When I was 17, I had the good fortune to be a part of a Rotary foreign exchange trip to Japan with 11 other teens. We spent a wonderful month with our Japanese chaperones getting to know Japanese families and exploring several regions of the country. The most lasting and meaningful day for me was the trip to Hiroshima. We toured the museum and then knelt in silence at the Peace Memorial Park outside, with a clear view of the iconic bombed out building left over from the American bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II. Even as teenagers, we understood the power of standing in this place. We could feel the history in a way we could not through books or photographs. This place matters.
Years later I lived near Princeton, New Jersey. One sunny afternoon I was driving on what I thought were just windy back roads in the countryside, and I happened upon Rockingham. I could not resist getting out of the car to read the historical marker out front. Quite by accident I found myself standing in front of the house where General George Washington wrote his Farewell Orders to the Army, a document that released them from duty and initiated his retirement. Washington had lived here for several months, and this home had been his final headquarters in the American Revolutionary War. This modest structure housed a future president and a family generous enough to offer him shelter and safety in a period that would define American and world history. This place matters.
As a history lover and eager traveler, I have had so many of these moments, as I am sure you have, too. We find ourselves standing on a bit of ground where real people lived and breathed and became a part of the story of our community, our country, our people. They may have shaped history in profound ways, like George Washington, or they may have shaped your family or your community. In any case, these places and moments make up the story of who we are, as people, as a community, and as a nation. All of these places matter.
People who visit the Clinton House come for this experience of just standing in a place where history happened, where a future Governor, President, Senator, Secretary of State started their lives as a couple. The house is a modest one, but isn’t that the point? We tell a story here of a young Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham, a couple who married and launched their careers in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a modest city in a small state. They represent the spirit of the American promise, that anyone from anywhere can make a positive impact in the world through public service. This house and its story are living illustrations of the American values of democracy, hard work, and service to others. This place matters.
The sudden changes in our way of life have affected us as an organization, just as this pandemic has affected you. We have had to make staff cuts, shrink budgets, and cancel events. We were saddened by cancelling what promised to be an amazing exhibit entitled The Revolution is Female in celebration of the centennial of women’s suffrage. We have tentative plans to have it in 2021, so please stay tuned!
I am inviting you to be a part of our continuing story by donating to the Clinton House Museum. We know that the story of who we are as a community and a nation will be changed by this pandemic. You are crucial in helping us maintain this presidential site, the beautiful First Ladies Garden, and the programs that bring civic engagement and thoughtful conversations about public service, civic engagement, and history to our community.
Pandemics don’t last, but stories do. Please consider donating now to help us continue writing this story. Donate because this place matters.
Angie Albright, Director, Clinton House Museum