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ABOUT THE WHITE HOUSE * FIRST LADIES



OUR FIRST LADIES:
18th Century
about_first_ladies_marthawashington Martha Washington
about_first_ladies_abigailadams Abigail Adams

19th Century
about_first_ladies_marthajefferson Martha Jefferson
about_first_ladies_dolleymadison Dolley Madison
about_first_ladies_elizabethmonroe Elizabeth Monroe
about_first_ladies_louisaadams Louisa Adams
about_first_ladies_racheljackson Rachel Jackson
about_first_ladies_hannahvanburen Hannah Van Buren
about_first_ladies_annaharrison Anna Harrison
about_first_ladies_letitiatyler Letitia Tyler
about_first_ladies_juliatyler Julia Tyler
about_first_ladies_sarahpolk Sarah Polk
about_first_ladies_margarettaylor Margaret Taylor
about_first_ladies_abigailfillmore Abigail Fillmore
about_first_ladies_janepierce Jane Pierce
about_first_ladies_harrietlane Harriet Lane
about_first_ladies_marylincoln Mary Lincoln
about_first_ladies_elizajohnson Eliza Johnson
about_first_ladies_juliagrant Julia Grant
about_first_ladies_lucyhayes Lucy Hayes
about_first_ladies_lucretiagarfield Lucretia Garfield
about_first_ladies_ellenarthur Ellen Arthur
about_first_ladies_francescleveland Frances Cleveland
about_first_ladies_carolineharrison Caroline Harrison
about_first_ladies_francescleveland Frances Cleveland
about_first_ladies_idamckinley Ida McKinley


20th Century
about_first_ladies_edithroosevelt Edith Roosevelt
about_first_ladies_helentaft Helen Taft
about_first_ladies_ellenwilson Ellen Wilson
about_first_ladies_edithwilson Edith Wilson
about_first_ladies_florenceharding Florence Harding
about_first_ladies_gracecoolidge Grace Coolidge
about_first_ladies_louhoover Lou Hoover
about_first_ladies_eleanorroosevelt Eleanor Roosevelt
about_first_ladies_besstruman Elizabeth Truman
about_first_ladies_mamieeisenhower Mamie Eisenhower
about_first_ladies_jacquelinekennedy Jacqueline Kennedy
about_first_ladies_ladybirdjohnson Claudia Johnson
about_first_ladies_patnixon Patricia Nixon
about_first_ladies_bettyford Elizabeth Ford
about_first_ladies_rosalynncarter Rosalynn Carter
about_first_ladies_nancyreagan Nancy Reagan
about_first_ladies_barbarabush Barbara Bush
about_first_ladies_hillaryclinton Hillary Clinton

21st Century
about_first_ladies_laurabush Laura Bush
administration_michelle_obama Michelle Obama



MARTHA WAYLES SKELTON JEFFERSON
b.1748 -- d.1782

When Thomas Jefferson came courting, Martha Wayles Skelton at 22 was already a widow, an heiress, and a mother whose firstborn son would die in early childhood. Family tradition says that she was accomplished and beautiful--with slender figure, hazel eyes, and auburn hair--and wooed by many. Perhaps a mutual love of music cemented the romance; Jefferson played the violin, and one of the furnishings he ordered for the home he was building at Monticello was a "forte-piano" for his bride.

They were married on New Year's Day, 1772, at the bride's plantation home "The Forest," near Williamsburg. When they finally reached Monticello in a late January snowstorm to find no fire, no food, and the servants asleep, they toasted their new home with a leftover half-bottle of wine and "song and merriment and laughter." That night, on their own mountaintop, the love of Thomas Jefferson and his bride seemed strong enough to endure any adversity.

The birth of their daughter Martha in September increased their happiness. Within ten years the family gained five more children. Of them all, only two lived to grow up: Martha, called Patsy, and Mary, called Maria or Polly.

The physical strain of frequent pregnancies weakened Martha Jefferson so gravely that her husband curtailed his political activities to stay near her. He served in Virginia's House of Delegates and as governor, but he refused an appointment by the Continental Congress as a commissioner to France. Just after New Year's Day, 1781, a British invasion forced Martha to flee the capital in Richmond with a baby girl a few weeks old--who died in April. In June the family barely escaped an enemy raid on Monticello. She bore another daughter the following May, and never regained a fair measure of strength. Jefferson wrote on May 20 that her condition was dangerous. After months of tending her devotedly, he noted in his account book for September 6, "My dear wife died this day at 11:45 A.M."

Apparently he never brought himself to record their life together; in a memoir he referred to ten years "in unchequered happiness." Half a century later his daughter Martha remembered his sorrow: "the violence of his emotion...to this day I not describe to myself." For three weeks he had shut himself in his room, pacing back and forth until exhausted. Slowly that first anguish spent itself. In November he agreed to serve as commissioner to France, eventually taking "Patsy" with him in 1784 and send for "Polly" later.

When Jefferson became President in 1801, he had been a widower for 19 years. He had become as capable of handling social affairs as political matters. Occasionally he called on Dolley Madison for assistance. And it was Patsy--now Mrs. Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr.--who appeared as the lady of the President's House in the winter of 1802-1803, when she spent seven weeks there. She was there again in 1805-1806, and gave birth to a son named for James Madison, the first child born in the White House. It was Martha Randolph with her family who shared Jefferson's retirement at Monticello until he died there in 1826.

MD5: 656cd70a76452603a4bbcc61e753c3e7
Original URL: http://whitehouse.gov/about/first_ladies/marthajefferson/

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