About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
July 1, 2019 

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 you could join us, whether you are in here in this room or participating through Facebook or YouTube.

Today’s talk is one of many programs we’ve developed to tie into our new exhibit in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery: Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.

But before we hear from Martha Saxton about her new biography of Mary Washington, I’d like to let you know about two other programs coming up this week.

On Tuesday, July 2nd at noon, Lester Gorelic will present an illustrated lecture on “The Faulkner Murals: Revealing Their Stories,” in which he will describe artist Barry Faulkner’s creation of and composition of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution murals in the Rotunda of this building.

And on Wednesday, July 3, at noon, we will host a conversation between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams, portrayed by Steven Edenbo and Kim Hanley. Expect a spirited discussion of their views on the events that surrounded the struggle for American Independence and the establishment of the United States under the Constitution.

Check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information 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. Check out their website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about them and join online.

* * *

I mentioned our new exhibit in honor of the centennial of the 19th Amendment. One of the goals of Rightfully Hers is to shine a light on women whose stories had long been overlooked. The exhibit also explains the tangible economic, political, and social harm women endured because they were not treated as full citizens.

Mary Ball Washington was born two centuries too early for the suffrage movement, but in her own time she was a strong, hard-working woman. She also faced adversity as a widow with five children and a farm to keep afloat.

Mary Washington’s story has long been subsumed under her famous son’s. George Washington looms so largely in the story of our nation that it was easy to forget that the “father of the nation” also had a mother. What little had been written painted a picture of a demanding, difficult person.

In her new biography, Martha Saxton has reexamined the old, judgmental portrayals of the Widow Washington and looks at her through a new lens.

* * *

Martha Saxton has taught at Columbia University and at Amherst College, where she joined the History and Women's and Gender Studies Departments in 1996. She is the author or co-author of several works, including Being Good: Women's Moral Values in Early America, two revisions of Interpretations of American History, and The Transformation of this World Depends on You.

She retired from Amherst College in 2016 and is currently editing a volume of historical essays about the college for its bicentennial. She was a fellow for two years in Columbia’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities; she has received a Bunting Fellowship from Radcliffe College; and she had a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Martha Saxton.