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Martha Washington: An American Life

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  838 Ratings  ·  134 Reviews
With this revelatory and painstakingly researched book, Martha Washington, the invisible woman of American history, at last gets the biography she deserves. In place of the domestic frump of popular imagination, Patricia Brady resurrects the wealthy, attractive, and vivacious young widow who captivated the youthful George Washington. Here are the able landowner, the indomi ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 30th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 2005)
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Jun 06, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing
I have a habit of visiting a place, becoming fascinated, and then wanting to read about that place or the people associated with it. This year, when I knew I'd be visiting Mount Vernon, I got smart and decided to read about Martha Washington before I went.

I like the cover of "Martha Washington: An American Life" - it's a nice contrast to our usual image of Martha as the kindly, plump, white-haired old first first lady. What we know about her has been greatly hampered by the fact that, after Geor
Nov 10, 2013 Shaun rated it really liked it
For many, Martha Washington, referred to as Patsy by those close to her, exists as little more than an afterthought, a character significantly overshadowed by a husband whose legacy has reached mythic status in American culture.

Yet Patsy epitomized the woman behind the man, a woman George deeply loved and whose constant support and affection made his heroism and dedication to his country a possibility.

If "Martha Washington: An American Life" does anything, it humanizes George Washington, which
Feb 09, 2012 Karen rated it liked it
Nice account of life of our first First Lady. Takes a genealogist to appreciate early chapters as the author details Martha's ancestors. (And I did - amateur that I am!) I liked details about everyday objects and events as well as historical happenings. Too bad that in a desire for privacy, Martha burned all her letters. We could get closer to her actual feelings if they were available. Facts chosen by the author do a good job with suppositions made from other primary documents. Author's admirat ...more
Lindsay (Everyday Is An Adventure)
This is a great biographical piece on the life on a historical figure that doesn't always get the deserved recognition because of her marriage to perhaps the most well-known man in our nation's history. This is a great look at her life, her trials and tribulations, and her marriage to George Washington and it follows her from her early years in New Kent, Virginia through the American Revolution, presidential years in New York, to her ultimate death at Mount Vernon.

My Thoughts:

I really liked this
Mar 04, 2013 Neenee rated it liked it
Glad I pushed on. Now I can brag to people that I know something more about Martha Washington.
Following the death of her husband Martha Washington burned the years of personal correspondence they had exchanged. Because of this her life and relationship with her husband has remained somewhat veiled and unknown. Her roles and influence are often marginalized and not seen as important or interesting as Abigail Adams or Dolly Madison, both of whom left large amounts of personal papers for historians to draw from. Also, as happened with her husband, descendants and some early historians decid ...more
Kristin Strong
Jul 14, 2016 Kristin Strong rated it really liked it
I knew very little about Martha Washington before reading this book. I still don't know much, but I have a better sense of who she was and of what her life was like.

Eighteenth-century women whose biographies have been written are a teeny tiny skinny sliver of a slice of the population pie graph. This is partly because most women at that time were "only" housewives and mothers, which were not considered notable occupations, and because relatively few records survive of their lives, outside of bir
Jul 16, 2008 Sara rated it it was ok
I'm stashing this book on my "unfinished" shelf for now. It's really rather enjoyable, fleshed out with lots of anecdotes and period cultural stuff (colonial home decor, how they set their tables, how their children were schooled, etc.), and I can't say anything actually bad about it. I am, however, not one for elite history. Granted this is an elite woman's history, so it's not the same old Revolutionary period spiel - the author is rooted in a social historical methodology that tends to look f ...more
Aug 19, 2009 Karen rated it liked it
Recommended to Karen by: I located this edition in a book store in Virginia
Martha Washington as the first 1st Lady of our nation set the standard for all others to be judged. This story gave a good account of daily life at the time as well as her influence on the nation as a whole. Life was most difficult in Washington's time ... illness, early deaths, difficult travel. Martha Washington was a strong, devoted wife with a desire to always be near her husband when at many times it would have been easier to stay at their home in Mount Vernon. I read the John Adams book ea ...more
Aug 21, 2012 Melissa rated it really liked it
This was a great read! I fell in love with Martha and George when I vistited Mt. Vernon, VA and viewing their home made me want to know about both of them. This book really gives a historical picture of the devotion she had for George and how she was the behind the scenes supportive spouse that helped encourage not just him but the troops. She would travel my coach just to be with him, even in the winter, when he was away at war. I am not one who always finishes books that can become boring and ...more
Jerry Landry
Wow -- Brady does a great job in bringing Martha Washington to life in this biography, not an easy task considering that Martha burnt her and George's correspondence before her death. I had read a review that Brady's biography was more about George than Martha, but after finishing it, I beg to differ. While George does figure prominently in the text, I argue that it wouldn't be true to form if he didn't in terms of what we can surmise about their relationship. They were partners in a way that wa ...more
Jan 08, 2011 Rachel rated it it was amazing
I had to undergo some medical testing with my sons and this book was just absolutely fascinating. I read it in a day and it changed my perspective on the First Lady of the First President. I absolutely love this book and love how detailed the lifestyle of Martha in those days. I orginally thought she was a fussy old lady but after reading this book, I no longer think that. If I have to have a favorite figure in the past (to add to my already long list) that I would love to visit, it would be her ...more
Mar 14, 2012 Carol rated it liked it
Enjoyable read on Martha and her relationship with George, courtship, marriage, the births and deaths of her children from her first marriage, living with George as requested during the Revolution and much more. There is no doubt that they both loved each other deeply and were totally committed to each other.
Jun 08, 2008 Danny rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A friend at work lent me this book. It was a fast read about someone I knew nothing about. The most fascinating thing was all the effort the author had to go to in her research. Martha Washington burned all her correspondence before her death. Quite a mystery.
Feb 06, 2017 Kathy rated it really liked it
A very interesting read about the first First Lady. Amazing story!
Mar 03, 2017 Karin rated it liked it
More like 3.5 stars. There is a lot of good in this book, but it is weighed down with tedious description.
mmk4 Koenen
Feb 23, 2017 mmk4 Koenen rated it liked it
This book detailed the life of Martha Washington and her relationship with George Washington. By all accounts she was a woman with deep faith, could read and write and could hold her on in a conversation with men or women on topics of the day. That she was devoted to and cherished GW is not a stretch. She outlived her seven siblings...her children...and GW. The unfortunate aspect to this book is the author had to use conjecture for alot of the facts because Martha destroyed all of the written le ...more
A fairly large part of why I disliked this biography is because I dislike biographies in general. This was by far not the only one that put me to sleep, but there were a few specific details in Brady's writing that bothered me more than the average nonfiction volume.

