You are here

The Images of Mary Ball Washington

Today is George Washingtonâ??s birthday. And after a bit of musing, I realized that I didnâ??t know much about the woman who gave him birth.

I did know that Washingtonâ??s father, Augustine, died when George was young and that not much was known about their relationship. The legend of honest George chopping down a cherry tree and subsequent confession to his father was fabrication, of course.

Pursuant to a little investigation, I discovered that much of Mary Ball Washingtonâ??s persona also has been the stuff of myth.

Who was Mary Ball Washington? Now, scholars are producing work about her for the first time in decades and are challenging the extreme images that have been painted of her.

In the 1800s, Mary's first biographers generally romanticized her, but biographers of the next century tore her down, some recent scholars have said. In some of the most prominent books about George Washington, written in the mid-1900s, his mother was described as superficial, materialistic and so overbearing that one biographer said George was "fleeing from his mother to war."

But recent research looks at the societal context of her relationship with her son, and current researchers have said Mary has been portrayed unjustly. [â??Scholars, Symposium Challenge Mary Washington Loreâ? by Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post, 14 March 2004]

We humans surely love a good story, donâ??t we? Hereâ??s another yarn spun at the conclusion of The Washington Post article:

Although this recent scholarship might stimulate some interest locally, guides at the Mary Washington House in Fredericksburg, which is now a museum, pondered last week whether the city's matriarch would gain a wider audience.

"What I want to know is, what do they think about Mary Washington in Detroit? How much do people know about her outside of Fredericksburg?" Regina Spencer asked.

"I don't think people think about her," Len Malinowski answered. "[Henry] Ford, maybe, but not Washington."

Not quite.

Henry Ford and Mary Washington.

Add new comment