5.3.2021 – President General Report

5.3.2021 – President General Report

These remarks were originally given during the CDA Annual Meeting, held May 3, 2021.


On April 30, 2018, I became your 38th President General. Throughout my term, I have been energized and inspired by the Society’s incredible history and membership. While I could not have predicted a global pandemic and the challenges it brought, I am proud of the resilience and adaptability of the Society, and of all of you.


Having had high expectations for many exciting milestones and initiatives to be achieved in my three-year term, I am happy to say that nothing I set out to do remains unaccomplished…even if the world is a very different place.


For these planned initiatives, CDA’s mission statement was always my guiding beacon:


CDA honors American History through preservation and education.


My visits to over 30 active chapters were mostly in person, with only several by video conference. At each visit, I delivered a program on the history and legacy of CDA. These visits allowed me to educate members about our Society’s history, clarify protocols, hone our institutional lexicon, and reestablish the proper use of our insignia. Most importantly, this shared time strengthened our bonds as a CDA family.


Pre-Covid, Regional Meetings, which I also attended, were successfully led by Charlotte Christian and her Liaison for Special Initiatives Committee. These meetings took place across the nation and in Paris. Challenges and successes were discussed and celebrated with a structured agenda. It is my hope that these in-person events will resume with vigor when the time is right.


CDA’s mission-centric committees speak loudly to our mandate to promote American history, education and preservation. They also ensure the organization’s 501(c)(3) – or non-profit – status:


  1. Our CDA Education and Scholarship Committee, under the leadership of Jocelyn Lance, makes grants throughout the nation in the fields of preservation, archaeology, education, interpretation, museums, and educational opportunities for history teachers, just to name a few.
  2. The CDA Book Award Committee, under the chairmanship of Audrey Svensson, recommends educational books about American history and culture to be read, and then awarded prizes by the Society. This committee began its work in 1951.
  3. The Museum Committee is chaired by Cathy Brawer and makes policy and other decisions regarding the Society’s oldest continuing project, The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum on New York’s Upper East Side. The museum is wholly owned, operated, and supported financially by CDA.
  4. The Archives Committee, chaired by Beverley Sherrid, preserves important documents of the Society and imparts the knowledge of its contents for the study and education of all. Our archives contain the history of all Dames and its chapters. A recent initiative will enable the re-hiring of a professional archivist.
  5. Our newest committee-The Historic Projects Committee, chaired by Kathi Chulick, will document all CDA projects to date. This will be a valuable resource for Dames and the community alike.


In 1907, for the 300th Anniversary of the settling of Jamestown, VA, our Society created, funded and donated the magnificent entrance gates to Historic Jamestown Island, known as the “Gateway to History.” At that time, only six chapters comprised The Colonial Dames of America:

  1.  The Founding or Parent Chapter
  2.  Chapter I-Baltimore
  3. Chapter II-Philadelphia
  4.  Chapter III-Washington, DC
  5. Chapter IV-Paris
  6. Chapter V-San Francisco


In 2019, the Dames took on a new Society-wide project based on its original commitment – this time to rededicate and to restore these same gates, raising over $50,000. In celebration of this milestone, nearly 150 Dames visited Jamestown and Richmond to celebrate CDA’s continued partnership with Preservation Virginia, and to celebrate our collective history.


The Society also preserves lineages of our Colonial Past. Under the forward-thinking leadership of Registrar General Laura Dean Ramsay, the claims process has been streamlined and simplified by fillable forms, electronic transfer of documents, scanning of charts, and countless other revisions and enhancements. This has resulted in phenomenal growth in membership and supplementals.


The Registrar General and the Claims Committee began the innovative Colonial Women of Distinction (CWD) initiative, beginning with over 90 names of women on whom candidates may join CDA and also complete supplementals. I am proud to say I am wearing the very first CWD supplemental bar on the service of my 4th great grandmother, Mary Marshall Tabb Bolling, of Virginia.


The CDA Communications, Branding, and Insignia Committee, under the chairmanship of Shari Whiting, clarified the insignia usage and wearing policy, and also researched and renewed the historic ribbon colors. Insignia may be refreshed with the magnificent cerulean blue ribbon originally created in France by Tiffany & Co. In addition to the existing diamond President General’s star, and the sapphire Chapter President’s star, a ruby star was created for board service at either the Society or Chapter level.


A new multi-use charm was designed using the Society’s medallion, as well as a now-sold-out, limited edition 130th anniversary charm. Additionally, our worn-out insignia dies, for both the large and small CDA insignia, were replaced with new ones thanks to a $5,000 gift by an anonymous donor. This committee also approved and adopted a new tag line, CDA: America’s First Colonial Dames. And if that is not enough, the Communications Committee created a wonderful 130th CDA anniversary video, which had its debut today earlier in the meeting.


The social media presence of CDA has been elevated over the last three years on Facebook, Instagram, our website, and even YouTube. We are proud to have Staci-Jill Burnley as the Society’s first Chairman of Public Relations. Her deep experience will be invaluable.


With 86% of our membership outside of the New York metropolitan area, a by-law change made service on the Society’s Nominating Committee and Board of Managers open to all. Previously, a majority had to be from the Parent Chapter. This allows the Society’s full demographic to be represented in our governance and reaffirms the sense of a close-knit CDA family regardless of location.


Early in 2020, the world changed due to Covid 19. On March 13th, I requested that our Mount Vernon Hotel Museum close to the public. This was the same day that Broadway went dark. Our stellar Finance Chairman Caroline McLain secured the government’s Payroll Protection Plan (PPP), so that the professional staff could be paid for four additional months. As in all decisions, the future viability of our organization, its financial security, and the stewardship of our 1799 building remains paramount.


Caroline personally has spent countless hours ensuring that CDA is weathering the wake of the Covid storm, and other challenges. Largely thanks to her, I am proud to report that our endowment draw stands at a very conservative and fiscally-healthy 3.75%.


While the museum remains closed to the public in an abundance of caution, robust and creative offerings continue to benefit the public, our chapters and members, as well as countless school children. This is made possible electronically and through video conferencing in fulfillment of the Society’s and Museum’s respective missions. Thank you, Terri Daly, museum director, for your loyalty and dedication during this difficult time.

My gratitude extends to Executive Director Deb McWilliams, and Assistant Director Nicole Scholet, who are the true engine of our Society. With this duo in place, all things Dames have continued cheerfully and efficiently, albeit with many adjustments and modifications due to unforeseen global and local circumstances.


The Board of Managers with whom I have worked these three years has been a true strength, I thank you. Would all BOM members present please stand. Thank you.


I also must recognize and thank the most important person of all…Peter Knowles, my husband of nearly 51 years. I thank him for his love, support, patience, guidance, and wisdom.


I am proud of the decisions we have made as a vital women’s lineage society – America’s First Colonial Dames. A few of my fellow Dames have referred to me as CDA’s Pandemic President, something I never could have predicted but a title of which I am proud. My tenure has certainly been marked by unimagined frustrations and sadness but also – and more importantly – by an unexpected sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and pride in our very special and resilient membership.


This perspective reminds me that the end of the term of a CDA President General is also a beginning.


Rebecca Madsen has every tool to serve successfully as your 39th President General: leadership ability, brilliance, experience, and the best Board of Managers ever – thanks to the Nominating Committee, and chairman Sharon Vaino, immediate past Society President General.


In 2018, when I was asked to be on the slate as President General, Sharon challenged me to “take CDA to the next level.” I now give that charge to Rebecca Madsen and her leadership team.


The mission of The Colonial Dames of America has never been more important:


CDA honors American History through preservation and education.


Thank you.


CDA President General 2018-2021