Should I join the D.A.R.
March 2, 2009 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Is joining the D.A.R. worth it? Are there any cool benefits? Is it lame?

I found out a couple of years ago that I have ancestors that fought in the Revolutionary War, making me eligible to join the Daughters of the American Revolution. I'm thinking of joining. They offer scholarships (though most don't require membership or anything), and supposedly it's a good way to network with other women. I plan on going into law, so I've been joining different organizations with hopes of meeting people for professional purposes.

However, I'm a very liberal person living in the south who comes from a blue-collar background (read: I don't have much money). I'm not sure if I'll fit in at all, or get to really network with anyone remotely like-minded. As in, I show up to the meeting and it's all conservative old bitties and wealthy "proper" southern girls. The racism in the D.A.R.'s past also concerns me. I've done some research and it seems that they truly don't discriminate at all but if anyone has found this not to be the case, I'd definitely like to know!

Obviously, if I don't like it, I can quit. But it costs money to join, and I want membership to be worth it.

Any personal experiences are appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I won some DAR essay contest when I was in high school (this was the Philadelphia chapter), and everyone at the lunch I went to was old. That and watching Gilmore girls is my only DAR experience.
posted by Airhen at 10:09 AM on March 2, 2009

I also was in a DAR essay contest (in Cullman, AL). Everyone was old, seemed like no fun, and they decided their "essay" contest based on criteria other than the essay itself (which I thought was weird).

That's the extent of my experience with it. My grandmother went to a great deal of effort to research our genealogy so she and her daughters could join the DAR, but neither my mother and aunts nor my sister and cousins have ever thought it worth our while. (It is cool, however, to know about my Revolutionary ancestors.)
posted by ocherdraco at 10:12 AM on March 2, 2009

I won the DAR good citizenship award in middle school. Everyone was old. Old and southern. (Nice, though, as old southern ladies tend to be, if you're into that sort of thing.)
posted by phunniemee at 10:15 AM on March 2, 2009

I occasionally work with them professionally.

It's hard for me to judge the internal politics well. The DAR's history certainly is that of a dominant culture and a dominant class, and is rife with incidences of racism and a focus on the "Great Whites" of history. I have, however, met a couple of powerful firebrands who seem intent on using the organization differently today. I'm eligible too, but have never been interested in joining based on witnessing their challenges locally, where they have a hard time keeping their museum open and funded and staffed. The director, though, is pretty great and progressive.

My sense is that, like a lot of fraternal organizations of a certain vintage, the organization is aging and weakening. The membership and volunteer base seem to be largely over 60. However, in many of those kinds of organizations there's a young contingent trying to turn things around.

I guess it depends what you want to do. If you want to network with people who quite possibly have a lot of family money, that could be useful. The group of people involved does overlap largely with the group of people that needs legal help for all sorts of reasons, from business to setting up foundations.

But for networking's sake, I just can't imagine that it would be the most useful way to spend your time. Seems like you'd get more out of going to your local chamber events, or Green Drinks, or something a little more progessive and business-oriented than the DAR, which is mainly a historic preservation group.

Perhaps you could just contact a representative from your local chapter and ask to attend a meeting or event to learn more about the organization. That would probably tell you all you need to know.
posted by Miko at 10:19 AM on March 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

My grandmother is a member of the DAR. She is old but not southern (from Wisconsin). She mostly is in the group to facilitate her genealogy resource with contacts, etc.

I'd say that based on your interest in professional networking, the DAR is not the group you are looking for.
posted by warble at 10:41 AM on March 2, 2009

As someone who's eligible for these "all hail the family tree" societies, I've not found one that's really worth my energy. Of course, I'm not terribly interested in genealogy.
posted by 26.2 at 10:46 AM on March 2, 2009

Miko's advice is sound, I think. The fact that you are asking this anonymously is probably going to lead you to your answer as well. They do have quite a nice museum, if you are ever in DC. My grandmother put quite a lot of effort into gathering the info. so she could join (out of somewhat snobbish motives, I'm afraid.) She redeemed herself a bit by quitting them in 1939 when the DAR would not let Marian Anderson perform at DAR Constitution Hall. The DAR has progressed quite a lot since then, as Miko points out, but it was a long and bumpy road.
posted by gudrun at 10:52 AM on March 2, 2009

I actually didn't mean to post anonymously, haha. I had the window open from a different question I was going to ask but decided to use my weekly question on this instead.

