National First Ladies' Library Event
Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
July 23, 1999
Thank you to the McKinley's and to the library. I'm delighted to
be here again with Dr. Sheila Fisher, who has been an inspiration and a strong
supporter and one of the reasons we are able to celebrate the library today.
And I'm particularly pleased to be here with two people whom I enjoy and
admire so greatlyyour Congressman and his general. Both Ralph and Mary
Regula have contributed so much to preserving our nation's priceless heritage.
And they are owed a great deal of thanks, not only by those of you who are represented
by the Congressman, but from the rest of us as well. Because their contributions
expand our understanding of historic preservation and extend our appreciation
as to the much greater depth that historic preservation can and is playing in
our nation's present and future.
As you may know, I came here this morning directly from the memorial service
held for John Kennedy, Jr., his wife Carolyn, and her sister Lauren. I know
that your thoughts and prayers, like mine and so many millions of Americans,
are with these two families at this time of unbearable sadness and loss. As
the President said the other day, It is times like this that we really
stop to recognize that as big and diverse as our country is, we can come together
as a national family. We can come together in sorrow or in joy if it reflects
the values that we honor most.
This afternoon, we're here to celebrate efforts to preserve for future
generations some of that common American history that we all share and value
so deeply. The story is not only of America's first familiesin particular,
First Ladiesbut of families everywhere who come together, in good times
and in bad, to make America what it is today. And as in most families, there
are some who take on the special role of caretaker. Someone who makes sure that
we keep and preserve our family photo albums and letters; who seeks to keep
distant memories alive; and who won't let priceless pieces of our historyour
nation's historyget lost or damaged.
Fortunately for all of us, Congressman Regula has taken on that role as steward,
becoming one of the staunchest supporters in Congress on behalf of the national
effort to Save America's Treasures. It is thanks to his tireless
leadership that Congress provided $30 million in federal matching grants, enabling
communities across the country and federal agencies like the National Park Service
to preserve our nation's most significant treasures.
But as with most worthwhile endeavors, preserving America's treasures
cannotand should notbe solely a federal responsibility. Because
after all, preservation in the United States has always involved both the public
and the private sectors. Generous individuals, foundations, and corporations
have always stepped forward. That is why we enlisted the National Trust for
Historic Preservation as our non-profit partner for Save America's Treasures.
And I'm delighted that as of this week, we have been able to raise $34.2
million in private fundsand those private funds are supporting projects
around the country that tell the stories of our lives as Americans.
Over the past year, I've had the privilege to visit some 30 sites which
the National Trust and its partners are saving and preservingfrom George
Washington's winter headquarters on the Hudson River, to the ancient dwellings
of the Pueblo Indians in the Southwest, to the Breed Street Shul in Los Angeles.
Each of these American treasures is a living textbook, a glimpse into the past,
and a lesson for the future. And were it not for these preservation efforts,
each one might very well have been allowed to crumble away, taking a piece of
our history with it.
So that is among the reasons that I am particularly pleased to be here in Canton
today, where this community has made such a strong commitment to preserve its
historyand our nation's legacy.
I have just visited the restored Saxton-McKinley Housethe home of our
25th president and his wife, Ida. That house now houses the First Ladies'
Library. If you have not been there yet, I hope you will take the time to visit
this extraordinary place. It is a perfect example of a preservation partnership,
as a federal agency, a foundation, and an innovative project combined to make
this a living site.
I saw so much in my short visit, and I commend all of you for it. Although
I have been something of a student of first ladies since finding myself in this
position a few years ago, there were many things that I had never seen beforeincluding
some priceless photographs of those who served as first lady and hostess for
our first presidents. I was also pleased to see that a precious family heirloomIda
McKinley's silver inkwellhas recently been presented to the First
Ladies' Library [by the daughter of Ida's grand niece, Mary Gunn].
And it now sits where it always sat, here in Canton and in the White House,
on Ida's personal writing desk in the parlor there.
As I looked at that inkwell, I marveled at how 100 years ago, Ida would sit
at that desk and correspond with her friends and family by dipping her pen in
ink. Today we tap away at a keyboard that instantly links us to the world. One
hundred years ago, we drove from place to place in a horse and buggy, and could
only dream of flying to far-away places. This week, we commemorate the 30th
anniversary of man's first walk on the moon and the first of our shuttle
missions ever to be commanded by a woman. In 1900, women did not compete in
professional sports, and today we celebrate America's Women's Soccer
Team as the World Cup champions.
