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Martha Washington: An American Life Paperback – May 30, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The portrait of the beautiful, elegant young woman on the cover of this excellent biography will stun anyone used to seeing pictures of Martha Washington as a white-haired, matronly woman. And in a richly woven tapestry of social history and biography, historian Brady re-creates the 18th-century world of wealthy Virginia planters into which the elegant Martha, née Dandridge, was born and the "joyful duet" of her marriage to America's first president. Though born to wealth, Martha (1731–1802) was well schooled in domestic skills—from killing and plucking fowl to preserving fruits and vegetables— and the expected social graces. Just before she turned 19, Martha married Daniel Custis—whose father initially opposed the union, but Martha managed to persuade him otherwise—and moved to his large plantation, where she raised their two children until Custis's death in 1757. Two years later, as the owner of Custis's vast estate, she married George Washington and became the wife of a young colonel whose ambitions and military and political ingenuity catapulted him into the leadership of the colonies and later the republic. Devoted to George, Martha accompanied him on his sojourns during the Revolutionary War, and her considerable social skills were crucial in helping her husband navigate the difficult political waters of the presidency. Brady's splendid biography offers a compelling new portrait of this passionate, committed founding mother who has unjustly been obscured by others, such as Abigail Adams. (June 27)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Martha Washington is given her due, and readers whose interest in the significant contributions of women to the course of the American Revolution was piqued by Cokie Roberts' Founding Mothers (2004) will welcome this digestible biography of America's first First Lady. Though historians have made much of George Washington's infatuation with Sally Fairfax, Brady paints a portrait of the long-lived marriage between George and Martha as a passionate merger of both minds and hearts. A lively, intelligent, and fiscally shrewd widow, Martha was the perfect match for the more somber and less financially secure George. Unwavering in her devotion to her second husband, Martha quickly became his sounding board as well as his most trusted confidante during the tumultuous revolutionary and presidential years. Although accurately reconstructing Martha's life and her famous marriage has always been hampered by the fact that she destroyed all her personal correspondence after Washington's death, Brady does an admirable job of utilizing other primary and secondary sources to flesh out the real Martha and place her firmly into historical context. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143037137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143037132
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Patricia Brady is a social and cultural historian who has published extensively on first ladies, women, free people of color, cemeteries, literature, and the arts in the South. A Texan, she came to New Orleans in 1961 to attend Newcomb College and has lived in the city ever since. She received the Ph.D. from Tulane University and taught history at Dillard University. She founded and was director of the publications department at the Historic New Orleans Collection for twenty years.

Just published in 2011 are two books, A Being So Gentle: The Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson (Palgrave Macmillan) and "Julien Hudson: The Life of a Creole Artist" in In Search of Julien Hudson (The Historic New Orleans Collection). Her biography, Martha Washington: An American Life, was published by Viking Penguin in 2005; other books about the Washington family include Nelly Custis Lewis's Housekeeping Book and George Washington's Beautiful Nelly. The forthcoming Blackwell Guide to George Washington, edited by Edward Lengel, will include her "George Washington's Family."

Chapters or introductions by Dr. Brady appear in the reprint edition of The WPA Guide to New Orleans, Southern Travels: Journal of John H. B. Latrobe, Louisiana Women Writers, Cross, Crozier, & Crucible: A Volume Celebrating the Bicentennial of a Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, American First Ladies: Their Lives and Legacy, Elysium: A Gathering of Souls, Literary New Orleans, Queen of the South: New Orleans, 1853-1862, American First Ladies, Report to the First Lady, The Presidential Companions: Readings on the First Ladies, and Louisiana Women. She edited the Encyclopedia of New Orleans Artists, 1718-1918, Haunter of Ruins: The Photography of Clarence John Laughlin, Jazz Scrapbook: Bill Russell and Some Highly Musical Friends, and Louisiana: An Illustrated History.

Dr. Brady has produced three history videos: Queen of the South: New Orleans in the 1850s, In Search of Yesterday's Gardens, and The Louisiana Purchase Story: Jefferson, Napoleon, and The Letter That Bought a Continent. Active in numerous professional and civic organizations, she is past president of the Louisiana Historical Association, the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, and the New Orleans/Gulf South Booksellers Association.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 52 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on July 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The first thing that struck me when I saw this book was the image on the dust jacket. It shows a young, attractive, stately, elegant lady. And when I saw the title was Martha Washington I had to realize that I had always thought of her as old, the First Mother of the country so to speak.