The biggest issue was the constant use of the words "perhaps" and "probably." I get that Martha Washington's life is somewhat obscured by mystery and legend, but if you can't say something with certainty, leave it out. To say that Ma
Feb 28, 2011 Suzanne rated it liked it
“It was quite a love story, but a lasting one, not one of those tempestuous romances that blaze up suddenly and just as quickly turn to ashes. Both Martha and George had been in love with others, but once they married in their late twenties, their relationship became a joyful duet that lasted more than four decades.”

As the most famous American and possibly the greatest hero our country has ever known, George Washington has been much studied and written about. But to truly understand this man,
Marianne Wonnacott
Dec 14, 2016 Marianne Wonnacott rated it liked it
With not a whole lot to go on to form a biography (all letters between Martha and George were destroyed by Martha), there is not a whole lot known about Martha the person beyond being the wife of the first president. I appreciate the effort made to research and put together bits and pieces of her life so that I can feel like I understand her better. The book certainly wasn't a page turner, but I do feel like I gained insights that will stay with me. I was impressed with her strength as she endur ...more
Nov 19, 2009 Bridget rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009-reads
I am glad I read this book right after the one by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, because it dealt with a particular woman's life during part of the same time frame, but in another geographic area as well as in a different economic class. Plus, it was just a good book!

I really didn't know much about Martha Washington before I read this. I've visited Mount Vernon a few times, and so I knew some basics, but nothing really substantive. As Brady mentions, after George Washington's death, Martha burned their
Kate Lawrence
Feb 04, 2016 Kate Lawrence rated it really liked it
Martha Washington has seemed to be an unknown, lost in historical oblivion, even though she lived at the center of power in the tumultuous days of our country's beginnings. What was she like, and what kind of marriage did she and George have? She herself helped insure that succeeding generations would never be able to know the details, because she destroyed all the personal correspondence between them through the decades, perhaps a total of hundreds of letters. This book uses the remaining avail ...more
Aug 24, 2013 Cami rated it liked it
My mother loves Martha Washington and I have been enjoying biographies lately, so I picked this one up. Unfortunately, I found that the book reads more like a detailed (and somewhat soporific) textbook about that time period that happens to feature Martha Washington than an actual biography. But, as the author points out in the Epilogue, those details are necessary to get a good picture of someone that lived in a former century where life was completely different from today. Overall, I did enjoy ...more
Marie Carmean
Nov 15, 2015 Marie Carmean rated it really liked it
This delightful biography of Martha Washington by Patricia Brady was a beautiful tribute to a lady we have known so little about because of the first First Lady's destruction of her correspondence with her husband upon his death. But Patricia Brady dug deeply into the documents we do have, and brought to life a woman who set the standards for all future First Ladies to follow. She gave us the picture of a warm, family-oriented, intelligent lady who was the rock of the relationship she had to the ...more
Katie Herring
May 24, 2016 Katie Herring rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographic
I read this biography as an introduction to Martha Washington in preparation for my internship with the Papers this summer. I learned quite a bit and am so enthralled with this era-- I hadn't realized I was such a history buff!

