Rep. Bartlett wants holiday given back to Washington

February 18, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Name Monday's federal holiday.

If you said Presidents' Day, you have plenty of company, from shopping malls to advertisers to schools and even many U.S. government documents.

But the correct answer, according to the U.S. Rep Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., is George Washington's birthday.

"Legally, it's George Washington's birthday," said Bartlett, who has sponsored legislation that would require all federal agencies to refer to the holiday by its original name. "It's one of the earliest federal holidays."

The holiday, which has been celebrated since 1879, was moved from Feb. 22 to the third Monday of February in 1968. Three years later, former president Richard Nixon declared it Presidents' Day. But the law was never changed, Bartlett said.


He said he was annoyed to see even documents produced by Congress referring to the holiday as Presidents' Day.

The legislation would apply only to federal documents; the states and private companies would remain free to call he day whatever they wish.

Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., has sponsored an identical bill in the Senate.

Bartlett said he felt obligated to take up the cause because of the Western Maryland district he represents.

"We have the first Washington County in the country, and we have the first Washington Monument in the country. So, it's important to our people," he said.

Ironically, the first county named for George Washington does not give its government employees the day off.

Washington County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop said the county changed its policy about five years ago to give workers an extra personal day instead of the holiday. It was a move to grant employees more flexibility, he said.

Still, Shoop said Bartlett's idea sounds good, even if there are many other famous presidents.

"Obviously, living in Washington County, being a citizen of Washington County, I certainly favor recognizing the president we are named for," he said.

Bartlett said he believes Washington's accomplishments and values are lost in the muddle of a generic Presidents' Day.

"Nobody focuses on anything when it's Presidents' Day," he said.

James C. Rees, executive director the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, praised the idea.

"Why anyone would want to have taken a very meaningful holiday like George Washington's birthday and change it to Presidents' Day never made any sense to me," he said.

Bartlett said he offered similar legislation last year, which would have coincided with the 250th anniversary of Washington's birth. But he said opposition from Illinois residents, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, killed it.

Bartlett said he thinks both presidents should be honored individually.

"My favorite president, actually, is Lincoln. So it's no affront to Lincoln," he said. "I can remember as a kid we always celebrated Lincoln's birthday."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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