Thanks for all the info! I thought of the DAR because it's a national group, and I'm interested in networking with women specifically . I'm already in my college's alumni association, etc. The law thing is on the long-term, and I'll be moving out of state for school, which is why the national thing is good. To be more specific, I may be focusing on historic preservation law (but that's not a definite), which is another reason of why I thought of the DAR, but it still sounds like it may not be worth joining.

I'm probably going to hold off for now and see whether it become something more appropriate in the future. Thanks again!
posted by fructose at 11:07 AM on March 2, 2009

Anon, I'm also in the South and consider myself of blue-collar roots, and also found out recently I am eligible for DAR membership. However, one thing my mother (the geneologist of the family) mentioned that was a deterrent for me is that the DAR requires extensive proof of the family connection: birth, marriage and death certificates for a certain number of generations back, then census and army records further back. It's enough of a hassle to keep me from pursuing it, even though I think my mother has all those records.

There's a part of me that wants to infilatrate the DAR to bring a certain Populist sensibility to it... and then I realize I could accomplish the same thing by engaging in arguments with Fox News viewers or beating myself in the head with a hammer.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:10 AM on March 2, 2009

I am a relatively new member (2008). I'm in a DC chapter that meets in the evening and we have a LOT of members in their twenties, and yes, there is a lot of professional networking. (This was mentioned as a plus by the woman who assisted with my application.)

I like my chapter and will be taking a larger role in the next two years. I have a lot of interest in history, social anthropology, genealogy, historic preservation, history and new media, and, uh, networking.

If you are in the DC area, the library is right here, and as a member there is no charge. (Yes, there are expenses in becoming a member and in being a member.)

I also like older women, and I grew up around my mother's and grandparents' Grange and "lodge" meetings and activities. So, I have a soft spot, one that most people might not have, for "regalia"-wearing ladies in white gloves.

Again, I like my chapter. I suspect there are those that I would not like. A lot of members of DAR (not my chapter) do not do themselves or the organization any favors.

The women, young and not so young, in my chapter are authors, linguists, CIA analysts, foreign service officers, novelists, teachers, and journos -- achievers. We do quite a lot; we are not a tea-sipping society.

There's quite a bit more I could say, especially the racial issue. I met the protagonist once and was in recreational sports with her husband, so I heard quite a bit.

I wish that I could be in a chapter -- an active chapter -- in the area I grew up in. That would be more meaningful. But I'm here.

I am not a complete apologist; I have my own issues with them. But a fellow chapter member said that she was joining to make it what she wanted it to be, and that is what I'm doing as well.

There are a lot of lineage societies, and if you have the type of interests I've mentioned, one or another might be right for you.

One thing the DAR does that a lot of people do not know about is welcome new US citizens at their naturalization ceremony. In the current climate in the US, I think it's a great thing to do. (Take that, Lou Dobbs!)

The new citizens are not put off by DAR; they are glad to have us there, and they understand why we are there. We give them a flag and a copy of flag code.

DAR is part of the "small triangle" lifestyle that used to be in American cities and, especially, small towns. IMO, it's worth it to keep the small triangle alive.

I'm getting a little too self-identifying here, so MeMail if you want.
posted by jgirl at 11:32 AM on March 2, 2009 [7 favorites]

Also, I am from a very, very blue-collar background. I offered to pay for my aunt to join. She declined, thinking that she could not "keep up."
posted by jgirl at 11:37 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I really appreciate the info jgirl. That's definitely super helpful and your experience is actually what I was hoping to get out of it.
I live in Texas (my family is from the deep south, though), and that's where a lot of my concerns come from. I worry about there being a bunch of women complaining about Mexicans takin' arr jerrbs or whatever who are all about white America or something scary. However, I'm moving to the northeast/Atlantic seaboard area for law school (not sure exactly where yet), so I was thinking it could be more like what you described. I will definitely keep that in mind and MeMail you if I have more questions.
posted by fructose at 11:38 AM on March 2, 2009

I am in Texas, and I have family members in the DAR and am eligible myself. The groups that I am acquainted with here are very conservative and very old money (and old age). Personally, I think groups that are formed for the purpose of congratulating one another on your superior ancestry are all kinds of icky.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 11:42 AM on March 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm a member. My advice is - scout the chapters. The DAR allows great latitude within chapters, and they are as different as can be.

