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Welcome Remarks for "Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves"

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased that you could join us today, whether you are here in the theater or watching on YouTube.

Before we get started with today’s program, I want to alert you to two other programs coming up this week and next.

Tomorrow at noon we’ll be screening part one of JFK, a documentary first aired on PBS’s American Experience. Part one chronicles John F. Kennedy’s childhood, the World War II years, and his rise up the political ranks.

Part two, which we’ll show at noon next Wednesday, May 31, follows Kennedy into the White House.

On Thursday, June 1, at 7 p.m., former members of Congress will consider the question of whether Congress is due for an internal review of its procedures and internal organization during a panel discussion titled “Congressional Review: Can Congress Function at its Highest Level?”

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events in print or online at Archives.gov. There are copies in the lobby—along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive it by regular mail or email. You’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

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George Washington was a dedicated diarist. His daily entries for life at Mount Vernon invariably began with a record of the day’s temperature and weather and then a summary of any notable events on the estate. The entry for February 18, 1786 (just before his 54th birthday), is longer than most, for Washington appended [quote] “a list to day of all my Negroes.” [end quote]. The list totaled 216 persons, and the first child named was Oney, the 12-year-old daughter of the seamstress Betty. Oney became the personal attendant of Martha Washington and in 1789 accompanied the new President’s family to New York.

More of Oney’s story as part of the Presidential household is revealed in Ties that Bound, so I won’t say more here. Washington’s diary and other writings are available online at Founders Online, a project of our National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Founders Online allows you to search across thousands of documents written by six of America’s Founding Fathers and read the record of their thoughts, both lofty and mundane.

Projects like Founders Online and standard American histories tell us much about the Founding Fathers, but to uncover information about the women of the founding era—and the non-elite—we must dig deeper.

Professor Schwartz examines both the founding First Ladies and the enslaved women and men who served them and made possible the gracious lifestyle they enjoyed.


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Marie Jenkins Schwartz is professor emeritus of history at the University of Rhode Island and an independent scholar and writer. Her research focuses on the history of slavery, women, and children. In addition to Ties That Bound, she is the author of Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South and Born in Bondage: Growing Up Enslaved in the Antebellum South. She is working on a fourth book tentatively called “Scandal: First Ladies, Unfaithful Presidents, Politicos, the Press, and the Public’s Insatiable Appetite for Salacious Gossip.”

Professor Schwartz has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and other awards, including the Julia Cherry Spruill Publication Prize for Best Book in Southern Women’s History given by the Southern Association for Women Historians. At the University of Rhode Island, she has served as executive director of its Center for the Humanities and as chair of the history department.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Marie Jenkins Schwartz.