The Dear George Washington Contest is an annual writing contest for Gilder Lehrman Affiliate School students. The contest brings history to life for elementary-age students by introducing them to the issues facing early Americans and encouraging them to think critically about the founding of the nation. In his first inaugural address, President George Washington acknowledged the enormity of his new role and expressed his hopes for fulfilling the expectations of the newly formed nation. He also spoke of the responsibility shared between himself and Congress to protect the nation’s freedom. Washington’s address focuses on the protection of liberty and independence, but the new president did not discuss specific priorities for his time in office.
Each student participating in the contest writes a letter to President George Washington about what he or she thinks the President should focus on during his first term. Students should write as if they are members of the audience at the inauguration on April 30, 1789, in New York City, either as an average person or as a member of Congress—and include one sentence about their identity at the top of their letter. For example: “Jane is a housewife from Boston, with four children, who is worried about the state of the roads in her town” or “John is an eight-year-old boy in New York who would like to know if there will be schools for children.” Potential topics are listed in the contest forms below, but students are encouraged to think creatively about possible topics. Letters should be between 250 and 300 words in length.
A complete transcript of Washington’s first inaugural address is available from the National Archives and Records Administration.
The contest is open to K–5 students. Participation is limited to Gilder Lehrman Affiliate and Flagship School students. If your school hasn’t become an Affiliate yet, visit the Affiliate School Program page and join now.
For full information, including contest forms, prompts, a scoring rubric, and other important information, please download our 2013-2014 Dear George Washington Contest Forms (PDF).
- First Place: $100 for the student and a copy of American History: An Introduction for the school
- Second Place: $75 for the student and a copy of American History: An Introduction for the school
- Third Place: $50 for the student and a copy of American History: An Introduction for the school
- Fourth Place: $25 for the student and a copy of American History: An Introduction for the school
- Honorable Mention (six students): US Constitution poster
- The top entry from each school will also receive a special certificate from the Gilder Lehrman Institute.