Most Americans have a decent idea of when and how their ancestors ended up in the United States. For those whose roots date all the way back to the American Revolution, the historic war that earned the United States its independence from England, there is a special group that is dedicated to preserving and promoting the ideals that early Americans fought for -- the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR.
DAR has some pretty strict membership policies: Only direct female descendants of Revolutionary soldiers or participants in Revolutionary causes are eligible for membership. Additionally, the prospective member must be at least 18 years old, and -- the most controversial point of all -- must be approved by the individual chapter she is applying to join. Membership can be a grueling process in the genealogical research alone, and the question of personal merit has proven to be quite subjective in some famous cases of denied membership.
This exclusive organization has an interesting history. DAR was founded on Oct. 11, 1890, and was later incorporated by an Act of Congress in 1896. The organization's three main objectives are historic preservation, education and patriotism.
Who, exactly, were these Americans from whom DAR members are descended? The American Revolution took place in the latter part of the 18th century. Thirteen colonies fought to gain independence from the British Empire, resulting in the Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783. The colonies penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the war was finally won after many bloody battles in 1781. Those who fought in the Revolution were known as patriots. For membership purposes, DAR defines “patriot” as “one who provided service or direct assistance in achieving America's independence” [source: DAR].
If you do the math, you'll notice that DAR was formed nearly a hundred years after the American Revolution ended. So why was the group formed? After the wounds of the Civil War had begun to heal, patriotism burst back in full force, along with a desire to understand the beginnings of the country’s independence. Many women were pretty aggravated that they were excluded from male-only ancestry organizations, so they decided to form their own. Four women with a common bond of fathers or grandfathers who were patriots in the American Revolution created DAR with the intent to "perpetuate the memory and spirit of the women and men who achieved American independence" [source: DAR].
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., DAR is a nonprofit, volunteer, women-only service organization. Although you might assume that it is a politically motivated group (after all, the patriots certainly were), DAR does not lobby Congress or push a political agenda. The group does support strong national defense, but recognizes that individual members uphold various political beliefs.
In this article, you'll find out about the rigorous process of becoming a member of DAR, the benefits and rules of membership and much more.
DAR currently has more than 165,000 members internationally. With almost 3,000 chapters in both rural and metropolitan areas around the United States, the organization has had more than 850,000 members since its inception. In addition to having chapters in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., DAR has international chapters in the following countries: Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom.
According to DAR, eligibility for membership is pretty simple: "Any woman 18 years or older, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background, who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution is eligible" [source: DAR]. DAR currently has members who are Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim.
The group's national bylaws mandate that anyone who can prove direct lineage to a patriot will be granted membership. Once she has been approved for membership, she must pay the necessary application fees and membership dues. There's one little catch, though: Once a member has joined at the national level, she is voted on by the local chapter she has applied to. Therefore, chapter membership is not necessarily guaranteed. If the applicant's chosen chapter rejects her for membership, she can reapply to one of the other 3,000 DAR chapters.
It's no simple task to join DAR. If you're lucky, you have a blood relative who already did all of the genealogical research before you -- otherwise, you'll have to start from scratch. There must be a direct and traceable blood relation in order to qualify for membership. Overall, the membership process takes four steps: mapping out your lineage, finding your ancestor, finding your chapter and beginning the application process.
- Mapping out your lineage. DAR provides a lot of resources for completing this daunting task. A genealogy worksheet and pedigree chart must be filled out and verified with legal documents. Each person must be validated with statements of birth, marriage and death. Past the first three generations, other proof may be used, including cemetery records, census records, tombstone inscriptions, will or probate records.
- Finding your ancestor. The DAR Web site has a lengthy list of what can be considered "acceptable service" from a Revolutionary participant. This list includes everything from soldiers to members of the Boston Tea Party and civilians who donated material goods to troops. The "DAR Patriot Index Lookup" is a database that searches all previously submitted entries. In addition, the DAR Library has an extensive collection of genealogical records for this purpose.
- Finding your chapter. Prospective members should find a local chapter once they have completed the previous two steps. A propsective member form should be filled out and submitted to this chapter.
- Beginning the application process. At this point, the applicant provides her lineage and other information for review. She must wait for her prospective chapter to vote her into membership or deny her request.
In the next section, we'll learn about membership in DAR.
DAR emphasizes both personal and professional benefits to becoming a member. Like most social organizations, DAR provides opportunities to meet new people with similar interests. In addition to an enthusiasm for social networking, DAR members have an invested interest in philanthropy -- many of the organization's activities focus on service. Most of these service projects concentrate on helping youth and aiding historic preservation and conservation.
Professional benefits in DAR are also a consideration for many members. Women can take advantage of leadership opportunities as an officer or committee chair of various initiatives and projects.
DAR chapters are governed by bylaws. These bylaws structure the goals, business and public image of the organization. In particular, members must keep in mind these important points:
- DAR is a nonpolitical organization, so members cannot lobby at any government level on behalf of the group. Members may also not endorse candidates or contribute to a political party if they are doing it in the name of the organization. According to president general Linda Gist Calvin, "Each member, chapter, and state society is cautioned to refrain from any activity performed in the name of DAR that might be construed as political."
- The president general is the official spokesperson for the society and the only person who may make statements on policies to the media.
- Members must follow the DAR dress code when they are wearing the official DAR insignia, or membership pin. Dress for DAR chapter meetings varies from business dress to casual, depending on the type of meeting being conducted.
- Annual dues must be paid, otherwise a woman can be dropped from national membership. She can reinstate at any time (for a small fee and payment of annual dues).
