MONTVILLE, NJ – “Martha Washington” visited the Montville Township Library on March 20 and told anecdotes of several First Ladies, including her own story.
Historical re-enactor Maggie Worsdale dressed in an emerald green gown and matching cap to entrance residents with the inspiring and sometimes tragic lives of the women behind the men.
“When my husband, George, was unanimously elected President of the United States, I had a new role, and no road map,” Worsdale as Martha Washington told the assembly. “For eight years I played hostess and little else was required of me. I was not interested in being a fashion statement. I was American and didn’t want to dress like a queen. George and I didn’t want to act like royalty.”
Worsdale described the “Friday Receptions” the Washingtons used to hold audience with anyone who wished to attend. She said they were greatly approved of by the American people because they brought honor and status to the office of the president.
Worsdale went on to spin the tale of John Quincy Adams’ wife Louisa, who had an arduous, six-week journey across Russia to join him in Paris. Once at the gates, she was denied entry by Napoleon’s guards and had to use her fluent French skills and cleverness to convince them that she was actually Napoleon’s sister.
Ulysses Grant’s wife Julia used her intuition to save her husband from an assassination plot, Worsdale explained, when she demurred Mary Todd Lincoln’s invitation to see a play at Ford’s Theatre the evening that President Lincoln was assassinated. Similarly, Julia insisted the couple cut a trip to Chicago short, and two days later the Great Chicago Fire began to destroy the city, Worsdale said.
Lou Hoover caused a scandal when she invited Mrs. Oscar DePriest, the wife of an African-American Congressman, to a tea at the White House.
“Although the newspapers lambasted them, the very next week, the presidential couple had lunch with a scholar from Tuskegee Institute,” said Worsdale.
When asked which First Lady she, personally, thought was the most fabulous, Worsdale said she had to pick Eleanor Roosevelt.
“She had the most energy, and drove herself to her engagements in her Plymouth convertible roadster with a rumble seat,” Worsdale explained. “Good Housekeeping magazine called her ‘Our Flying First Lady’ because she flew with Amelia Earhart. She was a force to be reckoned with in the United Nations, and Truman called her ‘The First Lady of the World.’ She did everything she could for the betterment of people.”
Worsdale said she spent about a year a half putting together her First Ladies program by reading biographies of the First Ladies.
“They were so fascinating that I couldn’t get enough,” she laughs. “Then I had to condense it down.”
She has been performing the re-enactment for about three years.
“It’s been a wonderful journey so far,” she said.
She can be reached at Martha Washington.