I believe Brady attempted to write this biography as a novel, and while it did read as a novel, the writing was merely okay. In my opinion, the quality of the writing detracted from the biography-- if it had actually been more biographic in content, and not attempted to r
Dec 04, 2009 Janet rated it liked it
Recommends it for: females interested in US history
Recommended to Janet by: no one - found it at 1/2 price books
I gave this book 3 of 5 stars based soley on the author's sources. It is not as document-based as I would have liked. The author freely notes as her #1 challenge was to find good written historial notes of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington due to the fact that Martha herself burned most of the letters between her and George. Therein we lost much of her own voice. However, the author was able to discover much through other historical sources. And indeed I offer up 5 stars for the joy of reading ...more
Sep 11, 2013 Starling rated it it was amazing
I loved this! The author did such thorough research and it really helped me to get to know Martha Washington as a person rather than just a cold, distant portrait as a side note to George Washington. It seems that they were greatly in love and it's very comforting to know how much he adored and respected Martha. It's empowering to realize that she was a strong independent woman who chose to marry George and comforted and accompanied him in the birth of our nature. She was vital to our history in ...more
Jun 09, 2012 Shirley rated it really liked it
I've been a fan of George and Martha since the time I lived a few miles from Mt. Vernon and would make frequent "pilgrimages" whenever we had visitors...or with a grandchild in tow. What I have discovered from this bio as well as from other readings, life in the 18th century was no continuous picnic, even for "high born" colonists. Deaths, particularly of women and young children were common. Even with all of her 18th century resources, Martha Washington lost all four of her children. She and Ge ...more
Apr 08, 2008 Katies_Faves rated it really liked it
I don't remember where I found this book, but really enjoyed it and am so glad that I read it. It's a great biography of Martha Custis Washington. I admit I didn't remember much about her and her life and was completely enthralled by how much the author found out about her.

Unfortunately for us Mrs. Washington burned almost all of her letters that she and and George wrote to each other. So their relationship was not widely known. But by getting other letters and correspondence from people (friend
Jun 25, 2015 Anna rated it it was ok
The author obviously has a deep respect and fondness for her subject. She paints a clear and vivid picture both of Martha Washington as an individual and more generally, of what life was like for women in similar circumstances at the time. Like the other portraits in the book, I couldn't tell how true to life this picture was. At times Brady's descriptions become so detailed or she mentioned something so interesting in passing, I wanted more information. Unfortunately, she only cites direct quot ...more
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“extent, Polly Lear took Fanny Washington’s place: she was a pretty, sociable young woman who became Martha’s closest female companion during the first term, at home or out and about, helping plan her official functions. The Washingtons were delighted with the arrival of Thomas Jefferson, a southern planter of similar background to themselves, albeit a decade younger; if not a close friend, he was someone George had felt an affinity for during the years since the Revolution, writing to him frequently for advice. The tall, lanky redhead rented lodgings on Maiden Lane, close to the other members of the government, and called on the president on Sunday afternoon, March 21. One of Jefferson’s like-minded friends in New York was the Virginian James Madison, so wizened that he looked elderly at forty. Madison was a brilliant parliamentary and political strategist who had been Washington’s closest adviser and confidant in the early days of the presidency, helping design the machinery of government and guiding measures through the House, where he served as a representative. Another of Madison’s friends had been Alexander Hamilton, with whom he had worked so valiantly on The Federalist Papers. But the two had become estranged over the question of the national debt. As secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was charged with devising a plan to place the nation’s credit on a solid basis at home and abroad. When Hamilton presented his Report on the Public Credit to Congress in January, there was an instant split, roughly geographic, north vs. south. His report called for the assumption of state debts by the nation, the sale of government securities to fund this debt, and the creation of a national bank. Washington had become convinced that Hamilton’s plan would provide a strong economic foundation for the nation, particularly when he thought of the weak, impoverished Congress during the war, many times unable to pay or supply its troops. Madison led the opposition, incensed because he believed that dishonest financiers and city slickers would be the only ones to benefit from the proposal, while poor veterans and farmers would lose out. Throughout the spring, the debate continued. Virtually no other government business got done as Hamilton and his supporters lobbied fiercely for the plan’s passage and Madison and his followers outfoxed them time and again in Congress. Although pretending to be neutral, Jefferson was philosophically and personally in sympathy with Madison. By April, Hamilton’s plan was voted down and seemed to be dead, just as a new debate broke out over the placement of the national capital. Power, prestige, and a huge economic boost would come to the city named as capital. Hamilton and the bulk of New Yorkers and New Englanders” 0 likes
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