Teaching Activity: Martha Washington and Sociability


Students will be better understand the role of sociablity in the Revolutionary and Pre-Revolutionary Era, and will understand the connections between gender and class in early America.


Primary sources found on the Martha Washington site

Computer with Internet access-used to view the short film "Martha Washington and Sociability"


1. Watch the introductory movie together as a class.

2. Allow students time to explore the resources collected on the Primary Sources page. These resources have been included because they relate to the importance of sociability in the Chesapeake and Early America.

3. Have students create three lists: the first should include the roles Martha Washington played at various times in her life: manager, hostess, confidante, scribe, etc. Also have students create a list of the roles a working-class person would have played: worker, farmer, cook, etc. Finally, have students make a list of the roles that were reserved for women only.

4. Using the three lists, have students analyze the complex intersection of class and gender, and instruct them to write an essay analyzing the contributions of women to the Chesapeake economy. Some questions to guide their thinking might be “In what specific ways did women contribute to the planter economy in the Chesapeake region? How important were those roles in determining the success of a planter or plantation? Were the contributions of women considered as important as men’s?”