Valley Forge Park Alliance Announces 2023-2024 Speaker Series

Revamped, Elevated Series Features Big Name Speakers

by Hope Weiss, freelance contributor

There’s a lot that’s old about Valley Forge. But there’s also a lot that is new – namely the diverse, inclusive programming created by Valley Forge Park Alliance, the nonprofit group that supports Valley Forge National Historic Park.

Under the leadership of board president Amy Johnson and executive director Molly Duffy, Valley Forge Park Alliance has expanded and strengthened its ties with communities surrounding Valley Forge, and broadened the scope of its events to appeal to different kinds of people.

That is exemplified in the VFPA Speaker Series for 2023-2024, which sparkles with bestselling authors and well-known experts in history, the outdoors and historic preservation. “Valley Forge has something for everyone, and now our speaker series does, too,” Duffy said.

The new series, which is sponsored by The Sherrin H. and Bruce A. Baky Foundation, marks a dramatic shift for VFPA in the diversity of its speakers and their topics. The series is also literally moving – from the rather dreary meeting room at Valley Forge Park’s visitor center to the swanky, modern environs of The Circuit, a well-appointed center in Chesterbrook. And, VFPA landed Reads & Company, the award-winning bookshop in Phoenixville, as the series’ official bookseller.

Circuit in Chesterbrook
The Circuit Center in Chesterbrook

The series also features a mix of lectures and fireside chats, in which headliners are engaged in conversation by VFPA board members. Two of them are the VFPA board members who spearheaded the series revamp: Margot McGinley, a member of over ten historic societies, and Melissa Jacobs, editor-in-chief of Main Line Tonight.

“My overriding vision for VFPA is to build an even larger and stronger community of supporters from all walks of life, which I believe will happen in part due to the exciting developments currently in motion,” said McGinley, VFPA’s advancement chair.

McGinley will lead a fireside chat with Julien Icher, founder and president of The Lafayette Trail, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to mapping and marking General Lafayette’s footsteps during his Farewell Tour of the U.S. in 1824 and 1825. “Julien Icher is someone I have been following for a few years and I’m a huge fan of his work,” she said. “Lafayette was one of my father’s favorite Revolutionary War figures and through his influence I grew to love him as well. I’ve really wanted to meet Julien and discuss all things Lafayette with him.”

Icher was one of McGinley’s dream guests, as was Stephen Fried, author of the bestselling biography Rush. “The book is one of my all-time favorites,” she said. “Ever since I read it, I have been looking for an opportunity to meet Mr. Fried and hear him speak. His book is incredible and he is a Philly guy, which I love.”

As for Jacobs, her speaker wish list had one name: Christian Cooper, the “Central Park birder” whose new memoir is at the top of bestseller lists. “Birding is a huge activity in Valley Forge and Mr. Cooper has become an international symbol of BIPOC who love birding and need to be included in those communities – or create their own,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs also pointed to Fried as one of her longtime journalism role models, and Neil King, Jr., the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who kicks off the series on Oct. 3. Jacobs will conduct a fireside chat with King to discuss his bestselling memoir American Ramble. “I’m honored that he agreed,” she said. “My grandfather arrived in this country fleeing religious persecution – and not speaking a word of English. Now, I get to represent VFPA and create opportunities for other people to be inspired by the American dream. That’s what Valley Forge means to me.”

Valley Forge Park Alliance

McGinley agrees, even though her American lineage is generations deep. She is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the National Society Colonial Dames XVII Century. But McGinley and Jacobs share the same vision. “This dynamic community of members, supporters and partners will continue to support the Alliance in its future endeavors, as our ideas are limitless, our team is strong and the future is bright,” McGinley said.

The Valley Forge Park Alliance Speaker Series 2023-2024

Valley Forge Park Alliance

Tues., Oct. 3, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.

Neil King, Jr., American Ramble

Author of the bestselling memoir American Ramble, Neil King, Jr. spent two decades traveling to more than 50 countries to write, report and poke around as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. During his years in Washington, DC, he served as chief diplomatic correspondent, national political reporter and the Journal’s global economics editor. Mr. King was part of a Wall Street Journal team that earned a Pulitzer Prize for its 9/11 coverage. Mr. King joins VFPA Board Member Melissa Jacobs, editor-in-chief of Main Line Tonight, for a conversation about journalism, reporting on national crises, embracing the outdoors, and his search for America’s soul.

Deborah Sampson

Tues., Nov. 7, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.

A Revolution of Her Own!™: The Story Of Deborah Sampson

Deborah Sampson lived an extraordinary life. An indentured servant by age five, she grew up in a Colonial American world where women were only second-class subjects. Without the ability to vote nor own property, Sampson knew she had to break the rules to accomplish a greater goal in life. In this interactive storytelling experience, Judith Kalaora brings to life Sampson’s arduous upbringing, years of active combat, and success as the first female professional soldier.

Tues., Dec. 5, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.

