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Martha Washington - One of America's Founding Mothers

Posted on Friday, January 17, 2020

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Birth: June 2, 1731
Death: May 22, 1802 (age 70)
Colony: Virginia
Occupation: Plantation Owner
Significance: Served as the first First Lady of the United States (1789-1797)

Martha Washington Portrait located in the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery

Martha Washington was born a Martha Dandridge in Virginia in 1731. Martha was originally married to Daniel Custis and they had four children together before Custis died in 1757, and Martha became a widow at the age of 25. Martha had a large fortune and a sizeable plantation, and she primarily managed them on her own until she remarried. 

In 1759, Martha married George Washington. Together, the Washingtons then managed their shared plantations and raised Martha's two children that had survived to that point in time.

When George Washington was appointed to the Second Continental Congress, Martha stayed behind at their Mount Vernon plantation and managed it in George's absence. Due to the weather, there was not much fighting that took place during the winter in the Revolutionary War and armies from both sides would normally set up camp for the winter once snow started to cover the ground. For eight consecutive years, when Winter came, Martha traveled to meet her husband and spend the Winter with him. At these Winter camps, Martha took on an active role in the camp by organizing dinners and other events such as plays to keep up the morale of the troops.

Martha even joined George during the Winter of 1777-78 when the Continental Army camped at Valley Forge. The Winter at Valley Forge was famously very difficult but was made easier by the news that France had joined an alliance with the United States. The news was followed by a large feast and celebration which Martha helped to organize.

After the conclusion of the American Revolution, Martha served as the United States' first First Lady when George Washington was elected the first President of the United States in 1789. Although the term "First Lady" did not yet exist, Martha nonetheless performed many of the traditional duties associated with the First Lady, and she helped to define the position much as her husband helped to define the Office of the President. Martha frequently organized state dinners and helped to manage the household.

After George Washington's death in 1799, Martha's health declined, and she died a few years later in 1802 at the age of 70.

Like Abigail Adams and Betsy Ross, for example, Martha Washington represents the feminine face of the American Revolution.

Martha Washington in Philadelphia

Martha first traveled to the Philadelphia area when she came to Valley Forge during the Winter of 1777-1778, which is located less than 25 miles West of Philadelphia. Martha then lived right in Philadelphia while George Washington was President of the United States and Philadelphia served as the Capital of the United States. Martha lived in Philadelphia at the corner of 6th and Market Streets in a mansion known as the President's House, the predecessor to The White House. The President's House no longer stands today, but there is an exhibit at the location where the house once stood that contains some of the original foundations of the house. Today, the President's House site is one of the stops on The Constitutional Walking Tour!

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