tv First Ladies Influence Image CSPAN April 19, 2015 8:00pm-9:35pm EDT
you are watching american history tv. >> american history tv is featuring c-span's original series "first ladies: influence and image on sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. for the rest of the year. we tell the stories of america's 45 first ladies. now, martha washington on "first ladies, influence and image." this is about one hour and a half. ♪ >> martha washington was george
washington's confidant. >> she was absorbed and capable but she did not like that definition. she called herself a prisoner of state. >> every step washington took, to find the office, -- washington took defined the office so, in a very real sense, can it be said that everything martha washington did likewise? >> it was a business-like relationship but not without respect and affection. >> she owned most of this whole block going back a couple of acres which means she owned a huge chunk of what williamsburg was. >> there was a lot of tragedy and martha washington's life. she lost her husband. first >> she was raised a rich woman and what that meant in the 18th century is not what it means today. >> when she marries george washington, she brings with her to mount vernon 12 house slaves and that is really almost an unimaginable luxury. >> it took 10 days to travel
here to valley forge from mount vernon in her carriage with her slaves and servants with her and this was a difficult journey. >> her experience had prepared her to become the first lady. >> born in new kent county virginia, she was 57 years old when she and george washington left mount vernon in service to the country. this time, their destination was new york city, selected as the nation's first capital where they began the first of their two terms as president and first lady of united states, setting important precedents for their their successors -- for all their successors in the white house. a very good evening and welcome to the brand-new series,"first ladies: influence and image." for the next year, we will spend on personal biographies with each of the women who served in that role in the white house as a window into american history.
our first installment is martha washington. we'll try to serve up the essential martha washington with two people who have come to know her well. presidential historian richard norton smith whose biography of george washington is called "patriarch." and patricia brady, whose book is called "martha washington, an american life.". why does martha washington matter? patricia: she was the first and she was one of the best. those things always count. she was able to help george washington make it through the american revolution and then two awful terms of president. she was his helpmate, always. >> the concept for this series was something that you championed early and were a guiding light into how cspan might do it. what was your thought as a story about why studying first ladies should matter in the society we live in today? richard: first of all, we don't know enough about them as individuals.
we don't know enough about them for the windows that they open upon their individual periods. individually they are fascinating. it seems to me they provide a way of tracing women's history but also the history of the country and any number of political and other institutions as well. ultimately, i suspect our viewers will be surprised by a lot of the information that they hear over the next year. these are surprising stories that we will be telling. host: we went on location to a number of sites important to her biography and during the next 90 minutes, we'll show you the video. this will be interactive and we will begin taking phone calls in a little while and tell you how you can be part of the conversation. you can join immediately by social media.
if you are on twitter, you can send us a question or comment. on facebook, we have a question posted for you of anything you would like to talk about in martha washington's time or life. we welcome your participation. we will spend the first 15 or 20 minutes on the two terms in the white house. patricia: not the white house the presidential residence in new york city. 1789, she comes to new york city a few months behind george washington. host: tell us what kind of opinion the american public had of these two people as they took this important role? patricia: the opinion had begun with the revolution. at that point, when martha would ride to join her husband as she did every year in the winter camps, people would just line up behind every tree and on every fence post to look at her. she said she felt as though she was a very great somebody.
she was somebody for the first time as his wife. the newspapers reported how important it was for him to have her. they started then when they came back as president and his lady the public already had an opinion of them. they were singular characters. the other politicians were not in the same ballpark at all. host: give people a sense of how hard it was to make the basic decisions about how the new government would function including this role. richard: the decisions about what a republican or a president was are inseparable from what we would perhaps condescendingly today attribute to the east wing of the white house. for instance, would the president and first lady accept private dinner invitations?
would the president and first lady go to a private funeral? what do you call the president? indeed, what do you call his consort? the reason why these questions would seem trivial to us today matter is that each one in their own way was to find the nature of this new government which was, after all, to some degree a spin off from its royal antecedents and yet the country was split right down the middle between those who feared that it was in any way aping george iii. we still have a dichotomy about what a president is. how close could a president and his wife get to us? the fact that mrs. washington had a friday night reception every week that anyone could walk into as long as they were
decently dressed, you would not find that in london. it helped to define not only her role but, in a larger sense, the access that americans would have to their president. richard:host: if the only model that the washingtons and the rest of the newfound government had, were the very european monarchies they fought a revolution to distance themselves from, where did the washington's draw other examples from? patricia: they talked about it. people see washington as this strong, marble leader. he was more than a statue. he always liked to talk to his associates. that is one reason he was criticized as a general, because he liked to talk to his staff before making a decision. in government, he thought all the best minds of the country would get together, talk things through, and make the right decision because we were the first modern republic.
it is hard to understand that there was nobody like us so what ever they did mattered. it was important. host: let's take a snapshot of that modern republic with some basic facts. this was from the first census ever done by the new country. the census maker was thomas jefferson. here are some facts and they gathered about the new united states -- the 13 initial states had a population of under 4 million. only 9% were free. the per capita income was $437, and it was more than that before the years of war if you . -- of war. if you translate that income into 2013 numbers, it's $11,500.