Witness To Revolution: The Unlikely Travels Of Washington’s Tent with Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, president and CEO of the Museum of the American Revolution

In this sneak peek of “Witness to Revolution: The Unlikely Travels Of Washington’s Tent,” opening in Feb. 2024 at the Museum of the American Revolution, Dr. Stephenson will show and tell details of the exhibit and programming around hand-stitched, full-scale replicas of Washington’s tents and camp equipage. Expanding the story told in the museum’s award-winning film, this special exhibition will bring to life the stories of individuals from all walks of life who saved Washington’s tent from being lost over the generations and who ultimately fashioned this relic into a symbol of the fragile American republic.

Tues., Jan. 9, 2024 at 6:30 p.m.

“The Compleat Victory: Saratoga And The American Revolution” with Kevin Weddle, Ph.D., Colonel (Ret), US Army, Professor Emeritus of Military Theory and Strategy, US Army War College and Ricardo Herrera, Ph.D.

Dr. Kevin Weddle is professor emeritus of military theory and strategy and the former Elihu Root Chair of Military Studies at the US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA. His first book, Lincoln’s Tragic Admiral: The Life of Samuel Francis Du Pont (University of Virginia Press, 2005), won the 2006 William E. Colby Award. His second book, The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution, was awarded the Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History, the Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award, and the Society of the Cincinnati Prize. A VFPA board member, Dr. Herrera is a visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College and an award-winning historian. He is the author of Feeding Washington’s Army: Surviving the Valley Forge Winter of 1778 and For Liberty and the Republic: The American Citizen as Soldier, 1775-1861.

Julien Icher

Tues., Feb. 6, 2024 at 6:30 p.m.

Lafayette: America’s Champion with Julien Icher and Margot McGinley

Julien Pierre Icher is founder and president of The Lafayette Trail, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to mapping and marking General Lafayette’s footsteps during his Farewell Tour of the U.S. in 1824 and 1825. Mr. Icher is the host and director of Follow The Frenchmen, a YouTube-based not-for-profit web series that explores and interprets the significance of Lafayette’s legacy. Over the past few years, he has given over 70 lectures about Lafayette and the Farewell Tour. A VFPA board member, Margot McGinley also serves on the Revolution Society Committee and is a member of the George Washington Council and the Collections Society at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

Tues., March 5, 2024 at 6:30 p.m.

Stephen Fried, author of Rush: Revolution, Madness & The Visionary Doctor Who Became A Founding Father

Stephen Fried is an American investigative journalist, non-fiction author, essayist and adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Pennsylvania. A longtime writer and editor at Philadelphia magazine, is also an award-winning writer, a two-time recipient of the National Magazine Award. In his bestselling biography of Dr. Benjamin Rush, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Mr. Fried explores the founding father who toured Europe as Benjamin Franklin’s protégé, was Washington’s surgeon general and a medical pioneer whose insights and reforms revolutionized the treatment of mental illness. Dr. Rush was an opponent of slavery and prejudice by race, religion, or gender and he was an adviser to, and often the physician of, America’s first leaders.

Tues., April 2, 2024 at 6:30 p.m.

Christian Cooper, author of Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World and Jason Hall

Equal parts memoir, travelogue, and primer on the art of birding, Better Living Through Birding, tells the story of Mr. Cooper’s extraordinary life leading up to the now-infamous incident in Central Park and shows how a life spent looking up at the birds prepared him, in the most uncanny of ways, to be a gay, Black man in America today. Better Living Through Birding recounts Cooper’s journey through the wonderful world of birds, including his life-changing birding expeditions through Africa, Australia, the Americas, and the Himalayas.  Mr. Cooper writes about birds and what they can teach us about life, if only we would look and listen. VFPA Board Member Jason Hall is the founder of In Color Birding Club, one of the Delaware Valley’s leading bird expedition organizations.

Tues., May 7, 2024 at 6:30 p.m.

Cassandra Good, Ph.D., author of First Family: George Washington’s Heirs and the Making of America

Dr. Cassandra Good introduces us to the children of Martha Washington’s son by her first marriage—Eliza, Patty, Nelly and Wash Custis—were born into life in the public eye, well-known as George Washington’s family and keepers of his legacy. By turns petty and powerful, glamorous and cruel, the Custises used Washington as a means to enhance their own power and status. As enslavers committed to the American empire, the Custis family embodied the failures of the American experiment that finally exploded into civil war—all the while being celebrities in a soap opera of their own making. Dr. Good’s book shows how the outspoken step-grandchildren of George Washington played an important role in the development of American society and politics from the Revolution to the Civil War.

Tues., June 4, 2024 at 6:30 p.m.

Brett Waterman, historic preservationalist and designer, host of “Restored” on Magnolia Network and Discovery + and Jeff Devlin

Brett Waterman has been preserving and restoring historic buildings around the United States for over 25 years. Some of his residential restoration work has been featured on “Restored,” the television show he hosts on Magnolia Network and Discovery +. VFPA Board Member Jeff Devlin, a licensed carpenter, contractor, and a TV personality who shares his skills and passion for carpentry and craftsmanship through “Stone House Revival” and “In With The Old” on Magnolia Network, Max and Discovery +. He is the owner of Schoolhouse Woodworking and Sycamore & Stone Farm in Chester Springs. 

For more information about Valley Forge Park Alliance, visit this website. View the entire Speaker Series here. Read more about Valley Forge here and here.

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