In an interview Flora Fraser recounts the 3 lessons she hopes readers learn from her book about George and Martha Washington

Historians in the News
tags: Flora Fraser, George Washington Prize



Congratulations to author Flora Fraser, winner of the 2016 George Washington Prize. Fraser was awarded the $50,000 prize for her book, “The Washingtons: George and Martha, ‘Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love.’”

A noted biographer whose work has focused on the women behind great men of history, Fraser says: “I feel greatly the honor that has been accorded ‘The Washingtons,’ as George and Martha’s marriage was an inspiring partnership to chart. This is an accolade I shall long treasure.”

Conferred by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the award was presented to Fraser on May 25 at a black-tie gala at the Mount Vernon estate.

Since 2005 the prize has been one of the largest literary awards, which honors the best new works about the nation’s founding, especially those that engage a broad public audience.

“The Washingtons” has drawn widespread praise from scholars and critics. While many books have chronicled George Washington’s life and public service, no other has so thoroughly examined the marriage bonds between him and his wife.

Few primary sources exist on the life of Martha Washington, who destroyed all but one of the couple’s personal letters. But Fraser’s diligent research has resulted in a more comprehensive understanding of the nation’s first first lady — and through her important story, a fuller sense of the nation’s first president. Fraser portrays a couple devoted to each other and steadfast in their loyalty: from their short courtship, through raising a family at Mount Vernon, to the long years of the Revolutionary War, to the first US presidency, and to retirement at their beloved Virginia plantation.

Grateful AmericaTM Foundation: What inspired you to write this book?

Flora Fraser:Ten years ago I visited Mount Vernon and was struck by how English it seemed. The furniture in the mansion and the paintings, the layout of the rooms, even the size of the house reminded me of small manor houses in the English countryside. The many groups of American schoolchildren touring the mansion and grounds reminded me — if I needed reminding — that the Washingtons’ home is something approaching a national shrine. But there was this justification for my first impressions. George and Martha Washington were loyal British Colonial subjects when they married in 1759. They sent to London for fashionable goods with which they equipped their home.

I was intrigued by the journey into radicalism on which this loyal British couple subsequently embarked. A journey in the course of which George became, in 1775, commander-in-chief of the American patriot army in the Revolutionary War, and, in 1789, first president of the new nation. Martha was at his side every step of the way. She joined him in makeshift winter headquarters during the war, and she later became America’s first presidential spouse, before the couple withdrew to Mount Vernon in 1797 at the close of George’s second term.

I wanted to read about this marriage, about George and Martha’s relationship, about their journey into radicalism. When I found there was no book on the subject — well, there was nothing for it — I had to write it myself! “The Washingtons: George and Martha: ‘Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love'” is the result. And I have to say, I enjoyed every moment I spent researching and writing it. ...




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