the largest cities in the country were new york, philadelphia, and boston. what should we learn about those three large cities? richard: two of those 13 states were not yet members of the union. north carolina and rhode island held back when the rest of the union adopted the constitution. america was overwhelmingly a rural, rustic, agrarian, farm-based society. it ended at the appalachian mountains. in 1800, there were three roads that crossed. the united states was a nation in name only. it was, in fact, three distinct nations -- new england, the middle states, and the south and each of them had one major city. philadelphia was the largest city in the nation with all of 40,000 people. one of the things that martha washington found not altogether to her liking was the fact that
she was uprooted from the agricultural life at mount vernon that she knew and had been born into and that she had mastered in many ways and relished. it is only the latest chapter of her sacrifice which, in its own way, i think you could argue matches anything her husband sacrificed. patricia: that's true, she did not want to go to a city. she did not want to live in the north. she want to be home at mount vernon. but she had to be there with her husband to do what her husband wanted to do. she gave it up. the thing that made her so very unhappy was to discover that once she got there, washington had consulted with john jay and james madison and john adams and they had all decided that
presidents could have no personal life -- that any entertainment, any going to visit people, any having people in was, in fact, a public act. so they could not just go hang out with their friends or ask their friends over and that was just the first year. the first year was terrible for her at the same time that it was pretty good for him. jefferson had not come back from paris yet. that was probably his honeymoon with the presidency. host: let me give you this quote -- richard: there is a line after that that someone should carve over the entrance to the white
house which goes to the heart of who this woman was and why she was the ideal first first lady. she said experience in her life had taught her that her happiness or misery depends upon our disposition and not our circumstances. that is a remarkably wise observation but it is an observation distilled from a life full of tragedy. she had lost a husband. she lost all four of her children. she lost countless nieces -- host: all of her siblings. richard: absolutely, and then she found herself repeatedly uprooted from the life she expected. to follow george on the
battlefield or a different kind of battlefield. together with very little precedent, they devised this new government. patricia: they were very much partners. he was so miserable until he could get her to join him wherever he was. i was going to say the quote about being a prisoner of the state -- that was about the first year in new york and that was a bad year when she was still having to follow the rules of the men. when they went home to mount vernon, she worked on her husband so that when they went to philadelphia the next year, the rules were changed. she was not a prisoner. he was on a month-long tour of the northern states attempting to unite the country. she was depressed and by herself. she was much less happy at that
time than any other time really. host: once she moved to philadelphia and became happier because the restrictions are lifted, although she lived in philadelphia society, we will show you a video from philadelphia and get a sense of martha and george washington's life there in the second capital of the united states. >> it is here that martha washington carved out the role of what the wife of the president of united states should do. some of the social events that martha washington would have been responsible for overseeing were state dinners that were held weekly on thursday as well as the drawing room reception that martha washington personally organized every friday evening. the state dinners would have been events that martha would have helped to coordinate. these took place on thursday every week. just above this dining room on the second floor, was a drawing room. that is where martha washington held her drawing room receptions
on fridays. those events were a little more informal as compared to the state dinners and george washington was always in attendance. he probably preferred the social engagements on friday rather than the ones in this room because they were informal in nature. it was open to the public and any one of social standing was welcome to attend. most people remarked that george washington was more at ease with his wife at his side. we know martha washington lived among the household with as many as 30 people which included servants and enslaved people from mount vernon. one of the most well-known was oney judge.
she was the personal maid to martha washington. it is likely that she would have slept right here in the house. in that time that martha washington was in philadelphia oney judge runs away to claim her freedom. this was a major blow to martha washington. she felt very betrayed. she had promised oney judge to her granddaughter once she was married. host: washington's life in philadelphia -- do you want to comment about that? patricia: i want to say something about sappy 19th century images. the 19th century liked the idea of having an almost regal republican court here. there was no dais to in those rooms. in no place were they raised above each other. she did not stand. she sat and met people and then walked around the room. the idea that it was somehow so regal is so wrong.
it was not. richard: it is so frustrating that anyone who has dealt with the primary sources from this period are grateful for what we have but we are constantly hungry for more. we have countless second-hand reports from events like this and they are unanimous. everyone talks about what a charming conversationalist martha was. and how she was always cheerful and always interested in her guests. patricia: her smile, her beautiful teeth, not many had beautiful teeth back then. host: as we talk about her interaction with the public, the slaves that they brought with them -- we just heard the story of oney judge and that is a good entry point to talk about their relationship with enslaved people. patricia: when they married they felt the same.
they had grown up in virginia, a good part of the wealth of virginia was built on the labor and persons of enslaved black people. they agreed with it. at that time, washington was rather strict with his slaves. as time went on, his views started to change. he was the only one of the founding fathers who freed his slaves. the rest kept them until they died. her opinions did not change. it was unfortunate. i wanted it to be different and i read every word i could find. the one slave that she actually owned personally, she did not free. she left her to her grandson. the truth is, she felt it was the way society was supposed to be. onie judge had let her down and she had been kind to her and she did not understand that onie wanted to be free and learn to
read and write and that she wanted to find christ in her own way. richard: in a lot of ways, it can be said of washington that he outgrew the racist culture that produced him. one major reason was because during the revolution, after having initially turned thumbs down to the idea of recruiting free blacks, the fact of the matter is that african-americans played a vital roles in the winning of the revolution. washington saw firsthand what these people were capable of doing. he saw the courage, he saw the sacrifice, they were humanized in a way that was not possible on the plantation. life taught him a lesson different from martha. host: washington spent the entire second term in philadelphia.
