On Mother’s Day give thought to the mother of the U.S., Martha Washington
How old am I? One of the big stories of this week is that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s presented their two day old son to the world. His name is Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. This maybe the first time in recent history that an interracial child has been born into the royal family.
I remember what seemed to be a few years ago watching early in the morning Princess Diana getting married to Prince Charles. That was back on July 29, 1981. I never dreamed that one day I would be watching both of their sons get married and have children. I really never expected that Prince Harry the youngest son would get married to an African-American. Someone has said that watching the royal family is like watching the longest running reality TV show in the history of television. The truth is we probably all feel that way about our own families. And the key character in the majority of our families is the role played by mother. This is truly a plot change that we didn’t see coming. How brave is Prince Harry to make this choice? How unique was Princess Diana to bring up her children in a way that this choice would even be thought about to be made? Even though Princess Diana died back on August 31, 1997, she is still bringing change to our world through her sons and their choices.
As we celebrate another Mother’s Day, have you ever thought about the mother of the United States? It may be an argument about who the mother of the United States could be, but one of the people eligible for that title is Mrs. Martha Dandridge Custis Washington.
If President George Washington, the first president of the United States, is considered by many to be the Father of our Country, then should not his wife be considered the mother?
According to the First Ladies Museum, in Canton, OH, Mrs. Washington did not like being the first of the first ladies of our country. In one of her surviving letters to her niece she explained how she felt about her role. “I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else; there are certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from.” She also acknowledged that “many younger and gayer women would be extremely pleased” with her role and position, but Mrs. Washington would “much rather be at home.”
Mrs. Washington was 57 years old when her husband became the first president of the United States. She was the oldest daughter of John and Frances Dandridge, born on June 2, 1731, on a plantation near Williamsburg.
She did not have much education form schooling, but that was typical for a young lady of the 18th century. Though she may not have had much formal education, she was said to be very wise in social and domestic skills.
Her first marriage was at the age of 18 to a wealthy man named Daniel Park Custis. Two of their children died as babies, and two were just past infancy when her first husband died in 1957. At the age of 26, she was already a widow with two children.
Two years later she met and married George Washington in 1759. As you know, he was a military leader in the Revolutionary War, which led him to many battlefields. She was said to be very concerned for his health and happiness during these battles.
She had a great concern for her private life and President Washington shared her concern. Once Mrs. Washington wrote to her friend Mercy Otis Warren, “I cannot blame him for having acted according to his ideas of duty in obeying the voice of his country.” As for herself, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be, for I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” Mrs. Washington seems to imply that we cannot always control the situation we find ourselves in, but we can always control the way we feel about our situation. This 18th century mother of our country seems to be very wise.
She served as the first lady in both New York and Philadelphia when they were the temporary capitals. In a goal to make the President of the United States feel equal to leaders of the European nations, the Washingtons did a lot of entertaining dignitaries. It is said that she took little satisfaction in “formal compliments and empty ceremonies” and said, “I am fond of only what comes from the heart.”
As we celebrate mothers all over the United States, perhaps we should take her advice. Not to make Mother’s Day an empty ceremony or holiday, but to do something from the heart. I think that a gift from the heart will be worth more than any empty ceremony. The only thing worse than an empty ritual, is nothing at all. Mrs. Abigail Adams, who sat next to Mrs. Washington for all the presidential parties and receptions, testified that Mrs. Washington was “one of those unassuming characters which create Love and Esteem.”
In 1797, when she was 66, the Washingtons said goodbye to the political life and returned to Mount Vernon, where they were welcomed by family, friends, and unending line of guests wishing to express their thanks to the first couple. Mrs. Washington is said to have lived through the burial of their two remaining children, her daughter Patsy, and their son Jack, who died at 26. Jack’s children lived on, in the household. President George Washington died in 1799, and Martha was made a widow again at the age of 68, after 40 years of marriage to the President. On May 22, 1802, Mrs. Martha Dandridge Custis Washington died at the age of 70. Both are buried at Mount Vernon, where President Washington had planned an unassuming tomb for them both.
Thank you to the First Ladies Museum for the information that was used in this article. It is our hope as you celebrate this Mother’s Day that you will learn from the Mother of our Nation, Mrs. Martha Washington.
From our family to yours, Happy Mother’s Day!!
(Cummings is pastor of Shiloh Apostolic Faith Assembly, Weirton, WV)