Date of Award

2003

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

Abstract

The first three presidential spouses were thrust into a position of which there was no precedent, during a time when the role of women in politics was limited to their domestic role as guardians of virtuous children and husbands, an era in which they had no legal identity if married, and into an age which limited their civic rights and duties as citizens. As wives of the President, these women were expected to perform roles that were inherently political, and yet the idea of women in politics was anathema to those who subscribed to the varied ideals of republicanism. Confronted with such a precarious situation, each woman dealt with her time in the capital as best she could with the resources found within her own person and those at hand. The letters written by Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, Abigail Smith Adams, and Dolley Payne Todd Madison during the respective presidential administrations demonstrate the ways in which each woman addressed her ambiguous position as wife to the chief politician of the Early Republic and maneuvered through the principles of republicanism.

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