one of the things we so often do not learn about was about the trials of things like epidemics. the philadelphia population was more than decimated, 12% died in the early part of that epidemic. patricia: yellow fever is one of those diseases that one tends to think of as a southern caribbean disease. the east coast of united states was frequently struck with yellow fever. it was the yellow fever that was killing people right and left. alexander hamilton had a very bad case but survived. that was part of the torment but the real torment for washington was to see that his friends and the men he respected, instead of coming together to make a new form of government, were falling apart into two parties. he would never have believed that jefferson and madison and hamilton would become enemies of
one another and that they would do everything they could to keep each other out of office instead of working together. host: before we leave this section, we will work our way through earlier parts of her life -- you mentioned adams. martha washington had a relationship with abigail adams. i was tickled to find out there was almost a sisterhood of revolutionary ladies. who was in that and how did they interact? patricia: they really had a lot in common. there were both wives who were partners. they were not wives who were stuck and left out of everything. they were both deeply committed to the idea of this new republic. that is something they cared about. it was political in that sense. they also help teach others
-- helped each other socially. abigail was extremely pleased and tickled by the fact that her place was to the right of martha washington on the sofa and that if another lady came up and took her place before she arrived the president himself would ask her to leave so that abigail could set there. she almost had a crush on martha washington. richard: abigail is left to some lofty accounts. including the friday night receptions. the one person who escapes her occasionally harsh tongue is martha washington. she said she did not have a tincture of hauteur about her. it is a wonderful phrase but even now, it evokes that this woman who could have been queen, george washington could have
been king and she could have been queen and not the least of their accomplishments is that each refused. host: last question on this section, you paint a portrait that george washington was a robust subscriber to newspapers of the time and that martha washington devoured the newspapers as well by my she -- as well. patricia: she loved to read. she read a lot. when she did not actually read the papers herself, washington would frequently spend an evening reading aloud to her and whoever else was there. he would read a story and they would all talk about it. she was not a person who was out of what was going on in politics at all. richard: that does not mean she liked what she read. host: how did the press read her? >> there was no personal
-- richard: there was no personal criticism but there was a democratic element who were always on the lookout for anything that seemed monarchical. some thought that the president's weekly levy on tuesday afternoon and her dinner every thursday and her friday night reception and the fact that he rode in a carriage to federal whole, that somehow they put this together and suspected aristocratic inclinations. they were always on the lookout for that, not so much directed at the first lady, per se, but the administration's represented. patricia: the difference from martha and every other first lady beginning with abigail, is that these were private comments. others made private unpleasant comments about her but it did
not appear in the newspapers. nobody said that she is so uppity and is so full of herself. whatever that might want to say about her. wives were off-limits. once the adams came in, from then on, wives had been fair game. host: in about 10 minutes, we will go to your calls and you can join in. you can tweet us or post on facebook. williamsburg, virginia was the place where george and martha met. we will learn a little bit more about martha washington's life in williamsburg next. >> williamsburg is as close to her home town that she would ever get. she was well connected with this
place before she was born. her great-grandfather was the first rector of druten parish church. you cannot get more embedded in the life of this town than that. her grandfather, orlando johns we have his house that is reconstructed here and they owned a plantation outside of town. their daughter frances married a patridge and they moved no more than 30 miles away. that is where martha was born, chestnut grove. we heard growing up there that williamsburg was then the center of political and social and cultural life in all of virginia but certainly in this part of virginia. given the fact that her father was engaged in a lot of political and economic activities, this is the place she would have come to more often than any other place. >> this is the area she was born to.
if you were anyone in society, you came to williamsburg if you are from new kent. her mother was in williamsburg society. when she became of age to be brought into society, she was being brought to the balls and assemblies here. she was at the balls at the royal governor's palace. she was certainly at the assemblies, at places like the raleigh tavern. when it is time to be brought out into polite society, williamsburg was the place to be because her mother knew that williamsburg was where her daughter needed to be. martha falls in love with daniel kustus. that is her first husband. he is a farmer, a plantation owner but she does not know that daniel kustus the son of john custus who owns most of the property around the area.
she falls in love with his son daniel thinking he is a man from new can't --from new kent. when daniel goes to his father and says i want to mary mart dan dredge, he says she is not fortunate enough to marry into the custuses. martha's father was a clerk of new kent and she had an amiable personality. that is the one notion that people fell in love with their. john blair and john proctor go to john custus on martha's behalf and tell him if he meets her, you will fall in love with her. i would love to see with that meeting was like. whatever she said to this man, he said she was the most amiable
young girl and he could not see his son marrying anything better than the young dandridge girl. >> we can see williamsburg as a real home where she owned a house and property. her first husband and children are buried right outside. the closest members of her family are within 20 or 30 miles of williamsburg. she can easily reconnect with them. >> the parish church, in many ways, was martha washington's home church. her great-grandfather was the first minister of the parish church. roland jones. he is buried on the inside. grandparents are both now buried in the church. probably more closely connected to miss martha washington than anybody else, other than george washington, is her first husband and their first two children. this is the final resting place of martha washington's first husband.
this stone was ordered from london. although he and both of their first two children, their first son and their first daughter who lie here, were first interred outside the plantation outside of williamsburg, they remained at the church in the early part of the century. this is a tenement. this is one of the buildings that martha washington owned in williamsburg. she actually owned this whole block going back a couple of acres, and which means she owned a huge chunk of one williamsburg was. she stayed here on and off for most of her life. williamsburg was the center of her world. she was here when her husband, daniel custis, was a prominent member of this community and she was here very often when george
washington was a member of the house of burgesses, was a political leader in the colony. and, of course, in order to be able to protect and promote her own business interests in the area. host: what about her williamsburg years were important to the woman she became as first lady? patricia: you have to realize she was a teenager when she became the fiance of daniel custis and he was 20 years older, and he was a bachelor because his dad never let him marry. nobody was good enough. not only did she overcome prejudice on the part of the father, but she helped bring him into a real-life with the children and everyone else, but he was so rich. he was so much richer than most people around.
she came from a lower gentry family. they were not so rich. she learned how to manage property and to manage money and to take care of things that would serve her really well for the rest of her life. she was smart as far as money went. host: 25 when she became a widow? richard: just one statistic to put this in perspective. mount vernon at its peak was about 8,000 acres. daniel custis, when they were married, and martha was 19 years old, brought 18,000 acres into this marriage, and the video which was wonderful -- if anything, it understated how thoroughly curmudgeonly daniel's father was. his tombstone holds an inscription he wrote which announces he had never been
happy except when living apart from his wife. whatever it was that this 18 19-year-old young woman was able to say made an amazing impression. something about -- patricia: about the force of her character. richard: and her personality. host: she became wealthy at age 25. a wealthy, wealthy widow. she was quite a catch. what was it about george washington she saw that attracted her? patricia: it was mostly that he was such a hunk. he was 6'2" at a time when most men were 5'8", 5'9". a wonderful horseman, wonderful athlete, fabulous dancer, very charming. and he really liked women. he loved to talk to women always, his whole life long.
he had begun to show the type of leadership he would show more of, but in the estimation of those days he was the lucky one. she was the catch, rather than he. host: a colonel at the time and distinguished in his military career. richard: he would also be a real catch in the sense that -- remember, she had four children by daniel custis, two of whom died young, and two of them survived for now. and, of course, she had all that property. george washington would also fulfill vital roles even as a partner. patricia: she could trust him because he was clearly a person of such integrity. host: on that note so people get a sense of what life was like for women in early america,
women had what kind of property rights? patricia: as a widow she was in a fine shape, because her husband did not leave any kind of trustee. she could do what she wanted to. host: is that common? patricia: fairly common. it was much more common to leave mail trustees he just did not . he just did not get around to writing his will in time. once they got married it meant that they were covered women and all of their financial and any other kind of dealings were carried out by their husbands. patricia: -- richard: she had a portion of the custis estate which she had an 85 slaves. the rest had to be managed for her children.
