First Ladies, First! Martha Washington and Abigail Adams

“First Ladies, First!” to be presented at Wawasee High School

By Mary Hursh

Martha Washington and Abigail Adams were the wives of the first and second presidents of the United States, and, so much more!
These two women shared similar passions, which those in attendance at the “First Ladies, First!” program at Wawasee High School auditorium will learn. All are invited to this 2023 Patriotic Speaker Series event presented by Chautauqua-Wawasee from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 25. After the program, the annual Patriotic Pops concert on the lawn of the Oakwood Inn on Lake Wawasee will begin at 7:30 p.m. Carol Spacht and Kim Hanley, reenactment actors from the American Historical Theatre, will play Martha Washington and Abigail Adams, respectively. Because they are both experienced costume historians and seamstresses, they will be wearing costumes they made.

Martha Washington was born on June 2, 1731 at Chestnut Grove Plantation in Virginia. She married Daniel Custis in 1750. After his death, she married George Washington in 1759. When the Revolutionary War began, Martha worked with George at the Continental Army winter campground at Valley Forge as his secretary. She copied his letters, knitted for soldiers, and visited hospitals. Her passion was to raise money to help pay for uniforms and food for the soldiers. When George became president, Martha held public gatherings every Friday to receive members of Congress, dignitaries, and local citizens.
Abigail Adams was born on November 22, 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although she did not receive a formal education, she could read and write and always championed women’s rights and the right for all to get a better education. She lived through the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party and the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. Over that time period, she took care of the family farm and even made musket balls for soldiers out of melted utensils. Her letters to her husband John detailed life on the home front during the Revolutionary War. John became vice-president in 1788 and president in 1798. She, as well as Abigail Adams, promoted gender equality in public education, and equal rights for all people. She took the significant step of leaving a last will and testament claiming ownership of and the right to bequeath money that she had earned through her investments. “Abigal Adams just ended up in the right place at the right time for history to find her worthy,” said Hanley.

“Even though Martha Washington and Abigail Adams were of different backgrounds as far as socio-economic status, education, community involvement and lifestyle, they were both excellent managers of their home-economy. Both rose to the occasion presented to and required of their formidable husbands,” said Hanley. Carol Spacht, who will portray Martha Washington, studied theatre at Villanova University and graduated from Eastern University with degrees in literature and theatre arts. As a historic interpreter, she portrays several women from history. “Martha was a resilient woman. She was not afraid to speak her mind and make her own decisions,” said Spacht.

Three interesting facts about Martha are that historians believe Martha was probably left-handed and was forced to write with her right hand causing poor
penmanship; Martha’s beautiful needlework survives in the collections of Mt. Vernon; and Martha outlived all her children.For her presentation, Spacht will wear a 1790s hand-sewn silk gown. She will carry a period-appropriate fan. “Storytelling engages the imagination. The storyteller poses the question but encourages the listener to formulate his or her own response. Storytelling brings the past into the present with vibrancy,”
said Spacht.

Kim Hanley received her BFA degree from the State University of New York at Fashion Institute of Technology in the History and Restoration of Applied Arts. She began interpreting Abigail Adams with the American Historical Theatre in 1999. She has shared many portrayals of such women as Betsy Ross, Annie Oakley, ad Grace Coolidge with many historical and educational institutions around the country. She is an actor, singer, dancer, and costumer whose specialty is historical fashion.

When: Sunday, June 25th at 4:30 pm

Where: Wawasee High School Auditorium

Admission: FREE!