Remarks by Brent Glass, director of the National Museum of American History

March 9, 2010
News Release

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Good Morning. Welcome to your National Museum of American History. I would like to extend a special welcome to First Lady Michelle Obama, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Wayne Clough and to Jason Wu. To the members of the museum board, our board chair Mr. John Rogers, and to our guests, thank you for your support and presence today.

Mrs. Obama, it is indeed an honor to have you and your guests join with the museum in a tradition that goes back almost one hundred years – the presentation of a First Lady’s Inaugural gown to the Smithsonian’s national collections.

The National Museum of American History has the unique mandate to tell the story of America. Through collections, exhibitions, websites and educational programs, this museum—the largest and most popular history museum in the country--offers a unique opportunity to discover the American Dream and what it means to be an American.

We are assembled here in Flag Hall which serves as the public square of the museum. It is the place where we connect our visitors with ideas and information and with each other-- through naturalization ceremonies, living history and hands-on programs, musical performances, and special events like this one.

Inspirational moments occur here such as the spontaneous performance of the Star-Spangled Banner by the Boys Choir of Kenya during the week of President Obama’s inauguration. 

At this museum and throughout the Smithsonian Institution, we are in the forever business.  Americans trust us with their most valued family heirlooms. Even the Star-Spangled Banner was in the care of the Armistead family for almost 100 years before it came to the Smithsonian.

And now we are very grateful that Mrs. Obama is entrusting us with this magnificent gown she wore at the inaugural balls last year. I am sure that this dress has many memories for you. It will now become a part of the country’s collective memory -- for it goes into one of the most enduring and popular collections of the Smithsonian. And it will become a part of the personal memories of the millions of visitors who come here.

Over the years, our First Ladies Collection has evolved in response to the changing role of women in American society and the changing role of the First Lady.

And I am pleased to announce that thanks to a generous gift from the Elizabeth Carolyn Lux Foundation, the museum will be adding a new gallery to the First Ladies exhibition titled “A First Lady’s Debut.”

Opening to the public tomorrow, this gallery will showcase 11 gowns from Mamie Eisenhower to Michelle Obama.

Not only do we have world class collections but we have a world class staff at the National Museum of American History. Our curators, exhibit designers, production staff, public programs team and so many others have contributed to the creation of a truly stunning new gallery which you all will have a chance to see later this morning. 

For the past two years, we have enjoyed the inspired leadership of Wayne Clough, 12th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He has made the understanding of the American Experience one of the core themes of our new strategic plan. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Dr. Wayne Clough.

Jason Wu’s story embodies the American experience. Born in Taiwan, he was nine when his family moved to Vancouver where he not only learned to sew and draft patterns but he learned English as well. After spending his senior year of high school in Paris, he enrolled in the Parsons School of Design and interned with Narciso Rodriguez.

In 2006, at the age of 23, Jason Wu had debuted his first collection. Just three years later, all eyes were on Michelle Obama in this beautiful Jason Wu design.

It has been said that for one evening, the inaugural ball gown is the most important dress in the country. Mr. Wu, I think many here will agree with me, that by adding this dress into the national collections at the Smithsonian, it will be remembered for years to come. Please welcome Jason Wu.

Jason Wu speaks
Secretary Clough speaks
Michelle Obama speaks

Mrs. Obama, on behalf of the American people, I want to thank you for presenting your dress to the Smithsonian collections and helping us to tell the continuing story of America’s First Ladies.

While this concludes the official part of the ceremony, we are inviting members of the media, escorted by the press office, to come forward for a special photo. Mrs. Obama, if you would do us the honor of standing by your gown.

National Museum of American History
Press Office

(202) 633-3129