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The Colonial Dames of America:

The Momentum Continues in 2016

by Sharri Whiting De Masi and Sharon W. Vaino

In 2015, The Colonial Dames of America celebrated its 125th anniversary as the oldest women’s lineage society focused on the Colonial period. As the Dames move through the Society’s 126th year in 2016, various exciting initiatives are underway.

In 2015, The Colonial Dames of America celebrated its 125th anniversary as the oldest women’s lineage society focused on the Colonial period. As the Dames move through the Society’s 126th year in 2016, various exciting initiatives are underway.


Annual Meeting Weekend

A traditional highlight of the Annual Meeting Weekend, April 30 – May 2, 2016, is the Garden Party at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden (“MVHM&G,” owned and operated by The Colonial Dames of America, the “CDA”). Garden and Grounds Committee Chair Charlotte Van Horne Squarcy and her committee prepared for a colorful show by planting 1500 bulbs in the fall of 2015.  The garden’s dominant colors for 2016 are a vibrant pink and blue, to which Dames and their guests inevitably add a touch of brilliance in their own spring attire. This year the committee also developed a Respite Garden for quiet contemplation.


Charlotte is the ideal Dame to chair the Garden and Grounds Committee, as she has ancestral ties to the Netherlands, where the flower industry reigns supreme. Charlotte is a direct descendant of the Van Hornes and often travels to Hoorn, Holland, to participate in historic events in the city. Her family member Sir William Van Horne, a visionary railway builder who headed the Canadian Pacific Railway, built the substantial Van Horne Estate on Ministers Island in New Brunswick, Canada, where visitors enjoy the culture and heritage of the Charlotte Coastal Region.


It is now 65 years since the inauguration in 1951 of the Dames’ prestigious Book Awards. Winners over the years have included some of America’s pre-eminent historians and authors, among them David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thomas Fleming, Cokie Roberts, and Peter J. Hatch. In addition to the Book Award, the CDA presents a Citation to an outstanding book, as well as a Young Reader’s Award.


The 2016 awards were announced in early March for presentation at the CDA Annual Meeting on May 2 at a private club in Manhattan. Chairman of the Book Award Committee and Past President General Audrey Svensson traditionally introduces the authors and the awards; the winning author is the keynote speaker of the event. The 2016 CDA Book Award winner is She Can Bring Us Home: Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Civil Rights Pioneer, written by Diane Kiesel and published by Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. The CDA Book Citation goes to The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects and Other Audacious Fakery, by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, published by Princeton Architectural Press; and the CDA Young Readers Award to The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Institution, written by Chris Barton and Illustrated by Cathy Gendron, published by Millbrook Press, A Division of Learner Publishing Group.


Honored guests at the Annual Meeting include noted watercolorist Christine Y. Rother of Philadelphia and Vermont, who has graciously accepted her recognition as Honorary Dame of the Society, The Colonial Dames of America, only the second such recognition ever given by the Society. The noted visual artist, who is also an expert on historic gardens, created a series of stunning watercolors depicting various areas of the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden as a gift to the CDA. Christine is a cousin of the late Elsie (Mrs. John J.) Trask, President General of The Colonial Dames of America 1970-74, and is active in historic preservation, including service as co-chair of the 2016 garden weekend at the Physick House Museum in Philadelphia, and on the CDA Garden and Grounds Committee.



MVHM&G Benefit at the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

On September 22, at the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s estate in Washington, DC, the CDA will hold a unique gala evening to benefit the MVHM&G, the CDA’s historic property in Manhattan. The decision to move this gala from its previous venue in New York City to our nation’s capital proceeds naturally from the CDA’s granting to its worldwide membership automatic membership in the MVHM&G. Brantley Knowles, CDA Second Vice President General, is Chair of the 2016 benefit; her Vice Chair is CDA Events, Calendar, and Hospitality Committee Chair Kathleen Elizabeth Springhorn. Hillwood Trustee and heritage society veteran Douglas Reid Weimer is also supporting this endeavor.


A longtime member of CDA Chapter XVII in Palm Beach, Florida, Marjorie Merriweather Post was a symbol of elegance, a true doyenne of the Washington, DC, social scene, and one of the best-known women of the 20th century. An astute businesswoman, in 1914 she inherited what would become the General Foods Corporation and built it into a global giant. She often entertained the Dames at Mar-a-Lago, her Palm Beach home. No matter where she resided, she lived in the style of the Gilded Age. Her neo-Georgian Washington residence, Hillwood, was endowed as a museum and is a repository of her fabled collections of Russian Imperial art and European decorative arts. CDA ties to the Hillwood estate are underscored by the fact that Martha Custis Peter, President of Chapter I-Baltimore, is the daughter of architect Walter Peter Jr., who designed the dacha, a charming Russian-inspired country house located in the gardens behind the mansion.


