Episode 074: Mary Wigge, Martha Washington

Head and shoulder portrait of First Lady Martha Washington. After Stuart and Peal. Undated. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

George Washington stands as one of the most famous Americans in history, but what do we know of his helpmeet and partner, Martha?

Who was the woman who stood beside and encouraged Washington?

How did she assist him as he led the Continental Army and governed a new nation?

Today, we investigate the life of Martha Washington with Mary Wigge, Research Editor at the Martha Washington Papers Project.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

In this episode, we investigate the life of Martha Washington with Mary Wigge, Research Editor at the Martha Washington Papers Project.

During our exploration, Mary reveals details about the Martha Washington Papers Project; Martha’s views on slavery; And, why Martha married George Washington and what she thought of his military and political career.

What You’ll Discover

  • The Martha Washington Papers Project
  • Work research editors do on documentary editing projects
  • The types of letters Martha Washington left behind
  • Martha’s childhood experiences
  • Martha’s first husband, Daniel Parke Custis
  • Martha’s experience as Daniel Parke Custis’ widow
  • Why Martha decided to marry George Washington
  • How Martha’s life changed when she married George Washington
  • Martha Washington’s views on travel
  • Martha’s views on slavery
  • The story of Oney Judge, Martha Washington’s enslaved maid
  • George and Martha’s relationship during his military service
  • How Martha felt about President George Washington & her role as First Lady
  • First Lady traditions Martha established
  • Why there are so few letters between George and Martha
  • How the absence of correspondence between George and Martha affects the work of the Martha Washington Papers Project
Savage Washington Family 1789-1796
Martha Washington in “Washington and His Family,” Edward Savage, 1789-1796


Links to People, Places, and Publications


Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion what might have happened if Martha Dandridge Custis had rebuffed George Washington? What do you think her future and life would have been like if she had not married Washington?

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