host: our twitter community is enjoying you calling george washington a hunk. how accurate is this portrayal of martha washington? patricia: very accurate. people criticized it and said, why do you have to show her young? we all start young. you are not born at 65 years old. it was important to show what she looked like as a beautiful young woman, so we took a picture from mount vernon to a forensic anthropology lab and they did an age regression to show what she actually looked like at 25. i wanted to say, what did george see when the door was open and he walked into the drawing room? what kind of woman did he set eyes on? it was not the gilbert stuart old lady.
it was a beautiful young woman. host: about the children, martha washington had four. by the time she met george there were two living children. what was his attitude toward these children? did he take them on as his own? richard: he really did. later on he famously adopted the grandchildren. washington loved children. i think washington was rather sensitive to the fact that he had no children of his own, and that would be a subject of pure speculation, which hasn't prevented historians from speculating. the fact is he treated her children very much as if they were his own. by one estimate, she brought 20,000 pounds to their marriage, and he spent a good deal of that immediately sending away for orders for toys, for wax dolls for patsy, the daughter, and he
spent quality time with them and, of course, lost both of them. it was a shattering experience. patsy, who died of epilepsy, one day at dinner in the dining room, and jackie, who had not participated in the revolution until the very end and joined his stepfather's staff, came down with most people think typhus or some type of fever and died a few days later. host: this is very common in the period. the average life expectancy would have been 50's or 60's. patricia: except you need to think of the fact that a large part of those in the mortality figures are young children who died before they're 5 or 6.
the death rate among young children or women giving birth who died in childbirth. those figures are skewed. if you lived beyond 6 and if you survived childbirth, the chances of you living into your 70's were fine. richard: washington men lived beyond the 50's. he had a sense that he was living on borrowed time at 57. that is why he was reluctant to take the presidency. host: time for some questions from around the country. the first one is jennifer in south dakota. what's your question? caller: i was wondering what martha's relationship was to general washington's staff, people like alexander hamilton and maybe some of the younger politicians like monroe and maybe even madison, especially considering that she did lose
her children. patricia: well, that's a great question, because from the time she first gave birth at 18, 19 she was a really wonderful mother. she doted on the children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. during the war with the young officers, she was more or less like a house mother at a fraternity. she looked after these young men and she saw that they ate enough and that they had dry socks. they did all the important things and concerned herself with them in that way. and forever afterward the young men of those days remembered her as their mother, as their foster mother. richard: she also had a sense of humor. alexander hamilton loved the ladies, and they returned his interest. at one point in the war -- this
is before hamilton married betsy schuyler -- martha had an amorous tomcat. that she named hamilton in tribute to the future secretary of the treasury. host: i'm going to move on to another question from tom, of all things, from bethesda, maryland. caller: there was a special relationship between george washington and the marquis de lafayette. how did martha get along with him? patricia: he was another of the young men that she became a mother to. when he came, although the richest man in france, he was one of the most unhappy. he was escaping persecution by his in-laws and by the court and he came as a young man. he was 18 years old when she met him, and she thought of him as another son. she treated him that way.
he loved it. he saw a part of that as what america was like, where people could be made over and he could be made over. richard: he was one of the better observers who gives us a window on the relationship between the washingtons. he writes a letter. people ask why did martha spend every winter of the revolution with washington and lafayette said it was simple. she loved her husband fondly. her husband madly. host: you are on. caller: i read in washington a few months ago, and at that time he mentioned that the judge woman left because martha told her she was going to pass her on down to her daughter and that
she trusted and liked martha but didn't want to work for the daughter. patricia: that's actually her granddaughter. the daughter was many years dead by then. martha had three granddaughters, and the oldest one was a fairly bad tempered and very capricious, and i do not think anyone would have wanted to work for her, much less belong to her. and certainly when she was told that eliza had requested her and that she was going to -- when they went home that she would be going to live with eliza when she got married, she decided enough was enough and took off. host: the montpelier folks are going to be yelling at me. shame on me. monticello was thomas jefferson's home, so we have to correct that. richard: friends of hers who
basically smuggled her to portsmouth, new hampshire, and mrs. washington wanted to -- wanted her back and wanted the president to advertise for her return. it put washington in a very awkward situation. host: in michigan, what is your question? caller: i have a public historian. i wondered what you thought about how historic sites deal with first ladies, in particular, martha washington. do you think she is well represented? are there things we can do to talk about what she did? and how she helped her husband? patricia: i certainly think in philadelphia it would be good to see even more done about martha washington as the first lady but at mount vernon they have done an incredible job. mount vernon is the leader among these historical houses. they have an actress who
portrays martha washington, and they really make clear how important she was, that she was not just a hostess. host: next up is surely in tucson. hi, shirley, you're on. caller: i'd like to ask a question about the custis-lee house in arlington. host: have you been to visit it? caller: oh, yes, several times. i grew up in the washington area, and i was just there, and i saw it was being renovated and i was curious. i don't really remember why it was in the custis family. host: thanks very much. patricia: well, because martha's grandson, washington custis, who was adopted along with his sister, nelly, by the washingtons and lived with them
throughout their lives, when he -- after the washingtons died and he was on his own, he decided to build a beautiful mansion, which he did, and it was arlington. so this was the custis mansion. it in fact never belonged to robert lee. robert married mary custis, his daughter, and cared for it and lived there when he wasn't out on the frontier someplace building buildings and all. but it passed from washington custis to his daughter, mary, to the lees' son. lee was more of the caretaker, but he was the most famous of them all, so his name is included. richard: if you want to humanize the washingtons, it's a wonderful universal story about how george and martha agreed to disagree about george washington parke custis, known as young wash or tub, who was, i think most people agree, spoiled royally by his grandmother.
he was in and out of school, and there were these wonderful letters in which washington was pouring out the benefit of his wife's experience about how he would work all day long, it's amazing how much you could get done, etc., etc., etc. totally wasted on tub, who would go on to become famous for his connection to george washington. patricia: when the couple married, george washington was in the process of building mount vernon. well, mount vernon existed as a four-room farmhouse, but it was in the process of adding a second story. so then it was an eight-room house with an attic area at the top. host: doing that to bring his new wife there or -- patricia: he paid for it himself. it was partly his pride he did not want to be marrying a rich woman and using her money to make his house. i think it was to show that he
too, had a lot to offer. host: both of you have spent hundreds of hours at mount vernon. is it fair to call it the centerpiece of the washington's existence? richard: absolutely. patricia: definitely, of course. richard: yeah, it was the north star, the place they always wanted to return to, the place they were happiest. and yet, it's remarkable -- not to jump ahead, but after the president died, maybe the greatest sacrifice of all that martha was asked to make, and yet the last ultimate she was willing to have his remains removed from mount vernon and moved to the new capitol building in washington, d.c. fortunately that never happened. bureaucracy took over. patricia: shows how bad politics sometimes works out well. they got to arguing so they did not take him away. host: let's show you some of the views of mount vernon when we visited.
