Letter, from Elizabeth Willing Powel, November 31, 1787

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  • Letter, from Elizabeth Willing Powel, November 31, 1787

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Letter, from Elizabeth Willing Powel, November 31, 1787


Powel writes about a variety of topics in this long letter, including women's role in public life.


Elizabeth Willing Powel


Fields, Joseph E. 'Worthy Partner': The Papers of Martha Washington. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994


Greenwood Press




Joseph E. Fields, editor


Published version of manuscript document

Additional Item Metadata


Fields, Joseph E. 'Worthy Partner': The Papers of Martha Washington. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Rights Holder

Mount Vernon Ladies' Association

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Dear Madam                                                     (November 31, 1787)

I fear I have suffered in your Esteem on the score of both gratitude & Politeness, from having so long delayed to return you Thanks for your Civilities & attention to me while I was under your hospitable Roof; but a Desire to accompany my Letter with the Collars for the young Ladies, has alone prevented an earlier Acknowledgement of my Sense of the elegant Hospitality exercised at Mount Vernon, where the good Order of the Master's Mind, seconded by your excellent abilities, pervades every Thing around you, & renders it a most delightful Residence to your Friends. I should have been happy to have prolonged our Visit had I not been sensible that the Depression of Spirits under wch I then was, rendered me a totally unfit Companion for ye cheerful & happy. My recent Separation from my favorite Sister and her Family, with the probability of never seeing her again, the Reflection of having left her encircled with Difficulties almost too great for a Man to cope with, unconnected & unprotected by any Friend, able or willing, To serve her, almost broke my Heart. She is a disinterested amiable Woman. The Settlement made on her in lieu of Dower, is amply sufficient during her life, for all ye purposes of comfortable & excellent living. Her genius is penetrative, her abilities uncommon. More moderate abilities serve our Purposes better on some Occasions. Indeed, I am clearly of the Sentiment that our Sex were never intended for the great Affairs of Life. They have happy Talents for suggesting & can see the ends of the chain, but it requires masculine Powers to discern the intermediate Links & connect them with Propriety. A Hope of being able to serve the Heirs of Colo Byrd, wh ye interests of her own Children were involved, & a Desire to comply with his Will, induced her to undertake ye management of his Estate. This has obliged her to prosecute claims which many find it inconvenient to comply with. A Love of Justice or a Sense of Gratitude are but weak Incentives with ye great bulk of Mankind to do what is right-when it clashes with private Interest; & not contented with evading what is just they too generally become ye Enemies of those they have injured. What a dismal Reverse did I find from what I had been a Witness to three and twenty years ago. For tho Colo Byrds Estate was then involved, he lived in such a Scale as to be sought after & apparently respected. But so passeth away the Vanities of this World; & happily for us, we shall soon pass from all temporal Concerns. I flatter myself your own good heart will plead my apology for speaking on a Subject no ways interesting to you, but so far as it relates to the cause of Humanity, which can never be indifferent to a benevolent Mind.

I hope the collars will meet your Approbation. The cost runs three dollars. You have paid something more for theyre being made in Phila; but the english ones were too long for your Purpose. Those I have sent may be raised by means of the Screw. I have made a little Ornament of Ribband, which may be worn over them as a Disguise when ye young Ladies are dressed or go without a Vandike. It is a Pity that a fine Form should be spoiled by a childs not holding herself erect. Indeed I think it is so essential to Health as to Beauty, to hold up the Head & throw back the shoulders. It expands the chest & prevents those ridiculous Distortions of the Face & Eyes which girls, at a certain age, frequently fall into from a foolish Bashfulness, or so the French call it a mauvaise haute. There are collars with Backs for the Shoulders; but this is so like putting them in Harness that I reprobate them, as I do all Ligatures on the human Form. Native grace is superior to all that Art can do; and it is so natural to hold up the Head, and open the chest, as to lollop the Head in the Bosom & raise the Shoulders to the Ears. I found that the guinea you gave me for the Collars was sufficient to pay for the Ribband, and to add Sashes of the same I have therefore taken ye the Liberty, without orders, to send them.

I have sent our little Favorite, Master Custis the Work I promised him. I wished to have got it in small Volumes, such as I had sent to a little Friend, and better adapted to his Size, but they were not to be had, and this, such as it is, I think he will be pleased with. I shall distrust my Skill if he is not a Child of Penetration & Genius. He has sweet conciliating manners like your charming little Eleanor. When I was with you, you were so civil as to express your Approbation of a Morocco Thread Case that I was using. On my return I met with one of the same Kind, which I must beg your Acceptance of as a small Testimony of my Recollection & Esteem.

Be pleased to present me affectionately to the General, Master Custis, & the young Ladies. My best compliments & good Wishes attend Major & Mrs Washington. I hope she is returned perfectly reinstated in her Health. There was something so pleasing in her Appearance & Manner that even a Stranger could not see her without being interested in her Welfare. If I can render her or you any Services in Phila you will be so obliging as to command them.

I have the Honor to be with affectionate Regards dear Madam

Your most obt & obliged
Eliza Powel

November 30, 1787
Mrs Washington

Original Format

Autograph Letter Signed


How to Cite this Item

Elizabeth Willing Powel, "Letter, from Elizabeth Willing Powel, November 31, 1787," in Martha Washington, Item #429, http://marthawashington.us/items/show/429 (accessed April 1, 2020).