Our first First Lady


I often get ideas for this blog from my ‘It happened on this day in history’ calendar.  When I turned to today’s entry I saw it noted that today was the birthday of Martha Washington and I thought it would be interesting to look up fun facts on her for this blog.  Once I started my research, though, I discovered my calendar had it wrong.  Other sources I checked all agreed that her birthday was, in fact, June 2nd.   Be that as it may, however, I’m going to list the information I dug up, much of it news to me.

Personal Stats

  • Full name:  Martha Dandridge Custis Washington
  • Born: June 2, 1731
  • Place of Birth: Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Father: John Dandridge
  • Mother: Frances Dandridge
  • Husbands (2)
    (1) Daniel Parke Curtis (died 8 years into the marriage) Children: 1 daughter and 1 son
    (2) George Washington  Children (none)
  • Education: No formal education
  • Religion: Episcopalian
  • Died: May 22, 1802
  • Place of Death: Mount Vernon, Virginia


Interesting/Fun Facts

  • She married her first husband when she was 18 – he was twenty years her senior.  Their home was called the White House Plantation.
  • The death of her first husband left her wealthy in her own right.
  • Martha did NOT enjoy role of First Lady – she felt trapped by it
  • She had a ship, a row galley, named in her honor – The USS Lady Washington. 
    It was the first U.S. Military ship to be named in honor of a woman. 
    It was also the first U.S. military ship to be named for a person who was still alive.
  • She is the only woman whose portrait has appeared on a U.S. currency note.  Hers was the face on the front of the $1 Silver Certificates of 1886 and 1891 and on the back of the one issued in 1896.
  • She was the first American woman to be commemorated by a postage stamp – the 1902 eight cent stamp.  In subsequent years she had two other stamps issued in her honor – a 1923 four cent stamp and a 1938 one and a half cent stamp.
  • She often followed her husband into the battlefield when he served as commander in chief of the Continental army.  In fact, she spent the infamous winter at Valley Forge at his side, and was instrumental in maintaining some level of morale among officers and enlisted troops.
  • She was opposed to her husband’s election as President of the U.S and refused to attend his inauguration.
  • The title ‘First Lady’ was not coined until after Martha’s death.  She was known as ‘Lady Washington’.
  • She was jealous of her privacy and destroyed most of the letters she wrote to her husband as well as the letters he wrote to her.


Quotations attributed to Martha Washington

  • “I am fond of only what comes from the heart.”
  • “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go.”
  • “Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It’s a miracle, and the dance…is a celebration of that miracle.”
  • “I live a very dull life here… indeed I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from… “


All in all, it sounds like Martha Washington was an interesting, intelligent, strong-willed woman – one I would have enjoyed meeting.

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.

21 thoughts on “Our first First Lady”

  1. Hi Winnie! Have you been to Mt. Vernon? It’s a good tour and a nice place to go for anyone visiting the Washington DC area. I was surprised at how small the rooms were. Martha was an interesting lady. Her quotations really impressed me.

  2. Yes, Victoria, Mt. Vernon was a bit of surprise as far as the size of the rooms. It is a lovely spot. You could sit all day on the porch and look at the river.
    Interesting post. It revealed much about her as a person. I love the quotes you listed, especially the second one. They tell more about her than anything else. I would love to have been able to visit her for tea at Mt. Vernon.

  3. Winner, thanks for the fun facts. I’m in awe of any woman who will–willingly or not–serve our country as first lady. I’ve visited Mt. Vernon, too. Amazing place.

  4. Victoria – yes I visited Mt. Vernon once many, many years ago. It was a stop on my senior class high school trip. A truly beautiful place

    Patricia – glad you enjoyed the post. And I found the quotations very revealing as well

    Tracy – I’m with you – I can’t imagine the role of First Lady being a very fun one. I think the fact that she skipped the inaugaration said something about her personality as well.

  5. Can you believe women went with their husband’s to battle?
    That happened a lot. They’d cook and wash clothes. In all ways continue as a wife would.
    I’d love to hear HER side of the war. What women really experienced. How many died? Where did she going during the actual fighting? Was there honor among the enemy toward the women if they overran a camp?
    And there were spectators at the battles, too. People would stand along the sides and watch.

    Very different from now.

  6. Mary – Yes it absolutely would be interesting to hear her side of what went on. The woman in me understands why she burned those letters, but the researcher in me wishes she hadn’t

  7. What an interesting blog, Winnie. I never knew much about Martha. They certainly taught every little about her in school. I think it’s neat that the US Mint is producing the presidental and first lady collectable coins. I’m keeping my collection up to date. Some of the facts about our leaders are fascinating.

  8. Wow, there’s so much here I didn’t know, Winnie. We learn very little about the real Martha in school. What an interesting, independent woman. Thanks for a great blog.

  9. Poor thing. Sad to feel like a state prisoner., but I totally love this quote, “I am fond of only what comes from the heart.” What a lady. Thanks for updating us on her, Winnie. I enjoyed this information. oxox

  10. I am a great admirer of Martha Washington, a woman who backed her husband when the going got tough. I don’t blame her for not liking to be in the spotlight either.

  11. Tanya – from all accounts she did not enjoy the role of First Lady, but handled it with grace and dignity nevertheless

    Lyn – Thanks for stopping by! And yes, the more I researched Martha Washington, the more my admiration for her grew

  12. I remember reading … well, I clearly don’t remember it WELL, but I think it was a bio of George Washington. I was on a kick, years ago. Dolly Madison, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams. I love learning history through biographies and fiction. Way more fun that your usual history book, which is a SHAME.

    But the part where Martha, after George’s death, systematically burned a lifetime collection of letters, hers and his. The way I remember it, at his request. It hurt. I always wondered what was in them. they’d have known those letters would be historically sought after and no doubt it was just personal and they didn’t want their personal lives preserved for the ages.
    But man it hurt.

  13. Fadcinating post, Winnie. I loved it. When did the White House get it’s name? It would be interesting if Martha named it after her first home. Or maybe it was named in honor of her? Or maybe it is all just coincidence? Enquiring minds need to know. LOL

  14. Karen – this is what Wiki had to say on the subject:

    Though it is commonly thought that the White House got its name after it was repainted after having been burned by the British during the War of 1812, in fact the name was first used in 1811, before the war. The most popular theory is that the name derives from White House Plantation, Martha Custis Washington’s home where she and the first president spent time together.
    Official stationery still referred to the building as the Executive Mansion until 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt established “the White House” as the building’s official name.

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