Best known as the "Savior of Mount Vernon," Ann Pamela Cunningham (1816-1875) had the distinction, for a long time, of being the only woman whose portrait hung in the South Carolina State House. From Laurens County, she was educated at Barhamville, the academy for women near Columbia (see South Carolina Female Collegiate Institute, Barhamville). Contemporaries described her as "quite pretty, very intelligent, exceedingly graceful and dignified in her manners--a most bewitching character." While still young, she suffered a bad fall from her horse that injured her spine and left her an invalid for life. In 1853, Miss Cunningham was made aware of the neglect and deterioration at Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. She immediately wrote a letter calling on the "Ladies of the South" to raise money to purchase his home and grave. Signed "a Southern Matron," the letter began an effective national movement. Miss Cunningham was elected the first Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, formally organized in 1854. In spite of her invalidism, she even lobbied for her cause in the rotunda of the National Capitol from a daybed. Finally, in 1860, the Association took formal possession of Mount Vernon. Miss Cunningham directed the work of the Association and the restoration of the property personally, first from Philadelphia, and during the Civil War from Rosemont, her home in Laurens County. She lived at Mount Vernon from 1866 until 1872, supervising the running of the plantation. Through her efforts, Ann Pamela Cunningham began the historic preservation movement in the United States.
Courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.