Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was George Washington’s wife and the first president of the United States. Although she was the first “First Lady” of the United States, the title was not coined until after her death. Known as Lady Washington during her lifetime, Martha was a gracious hostess who entertained the president’s many high-profile guests. Martha Washington was also known for her generosity toward Revolutionary War veterans, to whom she provided financial and other assistance. When Martha met and married George Washington, a Colonel, Martha was a wealthy young widow with children. She was a hardworking and dutiful wife who became her husband’s caregiver after the Continental Congress appointed him General of the American Army. She deftly enlisted the help of the women of the colonies in raising funds and gathering supplies for the Continental Army. Who built the presidential couple’s marriage on mutual respect and affection. Even though Martha found life as First Lady suffocating, she saw it as her duty to her husband to carry out her responsibilities wholeheartedly. She and her husband continued to entertain guests and socialize long after Washington’s administration ended.
Childhood and Career
She was the eldest child of John Dandridge and his wife, Frances Jones. She had seven siblings and two illegitimate half-siblings, according to rumors.
She received informal training in music, sewing, and household management at home. She could also read and write, and she was familiar with animal husbandry and plantation management.
On June 2, 1731, Martha Washington was born Martha Dandridge on the Chestnut Grove plantation in New Kent County, Virginia. She was raised and educated, emphasizing essential skills to household management, though she was also taught reading, writing, and mathematics.
Marriage and Estate
Martha Washington married Daniel Parke Custis, a wealthy plantation owner, in 1749 when she was 18 years old. The couple would have four children, but only two, Jack and Patsy, would survive childhood. Custis died in the summer of 1757, leaving Martha the inheritance of his 15,000-acre estate.
Meeting George Washington
Martha later met Colonel George Washington at a cotillion in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the two married in 1759. Martha and her two children relocated to Washington’s Mount Vernon, Virginia plantation, where they became known for their social events and upscale lifestyle, despite financial difficulties.
By 1775, Washington had become the commander-in-chief of the United States forces in the Revolutionary War, and Martha later resided with him at his encampments for extended periods.
Patsy died from epilepsy when she was in her teens, and Jack died of “camp fever” while enlisted as a soldier, causing her great grief.
Nation’s First First Lady
With the colonies gaining independence and the United States Constitution ratified, Washington was elected as the country’s first president, taking office in April 1789. Martha, who had effectively taken on guardianship of Jack’s children, took on the responsibility of organizing significant social events and parties for the presidential home/office in New York, setting precedents and standards for future first ladies to follow.
She also hosted public receptions on Fridays and handled household matters while developing a friendship with Abigail Adams was Vice President John Adams’ wife. In 1790, the Washingtons moved to Philadelphia, which became the nation’s next capital.
Martha was regarded as a gracious presence who looked to Europe for inspiration in setting standards for official affairs, although she frequently felt trapped and preferred a quieter life. She, too, owned slaves and opposed manumission, though those held as slaves by Washington, who took an antislavery stance, would be freed after his death.
In 1750, at the age of 18, she married Daniel Parke Custis, a much older wealthy planter. She had four children with him, two of whom died as children.
In 1757, her husband died, leaving her a wealthy young widow. She had complete authority over her dower inheritance, which included both property and slaves. Martha was a skilled woman who successfully ran the five plantations left to her by her husband.
Colonel George Washington expressed an interest in marrying the young widow. In 1759, the couple married in a lavish ceremony. They raised Martha’s two surviving children together.
She had a large inheritance to manage and was very good at managing a large staff of servants. Her husband was in charge of the plantations’ finances. The talented woman oversaw the harvesting and processing of fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat products, herbs for medicinal purposes, etc.
The Continental Congress appointed George as General of the American Army during the American Revolution. Martha enlisted the help of other women in the colonies, encouraging them to contribute financially, and took supplies for the Continental Army during the harsh winter months.
Following the colonies’ independence and the ratification of the United States Constitution, George Washington was unanimously elected as the country’s first president. His inauguration took place on April 30, 1789.
She entertained many guests and hosted numerous New York and Philadelphia events, which served as temporary capitals after her husband was elected. She hosted Friday public receptions and became friends with Abigail Adams, wife of Vice President John Adams.
Martha was the First Lady for eight years, ending in 1797. She was used to living a free and uninhibited life before becoming First Lady, and she found this lifestyle suffocating. She was, however, a dutiful wife who did everything in her power to fulfill her duties as the president’s wife properly.
She was very kind and generous to Revolutionary War veterans, and she used to provide financial assistance to those in need.
Martha had no role model to look up to as the country’s first First Lady. She looked to Europe for inspiration when it came to hosting public functions and affairs; the Europeans, in turn, respected her and even sent her gifts.
When the president’s second term expired in 1797, the Washingtons retired to Mount Vernon. Even after retirement, they remained a famous couple frequently visited by several high-ranking officials. Even after her husband, George died, she continued to entertain guests.