Admission is free on Feb. 22 for George Washington’s birthday. Admission tickets will be distributed on-site upon arrival.

The George Washington Prize is one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards.

The George Washington Prize honors outstanding new works on George Washington and his times (the Revolutionary and founding eras circa 1760-1820). 

The $50,000 prize is sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

George Washington Prize 2023 Recipient

FIRST AMONG MEN: George Washington and the Myth of American Masculinity

by Maurizio Valsania 

George Washington―hero of the French and Indian War, commander in chief of the Continental Army, and first president of the United States―died on December 14, 1799. The myth-making began immediately thereafter, and the Washington mythos crafted after his death remains largely intact. But what do we really know about Washington as an upper-class man?

Washington is frequently portrayed by his biographers as America at its unflinching best: tall, shrewd, determined, resilient, stalwart, and tremendously effective in action. But this aggressive and muscular version of Washington is largely a creation of the nineteenth century. Eighteenth-century ideals of upper-class masculinity would have preferred a man with refined aesthetic tastes, graceful and elegant movements, and the ability and willingness to clearly articulate his emotions. At the same time, these eighteenth-century men subjected themselves to intense hardship and inflicted incredible amounts of violence on each other, their families, their neighbors, and the people they enslaved. In First Among Men: George Washington and the Myth of American Masculinity, Valsania considers Washington's complexity and apparent contradictions in three main areas: his physical life (often bloody, cold, injured, muddy, or otherwise unpleasant), his emotional world (sentimental, loving, and affectionate), and his social persona (carefully constructed and maintained). In each, he notes, the reality diverges from the legend quite drastically. Ultimately, Valsania challenges readers to reconsider what they think they know about Washington.

Aided by new research, documents, and objects that have only recently come to light, First Among Men tells the fascinating story of a living and breathing person who loved, suffered, moved, gestured, dressed, ate, drank, and had sex in ways that may be surprising to many Americans. In this accessible, detailed narrative, Valsania presents a full, complete portrait of Washington as readers have rarely seen him before: as a man, a son, a father, and a friend.

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2023 Finalists

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FEMALE GENIUS: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution

by Mary Sarah Bilder

In this provocative new biography, Mary Sarah Bilder looks to the 1780s—the Age of the Constitution—to investigate the rise of a radical new idea in the English-speaking world: female genius. Bilder finds the perfect exemplar of this phenomenon in English-born Eliza Harriot Barons O’Connor. This pathbreaking female educator delivered a University of Pennsylvania lecture attended by George Washington as he and other Constitutional Convention delegates gathered in Philadelphia. As the first such public female lecturer, her courageous performance likely inspired the gender-neutral language of the Constitution.

Female Genius reconstructs Eliza Harriot’s transatlantic life, from Lisbon to Charleston, SC paying particular attention to her lectures and to the academies she founded, inspiring countless young American women to consider a college education and a role in the political forum.

By 1792 Eliza Harriot experienced struggles that reflected the larger backlash faced by women and people of color as new written constitutions provided the political and legal tools for exclusion based on sex, gender, and race.

In recovering this pioneering life, the richly illustrated Female Genius makes clear that America’s framing moment did not belong solely to white men and offers an inspirational transatlantic history of women who believed in education as a political right.

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HIS MASTERLY PEN: A Biography of Jefferson the Writer

by Fred Kaplan

In this unique biography, Fred Kaplan emphasizes Thomas Jefferson’s genius with language and his ability to use the power of words to inspire and shape a nation. A man renowned for many talents, writing was one of the major activities of the statemen’s life, though much of his best, most influential writing—with the exception of the letters he wrote up to his death, numbering approximately 100,000—was done by 1789, when Jefferson was just forty-six. All of his works—from his earliest correspondence; his essays and proclamations, including A Summary View of British America, The Declaration of Independence, and Notes on the State of Virginia; his religious and scientific writings; his inaugural addresses; his addresses to Indian nations; and his exchanges with Washington, Madison, Hamilton, John and Abigail Adams, and dear friends such as Maria Cosway—demonstrate his remarkable intelligence, prescient wisdom, and literary flair and reveal the man in all his complex and controversial brilliance.

In His Masterly Pen, readers will find a new appreciation of Jefferson as a whole, of his strengths and weaknesses, and particularly of the degree to which his writing skills—which James Madison admired as “the shining traces of his pen”—are key to his personality and public career. Though Jefferson could wield his pen with unrivaled power, he was also a master of using words to both reveal and conceal from others and himself the complications, the inconsistencies, and the contradictions between his principles and his policies, between his head and his heart, and between his optimistic view of human nature and the realities of his personal situation and the world he lived in.

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THE REVOLUTIONARY: Samuel Adams

by Stacy Schiff 

Thomas Jefferson asserted that if there was any leader of the Revolution, “Samuel Adams was the man.” John Adams thought his cousin “the most sagacious politician” of all. With high-minded ideals and bare-knuckle tactics, Adams led what could be called the greatest campaign of civil resistance in American history.

Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer Stacy Schiff returns Adams to his seat of glory, introducing us to the shrewd, eloquent, and intensely disciplined man who supplied the moral backbone of the American Revolution. A singular figure at a singular moment, Adams packaged and amplified the Boston Massacre. He helped to mastermind the Boston Tea Party. He employed every tool in an innovative arsenal to rally a town, a colony, and eventually a band of colonies behind him, creating the cause that created a country. For his efforts he became the most wanted man in America: When Paul Revere rode to Lexington in 1775, it was to warn Samuel Adams that he was about to be arrested for treason.

In The Revolutionary, Stacy Schiff brings her masterful skills to Adams’s improbable life, illuminating his transformation from aimless son of a well-off family to tireless, beguiling radical who mobilized the colonies. Arresting, original, and deliriously dramatic, this is a long-overdue chapter in the history of our nation.

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