Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Avoid Blockhead Suitors

I'd have been awful as a founding daughter.

Take Martha Jefferson Randolph, for instance. Daughter of Thomas Jefferson and wife of Thomas Mann Randolph.

The woman had thirteen pregnancies and eleven children. Basically, she was pregnant every two years from the moment she got married.

In that respect, it must have sucked to have been Martha.

Today's noontime lecture at the Library of Virginia was "Martha Jefferson Randolph: Daughter of Monticello," given by author Cynthia Kierner who wrote a book of the same title.

As I've said before, I like my history with breasts.

In a break from the usual eventual focus on T.J., the book and talk approached Martha with the eye of an historian of southern woman.

Because, blasphemous as it sounds in Virginia, all roads don't necessarily lead back to Jefferson.

Not that being his daughter didn't have perks for Martha.

She went to convent school in Paris while Dad was Minister to France.

At a time when few Southern women were educated, she wrote and spoke four languages (Kierner asked for a show of hands of who in the room could do the same. Zero hands shot up).

Her social skills were said to be fit for any court in Europe. Her niece claimed she had a "perfect temper."

Cosmopolitan and used to an upscale social life, Martha was considered an exemplary woman.

I bet the definition of what that means has changed in the past couple of centuries.

Even so, before her marriage at age 18 after a two-month whirlwind courtship, her father openly worried that she might "marry a blockhead."

Turns out her beloved wasn't the best land or money manager, but ole Martha kept both his plantation and Monticello running as well as could be expected considering how in debt they both were.

That's when she wasn't off in Washington at the White House making Dad look more wholesome after the whole Sally Hemmings unpleasantness.

Which brings up Kierner's whole point. Well-behaved women seldom make history, it's been said.

And yet Martha, the exemplary women, made quiet history without exhibiting any improper actions or habits.

I can admire her, but I sure wouldn't want to have been her.

And I'm guessing that the heavily female audience (so large it went into the back room) felt the same.

You can only ask so much of a woman.

Martha's strength was doing so much more than any modern woman would consider doing.

Exemplary womanhood must be so much more easily attained when you're not squeezing out babies every other year.

No doubt about it. I'd have been an epic failure as a founding daughter.

Hell, I'm still working on acquiring that perfect temper.

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