Those attending the MVHM&G Fall Benefit will have private access to the mansion, staffed with knowledgeable docents, and while it is still light, to the grounds. Tickets may be obtained from the MVHM&G at (212) 838-6878 or; this museum’s website is at For information about Hillwood, go to Both of these museums are accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. CDA President General Sharon Vaino plans a special tea honoring high-level supporters of the Fall Benefit.


Three New Chapters of The Colonial Dames of America

Other exciting news during this 126th year is the announcement of three new chapters of The Colonial Dames of America, bringing the total number of chapters in the United States and Europe to forty, including the Parent Chapter, which is not assigned a number. The new chapters include New Orleans, Chapter XXXVII; Santa Barbara, California, Chapter XXXVIII; and Birmingham, Alabama, Chapter XXXIX. Second Vice President General Brantley Knowles, Board of Managers member Charlotte Christian, and President General Sharon Vaino have traveled across the United States to meet and welcome the new chapters, which will all send delegates to the Annual Meeting in May.


Events and Accomplishments in 2015

During President General Sharon Vaino’s second term of office she has traveled around the US and to the United Kingdom, where she attended ceremonies marking the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede and an event at the residence of the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Matthew W. Barzun. Second Vice President General Brantley Knowles was also in England for the Magna Carta events at Lincoln, where she serves as president of the American Friends of Lincoln Cathedral.


Courtney (Mrs. Iredell W.) Iglehart, CDA President General 1974-78, was the honored guest speaker at the October 21, 2015 Fall Benefit for the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, held in the Abigail Adams Smith Auditorium on East 61st Street in New York City. The audience was rapt during Courtney’s entertaining recollection of her term of office during the years before and after the Bicentennial. The successful event raised funds for the Museum through a lively auction, which offered two stays in Rome and Umbria, Italy; an original drawing by visual artist Frances Middendorf; stays in a Manhattan apartment and at a historic property in Old Town, Alexandria; and an heirloom quality handmade quilt from Vermont. Beverley Sherrid, First Vice President General, chaired the benefit. President General Sharon Vaino entertained the evening’s Benefactors with an afternoon tea in New York City at a private club offering splendid views.


In April of 2015 The Colonial Dames of America participated in the annual Washington, DC, Heritage Week by its first-time hosting of an elegant tea at a private club. Dames and their guests from other lineage societies celebrated historic preservation and the organizations that work to ensure it. This tea is being held again in 2016, chaired by Board member Charlotte Christian.


CDA Website

The Colonial Dames of America continues its march into the digital age. The Communications Committee has introduced a new CDA Store at, where multiple donation opportunities and products sold to benefit the Dames and Museum may be found. The CDA1890 International Newsletter continues to bring Dames up to date with the activities of the Society. The best of old grandeur and new technology combine to create a fine historical educational experience.



Above: Caroline McLain and Mary Reiner Barnes





Above: M. P. Naud and Sandra Pearl





Above:Pegi Ivancevich and Heather Speas



Above:Judge Diane Kiesel

Below:Judge Kiesel's award-winning book




Above:Sharon Vaino with Richard Vietor at the St. Nicholas Ball





Above:(l-r) Robert Brawer, Catherine Brawer, Lynette Jaffe, 
Helen Evans





Above:(l-r) Kathy Springhorn, Tom Dillman, Karen Gage





Above:Charlotte Squarcy with Peter Allen Ward of La Jolla, CA




Above: Brantley Knowles and Sharon Vaino




Above: Sharon Vaino, Ambassador Matthew W. Barzun, 
Jaan Vaino





Above: (l-r) Alice Schwarz, Llewellyn Lord, Courtney Iglehart, 
Harry Havemeyer, Eugenie Havemeyer





Above: Beverley and Mark Sherrid 




About the Authors

Sharon Worthing Vaino is an attorney and is President General of The Colonial Dames of America, based in New York, NY, where she lives with her husband Jaan, retired from the broadcasting industry. She has visited all 37 chapters (including the Parent Chapter) of The Colonial Dames of America, from Rome, Italy, to San Francisco, CA, and oversaw the recent re-accreditation of the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden and the establishment of eight new CDA committees. Sharon also serves as a board and committee member for other not-for-profit organizations.
Sharri Whiting De Masi is a writer/speaker (travel, food/wine, culture) and olive farmer in Umbria, Italy, where she lives with her husband, Piero De Masi, an author and retired diplomat; she is President, CDA Chapter X—Rome, Italy, as well as Proprietor—Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden (for Chapter X) and Chair of the CDA Communications Committee. Sharri and Piero spend winters in Fairhope, AL, where they support the Mobile Ballet and World Affairs Roundtable.
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