“When the American pilgrim shall, in after ages come up to [the] column, may he recall the virtues of her who sleeps beneath…while he invoke blessings upon the memory of the mother of Washington.”

– Andrew Jackson, June 9, 1833 1


Mary Ball Washington died on August 25, 1789. She was buried near Meditation Rock where she read her Bible and prayed daily. Since her death, the citizens of the Fredericksburg and Northern Neck areas established landmarks to continue the memory and legacy of “the Grandmother of our country.”

Mary Washington Monument

The Mary Washington Monument (Photo Courtesy of Caitlin Donnelly)

Upon the death of Mary Ball Washington in 1789, Congress resolved to erect a monument in her memory at Meditation Rock. However, it took more than one hundred years to complete the memorial. The slow process made by Congress influenced Silas E. Burrows, a philanthropist of New York, to donate $10,000 toward the creation of the monument in 1833. In June of the same year, President Andrew Jackson traveled to Fredericksburg to lay the first cornerstone of the monument. Upon establishing the cornerstone, Andrew Jackson proclaimed “When the American pilgrim shall, in after ages come up to [the] column, may he recall the virtues of her who sleeps beneath…while he invoke blessings upon the memory of the mother of Washington.”2

However, four years later, little progress had been made. Silas Burrows died, as did the contractor, Rufus Hill. The only piece that was completed was the base of the monument; the shaft laid on the ground to the side of monument. 3

The memorial became an empty promise and remained so for five decades until 1889. That year, a Fredericksburg real estate firm, Colbert & Kirtley, tried to auction the property where the dilapidating memorial laid. Upon hearing the news, women became outraged and rallied to save the memorial and Mary Washington’s burial site. One of these women was Frances B. Goolrick of Fredericksburg who chartered the Fredericksburg Mary Washington Monument Association on November 8, 1889. Another woman, Margaret Hetzel of Fairfax started the National Mary Washington Memorial Association that same year. Both of these associations, according to researcher Leila M. Ugiricius, had the same goal: “to save Mary’s grave and secure a monument to her memory.” 4

First monument funded and built by women for a woman. (Photo courtesy of Caitlin Donnelly)

However, with the two groups, conflicts arose over whether the monument should be restored or abandoned for a new one. The locals wanted restoration of the monument as it had withstood time and events such as the Battle of Fredericksburg during the Civil War. Eventually, however, the Fredericksburg citizens conceded that the monument was too corroded to use and agreed for a new design.5

William J. Crawford of New York was selected to design the second obelisk. He designed the monument to look similar to the Washington monument in Washington, D.C. that had been built nine years earlier. The first cornerstone of the new monument was laid in 1893 on part of what as the eighteenth-century plantation of Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis of Kenmore. A year later, the monument with a fifty-foot tall granite shaft and eleven-foot square base was complete. Grover Cleveland, who was president at the time, traveled to Fredericksburg and dedicated the memorial. 6

The Mary Washington Monument remains significant today as it was the first memorial funded and built by women for a woman.  The city of Fredericksburg has owned the monument since the 1960s when the National Mary Washington Memorial Association signed the deed over to the city. Today, it remains a symbol of the mother of Washington, as well as the women of Fredericksburg.7

Mary Washington House

On September 18, 1772 George Washington purchased a house for his mother on Charles Street in Fredericksburg when she was 64. Although Mary Ball Washington did not immediately move into the house, it was the place where she spent the last 17 years of her life. It was in this home that Mary passed away on August 25, 1789. Upon her death, George directed his nephew-in-law, Charles Carter of Culpeper, to sell the house and the adjacent lots. On February 3, 1795, a deed stated that the house and lots had been sold to Charles from George. The deed then continued to state that Carter sold the property to Richard Dobson. For the next one hundred years, the house was occupied by several owners and renters. The property changed with each owner and renter. By 1890, the property was reduced to one fourth of the original lot, and the house had additions and other alterations made to it. 8 Nevertheless, the house remained prominent as it was recognized as Mary Ball Washington House. For example, in 1838, Andrew Jackson visited the house in connection with laying the first cornerstone for the initial Mary Washington monument. 9

In 1890, the house was almost sold to the Chicago Columbian Exposition. The members of the exposition planned to take the house apart to move and rebuild piece by piece in Chicago. However, Mrs. V.M. Fleming, a Fredericksburg resident, prevented this from ever occurring. Fleming contacted the residents of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Beale. She gave news to the Beals that the house’s owner, William Moon, planned to sell the house at $4,000.00. However, the Exposition representative was not authorized to spend that much on the house and had to consult with his employer in Chicago. 10. In the meantime, Mrs. Beale went to Mrs. Spotswood Carmichael and urged her to telegram Belle Bryan, a member of the newly formed Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), to help save the house. Upon receiving the telegram, Belle Bryan notified the APVA. Between her and the organization, they agreed to raise money to purchase the house before the Chicago Columbia Exposition could. As a result, between Bryan and the APVA the money was raised and a deed was signed over to the Association on June 2, 1890 by Mary B. Moon through APVA trustee, George W. Shepherd. 11

