May 29, 2010
Julia Pierpont Day
Historians agree that Memorial Day originated during the time of the Civil War. Although there are many differing stories as to the exact origin of Memorial Day *, many historians believe that Julia Pierpont was the originator of what was then called "Decoration Day".
Julia Pierpont was the wife of the Governor of Restored Virginia, Francis H. Pierpont of Fairmont, (West) Virgina, also recognized as "The Father of West Virginia".
The story is told that while living in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond Virgina in 1866, Julia Pierpont felt that the graves of Union Soldiers buried in Hollywood Cemetery, overlooking Richmond, were looking shabby and neglected. She and a Miss Woolsey, a New Yorker teaching in the school for African American children, decided to decorate and beautify the graves. They, along with the Pierpont children, the children from the African American school, and many friends gathered together and "paraded" to the cemetery to bravely decorate the graves.
When people throughout the state heard of this event it was met with both approval and condemnation. A few weeks later, thousands from throughout the State of Virginia joined in another Decoration Day by giving speeches and decorating the graves of Confederate Soldiers. News of this event spread throughout the nation and more Decoration Day events followed.
Julia Pierpont is credited for inspiring the nation. Many historians feel that her first observance of Decoration Day spurred on many more such observances and culminated in General John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, ordering May 30 as an annual national "Decoration Day" on May 5, 1868.
Each year, the Saturday before Memorial Day is dedicated as a day to pay tribute to Julia Pierpont by readying veterans' graves for Memorial Day.
* See also "The History and Origin of Memorial Day in Waterloo, New York".