Did you see the article about Martha Washington that ran in the Washington Times a few weeks ago? Historians are revising their assessments of the first first lady's appearance; namely, they're saying she was a knockout and that anyone who thinks she was a bewhiskered, white-haired cow is crazy. They've got some evidence, too.
For starters, they point to her wedding shoes, which were once deep purple silk with jeweled buckle accents. Very fashion-forward and not the sort of thing a shrinking violet would've worn. There are also some financial records of clothing orders from England -- Martha was requesting petite sizes that suggest a delicate, feminine figure. Scholars Edward Lengel and Patricia Brady hope to use this kind of evidence to correct our perspectives of the nation's first lady as a second-choice wife.
So for our final installment of first lady fever (for this week at least -- if you request more first lady fever, I will oblige), I present Mrs. Martha Dandridge Custis Washington.
According to her profile on the official White House Web site, she was raised in a well-to-do family and married an equally well-to-do man when she was just 18. He was a bit older than her (and by a bit, I mean about 20 years), and he died when their children were very young. Two years later, Martha married George Washington, and for better or worse, became embroiled in the Revolutionary War and the U.S. presidency. The etiquette lessons instilled in Martha as a young girl were put to good use when she became first lady; ultimately, she set the tone for the unofficial office.
And because no first lady profile is complete without a quirky story, I refer once more to Paul F. Boller Jr.'s "Presidential Wives: An Anecdotal History." Boller relates that young Martha was an avid equestrian and once rode her horse, Fatima, up and down the stairs at her uncle's home. Her indulgent father commented how well his daughter could ride; no word on the integrity of the stairs after taking such a beating.
Source: Boller, Jr., Paul F. "Presidential Wives: An Anecdotal History." Oxford University Press: New York, 1998.