With the house still established in Fredericksburg and its association to Mary Ball Washington, the APVA decided to create a third branch (joining its Williamsburg and Norfolk branches) called the Mary Washington Branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities on March 15, 1890. The new branch was headed by Mrs. Spotswood Carmichael as “directress.” By 1896, the branch included nine members that rose money through fundraising events, such as a Colonial Ball. The women used these funds to pay for the maintenance and repairs of the house. 12 In 1900, two rooms of the house were made open to the public. 13

In 1928, the women launched a fundraising campaign to enable them to restore the house to its original state. The women collaborated with Charles Cornelius, the assistant curator of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum, and Philip Stern, a local architect, to restore the house and garden. In 1929, a nationwide appeal for funds was made by the committee. As a result, the adjoining house was donated to the Branch. At the time, it was the residence of the custodian, however since then it has been made to serve as the gift shop, meeting room of the Branch, and a storage house. Despite this donation, the original restoration of the house went slow. 14

Restoration continued well into the late twentieth century. In 1968, the Garden Club of Virginia proposed a recreation of the garden of Mary Washington. Over the next year, a committee led by landscape architect Ralph E. Griswold worked to restore the garden. 15 This recreated garden is still intact today. In 1970, a generous sum in the form of stock was given to the Branch by Elsie Ball Bowley. This donation made it possible for the women to stabilize the original kitchen and to continue maintenance on the house. 16 Today, the upkeep of the house is maintained through donations, gifts, and fundraising.

Mary Ball Washington House is one of the earliest preservation successes of Fredericksburg. Since the house has become a landmark, prominent members of society have visited the house. Among these people are included Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Edith Wilson, Elizabeth Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Lady Bird Johnson. 17 The house continues to be a symbol of Mary Washington as it represents her role as a mother to maintain a home.

Mary Washington College

Sign of the institution as it is known today. (Photo courtesy of Jenn Arndt)

In 1908, the institution located on College Avenue in Fredericksburg was established as the Fredericksburg State Normal Industrial School for Women. Sixteen years later, the all-female school changed its name to State Teachers College at Fredericksburg as legislative approval was granted to confer baccalaureate degrees in education in 1924. 18

The school remained a Teachers College until the late 1920s when important developments were made that changed the school from an institution that just offered degrees in education to an institution that offered degrees in both education and liberal arts. In 1928, under the same inspiration set forth by the women’s suffrage movement of 1920, women campaigned for the commonwealth of Virginia to establish a liberal arts college for women equal to the facilities at the University of Virginia, which offered men a liberal arts college education. Under this movement, Judge Alvin T. Embrey of Fredericksburg suggested the the proposed new women’s college be named Mary Washington College as he declared “‘the establishment of this University for Women at Fredericksburg under the name of Mary Washington College, in part as a memorial to the noble woman who lived and is buried in Fredericksburg would endow the institution with a charm and appeal to all woman kind that could be secured in no other way.'” 19 However, with the Great Depression, the movement for a women’s liberal arts college was short-lived and wouldn’t be revisited for another seven years.

In the mid-1930s, the Fredericksburg State Teachers College began to reassess its name as more liberal arts courses were added to the curriculum. Thus, the College made a case to the State Board of Education to offer a bachelor of arts degree, in addition to the bachelor of education degree. The State Board approved the College’s decision to offer the liberal arts degree in 1934. With the addition of the degree, the school’s name seemed inappropriate. “Immediately, Mary Washington College became the foremost choice for the institution’s new name…(according to the school newspaper) ”to honor Mary Washington, the mother of George, whose life was so closely identified with Fredericksburg where her home and tomb are located.'”20 With great support from the college and the Fredericksburg community, the name of the school was signed into law on March 9, 1938. 21 At the thirtieth commencement ceremony that same year, the new name Mary Washington College was inaugurated.

Since 1938, “Mary Washington” has remained a central part of the school’s name. In 1944, the name changed to Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia, in which the Fredericksburg campus became the women’s college of liberal arts of the university. However, in 1970, the campus transformed into a coeducational institution. In response to this, the school’s name changed back to Mary Washington College, in which the institution became autonomous with its own governing board. Finally, with the addition of the College of Graduate and Professional Studies in Stafford to the institution in 2004, the school became what it is today, the University of Mary Washington. 22

Mary Washington Healthcare Logo (Image courtesy of Mary Washington Healthcare. See image reference page.)

