The Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati, adopted on May 13, 1783, directs that delegates to the General Society will meet the “on the first Monday in May, annually, so long as they shall be necessary, and afterwards, at least once in every three years.” The first general meeting convened in Philadelphia on May 4, 1784, and lasted two full weeks. Since then, with just a few gaps in the early nineteenth century, delegates from the constituent societies have gathered as a body at least every three years as mandated by the Institution.

The Triennial Meetings are an essential aspect of the governance of the Society, at which general officers are elected and resolutions affecting the Society’s operations and membership are debated and adopted. Until the mid-twentieth century, the Triennials were the chief business meetings of the Society. In modern times, with the Board of Directors and Standing Committee meeting more frequently, these gatherings mark the transition from one administration to another. But the most enduring tradition of the Triennials is the fellowship the meetings foster among the members, inspired by the example of General Washington and his officers.

With portraits, letters, photographs, and other artifacts drawn exclusively from the Society of the Cincinnati’s museum and library collections, the exhibition Once in Every Three Years chronicled the Society’s aspirations, setbacks, and successes over more than two centuries, as reflected in its Triennial Meetings. From a challenge to the Society’s basic foundation made by the first president general, George Washington, through decades of dwindling membership and the threats of the sectional divisions of the Civil War, and finally to a full and complete revival, there has been a remarkable continuity of purpose as each generation has carried forward the original mission of the founders—to perpetuate the memory of the achievement of American independence.