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Washington and Lee University

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Martha Custis Washington: The Indispensable Woman

September 12, 2008 through May 17, 2009

Martha Dandridge Custis, 1757 by John Wollaston, Collection of Washington and Lee University (Washington-Custis-Lee Collection)This small changing exhibition includes objects, generously loaned by The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, that are associated with George Washington and the Custis family.

Born in 1731 and nicknamed "Patsy," Martha was the first child of John Dandridge and Frances Jones, members of the Virginia gentry - wealthy, but not well-to-do. Yet, Patsy Dandridge made two extraordinary marriages that redefined her social status and future opportunities. Through them, she became the linchpin of the Custis, Washington and Lee families that influenced the politics and economy of colonial Virginia and the formation of a new republic.

Widowhood after a fortuitous marriage to Daniel Parke Custis gave Martha economic and personal independence, while momentous historic events after her marriage to George Washington molded her life in unique ways. The first of the First Ladies, Martha Washington set the standard for that new position and became a national icon.