- Members' behavior must reflect the ideals of DAR. Calvin emphasizes that members are rarely kicked out and that expulsion is a tightly controlled procedure, governed by national society bylaws to the letter.
Next, we'll learn about the historical significance of the DAR headquarters.
DAR Historical Headquarters
The DAR Headquarters is located between a couple of pretty famous national monuments -- the White House and the Washington Monument. In fact, DAR National Headquarters is a historic landmark in itself. According to the organization, it "is one of the world's largest buildings of its kind owned and maintained exclusively by women" [source: DAR].
Visitors can do more than just tour the premises. It is regularly rented out for special events, from weddings to corporate events to bat mitzvahs.
One of DAR Headquarters' most famous event facilities is Memorial Continental Hall. Built in 1905, this is the oldest of the DAR buildings. Continental Hall includes the DAR Library, which boasts a huge genealogical research collection that comes in handy for prospective members. There are also more than 30 period rooms on the premises. Each room displays a scene from an early American home. Continental Hall is a popular site for weddings and other events -- even prime-time television shows, commercials and movies have been filmed on its premises.
Constitution Hall, which was built in 1929, is the site of the annual DAR Continental Congress, or membership convention. Constitution Hall is currently the largest concert hall in Washington, D.C., and is nationally recognized as a center for the performing arts. Crowds of nearly 4,000 people can gather here for events like graduations, concerts, gala dinners and more. A schedule of upcoming events at Constitution Hall is regularly updated and available on the DAR Web site.
The Administration Building holds offices for such necessary departments as membership and events scheduling. It is also home to the Americana Collection and the gallery of the museum.
In the next section, we'll learn about DAR's three main initiatives.
As we've discussed, DAR has three main objectives: historic preservation, patriotism and education. The group achieves these goals many different ways. Here is a sampling of how they go about it:
- DAR donated $200,000 toward the restoration of historic Independence Hall in Philadelphia, more than $750,000 to the beautification and restoration of iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York City, and more than $500,000 to the new World War II memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
- Every year DAR members across the country locate and beautify the final resting places of ancestors from the American Revolution.
- The group has erected monuments honoring figures and important events throughout American history.
- DAR gives more than $1 million each year to six schools, specially chosen for the education they provide to children who have special needs, such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. Some of the schools provide a refuge to children with troubled home lives.
- The group provides $70,000 to $100,000 in funds each year to American Indian schools.
- DAR awards scholarships based on academic excellence in various areas. Disabled students, children of DAR members and American Indians are also eligible to apply for scholarships.
- DAR gives schools, civic organizations and other groups thousands of American flags each year.
- The organization provides the "DAR Manual for Citizenship" to immigrants. Since its first distribution in 1921 at Ellis Island, more than 10 million manuals have been given out.
- DAR members provide volunteer aid to veterans.
- The group awards two honors to Americans for "outstanding contributions to the nation" [source: DAR]. The Americanism Medal is given to naturalized citizens, while the DAR Medal of Honor is reserved for American-born citizens.
In addition to these initiatives, DAR produces several publications. American Spirit, DAR's official magazine, includes feature stories about historical topics, citizenship and education. A leaflet called National Defender is published monthly -- its topics focus on current issues. And, Daughters Newsletter exists to provide information to DAR members.
DAR may have its roots in the past, but it's working hard to keep up with the times. In the next section, we'll learn about DAR's most recent programs and goals.
The Future of DAR
The group may be pushing 118 years old, but DAR still considers itself active and vibrant. DAR's mission stays relevant by honoring the past but adapting to the interests and needs of its current members. President general Linda Gist Calvin says, "Our members carry on the timeless, important work of promoting historic preservation, education and patriotism that was set forth by the founders in 1890, but also work hard to make the organization and its programs relevant to today's women."
For example, the Women's Issues Committee addresses health, family and career issues that affect DAR members. Also, the Project Patriot Committee supports deployed members of the military and their families.
In recognition of members' many time commitments, several chapters are shifting their meeting times. This allows more flexibility for working women and enables mothers of young children to attend chapter meetings.
DAR's continued efforts to recognize once-forgotten Revolutionaries is evident in its recent research and publications. The group is about to release the second expanded edition of its publication "Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War." This is an ongoing collaboration of the DAR Library and genealogy departments to research and document African American and American Indian ancestors who participated in the Revolution.
And, it's not just the changing dynamic of its members and its society that DAR's efforts reflect: DAR is currently in the midst of a 10-year project to restore and renovate the complex of historic buildings that make up National Headquarters.
To learn more about DAR and other related topics, consult the links on the next page.
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More Great Links
- American Revolution.com. http://www.americanrevolution.com
- Barboza, Maurice A. "A Memorial to Black Patriots." The Washington Post. 31 March 1985. http://www.libertyfunddc.org/statements_articles/mauricewashpost1985opedblackpatriotsmem.htm
- Calvin, Linda Gist. President General, DAR. National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. 20 November 2007. Conducted by Alia Hoyt.
- "Daughters of the American Revolution Is Color Blind When It Comes to Identifying African American Participants in the Revolutionary War." PR Web. 6 May 2003. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2003/5/prweb65109.php
- Hereditary Society Community of the United States of America. http://www.hereditary.us/about.hsc.htm
- The History Place. http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/revolution/
- Johnson, Jason B. "What Strom Thurmond's Illegitimate Daughter Wants." SF Gate.com. 9 August 2004. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/08/09/BAG4U7KF0995.DTL&type=printable
- National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. http://www.dar.org