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Treasures Tour at the Mount

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Remarks by the First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
at the Mount (Home of Edith Wharton)

Lenox, Massachusetts
July 14,1998

Thank you. Thank you so much. You're very gracious. Thank youStephanie for those kind remarks and for the tour that was much too short.I will have to come back and have a more proper amount of time to spendhere. I want to thank everyone who has labored so diligently and with suchcommitment to ensure that this house and the woman who built it and who itso embodies will be here for so many more years to come. I would like tothank Jonas and all who have served on the board of the Edith WhartonRestoration. I'd like to thank Scott Marshall and appreciate the gift ofthe history of the Mount, William Galvin, the Secretary of the Commonwealthand Chairman of the Massachusetts Historic Commission.

I want to say a special word of appreciation to the National Trust forHistoric Preservation. We are working with the National Trust and withDick Moe, its President, and Nancy Campbell, its Chair, who is here withus. And when the Trust designated the Mount as a "most endangered historicsite" that enabled the restoration to purchase this property in 1980. Ialso want to thank Judy McDonough, the Executive Director of theMassachusetts Historic commission. There are a number of state and localofficials, and I see your Congressmen here as well--many who have joinedtogether in support of the cause of historic preservation, and inparticular the cause of the Mount.

It's a wonderful feeling walking into the Mount -- those beautifulrooms that Edith Wharton designed, and especially going into her library.I can imagine the conversations and other activities that took place there.I am hopeful that some day the books that once graced those shelves will bereturned to this library. I've heard that Edith Wharton called herfather's library a "sea of wonder," and she wrote in The Decoration ofHouses, "The general decoration of a library should be of such character asto form a background or setting to the books, rather than to detractattention from them." I know that one of your goals is to have those booksthat remain, twenty-four-hundred volumes, returned here to the Mount. Youhave a lot of work ahead of you, but I saw how the yellow windows are beingfilled in as the money is being raised to reach your goals. And that iswhat I have see throughout the two days that I've been on this tour.

To highlight the White House Millennium Council and the NationalTrust's commitment to save America's Treasures, I've embarked on anold-fashioned bus, train, and motorcar tour of some of America's endangeredtreasures. Starting with the Star-Spangled Banner, including GeorgeWashington's Revolutionary War Headquarters, the Colonial Theater inPittsfield, I will go on to Harriet Tubman's House and the M'Clintock Housein Seneca Falls.

The point is that we are not just highlighting the famous, alreadywell-known icons, such as the Star-Spangled Banner, although it is tellingthat even that particular monument to our nation needs so much help andsupport from both the public and the private sector in order to endure asit endured on that night in September of 1814.

It is not just famous icons or even famous military and politicalleaders or even business leaders like Thomas Edison or scientific andcreative geniuses, as he was as well. We have to look at the full range ofhuman experience and American contributions to understand how we havebecome the people we are. So it is the scientists, the writers, and othercreators who have transformed our lives; and it is the way they lived andwhat they lived with that can speak to us today -- the places, the bookseven the kitchen utensils, the photographs, all of which form the heart ofour cherished history.

When the President and I began to talk about how we could mark themillennium, there were many things that we could have thought about. Othercountries are doing some fascinating efforts to try to mark their passagethrough the millennium. Great Britain is building a huge dome that will bein Greenwich and will be used for all kinds of activities. Iceland isreenacting the passage from Iceland to North America of their famousexplorers like Leif Eriksson. But as we thought about it, we thought thatmaybe we should try to engender interest throughout our country in ourhistory in ways that would reach every community that we possibly couldtouch. So as we began to plan we thought of a theme -- Honor the Past andImagine the Future -- because clearly by honoring our past, we think aboutthe values, the lessons, the ideals, the experiences, that we want to bringforward into the present, to use to build this imagined future together.

It was important for me as I began to talk about and highlight so manyof these treasures to be sure that it touched the entire human experience.And so for instance I am here.

As we've already heard, only five percent of our national historicsites are dedicated to women. The last time I looked, women haveconstituted about 50% of our population since our beginning. Now some ofthose women are well-known, like Edith Wharton -- a pioneer in so manyregards, an observer of American life, a designer, a decorator, a gardener,a writer. She wrote to a friend that she was a decidedly better landscapegardener than a novelist, but I don't think you could convince the PulitzerPrize committee or the many, many of us who studied her work in years afterthat to believe it. She might have been as good a landscape gardener as awriter but that just told us a little bit more about her genius and how farit reached. But because of her example, she was not the last. Young womengrowing up could look to her experience and dream, themselves, of becomingwriters of landscape gardeners.

As we look at the full range of the American experience, we need toremember women like Harriet Tubman or Kate Mullany, a labor leader from themiddle of the 19th century. The women who gathered at Seneca Falls, whereI will be visiting on Thursday, had the radical idea that men and womenshould be able to fulfill their own destinies. Every woman should reallybe able to think that American History incudes her. That she could, ifshe's talented enough, write her own House of Mirthor plant her own gardenthat would stand as a wonderful monument and bedazzle visitors like theJameses.

So I thank all of you for being caretakers of Edith Wharton's gifts.Each of you has not only made the Mount an example of what caring,dedicated citizens can do, but you've made Lenox, Massachusetts a shiningexample of what every community and every citizen from kindergartenclassrooms to corporate board rooms can do as well. This is an excitingventure for those of us involved in the White House Millennium Council, tocome out into the country, to communities like Lenox, to sights like theMount, and to really cheer all of you on. To try to lift up your work, totell you that there are many, many people who support and applaud yourefforts for what you are doing to preserve this treasure. And to draw moreattention to those efforts so that you can enlist even more supporters inthis worthy cause.

Just as I said in Pittsfield a few minutes ago, I do hope to returnsometime to attend a performance in the Colonial Theater when it is totallyrehabilitated and renovated, and I hope to return to the Mount at a time inthe future when all of your dreams about the gardens and the house arerealized as well. And to see those books that she lovingly had bound inMoroccan leather, once again, on the shelves where they belong.

This effort that we've undertaken is not just for a few Americans.There are some of you who have understood the importance of AmericanHistory and have been preservationists and conservationists and historiansfor many years, and I applaud and thank you. But now I ask you, as we movetoward the Millennium and the change of century, that will be upon us, toreach out and convince more of your fellow citizens why what you care aboutis important to them. Why preserving and restoring the Mount as a symbolof what a woman could do on her own -- designing a house, writing greatliterature, imagining a future -- is a lesson we want all of our childrento learn and absorb. And as you reach out to your fellow citizens, tellingthem what has moved you to be part of this particular restoration effort, Iknow you will enlist even more supporters--people who understand thathonoring the past and imagining the future is the American experience. Weare constantly reinventing ourselves. We are constantly restoringthe American Dream for a new generation, and I believe, the Presidentbelieves, and you believe that we cannot imagine the future if we don'tcarry forward with us the ideas, the experiences, and all that was learnedby those who came before.

So thank you for being pioneers, for caring deeply about EdithWharton, about women's history, about the Mount, and thank you for makingit possible for me to come here to highlight a very important treasure thatneeds all of us to help save it for the future.

Thank you all very much.

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July 1998

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