Emancipation Then and Now: The Arc of History at President Lincolnís Cottage

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:10 AM
Virginia Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Erin Mast, President Lincolnís Cottage, a Site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
President Lincoln’s Cottage earned its National Monument designation in 2000 based on two primary factors: the role of this place in Lincoln’s presidency and the historic purpose of the campus as a home for retired soldiers. That this was also the home to three other presidents was considered secondary. The story about the Soldiers’ Home, now known as the Armed Forces Retirement Home, was always understood to be ongoing — the period of significance for the Soldiers’ Home has stretched out continuously since it was founded in 1851. It serves the same essential purpose it has since it was founded. Yet the importance of the Cottage was limited to the Civil War-era, despite the Cottage popping up again and again, throughout history, for its connection to Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. The Cottage continued to be held in public esteem for many years, until a lack of formal interpretation and public access finally pushed the site into the dark recesses of our collective memory. A few individuals kept the flame alive, and in 1999, encouraged the National Trust for Historic Preservation to get involved. As the team developed the interpretation of the Cottage, it became clear through research and focus groups that in order to tell good, meaningful history, to explain what the Emancipation Proclamation did and did not do, we had to address history before and after Emancipation. Eschewing one-to-one comparisons of slavery past and present, we instead aim to answer the common public question, “Did the Emancipation Proclamation end slavery?” by addressing the fact that legal abolishment of slavery never truly ended the practice, which continues to this day. In addition, we support those continuing the fight against slavery today. By utilizing this site in the spirit of Lincoln’s historic use — our period of significance is unlimited.