In observance of Women's History Month, Mount Vernon and the Washington Library welcome historians Martha Saxton and Cynthia Kierner to the David M. Rubenstein Leadership Hall on Thursday, March 29, 2018. Moderated by current Washington Library research fellow and professor of History at Kalamazoo College, Charlene Boyer Lewis, these scholars will discuss their groundbreaking, new research in a program titled, “Keep all matters in order your self…”: Two Women from the 18th-Century South. A cocktail reception and object viewing will follow.

This annual event was created to share new scholarship and insights into the life and times of Martha Washington and is made possible through a generous grant from the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation of Richmond, Virginia.


“Keep all matters in order your self…”: Two Women from the 18th-Century South

Watch the Lecture Here

Spurious portrait of Mary Ball Washington - Mary Ball Washington at the Age of About Four-score, by Robert Edge Pine, Photomechanical Print copy ca. 1916. [LC-USZC4-7247]. Courtesy United States Library of Congress, Washington, D.CMartha Saxton will discuss her pioneering, new research into the life of  George Washington’s mother. She will describe basic assumptions made in trying to reconstruct Mary Ball Washington’s life, along with the various sources she used to test these theories. Dr. Saxton will also analyze the persistent negative portrayals of the founder’s mother and sketch her view of the complicated bond between Mary Washington and her son, and why it matters.

Cynthia Kierner will discuss the life of eighteenth-century North Carolinian Jane Spurgin. The political became personal when Jane’s husband left her, their eight children, and their farm to fight for the King and then fled to Canada and remarried after the war was over. The personal became political when the state government rejected Jane’s repeated petitions to restore her family’s confiscated property. What did it mean for a woman to claim, as she did, to be “a good Citizen?” Why did the legislators deny her—in her words—the “Common rights of other Citizens?"

The title of this year’s lecture is drawn from a letter dated September 15, 1794, where Martha Washington instructs her niece Fanny Bassett Washington to “keep all your matters in order your self without depending upon others as that is the only way to be happy.”

Header Image: Martha Washington, artist unknown, after James Sharples, c. 1840-1882. Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

About the Speakers

Martha Saxton

Martha Saxton is a professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Amherst College. She has undertaken biographies of figures as diverse as 1950s bombshell Jayne Mansfield and nineteenth-century author and reformer Louisa May Alcott. She is the author of Being Good: Women’s Moral Values in Early America (2003), and is currently working on The Widow Washington, which seeks to share new research on Mary Ball Washington. 





Cynthia Kierner

Cynthia A. Kierner is a professor of history at George Mason University, where she teaches early American and women's history. She is the author of seven books including the award-winning Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times (2012) and Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America (2004). Kierner is a past president of the Southern Association for Women Historians. Her next major project will examine disasters in America from the colonial period through the Civil War era.



Charlene Boyer Lewis

Charlene Boyer Lewis is a professor of History and director of American Studies at Kalamazoo College. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. She specializes in women’s history, Southern history, and American cultural and social history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She is the author of Ladies and Gentlemen on Display: Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790-1860 and, most recently, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic. Her next project is an examination of Margaret Shippen Arnold, the wife of Benedict Arnold, and American culture in the Revolutionary Era.

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