My chapter has a number of well-connected, liberal, & vegetarian members (and some who are not). Not all chapters do. Chapters that have satellite, weekend or evening meetings tend to draw younger, professional members.

It's also a matter of you get out of it what you put into it. If you find a group you like, volunteer, put in some hours, get to know people, and then suggest changes. Since it's a volunteer organization, chapters can be steered in many directions.

FWIW, the DAR has recently published a book of African American patriots and is actively trying to recruit black members (chapter miles vary, of course). It is also digitizing the entire patriot index and descendants list. A lot of DAR genealogy and resources are now available online. It is also emphasizing conservation, scholarship, and help for veterans. In other words, it is cautiously moving into the 21st century.

As for contacts, you will find that DARs know pretty much everyone, everywhere. Find the right chapter, and you can definitely network.
posted by clarkstonian at 12:01 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Happy the man who thinks of his ancestors with pride, who likes to tell of their deeds and greatness, and rejoices to feel himself linked to their goodly chain."- Goethe

(But I hear ya, LMC!)

I started genealogy to get my self out of a life-threatening crisis.

If women who helped pull scores of cobblestones out of farmland, sewed their fingers off in dim light, raised their grandchildren, fought for their Revolutionary War POW father's pension, lost sons in Andersonville, and had developmentally disabled children in the freakin' early 18th century (no IEPs then!), then I could keep going as well.
posted by jgirl at 12:10 PM on March 2, 2009

I'm reading this thread with interest. Apparently my maternal grandmother was president of her chapter (if I have my family history right.) It would appear that I can't piggy-back on her membership; I'll have to provide my own genealogical info independently. Living 8 hours and 30+ years away from Grandma's research materials - if they still exist, that is - has proven a stumbling block.

Admittedly, most of my motivation to join has been to have an excuse to prominently hang a print of Grant Wood's wonderful depiction of the organization's members.
posted by Lou Stuells at 3:18 PM on March 2, 2009

It's not true, Lou Stuells. You can piggyback. If you have your grandmother's national number, you need 3 generations of documents from you to her. That would be birth, marriage & death. Birth certificates. Obituaries. Death certificates. Gravestone photographs. There are a lot of proofs that are acceptable. At that point, you would link to her information and just copy her sources. If you want to do that, you can contact National for help (go to their website - or to get a list of your local chapters. Contact one of the chapter registrars. They're generally friendly and helpful and can get your paperwork going in a short time.

One more thing about all of those dreary little old ladies that no one seems to want to deal with (I say this mostly tongue in cheek). If they are not CEOs of companies, they are married to or related to them. They are generally tied to the bigwigs in any town because their families have been there since those towns were founded. The DAR also holds a large amount of property, including a square city block in Washington, DC, and manages money the equivalent of a decent-sized corporation.
posted by clarkstonian at 5:01 PM on March 2, 2009

Just got home from our monthly meeting. ;)

One member offered to sponsor another member for the National Press Club. A high-school senior (not a nerd or a dork at all) attended with her mother, and she will join when she becomes 18. Jeans and hiking boots were the prevalent attire. We have about 80 members (about a quarter are under 35, many in their 20s), with 11 prospective (working on their applications) members.

Lou Stuells, of those three generations of documents, the first generation is you, so that makes it really easy.

Nthing clarkstonian on the property/money. But local chapters are independent. The funds come from the members, although some chapters rent out their chapter houses for weddings and the like. And in little towns, hamlets, members are NOT well-to-do, for the most part.

I was fortunate to hit a good chapter, where if you want to do something, if you have an idea, well, you just do it.
posted by jgirl at 7:03 PM on March 2, 2009

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