Female characters figure prominently in novels, plays, and other creative productions, but the life stories of actual women have long proven elusive subjects for biographers and historians — largely because the surviving documentary record is far thinner for women than for their male counterparts. Martha Washington, for example, destroyed her correspondence with her famous husband, and many women of the pre-modern era left no written record of their experiences. Celebrate Women’s History Month by joining Mount Vernon’s Robert H. Smith Senior Curator, Dr. Susan P. Schoelwer, for a lively conversation with two accomplished authors who have brilliantly met the challenges of writing women’s stories. In The Washingtons: George and Martha, British author Flora Fraser offers an insightful biography of a marriage; winner of the 2016 George Washington Book Prize, this remarkable double portrait illuminates the elusive Mrs. Washington as it provides fresh insights on the General. In Portrait of a Woman in Silk, art historian Zara Anishanslin crafts an innovative object biography; beginning with a fascinating silk dress, she presents the stories of four intersecting lives: the women who designed the fabric and wore the dress as well as the man who wove the cloth and the painter who recorded it on canvas.
Flora Fraser is author of Beloved Emma: The Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton; The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline; Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III; and Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire. The Washingtons won the 2016 George Washington Book Prize. She is chair of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, established in 2003 in affectionate memory of her biographer grandmother. She lives in London. Learn more about Flora here.
Zara Anishanslin is assistant professor of history and art history at the University of Delaware. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Learn more about Zara here.
The Washingtons: George and Martha, "Join'd by Friendship, Crown'd by Love"
Acclaimed historian Flora Fraser unfurls the story of George and Martha, brilliantly narrating the lives of an extraordinarily dedicated, accomplished, and historic couple. When they married in colonial Virginia in 1759, he was an awkward but ambitious young officer, she, a graceful, wealthy young widow. They were devoted to one another, and George was as a father to Martha’s children by her first husband. She endowed Washington with the confidence—and resources—that would aid him when elected commander-in-chief of the Continental army. During the war, Martha resolutely supported her husband, ‘the General,’ joining him every winter in headquarters; she was essential to his well-being and was a redoubtable, vastly admired figure.
Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World
Through the story of a portrait of a woman in a silk dress, historian Zara Anishanslin embarks on a fascinating journey, exploring and refining debates about the cultural history of the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world. While most scholarship on commodities focuses either on labor and production or on consumption and use, Anishanslin unifies both, examining the worlds of four identifiable people who produced, wore, and represented this object: a London weaver, one of early modern Britain’s few women silk designers, a Philadelphia merchant’s wife, and a New England painter.