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Martha Washington was the first American first lady and the wife of George Washington, first president of the United States. She set many of the standards and customs for the proper behavior and treatment of a U.S. president’s wife.
See the fact file below for more information on the Martha Washington or alternatively, you can download our 24-page Martha Washington worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was born on June 2, 1731 in New Kent, Virginia to farmers and plantation owners John and Frances Jones Dandridge, both of whom came from established New England families.
- She was the eldest among 8 children, having three brothers and five sisters namely John, William, Bartholomew, Anna Maria, Frances, Elizabeth, and Mary.
- Martha received informal education, common for young women of her class in the 18th century. Instead of science and mathematics, she was trained on domestic and social skills such as needlework, household management, dancing, and horseback riding.
- Unlike the majority of women in Virginia during her time who were not literate, Martha learned both to read and write at a young age. Martha found pleasure and comfort reading devotional literature for religious edification, and novels and magazines for entertainment and instruction. She was also known as an active letter writer.
MARRIED AND FAMILY LIFE
- At the young age of 18, Martha married Daniel Parke Custis in May 1750, who was 20 years her senior and an heir to a neighboring plantation. The couple had 4 children, two of whom died in infancy.
- Her husband died in July 1757, leaving Martha quite wealthy, in charge of managing their estate at age 26.
- In the spring of 1758, at a cotillion in Williamsburg, Martha met George Washington, a landowner and commander of the Virginia forces during the French and Indian War. She had quite a number of suitors but her romance with George was mutual, powerful, and immediate.
- The couple wed on January 6, 1759 and moved to George’s estate, Mount Vernon, together with her surviving children John Parke Custis (Jacky) and Martha Parke Custis (Patsy).
- Martha became known for her warmth, generosity, and deep concern for the comfort and happiness of her family. When George was chosen to lead the American forces in the Revolutionary War, Martha followed him bravely on his military assignments, where she encouraged other military wives to join her campaigns in raising war relief efforts and providing care for injured soldiers.
- After the war in 1871, Martha’s son John Parke Custis died. She and George decided to adopt two of her grandchildren.
- Her husband’s election as the President of the United States in 1789 led Martha and her family to New York City, then the nation’s capital, where she was widely received and celebrated, and later became known as “Lady Washington”.
- The Washington family’s home on Broadway Street also served as the President’s office, exposing Martha to politics. She also became aware that her actions as the nation’s first lady would become the template for the wives of future chief executives so she started the traditions of hosting formal dinners for dignitaries on Thursdays and public receptions on Fridays.
- Although Martha’s warm hospitality made her guests feel welcome, she was not happy living in New York and took little satisfaction in formal compliments.
- When the seat of government was moved to Philadelphia in 1790 and the family settled on High Street, Martha became more comfortable in her public duties. Her cordiality became more extravagant that she was criticized for entertaining on a scale too lavish for a republican government. Martha won over the detractors by opening up the President’s mansion to ordinary citizens to say that the government would be close to the people and responsive to their needs.
LIFE AFTER THE PRESIDENCY
- In March 1797, the Washingtons bid farewell to public life after George completed his second term of office, and Martha was thrilled to return to Mount Vernon. However, her desire to live a private life was impeded by the constant stream of friends and guests visiting their house to honor the esteemed couple.
- After her husband’s death in December 1799, Martha freed his slaves continued to live at Mount Vernon, closing their bed chamber and settling on the third floor of their mansion.
- In 1800, the United States congress granted her a lifetime free postage privilege, known as “franking,” to respond to condolences for her husband’s passing. The privilege is continued to be granted to any U.S. president’s widow who applies for it.
DEATH AND COMMEMORATION
- Martha died of severe fever on May 22, 1802 at 70 years old. She was buried beside her husband in a family tomb at Mount Vernon.
- The news of her death was also widely reported like her husband’s, with Augusta Herald obituary commemorating her as “the worthy partner of the worthiest of men”, published in Georgia on June 9, 1802.
Martha Washington Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Martha Washington across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Martha Washington worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Martha Washington who was the first American first lady and the wife of George Washington, first president of the United States. She set many of the standards and customs for the proper behavior and treatment of a U.S. president’s wife.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Martha Washington Facts
- Fast Facts
- Skills Hunt
- Lady Washington’s Journey
- Leading Marthas
- Name that FLOTUS
- NOTE-able Women
- Martha Speak Up
- Next Woman on Currency
- Martha’s Memories
- Past / Present
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Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.