So as I looked at Ida's inkwell, I thought about how the role of womenand
first ladieshas grown and evolved over this past century, and how much
we still needed to learn about their lives, their achievements, and their aspirations.
That's why Mary Regula's commitment to create the National First
Ladies' Library is so important. Because now, especially, we understand
how critical it is to preserve and document that ever-evolving legacy of women's
contributions to our nation. Today we've gathered here at the City National
Bank Building, which, as Mary has explained, will be the future site of the
First Ladies' Library Education and Research Center. And I'm very
pleased that, as Kitty Higgins announced, this renovation has been designated
as an official project of Save America's Treasures.
As I traveled to historicand even prehistoricsites around our country
as part of our Save America's Treasures tour, again and again
I have stood in a place preserved through the leadership of womenwomen
like Mary. Almost a century ago, journalist Virginia McClurg and philanthropist
Lucy Peabody persuaded the Colorado Federation of Women's Clubs to work
to make Mesa Verde a national park. Ann Pamela Cunningham founded the Mt. Vernon
Ladies Association to save George Washington's home. Alice Longfellow preserved
her parents' home and belongings, including family papers and even the
children's drawings. And today, more of us will be able to learn about
the first ladies of our country because of the work and dedication of Mary Regula
and all the other women who have worked with her, such as Sheila, and all the
rest of you who are docents and contributors to this great project. And I salute
and thank you very, very much.
What this project demonstrates is that as we approach the new millennium, we
have a unique opportunity to expand our horizons and think more profoundly about
what it means to preserve, and what values that preservation represents to us.
Already, we are embracing more of our history and broadening our understanding
of who did shape it. We're also widening the circle of who is responsible
for taking care of and preserving that history. Saving our treasures is no longer
a specialized or isolated practice of experts or curators. It is not even the
province of just private citizens working by themselves alone. It is truly up
to all of us, as you here in Canton have demonstrated.
Every community has a treasure in its own backyard that tells a unique story.
And any American of any age can be a caretaker of our heritage, and thereby
give a gift to our future.
As I was listening to the Pledge of Allegiance, I thought of the school children
around America who have made such contributions. There were, for instance, school
children outside of the Philadelphia area who learned about the Save America's
Treasures campaign to save the home of Harriet Tubman, the courageous ex-slave
who led so many other slaves to freedom. These students brought pennies to school
every Friday and raised $1,100 to help preserve that historic home. I think
of the citizens of San Francisco who organized yard sales and sent in small
donations to restore the beautiful Conservatory of Flowers overlooking Golden
Gate Park, where families for generations had spent Sunday afternoons. And nearly
a century ago, the more than one million school children from around the world
who raised $500,000 to build the McKinley National Memorial, which I will visit
These are the kinds of efforts that have always represented the best of America.
And I think about how all of us can be imaginative in contributing to this history.
The President and I started the White House Millennium Council because we knew
we wanted to do more to mark this important passage of time. Certainly, we understood
that this would be an opportunity for great New Year's Eve parties. But
more than that, it would allow us to take stock of who we are as Americans.
And we chose as our theme, Honor the past; imagine the future. That
is what is happening here today.
I want to thank everyone who has made this gift to the future possible. I want
you to stop and think about not only the tangible giftslike the library
and the soon-to-be renovated bank buildingbut even more important, perhaps,
the intangible values that define us as Americans: Our responsibilities to one
other. Our gift of freedom. Our commitment to respect and tolerate our diversity;
to understand how unique America is. And our capacity to come together in sorrow
and in joy to express the common values we honor most that bind us together.
One hundred years ago, President McKinley said, Let us ever remember
that our interest is in concord, not conflict, and that our real eminence rests
in the victories of peace, not those of war. Those wordslike our
efforts to preserve America's treasureshonor our shared past. But
they also serveeven a century lateras a blueprint for our common
I look forward to the lessons that will be learned and passed on through this
library and the expanded understanding it will give us of the roles that these
women played in our country's history. And by doing so, it will help to
open our eyes to the kind of future that together we can imagine to make our
country even greater. Thank you all very much.