For many decades, the reputation of George Washington’s mother has drifted between high reverence and near disparagement. As archaeology and scholarship reveal new clues about the “real Mary,” she emerges as a woman of incredible resilience and easy comparison to life in our modern world.
A childhood orphan, at age 23 Mary became second wife to Augustine Washington. Already stepmother to three children, she gave birth to six more in just seven years. Upon Augustine’s death, she assumed all the roles of “single working mother” to manage “Ferry Farm” and five children under 12. After a lifetime of work and concerns about family and finances, Mary reluctantly retired to a home George purchased for her in Fredericksburg. She lived for 17 more years. George saw his mother for the last time just before his 1789 inauguration. She died of breast cancer at the age of 81.
Mary’s house on Charles Street still stands, as does a monument erected by her countrywomen in 1893. Both the University of Mary Washington and Mary Washington Hospital carry her name.
Honored by Rebecca Starling