>> it's clear that after martha arrives at mount vernon in april of 1759, there's a lot of management that she has to do. when she marries george washington she brings with her 12 house slaves, and that is really almost an unimaginable luxury. these are slaves who, for the most part, are not field labor or not producing crops, which is where your income is coming from. they are doing things like cooking, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, sewing. this is not productive labor, in the sense that it's not producing income. so she brings those slaves with her. she brings financial resources to the marriage as well as managerial skills. makes mount vernon a successful operation and makes it possible for washington to be away for eight years fighting a war. so the fact that washington has this support system that enabled
him to volunteer his time and talents to run the revolution is clearly critical. there is a farm manager who during most of the revolution is a distant cousin of george washington. later the farm manager is george augustin washington, who is washington's nephew. and he ends up marrying fannie bassett, who is martha washington's niece. so that tells you something about the closeness of some of the family relationships. it is clear while they are at mount vernon with martha washington, she was a take charge woman. in terms of her interaction with the slaves, she's interacting with the cooks in the kitchen, the maids who are serving in the house. there are also slave women who are spinning on a continual basis to produce yarn.
she is supervising what the gardeners are doing. martha was a great lover of gardens and having cut flowers. she loved having a kitchen garden that she could go out and bring in vegetables for what they're going to be able to serve at mount vernon. she's the one who's really planning the menus. there are just a lot of levels that she is working with. it's a big operation. really the center of her whole life. host: if you visit mount vernon today and with years of documentary research, how close is it to re-creating the life that george and martha washington experienced? patricia: nothing today could re-create the life at that time, because for one thing, they would have to take all the motorized vehicles away. they would have to have haystacks, manure piles, outdoor toilets. there was so much about the life that was so much more primitive than it is. but as close as you can today,
it's very good. as i said, it's the leader in the historical houses. host: george washington's crops were white and -- were what, what kind of a businessman was he? richard: that is an aspect of his life that is least understood. people who think of him as a complex conservative. they should think of him more in agriculture. he had a great passion for it. he was a real experimental farmer. he realized this was not fertile soil to begin with. it was being exploited by tobacco. tobacco really should be a crop of the past. he experimented with over 60 different crops to see what would work best. a very quick point i wanted to make was the apprenticeship that
running mount vernon offered, if there was an ad for first lady in 1789, martha washington's prior experience really qualified her uniquely. and one of the things that she did -- if you go to mount vernon today, you'll notice there are two, in effect, wings, that were added during the revolution, which, by the way, she oversaw the construction. there's the dining room, which is a very public space, and then there's a very private wing that contains their bedroom and his study. one of the jobs she had -- they had 600 people a year, strangers, who showed up, just because they wanted to see the most famous man on earth. they were all welcome. they were all greeted. most of them were fed, given a bed overnight. but even washington, he'd disappear in the evening, go to his study, leaving martha to converse with the visitors. host: their bedroom was one of
the other videos we chose. let's watch that now. patricia: ok. >> the room that we refer to and show off in the mansion at the washingtons bed chamber is a room that was part of the south wing of the mansion here at mount vernon that was started in 1775, right before george washington left to participate in the continental congress, and then the revolutionary war. george washington does always refer to it as mrs. washington's chamber. and it's clear that it was kind of the center -- her nerve center for mount vernon. so the sort of daily routine was that when mrs. washington got up she typically spent time in , that chamber doing her hour of spiritual meditation. perhaps later in the day writing letters, talking with her cooks to plan menus for the day, giving assignments for what was to be done that day. when her grandchildren were
young, we know she also used that room for teaching them, reading them stories, sewing in the afternoons. so you can really imagine how wonderful it would have been in that room. one the most notable pieces is the bed that is in that bed chamber. that is the bed on which george washington died. but we also know from martha washington's will that she had a personal role in acquiring that bed, which is a bit larger than the typical dimensions for an 18th century bed. so it seems perhaps that she's getting kind of a custom-made bed for her quite tall husband. another piece in the room that has a very close connection with martha washington is her desk. although very little of the correspondence between george and martha washington has survived, because martha washington destroyed their private correspondence. it was in that desk that two of their letters were found that had slipped behind one of the
drawers. that is very special to us as kind of the preserver of that little bit of very personal correspondence. it's not just a place where she slept. i can just picture her really sitting in her easy chair by the fire with her grandchildren around, and so we can really imagine how comfortable it must have been for martha washington. host: george and martha washington's bedroom at mount vernon. one of the things that's mentioned is her morning meditations, which seemed to be a sacred time for her throughout her life. what do we know of what she did during that time? patricia: she was an episcopalian. she was a member of the church of england and after the revolution she became a member of the american episcopal church. she had several bibles. she read the bible and also the book of common prayer.