Of course Martha Washington wasn't always old. She married when she was 18 and had two children by her first husband. She was also wealthy, strong-minded, and seems to have had a delightful, intelligent personality.

After she married George Washington, she was for forty one years her husband's beloved partner and the mainstay of his stressful life. She set the standard for how first ladies should act in trying to balance the public and private parts of her life. As George set the image for the Presidency, Martha created the rule of the First Lady.

This is one of the most interesting biographies in recent years. It is extensively researched and well written, but it also covers a subject that has gotten inadequate attention from biographers down through the years.

The picture on the cover -- It is new. The LSU forensics lab took a later portrait, computer age regressed it to 25 years, and gave this image to Michael Deas who then painted the portrait. The painting is now at Mount Vernon.

Splendid Book!
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on February 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
To me Martha Washington conjures up the vision of a little white-haired, plump elderly lady dressed in modest attire with a "dishtowel" on her head. Ms Brady's biography of the first First Lady, the "mother" of our country as her husband was the "father" of it, dispels this dowdy image.

Most of us with a modest grade school education in American history know of the panoply of male Revolutionary War heroes. Most of us have heard of Martha Washington, some know that George was her second husband, but beyond that she has little individual character and remains for most of us a shadowy figure in the background. As Ms Brady reveals this was not the case during the colonial period when her name was well known and honored, even revered.

Although the author admits that very little primary material is remaining from the period, this due to the fact that the lady destroyed her correspondence with her husband before her death, she mines what there is from secondary sources such as letters and documents in the possession of others describing her, her relationship with her family and her illustrious spouse, and her role in the Revolution itself. The book is a proper history of the period, in that it does not often describe imagined scenes or put words into the mouth of the heroine unless the information is documented. Where nothing is known specifically about a situation, like the marriage ceremonies, the author refers to what was most commonly done at the time, placing the lady in the context of her time. The information fills in what is most frequently neglected in many histories, namely the human detail that brings events of the past so much to life.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Janet G. Rutherford on August 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Though an avid reader, I am unlikely to pick up a biography or a bit of history as my first choice when looking for a new book. Recently, I was given a copy of Martha Washington-An American Life as a gift. Of first interest was the beautiful cover, and when I learned the story of the age regression leading to the painting of a portrait used for the cover design I was fascinated.

Once I began reading, I was hooked by the fascinating and well-told tale not only of our first First Lady but of the life style during the birth of our nation. This was the most entertaining and painless history lesson I have ever encountered, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Deciding that the book was interesting enough to share with others, I have purchased several copies to give as gifts next Christmas. This is a book that should be required reading for students of American history and anyone interested in learning more about the beginning of our great nation.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By K. Diehl on January 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
While I've known who George and Martha Washington were since school days, I've never really UNDERSTOOD who they were until I read this wonderful book. The customs, views, and political uncertainties during the time of Martha Washington's life are deftly woven into this story, and you really get a sense of what it was like to be a colonist and a woman living in Virginia in the 1700's.

What I enjoyed most about this book is how I came to know, admire, and love Martha as I read it. This author truly brings her alive. You experience Martha's life as she marries for the first time in her teens and begins her family, only to lose young children and ultimately, her husband, to death. Her tenacity and strong spirit see her through, and she takes over the management of her plantation, something of a rarity for women in her time.

She soon meets and then marries George Washington, who has already distinguished himself as a military officer, and they begin their life at Mount Vernon. What is unusual about their relationship is that George viewed Martha as an equal partner in every sense, during a time when women lost what few rights they had upon marriage. Martha created a warm and happy home life for her family, which George was reluctant to ever leave; however, when the colonies were in danger of losing their independence to England, he felt honor-bound to use his military experience to lead our fight for freedom. Throughout that time and into his two terms as our nation's first President, it was Martha's unconditional love, support, and encouragement that enabled him to fulfill these duties in such a way that would forever distinguish him in our history.
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