The following information was sent to HistoryNet by the office of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA). HistoryNet previously published an appeal for signatures on a petition that would restore the observance of Washington’s birthday to the actual date, February 22.
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Washington, D.C. (February 13, 2013) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today reintroduced legislation calling for George Washington’s birthday to be celebrated on his actual birthday, February 22. Presently, Washington’s birthday is celebrated on the third Monday of February and is commonly called President’s Day.
Wolf has advocated for moving the date of this holiday for years, introducing similar legislation in 2011 and testifying on the topic at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in 2012.
A longtime admirer of Washington’s life and leadership, Wolf said he is concerned that the celebration of President Washington’s unparalleled role in American history has been lost. His legislation aims to make Washington’s legacy the singular focus of an existing federal holiday.
“Unfortunately, few Americans living today remember the legacy of President Washington and his contribution to this country,” Wolf said. “I believe Congress has unwittingly contributed to this lack of historical understanding by relegating Washington’s birthday to the third Monday in February to take advantage of a three-day weekend. It’s time to change the focus of the holiday from celebrating sales at the mall to celebrating the significance of President Washington’s birth and the birth of our nation.”
Wolf cited a 2010 assessment of the historical literacy of American students as another reason to focus on Washington’s legacy each year. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that students in grades four, eight and 12 were by and large considered “illiterate” in the contexts of democracy, culture, technological and economic changes, and America’s changing world role. Only 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders and 12 percent of 12th-graders performed at or above a “proficient” level on assessment.
“We need to reestablish Washington’s Birthday on the actual date of his birth to honor his legacy, and in doing so call upon schools across the nation to focus on Washington as the soldier, legislator, and president who shepherded our young nation through war, political turmoil, rebellion and expansion as no other single individual was capable of doing,” Wolf said.
Wolf’s dedication to honoring the life of Washington is supported by the fact that Washington spent the early years of his military and political career in Winchester, VA, an area Wolf represents. Washington served in the House of Burgesses in Frederick County from 1758-1765, and commanded the Virginia Regiment from his Winchester headquarters during the French and Indian War.
Wolf’s legislation is supported by George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.
Wolf said the timing of his bill is important given the projected September opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, which was paid for by funds raised by the Mount Vernon Estate, not taxpayer dollars.
The bill also has widespread support from two-time Pulitzer Prize winning history author David McCullough, Washington historian Ron Chernow, historians Peter Henriques and Richard Bookhiser, scholar and history professor Gordon Wood, and other professors from the University of Georgia, LaSalle University, James Madison University and Brandeis University.
“Celebrating George Washington’s birthday on February 22 is a simple, solid, self-evident statement of respect for one of the greatest of all Americans, for his whole founding generation, and for so much that we owe them,” McCullough said.
For more information on Wolf’s work on this issue, visit his website here.