she spent a lot of time also reading other books about the episcopal point of view and she was a very, very deeply religious, but not judgmental woman. host: what about that video is important to tell people more of their room together and the life that they had? richard: well, the fact that she burned all their correspondence in some ways is a metaphor. that's where they could be themselves. that's where they could say to each other what they didn't say anywhere else. and i think one reason why she burned those letters is because that was the unvarnished george washington. it wasn't simply the uniquely intimate relationship that existed between them. she was the only person on earth to whom washington could confess his doubts, his fears, his opinions of his colleagues. host: but this is the interesting thing about that, that they both had a sense that
they were creating an image larger than his lifetime. that they didn't want to be -- patricia: she was very careful of his papers as was he. when they seemed they might be in danger, the trunk was removed. building his image, but a truthful image. having a letters showing him as a military man and a riggelman where important --and a rega man. llady did not go about letting their husbands love letters be read. she had had not enough privacy in her life. the letters were fabulous, they were both from him to her in 1775 in philadelphia when he has just excepted command of the
continental army we doesn't exist yet. the nation doesn't exist yet, it is 1775. he is writing and saying, my dear, i had to accept this as my honor required it. please, don't be angry with me. he goes on and on about why it is important and why she needs to support him and before he goes off to be the leader of the war, he makes time to go out and buy some of the nicest linens and towns or she can make some nice dresses out of it. richard: i don't think anyone reading those letters would subscribe to the still widely held view that their relationship was in some ways a business like one. patricia: they were young at this point at all. host: next up is dale in very
bill virginia. --berryville, virginia. caller: my name is gail and i have a couple of questions. i am reading a book called "mount vernon love story" by mary higgins clark and she says that no one ever called martha washington martha. she was always called patsy. lady bird johnson was never called claudia. i was just wondering, i just heard you mention that in his letters to when he referred to her in his letters that was just mentioned on television, that he did call her patsy.
i also wanted to mention that in this story i am reading about martha and george washington that mount vernon was originally the home of his hat -- of his half-brother, george washington's half-brother, and that he lived in a smaller farm i wonder if you are going to talk about anything about a surveyor or if this is really about the years with martha as an adult? >> this is martha washington's time in the sun. but how about the nickname patsy? >> patsy, pat or patty were the nicknames for martha in those days, just as peg or peggy is the nickname for margaret. nobody was named which back
then. the only patsy before martha. that was simply the common name. >> the smaller firm she was referencing? >> smaller because it was 500 acres at that point. he then added a second story. >> share is watching us in arlington, texas. caller: thank you for taking my call. i have a question. i'm wondering if you can clarify the relationship george had which apparently did not end until after the revolutionary war. what she aware of that relationship, and how did she honestly deal with that, or was that something that was just not discussed? >> mr. smith, want to start? [indiscernible] [laughter] >> you disagree. >> here is a classic example of
where unfortunately, mrs. washington did her cause no good by burning all of those letters. in the late 1950's, two letters were discovered. the reigning washington biographer made a great deal out of, some would say, perhaps exaggerated their significance. sally fairfax was the wife of george william fairfax, who was a neighbor and close friend. some people describe him as washington's best friend. what i think clearly, there was -- i would use the word infatuation. sally was a slightly older, very
sophisticated to someone like george, who wanted as a young man very much to belong who wanted to be part of the colonial aristocracy, who wanted to advance in the british military. someone like sally, who was then even unattainable -- nevertheless held a special allure. exactly what the nature of that relationship was is still being debated. talk about george washington's integrity. i think it was something even then, i don't think the relationship went beyond a lovesick young man, but -- >> then we won't degree that this, no doubt, when those two letter surfaced, that you can't read them other way then he was
a lovesick puppy. they hardly makes sense when you read them sentence by sentence and try to punctuate them. he sort of going crazy because she has said something mean to him about not writing to her, and he has gone nuts. you see how much he cares about her and how infatuated he is. i don't think it went any further than that kind of infatuation, because he did care too much about his friends. once he met martha and once they started to settle in, i think she had to have known. she was a smart woman when he started talking about the elegant neighbors that belfour she had to have picked up a special town, but they became actually best friends. those couples visited all the time, sally fairfax and her husband were there at her
funeral. they were very close right -- close. in 1773, the fairfax is go back to england, never to return. this negative in relationship beyond friendship. susan: hi, mary. caller: an ancestor of martha washington, her younger brother bartholomew was the great great great uncle of mine. i was also born in new can county, virginia. i had a couple questions pertaining to martha's younger life. i always heard growing up that she had met george washington at
the plantation property next door to the white house, and that he had been the guest of the chamberlains there for dinner, and not knowing martha was invited also, and that was where they met. the other question i have is, i understood that she attended somewhat st. peter's episcopal church in the county, which was a short distance from the white house. susan: when we reference the white house, it's not the white house we know. patricia: the white house is the plantation on the river where daniel custis is the lord and master there. st. peter's was their church. there are different stories about how they met. some people have said she and george had known each other for a long time. i don't think there's really much believe in that because
when you do the numbers of when he was out in the field fighting and when she could have been in williamsburg, the times they had met, it did not amount to very much. the whole chamberlains story comes from custis, who likes to write about everything as a grand old-fashioned romance, and the chamberlains insult -- th emselves believed it. there is evidence for those who do. susan: time to move onto the revolutionary war. george washington pressed into service as a leader of the continental army. martha washington leaves non-vernon to spend time with him. how frequently what she on the battlefield with him? patricia: she goes every winter to him to join him in the camps and make a home for all the young officers on his staff and to encourage other officers to bring their wives and daughters to come and visit and make it a social time.
of the actual eight years of the revolution, she spends overall five years at the front. susan: we have a video from one of those encampments, valley forge. let's watch that. [video clip] >> when martha washington came to valley forge on the fifth of february 1778, she arrives here according to general nathanael greene, in the evening. it takes her 10 days to travel here to valley forge from mount vernon. we know what the weather was like when she was traveling which was not always so pleasant. it started out snowing and she left from the mount vernon area and then the winds picked up and then it started to rain. it became very muddy. when she finally arrived here on february the fifth, that was actually quite pleasant and the weather was 35. but for a lot of the time, she
was traveling through mud. in her carriage, with her slaves and servants with her. this was a difficult journey. it's interesting to look at the primary documentation, the letters and journals and diaries of the time, to see what martha did do at valley forge. it's a little surprising, and it puts a different complexion on the entire valley forge and can't met. i think number one they had a very nice relationship. if she was going to see him, she would have to come to him. once she comes to him at valley forge, she probably takes over the housekeeping duties, which is what she was used to at mount vernon. we also know that she entertained. we know that elizabeth drinker came to valley forge. she came with several of her friends.
