Women Also Know WashingtonRoundup
tags: George Washington, Women historians, early American history
Lindsay M. Chervinsky, Ph.D. is White House Historian at the White House Historical Association. Her book, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution will be published by Harvard University Press on April 7, 2020.
In the preface to You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington, Alexis Coe emphasizes that she is the first woman in many decades to write a cradle-to-grave biography. A modern take on the Washington biography genre is certainly welcome—if there are thousands of books on Washington, the vast majority are still authored by men. The last decade has witnessed a noticeable uptick of works on Washington authored by women, with more to come in the pipeline.
A few examples are illustrative of the broader trend. Mary Thompson’s The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret is the definitive work on the enslaved community at Mount Vernon and Washington’s complicated relationship to slavery. Erica Armstrong Dunbar famously brought Ona Judge’s life back into focus and changed how we talk about slavery and the presidency. Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon’s For Fear of an Elective King explores the delicate balance Washington tried to strike between common citizen and monarchy as he crafted the presidency from scratch. Susan Dunn co-wrote the George Washington volume in the New York Times American Presidents Series. Lydia Brandt’s First in the Homes of His Countrymen examines how people across the country replicated Washington’s iconic Mount Vernon to pay homage to his republican example.
Meanwhile, Lorena Walsh is completing a book on the labor practices and enslaved population at Mount Vernon, Amy Hudson Henderson’s book on the Republican Court surrounding the Washingtons is forthcoming, and graduate students, including Stephanie Lawson and Camille Davis, are working on dissertations that feature Washington.
Just to name a few.
What explains this enormous output in a relatively short period of time? While I haven’t interviewed all of these historians, I would offer one speculation: writing about Washington is available to women in a way that it wasn’t for a long time.
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