George Washington’s spouse is said to have been a reluctant First Lady. “I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there [are] certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from..." she wrote to a niece in one of her few surviving letters. According to the National First Ladies’ Library, her husband’s secretary created strict rules of protocol that forbade her and the President from dining in private homes. She also discovered that taking her grandchildren shopping or to the circus was covered by reporters.
Martha married George Washington at the age of 27, a year after the death of her first husband. Ironically, she wed Colonel Washington on January 6, 1759 at her first husband’s mansion on the Pamunkey River, known as the “White House,” although she would never live in the later home of presidents and their wives. Her sojourns as first lady took place first in New York and then Philadelphia.
It is clear Martha Washington valued her privacy, although she shared with her husband the sense of public duty that her position required. Just prior to her death in 1802, she burned all the letters between her and Washington, much to the chagrin of biographers, such as Joseph Ellis, author of His Excellency: George Washington.
For more on our nation’s no. 1 First Lady, check out these books:
Martha Washington: An American Life by Patricia Brady
Martha Washington: A Brief Biography by Ellen McCallister Clark
Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty by Helen Bryan
More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Virginia Women by Emilee Hines
George and Martha Washington: Portraits From the Presidential Years
by Ellen Miles