Mary Washington Hospital and Healthcare

The first hospital of Fredericksburg’s regional healthcare system was named after Mary Ball Washington in 1899. Her name was chosen to honor her life and her strong character. In addition, the name also honors the local women who successfully raised money in the 1890s to erect the monument commemorating the life of Mary Washington. 23

In addition to naming the hospital after Mary Washington, the regional healthcare system used the crest of the Washington family as its logo in the 1950s. Since then, the emblem has evolved into its appearance today and is a constant reminder of the region’s pride in the Washington heritage. 24

Mary Washington Museum and Research Center

In the summer of 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, the Clerk of the Court of Lancaster County in the Northern Neck of Virginia received a notification from the Confederate States government to send all of his records to Richmond to be protected from any damage or theft from the Union troops.  The papers had been kept in a safe within the county in the clerk’s possession in Queenstown and then in Lancaster Courthouse since 1652. At the time of the notification, Warner Eubank, the county clerk who cared for the safekeeping of the documents bundled and crated up the nearly 200 year old documents and hid them in a hayloft not far from the courthouse. The documents and records remained there until all fear of confiscation and destruction had passed and the Civil War was well over. Upon the conclusion of the Civil War and Reconstruction period, the records that conveyed colonial and post-Revolutionary War history, census records, deeds and wills, court orders and a number of other loose papers were returned to the courthouse district of Lancaster and stored in the attic of the eighteenth-century Clerk’s Office. 25

The documents and records remained untouched and unknown for nearly seventy years. In 1933, the Works Progress Administration or WPA, sent workers to located and to take inventory of the records. Historians throughout the country were astounded by what was found in the Clerk’s Office. However, the preservation project was postponed with the onset of World War II. 26

Finally, in 1956, a group of women led by genealogist Elizabeth C. Pierce formed the historical department of the Lancaster Womens Club. Their purpose was to finish what the WPA started: to preserve and catalogue the documents and provide a research facility for the public. Thus, the women established and named the Mary Ball Memorial Museum and Library, honoring the native to Lancaster. 27

Today, the museum and library provide a collection of thousands of books and documents covering Lancaster’s genealogical and cultural history as well as information from the surrounding counties of the Northern Neck so familiar to Mary Ball Washington. The museum holds a large collection of Ball and Washington memorabilia honoring the life and legacy of Mary Ball Washington.


Today Mary Ball Washington remains an icon as she raised and taught her virtues to her children in a time when it was difficult for a woman to single-handedly raise a family. Most importantly, Mary Ball Washington laid the foundations for what her first born son, George, would use to build the United States of America.  She not only inspired George Washington, but also the Fredericksburg and Northern Neck areas. Today those communities continue to honor Mary in various ways, not only in establishing landmarks and naming institutions after her, but also through events, such as the annual Mother’s Day tribute to her held at the Mary Washington House. 28 These commorations to Mary Ball Washington continue to honor and to carry on the legacy of the virtous, hardworking mother.


  1. Leila M. Ugiricius, “A Monumental Project,” in “Town and Country,” The Free-Lance Star, January 15, 2000, 4.
  2. Leila M. Ugiricius, “A Monumental Project,” in “Town and Country,” The Free-Lance Star, January 15, 2000, 4.
  3. Ibid., 4.
  4. Ibid, 4.
  5. ibid., 4.
  6. Ibid, 4.
  7. Ibid., 4-5.
  8.  Betsy Embry Houston, The Mary Washington Branch of the Association for the Preservation of VA Antiquities (Fredericksburg, VA: Mary Ball Washington House, 1989), 6-7.
  9. Ibid., 9.
  10. Ibid., 7.
  11. Ibid., 7.
  12. Ibid., 8.
  13. Ibid., 9.
  14. Ibid., 8
  15. Ibid., 9.
  16. Ibid., 9.
  17. Ibid., 10.
  18. William B. Crawley, Jr., University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History 1908-2008 (Fredericksburg, VA: University of Mary Washington Foundation, 2008), 1-3.
  19. Ibid., 39.
  20. Ibid., 41.
  21. The Bullet in William B. Crawley, Jr., University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History 1908-2008, 42.
  22. “Historical Chronology of the University of Mary Washington.” http://www.umw.edu/centennial/history/chronology/default.php
  23. Mary Washington Healthcare, “What’s in a Name?” Health Link (Winter 2010), 3.
  24. Ibid., 3.
  25. Christine C. Townley, “The Mary Ball Washington Museum and Research Center,” The Virginia Genealogical Society Newsletter 23, no. 1 (February 1997): 1-2.
  26. Ibid., 2.
  27. Ibid., 2.
  28. “Mother’s Day tributes to Mary planned,” in “Town and Country” The Free-Lance Star, May 6, 1999, 2.