we know that mrs. washington entertained and talk to visitors when they came to valley forge when general washington was not able to do that. this is when it starts to get interesting. she served elegant dinners at valley forge. most people would never put the word elegant together with the word valley forge. this is probably were martha washington dined for a while and till the log hut built for dining, which she said made our dishes much more tolerable than they were at first, was built right back near the kitchen. you can imagine martha washington here with some of the officers, general washington perhaps some of the people from the area who might have been passing through eating dinner here, which was served in the afternoon, maybe 2:00 or 3:00.
the food, by the way that they ate here was really, really different from what the soldiers were eating. we know, for example, that there were 2000 eggs brought into valley forge that they ate in the encampment period. six-month period for the valley forge encampment. we know they brought in 750 pounds of butter and at least 1600 pounds of veal were brought into camp. these are some of the things that martha washington would be eating here as she was dining with people. conversation's kind of interesting to think about. what would martha washington and the other people have been talking about? we don't know, of course. but when elizabeth drinker came from philadelphia, very likely the conversation at that point would have been what were the conditions like in philadelphia. the british were in philadelphia. general washington would be very interested to think about what the conditions were at that time.
martha would have been part of that conversation, listening to what was happening, talking to ladies from philadelphia. we know, too, that martha washington went to several worship services here at camp. we know that on may 6, there's a wonderful celebration, the celebration of the french alliance. martha washington is there and receive assenter of a large tent and thousands of people, officer, the wives go through. and general dekalb says thousands of them are entertained and served refreshments with martha and general george washington. those are some of the things that martha is doing here at valley forge. susan: back talking about martha washington with pat brady and richard norton smith. i have a tweet here from jennifer sherman who writes, "amazing how much time martha washington spent with her
husband on the front lines.” on the front lines what i wanted to start with. it sounds genteel, the existence we were hearing about. but 2500 soldiers died in that encampment in that winter. richard: it wasn't viewed as genteel by her contemporaries. one of the things that fostered a bond between mrs. washington and what would be the american people was the perception that she sacrificed every bit as much as her husband in the war. this is another part of her training in a sense for being first lady. he was in effect for eight years an executive. the closest thing that the country had. she was a first lady of sorts. and very touching story. they -- they had one room on the second floor of valley forge.
then they had an hour every morning that was sacred. one hour when they weren't to be disturbed. wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall for those conversations because washington unloaded a lot. patricia: he had a lot -- he had so many worries. would they possibly win. but what she did, it wasn't just entertaining the americans, she was entertaining officers from france, from britain, from -- not britain, from germany. and she was able to charm them. one particular french officer said it was so wonderful to be there with her drinking tea, singing, and just chatting. and at the end of the evening, one would go home feeling better. can you imagine feeling better at valley forge? she had charm beyond belief. >> she had an official role
acting as an assistant to his private secretary, transcribing documents. patricia: that didn't happen often. it was rare, really. susan: gave her a glimpse of what his former job might have been like. patricia: that's true, that's true. susan: what else from the long years were important for her development as first lady. patricia: one thing that's really important, it sounds weird, is the change in her sewing habits. all american women sewed. well-to-do women sewed embroidery and tapestry and fancy work. when she was there and the local ladies came to call, she was not doing fancy work. she had the knitting needles out. and she was -- she was knitting socks for the soldiers. these were infantry men. they marched and wore holes in their socks. she must have knitted thousands of socks as well as others and raised the money to make linen shirts as well as uniform shirts
for them. physically in terms of her work and emotionally in terms of the leadership helped the troops herself. richard: there was a wonderful group of women who knew they were going to be calling on the general's lady and expecting this very grand figure. and to their astonishment, they found her knitting and wearing a speckled apron. so she -- she clearly was not someone to stand on her position or her title. susan: back to phone calls. elizabeth is in washington dc. hi, elizabeth. caller: thank you so much for being here. this is great. the panel is fantastic. my question is about martha washington's grandchildren. you mentioned nellie and washy and, of course, eliza. could you talk about martha custis peter. the two letters in the desk mentioned earlier were found by
that grand daughter, or at least that's the story. but could you talk a little bit about martha custis peter and her relationship with her grandmother. patricia: there were four children -- there were eliza martha known as patty. then nellie, then wash. when the was adopted two of the grandchildren, they took the two youngest, nellie and wash. and the elder girls lived with their mother and stepfather and eventually lots of half brothers and sisters. so the two elder girls spent a lot of time with the washingtons, were very friendly with them. but they weren't very loving with them. but they were not the same as the adopted children. patty got married very young apparently for love. and her husband, thomas peter was a well-to-do man in georgetown, they built a beautiful house, an incredibly gorgeous place.
in a sale after martha's death, she bought this desk and when she took it home, she found those wonderful letters. susan: martha johnson, we said this a few times, she tweets martha washington outlived her four children. pretty unthinkable for people today, not so uncommon for people of this history. edward, you're on the air, welcome. caller: fascinating program. i'm originally from new york in newberg where george the general stayed at the has brooke house the famous room with seven doors and one window. i was wondering if martha was there with him and also if she
-- the entombment there with the lasting encampment when they offered him the kingship. could you expound on that, please? thank you. patricia: she was at newberg. she spent a lot of time at newberg because the war had run down. it was a case of waiting for a all of the peace treaties to be ratified and all. as to the latter part, was she? i don't think she was. richard: that defining moment in american history, i don't think she was there for that. susan: we have 12 minutes left in this. we said when when he started 90 minutes is going to go by quickly. it is. we started out about the white house years but the last segment is on life after the presidency when the washingtons returned to mt. vernon. was this also precedent setting. what other presidencies would be like. richard: he became the first president and then also the first ex-president. she shared in that. susan: did they think about any
of that? richard: no, they were just glad to be at home. susan: was there any consideration of a third term? richard: no. indeed, washington had wanted very much to leave after the first term. allowed himself to be persuaded against his instincts that it was his patriotic duty. martha wasn't happy. she wasn't particularly happy he took the first term. she recognized it was unavoidable and her life had been caught up in that of her country. i think -- not sure she would have divorced him if there had been a third term, but a third term was not in the cards for either one of their standpoint. susan: the mid '60s in this time period was elderly. patricia: he twice had ailments that almost killed him during the time he was president and
she was terrified that the presidency would literally kill him. you think of every president you know and you look at the pictures of when they start and eight years later, they're more than eight years older for sure. it's a very aging kind of a job. susan: we look at the political battles we face today over immigration and the size of the federal debt, what were the intensity of the political battles of this time frame? richard: remember, washington's success as president depended on his persuading everyone that he was not a political partisan. he did not call it a federalist government. he called it a national government. he went out of his way to include all of the sections of the country. hamilton and jefferson had their cockfight in the cabinet much to his displeasure. he kept those people around him long after they wanted him to leave. he made that sacrifice.
