A small, rectangular paper card, elegantly announcing its owner as “Mrs. Washington”.

The calling card was purchased by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscripts Endowment, 2016. Photo by Gavin Ashworth. The right side of the card has been creased and the lower right corner is missing, indicating that the card may have been intentionally bent as a part of the unrecorded short-hand of early calling card etiquette. Remarkably, this card—the only printed example of Mrs. Washington’s cards known to survive—corresponds exactly to a copper printing plate which descended in the Custis family and is now in Mount Vernon’s collection.

Martha Stewart Wilson (1758–1852) received the card in 1796, as described in a brief note which recalled the memorable visit: “Mrs. Washington’s card left at my lodgings at Mr. Samuel Caldwell’s North Fourth Street Philadelphia in the year 1796.” The two women had first met during the Revolution. Both Mrs. Wilson’s father, Colonel Charles Stewart, and her husband, Robert Wilson, served under Washington during the war, and the Washingtons occasionally stopped at Mrs. Wilson’s family home in New Jersey during that period. By the 1790s, Mrs. Wilson made regular visits to the national capital, in part to introduce her only daughter, Margaretta Wilson, to the leading members of society. The mother later proudly remembered how Mrs. Washington had shown “very marked attentions” to her daughter through visits and invitations to private parties. Centuries later, the simple card remains a tangible legacy of Mrs. Washington’s friendship and generosity.

Martha Washington

She was first first lady of the United States and spent about half of the Revolutionary War at the front with General Washington. She helped manage and run her husbands' estates and raised her children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

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