Happy International Women’s Day! I’m sure we can all name women we admire and women who have made immense differences in the country and the world with their actions and loving attention. I admire many who are smarter, braver, and more daring than I could ever be. The world is a better place for them!
I suppose one of the most inspiring examples of a strong woman who faced unprecedented and unique challenges is Martha Washington. In researching her life and times, it was brought home time and time again how she faced the death of a loved one with grace and dignity and love. Until the death of the love of her life brought her to her proverbial knees. Even then she managed to press on through the grief and the ensuing loneliness after George was buried in his tomb.
But she did much more than survive her loved ones’ passing on. She helped bolster George, gave him a firm foundation from which to lead the fledgling country to victory during the American Revolution. Then kept him grounded and nurtured as the country’s first president and all of the many, many confrontations and hurdles he faced.
All while managing a large “family” both at home at Mount Vernon and in the field during the war, overseeing the management of the war camps during the winter months and then the presidential house in two different cities. She forged the path of the role of First Lady, establishing the acceptable protocols and etiquette. It’s never easy to be the first, but she used all of her training and experience as plantation mistress to organize an efficient household no matter what the other circumstances might have been. Keep in mind this meant making clothing, linens, medicines, foods, drinks, maintaining the household garden, and managing the imported foods and drinks kept under lock and key. It meant educating the children in history, math, reading and writing, as well as dance, art, music, and horticulture. She had to have her finger on the pulse of the entire operation in order to ensure a smooth and efficient household.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know she wasn’t the perfect woman. She was raised within a belief system that is long dead and buried and needs to stay there. And of course she employed the help of her indentured servants, slaves, and paid servants. Given the constraints and expectations of women in the 18th century, I think she did very well at pushing the boundaries and demonstrating how capable and intelligent women are and can be when given the chance. She found a way to balance the feminine ideal of the times with a business acumen that did her proud and kept her family together. She found a way to combine societal expectation with her personal goals and make a new path forward.
So on this special day, I wanted to give a shout out to her, but also to all the inspiring women who lead the charge toward finding a better tomorrow for every woman.
Thanks for reading!
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Martha “Patsy” Custis manages an immense eighteenth-century plantation in the Virginia colony. But as a young widow she’s hard pressed to balance her business and to care for her two young children. They need a father and protector. She needs a husband and business partner…one she can trust, especially now as tensions rise between the motherland and the American colonies. Her experience and education have sustained her thus far but when her life veers in an unexpected direction, she realizes she has so much more to learn.
Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her and she’s surprised to find him so sociable and appealing. They form an instant bond and she is certain he’ll be a likeable and loving husband and father figure for her children. She envisions a quiet life at Mount Vernon, working together to provide for their extended family.
But when trouble in the form of British oppression, taxes, and royal arrogance leads to revolt and revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, Martha must decide whether to remain where she belongs or go with her husband…no matter what the dangerous future may hold.