The Center for History and New Media (CHNM) and George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens recently teamed up to create Martha Washington: A Life, an online biographical exhibit. Not only can users read an in-depth narrative on Martha Washington, but they can also peer into a “window on women’s lives during the 18th century, including women’s access to property and education, their role in the Revolution, their thoughts on the promises of rights called for in the founding documents, and their everyday experiences of marriage, motherhood, labor, sickness, and death.”
Begin by exploring Martha Washington’s life, a narrative written by Rosemarie Zagarri, a historian at George Mason University. Travel from Martha’s youth, to her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis, to her widowhood, to her courtship with George Washington, to her life at Mount Vernon before the first Presidency, to the Revolutionary War, to her life as the initial First Lady, and ultimately to the Washington’s legacy.
Not only does the site encourage users to engage with Zagarri’s narrative, but it also offers teaching materials intended for both middle and high school students. Teachers can choose from three themes: sociability, slavery, and the Revolution. In the sociability and slavery lessons, introductory videos frame the content and provide a backdrop for students to begin their research. Each lesson includes primary resources, such as artifacts, pictures, letters, and documents, as well as standards for evaluation based on grade level.
Because the available lessons require students to use material culture as historical evidence, the site suggests two web sites that can help teachers orient their students to such research:
- Looking at Artifacts, Thinking about History from the National Museum of American History
- Material Culture/Objects written by Daniel Waugh from the University of Washington
There are a few final components to highlight on this educational site. Delve into the archive of documents and artifacts affiliated with Martha, complete with countless tags that help guide the search process: “The letters, documents, images, and material culture objects in the archive provide users with a glimpse into the world of Virginia’s 18th-century planter class.” Finally, peruse an extensive list of resources that leave an open door for further research.