Martha Washington was an educated woman, skilled business manager, a clever hostess, and the only woman to appear on U.S. paper money. Before she even married George Washington, she was the wealthiest woman in Virginia.
Martha Dandridge was born June 2, 1731, in New Kent County, Virginia. Her parents were wealthy planters, so she was taught to read, write, and keep up with the customs of the times.
Martha married a neighboring planter, Daniel Parke Custis, and on May 15, 1750. Custis died after seven years of marriage at the age of 45, leaving Martha the wealthiest woman in Virginia. She owned the 17,500-acre plantation called The White House – long before the presidential residence came into being. But she wasn’t just the legal owner; she was also a masterful manager of the business.
Martha wasn’t single for long after her first husband passed away. In March of 1758, George visited Martha twice. They knew many of the same people, and probably knew each other while Martha was married to Daniel Custis. George and Martha married at her estate on January 6, 1759, and then moved to Mount Vernon.
When the Revolutionary War called for her husband to lead the rebellion, Martha was known to travel long distances. She visited her husband’s encampments in Cambridge, Valley Forge, Philadelphia, and Morristown to support him and the soldiers.
Of course, Martha followed her husband as he rose to the presidency and became the first president’s wife – the first, First Lady. She hosted weekly receptions for male and female guests on Friday evenings. Her warm reception set the tone for today’s state dinners.
Martha Washington is the only woman to have ever been on American paper money. She had a military vessel – the U.S.S. Lady Washington – named after her, and she has appeared on postage stamps. Her name was emblazoned upon a U.S. military vessel, the U.S.S. Lady Washington, and a United States postage stamp.
Martha Washington created a legacy as the first First Lady. Many have filled the role since, but few have done it as well as the original.