Josephine Wheelwright Rust

Black and white image of Josephine sitting in a white lace dress with elbow on a book
Josephine Wheelwright Rust, President of the Wakefield National Memorial Association

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Quick Facts
President of the Wakefield National Memorial Association
Place of Birth:
Westmoreland County, VA
Date of Birth:
May 5, 1864
Date of Death:
June 26, 1931
Place of Burial:
Washington D.C.
Cemetery Name:
Rock Creek Cemetery

Josephine Wheelwright Rust was born at the estate named Exeter in Westmoreland County on May 5, 1864. Her family descended from the Washington family. She grew up in the family home, Twiford, which according to oral tradition is what the Memorial House Museum is based on. She married Harry Lee Rust (also a Washington descendent) on November 16, 1892. 

The couple moved to Washington, D.C., where Mrs. Rust began a career of charity work, and showed herself to be an able administrator. Rust was wealthy and well-educated, and influential women of that time used charity work as an acceptable public outlet for their skills and energies to "better society." Mrs. Rust did not confine her efforts to America: with the outbreak of WWI, she began to help the wartime afflicted in Italy by holding fundraising auctions and rallies. After the war's end, the Italian Red Cross presented her with a large silver medal in recognition of her work. The French Government also awarded her a medal.

Rust was a member of the Society of the Colonial Dames of America, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Society of Daughters of 1812, the Colonial Dames Club of Washington DC and the Washington Club. All of these groups honored the earliest eras of the American experience and the nation's greatest leaders. Rust used her connections in these groups to save a place important to her heart; the birthplace of George Washington.

Rust was instrumental in founding the group known as the Wakefield National Memorial Association. The first meeting of the Association was held in her living room on June 11, 1923 and Mrs. Rust became the group's first president. Rust's desire was to build a memorial to Washington that would capture the essence of the man. Her memorial would not be the same as other Washington memorials were. Her desire was to build a house as a memorial on the location of the original birthhouse.

Since local tradition held that Rust's family home,Twiford, was modeled after the original Washington home, she believed that it should be the model for the Memorial House Museum. Her belief influenced Edward Donn, the architect of the Memorial House Museum, who would build the house to her specifications. In order to locate the house where Rust and others believed the original birthhouse to be, she convinced Congress to contribute funds to remove the obelisk which had marked that location since its installation in 1896. Her conviction to use this location for the Memorial House Museum set her in competition with the National Park Service. When George Washington Birthplace National Monument was signed into existence in January 1930, the Park Service was not convinced the Memorial House Museum was located on the original foundation. Nevertheless, Rust was able to see her dreams become reality; Congress appropriated funds to move the obelisk, the obelisk was moved to its current location at the entrance to the park, and the Memorial House Museum was completed in June, 1931.

On June 26, 1931, just four days after signing the deed for the Birthplace over to the National Park Service, Rust died. Tributes to her came from all around the nation. In February, 1932, on the bicentennial of George Washington's birthday, Rust was honored in the Memorial House Museum. She was buried at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.


George Washington Birthplace National Monument

Last updated: June 21, 2021