhD, founding director of Mount Vernon’s Fred W. Smith National Library, shown above.
Located adjacent to Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, the library fosters new scholarly research about George Washington and the Founding Era, while safeguarding original Washington books and manuscripts.
Bradburn, who has headed the library since it opened in the fall of 2013, notes that the library is “more than the books, manuscript collections, and digital archives that we are holding and building. In fact, Bradburn intends that the library become “the leading center for the study of George Washington and the Founding of the United States.”
Prior to his work at the Fred W. Smith National Library, Bradburn (pictured below) was a professor and director of graduate studies in the history department at Binghamton University. He taught college-level classes at a variety of institutions, held two year-long fellowships, and earned his PhD in history from the University of Chicago and his BA in economics and history at the University of Virginia.
He is also the author of the 2009 book “The Citizen Revolution: Politics and the Creation of the American Union, 1774-1804.”...
David Bruce Smith: George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, had a reputation of being a difficult person. Do we know what their relationship was like?
Doug Bradburn: Today we think of Mary Ball Washington as a sort of driven and controlling woman, but in the 19th century in particular, she was seen as a great mother to Washington. She came to represent the motherhood of the young republic, and she was idealized as a great mother who raised a virtuous, honest man through her pious and moral ways. In fact, the first national monument to a woman in American history is an obelisk dedicated to Mary Ball Washington that stands in Fredericksburg, Va., where she lived and died.
It’s really hard to say what she was really like, although the extant letters we have between her and George Washington don’t always cast her in the most favorable light. The letters convey a relationship that’s strained, but it’s hard to say how much of that perception is informed by modern psychology. It is tantalizing because Washington is so hard to see as a normal person; understanding his mother would be a wonderful way to do it....
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