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The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA), founded in 1891, is dedicated to furthering an appreciation of the national heritage of the United States through patriotic service, historic preservation, and educational projects. The Arkansas division, one of forty-four corporate societies, was organized in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on January 26, 1898, and admitted into the National Society on April 21, 1898. Cynthia Martin Polk of Little Rock was the organizing president. Members must be direct descendants from an ancestor who resided in an American colony prior to 1750 and who served his or her country in some official capacity during that period and before July 5, 1776. Membership is by invitation only.
Since the Spanish-American War, the NSCDA has contributed time and money to help American troops. When the U.S. battleship Arkansas was commissioned in 1913, the Arkansas division contributed the table centerpiece bowl of the silver service, which now stands in the dining room of the governor’s mansion.
Beginning in the 1950s, the patriotic service portion of the society’s mission has also involved welcoming new American citizens. At the naturalization ceremonies at the Federal Courthouse in Little Rock, members serve lunch to the new citizens and their families and give each an opportunity to have a photo made in front of the American flag and with the presiding judge. The society also sponsors an annual essay contest in American history for high school students and provides the winner a scholarship to attend a summer seminar in Washington DC on the workings of Congress.
The NSCDA has been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for its stewardship of historic properties. In addition to more than seventy houses owned, managed, or affiliated with the corporate societies, the NSCDA supports Sulgrave Manor, which is the ancestral home of George Washington in England; Gunston Hall, which is the colonial home of George Mason, the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights; and Dumbarton House, built around 1800 in Washington DC and accredited by the American Association of Museums. It is open to the public and also serves as the society’s national headquarters.
In Arkansas, the society contributes annually to the Brownlee House at the Historic Arkansas Museum. In celebration of the society’s 100th anniversary in 1998, it gave $15,000 to the museum to establish an endowment for support of the Brownlee House and its programs. In the 1930s, what is now known as the Historic Arkansas Museum was just thirteen buildings in a run-down part of Little Rock that were rescued from dereliction through the untiring efforts of an Arkansas Dame, Louisa Loughborough. Under her supervision, the buildings were restored to their original condition.
In addition to providing several scholarship awards, the Arkansas division’s history and educational projects have included the copying of 1,000 pages of court records from 1797 to 1817 of the old Arkansas Post (Arkansas County), which were almost illegible from the ravages of time, and placing the work in the archives of the Arkansas History Commission. In honor of Arkansas’s sesquicentennial in 1986, the society made a gift of $10,000 to the Old State House for the history exhibits fund.
The Arkansas Division’s membership of approximately 112 members is relatively small compared to some other state societies, but as of 2012, one of Arkansas’s members, Virginia Stuart Chapman Cobb, past president of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, serves on the National Board of Managers in an advisory capacity. She is from Little Rock.
For additional information:Limerick, Mrs. Richard Conner, and Mrs. Jess L. Reeves. The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Arkansas—The Centennial History 1898–1998. Little Rock: National Society of the Colonial Dames of America–Arkansas Division, 1998.
National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. http://www.nscda.org/index.htm (accessed February 25, 2015).
National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Arkansas Records. Center for Arkansas History and Culture. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Betsy Snyder HarrisNational Society of the Colonial Dames of America–Arkansas Division
Last Updated 2/25/2015
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