Martha Washington: Her Life and Legacy

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Duration 01:04:36

Wentworth Institute of Technology

Historian Allison K. Lange is associate professor at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, where her work explores the intersection of gender and power in US history. For the 19th Amendment centennial, Lange served as Historian for the United States Congress’s Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. She also curated exhibitions at the Massachusetts Historical Society and Harvard’s Schlesinger Library, as well as a website for Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures called Truth Be Told: Stories of Black Women’s Fight for the Vote. Professor Lange is the author of the book Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women’s Suffrage Movement.



We often hear about the founding fathers of the United States, but we don’t hear nearly enough about the founding mothers. Yet George Washington might never have become the first president if he had not married Martha, who was a wealthy widow when they met. Martha Washington facilitated her husband’s rise to power, created the job of the first lady, and set the tone for the political gatherings she hosted for local and international officials. After her death, she became an icon who represented the ideal woman for many Americans: a woman who hosted her husband’s political gatherings and not one who demanded equal rights. Washington and her portrait were so popular that she became the first–and as of April 2022–the only woman who has ever appeared on US paper currency. Together, we will learn how Martha Washington and her legacy shaped the nation.


Recommended Reading:

First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role, by Jeanne E. Abrams

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington, by Alexis Coe

Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, by Allison Lange

(Note the chapter: “Dominant Images of Gender and Power in Antebellum America”)


Discussion Questions:

  1. What role do you think Martha Washington played in the nation’s founding?
  2. Why do you think Washington became so iconic during the late nineteenth century?
  3. How does your understanding of Washington compare to the ways that nineteenth-century Americans thought of her?




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Joyce Dudash

Martha Washington

Excellent lecture. Thank you!

2 years ago
marianne bernsen

this lecture was all over the place- not enough real info about Martha Washington- i e. her children? how did more of her contemporaries see her? Jefferson, Franklin? What were her
religious beliefs? We’re there any letters from her that survived?
How many slaves did they own? Was she into agriculture or land

I really do not see how she affected the women’s rights movement- since she lived so many years before any real strides for women were made……she certainly was a woman of her times and did not seem the type of personality to affect the improvement of women’s rights. Perhaps this lecture could have been called, Martha Washington and her role as first first lady.

2 years ago
barbara ann.fields

Good comparison

Although this was not a lecture on Martha Washington it did show her influence on the portrayal of women throughout history.

1 year ago
kevin fox

5 stars wrt her "life and LEGACY" but...

I’ll admit I’ve paused halfway thru because what had been rather chronological biographical presentation lost my interest around the 1850s – I’m 101% for women’s rights but I’m ashamed to say detailed discussions of the “who” and “when” lose my interest. In that sense I apparently was hoping for an entire biographical presentation as the excellent first ~15 minutes was. BUT to the 3 star reviewer the title clearly says “her .. LEGACY” so this clearly deserves the 5 stars I gave

1 year ago

Martha Custis Washington

This lecture was to be on Martha Washington, but it mainly concerned women’s rights. I would have preferred just learning about Martha. Surely there is enough historical information to put a lecture on just her? I do not believe she had anything to do with women’s rights. She did what was needed at her time in life, followed her husband and took care of him like thousands of other women did in that time. Why would she wear silks to do that? That would not have been practical. She wore clothing that would stand up to the work she did, cooking, washing and other duties of a camp follower. Even I know that from research. The lecturer really had to reach.

7 months ago
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