he was willing to see himself pillarry in the press as dupe of king george and betrayed the revolution. and martha had to suffer all of this in effect vicariously. it's always been harder and in some ways for a first lady or a presidential child to put up with the criticism than for the president who accepted it as part of the job. susan: you told us she was not apolitical. she had to have been involved. patricia: she did. she hated thomas jefferson. once he started the newspaper campaigns against washington. the reason he brought him in was to defeat hamilton. he said, a shame how much the president suffers from these sorts of attacks. but it's necessary. she never forgave him, never.
he didn't realize she was smart enough to see what he was doing. but she thought he was horrible and the fact that he was elected president was shocking. richard: he made the mistake of underestimating martha washington. martha grew closer politically and personally to the adams. she was glad that it was john adams and not thomas jefferson who won the presidency to succeed her husband. susan: we'll delve into the life of abigail adams. this helps to set the stage for that. how many years post presidency did they live at mt. vernon? patricia: he lived two years and she lived beyond that. susan: what would that have been like? patricia: it's a great time. the house, again was sort of broken down and things in the fields weren't done the way he
wanted them to be, experimenting with the crops and dealing with the gristmill and all of the things he pioneered with, she had the housekeeping. mt. vernon becomes the symbol of the nation after they retire. there is no white house yet. you know, that's not built. washington, d.c. is building up, but it doesn't really exist. so when it doesn't exist is a large place but when foreigners and when important visitors come, who do they want to see. there's no building worth seeing in d.c. they want to see mt. vernon and washington. after washington dies, they want to see martha washington and talk to her about what it was like. they see her as the remnant of that history.
they continue to have their post until they die, both of them. richard: the defining act that he took in the final year of his life when he wrote a will in the course of which he identified himself, george washington as citizen of the united states not virginia but more important, he made provisions to free the slaves that he could upon the death of martha. that, presumably, is something that he had to have consulted her about, although i don't think we have any primary evidence to that effect. patricia: you don't. but he must have. susan: after george washington died, martha left that bedroom as we showed you and moved to a garrut as it's call in the mansion. see what that looks like today. [video clip] >> george washington does die suddenly. it must have been a great shock. she was very bereaved. and she does retreat.
she does not use their shared bed chamber after his death. she moves to the -- the bed chamber on the third floor. and it is furnished now with the actual bed that we believe came to the washingtons in the 1750s from london. it is hung with hangings based on a little fragment preserved from a 1960 valentine written by martha's grand daughter, nellie. -- 19th century valentine written by martha's grand daughter, nellie. and that valentine said this is fabric from the curtains that hung in the room in which mrs. washington died here in mt. vernon. that fabric and scrap of valentine exactly matches the description of the hangings that that came with this bed that george washington got from london in the 1750s. so it points to this very romantic tale that after george washington's death, martha washington moves upstairs but surrounds herself from things from the earliest days of her marriage.
so i think it was a place of refuge for her and it was a place where that the house continued to be busy with servants, two slaves, with -- with slaves, with people visiting. so it was a place she could retreat to and be quiet and contemplate and be removed to the hustle and bustle of daily life. >> well, when washington died, she said, it's over. my life is just waiting now. and so she really and truly did not want to be in that room where they had been so happy. susan: did she involve herself? people wanted to come see her. did she stay involve in the politics of the day? richard: not the politics of the day. she became if anything i think more secluded, certainly emotionally secluded. her devotions became even more central to her day. every day she would walk down
the path to what's called the old tomb which you can see today. and would pray and basically pat's right, she was literally counting the days until she could be reunited with -- with the love of her life. when you factor in her religious convictions, that's just another factor to take into account. susan: two minutes left, time for a quick final question from julie up the road from mt. vernon and washington's port city. hello. caller: george washington and george mason were very good friends. george mason had two wives anne, and she passed away. and then sara. i was wondering what the relationship was between martha washington and either of george mason's wives?
patricia: they were friendly neighbors but as far as i know they never became intimate friends. richard: in fact, that friendship was a political casualty. but after the constitutional convention, which, of course washington sanctioned and mason refused to sign, it spelled in many ways an end to their friendship. susan: on twitter, george and martha washington, quite the power couple. so as we close out bringing us full circle, what are the important things for people to know about the influence of martha washington. patricia: i think it's important to know how smart and powerful she was and how dependent he was on her. his achievements were his achievements. but having her there with him made them much more possible.
richard: i think that's true. she defined influence in a way that perhaps contemporary americans might have difficulty understanding. but the fact of the matter is, she was the most influential person on the face of the earth with the president of the united states. susan: this says richard norton smith's biography of george washington patriarch still available if you'd like to learn more and we've been talking about the book "martha washington" with the striking portrait of young martha on the cover and widely available for people who want to know more. the partners for this series is the white house historical association. they've been helping us with a lot of documentary evidence and with our background materials as we get ready for the series. and we have to say thanks to them as we finish up this first program and we have a group of academic advisors. mr. smith is one. you'll see many of them and we thank them for their help.
>> american history tv is featuring c-span's original series, "first ladies" at 8:00 p.m. eastern time on sunday nights throughout the rest of the year. next week we look at abigail adams. this is american history tv. all we can, every weekend on c-span3. >> each week american history tv's reel america brings you archival films that help tell the story of the 20th century. on january 27, 1964, senator margaret chase smith of maine appeared at the women's national press club in washington d.c. to announce her candidacy for the republican presidential nomination in 1964. margaret chase smith was the first woman elected to both the u.s. house and senate. some parts of this 18 minute