Wednesday, June 17, 1992

It's not often that a First Lady tours Mount Vernon, so it was quite an occasion on June 17 when two First Ladies were escorted through the Mansion by Mrs. Clarence M. Bishop, Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, and Curator Christine Meadows.

Barbara Bush and Naina Yeltsin, wife of Russian president Boris Yeltsin, visited Mount Vernon during the Yeltsins' official state visit to Washington. After touring the Mansion, the two First Ladies and the Regent joined 62 guests for a luncheon on the Mansion's piazza overlooking the Potomac River. Guests included Marilyn Quayle, Barbara Waiters, Letitia Baldrige, and assorted Cabinet wives, as well as Mrs. Bush's daughter, Doro LeBlond Koch, and daughter-in-law Margaret Bush.

When Mrs. Bush arrived, she was warmly greeted by Mrs. Bishop, a long-time friend. A few minutes later, the two of them welcomed Mrs. Yeltsin, and the group began their Mansion tour. While viewing the Washington bedroom, Mrs. Yeltsin was particularly interested to learn that it was Martha Washington, not her husband, who ordered the extra-long bed. And in the study, after Miss Meadows pointed out the table on which George and Martha Washington had their wedding breakfast.

Mrs. Bush remarked to Mrs. Yeltsin "I read in the paper that when you were married, you didn't have a table."

Mrs. Yeltsin nodded, and Mrs. Bush added, "They were lucky."

Mrs. Yeltsin followed in the footsteps of outher spouses of leaders from Russia and the Soviet Union who have visited Mount Vernon. Mrs. Nikita Khmshchev toured Mount Vernon with her two daughters on September 27, 1959 during her husband's historic visit to the United States. In more recent years, Mrs. Eduard Shevardnadze, wife of the Soviet foreign minister, visited Mount Vernon with her American counterpart, Mrs. George Shultz, on September 15, 1987.

Historically, George Washington was a contemporary of Catherine II (Catherine the Great), who ruled Russia from 1762 to 1796. Much to General Washington's relief, the Russian empress indirectly helped the colonial cause during the Revolutionary War by refusing George III's requests for assistance and remaining neutral.

Washington wrote to one of his officers in 1779:

"We are not a little pleased to find from good authority, that the solicitations, and offers of the Court of Great Britain to the Empress of Russia, have been rejected with disdain... [She] has motived her Refusal in terms breathing a generous Regard to the rights of mankind."

As president, George Washington appointed a consul to St. Petersburg in 1795 as the first step in establishing diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia, which became official in 1809. Americans who traveled to Russia reported that the name of George Washington was well known there, and their hosts often surprised the Americans by drinking toasts to the health of George Washington.

After his death, Washington's role in the American struggle for independence continued to be admired, and even today, Washington holds a prominent place in Russian books dealing with the history of the United States.

- Ann M. Rauscher

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