Date of Award


Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

History, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Matthew Bowman

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Joshua Goode

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Daniel Livesay

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2023 Lisa J Matthews


19th Century America, Guidebooks, Memento Mori, Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, Thanatourism

Subject Categories

American Studies | History


This study explores the development of Mount Vernon as a historic site dedicated to promoting patriotic memories of the American Revolution during the Sectional Crisis, Reconstruction, and Gilded Age which resulted in building national identity focused on sacrifice to the nation. As the plantation is also the site of George Washington’s Tomb, I contend that travel to this location falls within the definitions of thanatourism developed by Tourism Studies to explore the motives of tourists who choose to visit places related to death and disasters. For nineteenth-century American tourists, steeped in the cultural traditions of death and mourning, visits to Washington’s Tomb assisted in the building of national identity through the patriotic mission and curation of the memorial spaces by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union who took charge of the home and lands in 1858. Through an exploration of letters, travel journals, newspapers, guidebooks, and official Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association Minutes and Records, I assert that the thanatourism was a response to desires for a unified national identity and promoted this identity through speeches and publications, emotional reactions found in travel literature, and souvenir sales which served as memento mori. Therefore, Mount Vernon serves as a location of commemoration at the intersections of death, memory, and identity.