Friday, May 7, 2010

FIRST LADY WEEK: Martha Washington

TITLE: Martha Washington: America's First Lady

AUTHOR: Jean Brown Wagoner

WHAT WAS HER BACKGROUND? Martha Dandridge, who was called Patsy by her family, was the oldest of eight children. She grew up on a Virginia plantation and spent her days sewing, riding, reading and playing with her siblings, cousins and even a pet bear cub. This book portrays a positive relationship between young Martha and all the people in her life, including the house slaves. Her’s was an isolated existence with little travel beyond the borders of the plantation, so the highlight of the year was the arrival of a supply ship that anchored near her home. This was a cause for great celebration as guests came from miles around for feasts, dances, horse races and fox hunts.

HOW DID SHE AND THE FUTURE PRESIDENT MEET? Martha lost two children and her first husband to illness and was managing a plantation alone. She was visiting friends who lived on a river near a ferry crossing. Her host noticed George Washington on the ferry and hurried out to invite him to dinner. Washington was already a French and Indian War hero and was commander in chief of the armies of Virginia.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: She was capable at a wide array of skills, from riding a horse to weaving cloth and sewing clothes. She had four children from her first marriage. Of these, two survived into early adulthood and made her a grandmother. She visited George Washington at Valley Forge and aided the sick, the hungry and the needy. After seeing that these men hardly had enough clothes to cover themselves she kept fifteen spinning wheels going day and night at Mount Vernon and pleaded with friends to also make cloth for the soldiers’ clothes.

Ages: 9-12

This was a pleasant way to learn about Martha Washington. I was glad to discover that this book is in a Childhood of Famous Americans series that contains nearly 50 titles. What a great way for children to relate to those who have made history! Other titles in the series include:  Milton Hershey: Young Chocolatier, Albert Einstein: Young Thinker, Crazy Horse: Young War Chief and Paul Revere: Boston Patriot.

Activity: Martha Washington had an unusual childhood pet. Can you match these out-of-the-ordinary pets with one of the following first families?

Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge or Hubert Hoover

    Silk Worms
B.     Opposum
C.     Racoon
D.     Mockingbird
E.     Badger
F.     Ram
G.    Turkey

You also might want to check out this interesting resource on presidential pets.

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