Feb. 21, 2024

Episode 48: Political Subjects are too often at Variance

Episode 48: Political Subjects are too often at Variance

Elizabeth Willing Powel to Elizabeth Parke Custis, February 28, 1816. In which Powel advises Martha Washington's pro-French granddaughter to avoid talking about politics with pro-British family members.

Elizabeth Willing Powel to Elizabeth Parke Custis, February 28, 1816. In which Powel advises Martha Washington's pro-French granddaughter to avoid talking about politics with pro-British family members. 

Featuring Samantha Snyder, Research Librarian & Manager of Library Fellowships at the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon, and Dr. Cassandra Good, associate professor of History at Marymount University and author of First Family: George Washington's Heirs and the Making of America (2023). 

Your Most Obedient & Humble Servant is a production of R2 Studios at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. 


Your Most Obedient & Humble Servant
Episode 48: “Political Subjects are too often at Variance”
Published on February 21, 2024

Note: This transcript was generated by Otter.ai with light human correction

Note:The letter referenced in this episode is, Elizabeth Willing Powel to Elizabeth Parke Custis Law, February 28th, 1816 [received copy]. Thomas Law Papers, Library of Congress.


Kathryn Gehred  00:04

Hello, and welcome to your most obedient and humble servant. This is Women's History podcast where we feature 18th and early 19th century women's letters that don't get as much attention as we think they should. I'm your host, Kathryn Gehred. This episode is part of our season on wit. We're doing something a little bit different and kind of fun this episode. Longtime listeners of the show will remember Samantha Snyder, who was my first ever guest on the podcast, and a fabulous historian. Samantha is research librarian at the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon. And she's currently working on a book about Elizabeth wheel Powell with UVA press. Can you tell us a little bit about that book, Samantha?

Samantha Snyder  00:44

Sure. So it is a all encompassing biography of Elizabeth Whilling Powel, who you'll learn about in a little bit, but it is very exciting as it is slated to be out in 2026. So it's been a long and winding journey already. And it's only just beginning.

Kathryn Gehred  01:03

Congratulations and mark your calendars listeners.

Samantha Snyder  01:08

Just a couple of years.

Kathryn Gehred  01:09

I'm thrilled to have Sam on the show. But I'm also excited to be welcoming back. Dr. Cassandra Good, an award-winning historian and author of the fabulous book first family George Washington's heirs and the making of America. The last time Cassandra was on the show, we talked about a letter where Madame Bonaparte was wearing a shockingly see through dress. It's one of my favorite letters and episodes. So if you haven't listened to that one, go check it out. But welcome, Cassandra.

Cassandra Good  01:36

Thanks so much for having me back. I'm excited to do this.

Kathryn Gehred  01:39

Thank you so much for being here. It's just a pleasure to have you both. So, with two guests, we're going to be talking about a letter from Elizabeth Willing Powel and Elizabeth Parke Custis. So, I've mentioned that name. We've done letters from Elizabeth Willing Powel and Elizabeth Parke Custis this before, but even knowing what I know about them, I didn't actually realize that they had a friendship. So, I was very excited when you send me this letter. I think this is a great way to talk about some very interesting people. Samantha for our new listeners, can you give a brief introduction to Elizabeth wheeling Powell,

Samantha Snyder  02:12

Elizabeth Willing Powel was a woman who lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and she lived in Philly from 1742 to 1830. So, she saw a lot of changes in the founding of the country. And she was quite well connected in Philly, and kind of what she's best known for in the history world at the moment is her very close relationship with George and Martha Washington, which also extends to the grandchildren. Big powerhouse political powerhouse.

Kathryn Gehred  02:44

Yeah, I think when we did our first letter, we sort of talked about how she managed the social life of Philadelphia when, when George and Martha Washington were there. Cassandra, could you introduce us again to Elizabeth Parke Custis.

Cassandra Good  02:56

I know that your readers will have been familiar with her from various letters, but just a quick summary. So, this is Martha Washington's eldest granddaughter, by her son with her first husband, so her son John Parke Custis and he had four surviving children. Eliza Parke Custis was the eldest of them. She's born in 1776. She was not living with George and Martha Washington. She was living with her mother and stepfather most the time, but she did visit during the presidency in Philadelphia. So, she really was part of that larger circle, just not necessarily as much part as Nellie, her younger sister who lived full time with George and Martha and Eliza out of the siblings, I would say is the brashest and boldest.

Kathryn Gehred  03:46

Yeah, I agree there. If you haven't seen it, we'll probably use this in the episode art but the portrait of Elizabeth Parke Custis by Gilbert Stuart?

Cassandra Good  03:57

Gilbert Stuart and it's very unusual because she's standing with her arms crossed, and that is not even a pose most men have in portraits, and she's also giving a sort of look at us. And I think you can see a lot of her personality in that portrait.

Kathryn Gehred  04:12

So how did Sam if you don't mind telling me how did Elizabeth Powel like get to know Eliza?

Samantha Snyder  04:19

She and her husband Samuel Powel traveled to Mount Vernon, just after the Constitutional Convention ended, they were on their way down to Westover Plantation to visit another very powerful woman, Mary Willing Byrd, who is Elizabeth Powel’s older sister by a year. They stopped at Mount Vernon, and I think that is probably where they met all of the grandchildren. Because there's this whole exchange about posture collars for the granddaughters, not for Nellie, just the older two, but I think that's probably where the Powels met the grandchildren. I know they met Nellie and Washy there.

Kathryn Gehred  05:00

What's a posture collar?

Samantha Snyder  05:02

It was meant to help just that, their posture. Martha has her doing proxy shopping for her basically in Philadelphia. And Elizabeth writes back this whole thing about how important posture is for women and to hold the head erect and to not like be in a foolish bashfulness. And like, hide away. So, I liked that image of her wanting the granddaughters to do that Elizabeth Powell did not have any biological children that survived. So, she was very much like this with a lot of different younger men and women, but very motherly. So, I think that's when she probably first met her.

Cassandra Good  05:41

And I assume…I assume that they also got to know each other again, and Philadelphia, when Eliza Custis is visiting with her grandparents, so gets to know her again as an adult versus just as a kid. Yeah.

Samantha Snyder  05:55

That was 1787. So, she would have been 11. Yeah. Yeah. So then, yeah, as a teenager, and young adult, and then in the 19th century, of course, I would say Nellie was probably Elizabeth Powel’s favorite. I like the idea of

Kathryn Gehred  06:12

Eliza going from being like a slouchy, like hiding in the background. 11-year-old to like, crossing her arms and looking directly at Gilbert Stuart.

Samantha Snyder  06:21

Yeah, all because of those collars that Elizabeth Powel gave.

Cassandra Good  06:29

Although if you look at what Martha Washington is saying, during that visit, she's complaining that Eliza is sulking in the house a lot of the time. So, it's interesting that that portrait is probably done around the same time. And that Eliza also is probably secretly courting her future husband at this point. So, Eliza sounds like she's a little bit complicated. She sounds, you know, like she was not always easy to have at home. But the other thing I'd say about the posture thing, from what I understand about wearing an empire waist gown, which is what people were wearing at the time, if you try and wear one of those now, unless you pull your shoulders back, or actually wearing a corset, it's not flattering. Part of the posture is about making those gowns look good.

Kathryn Gehred  07:16

So, we've got a little bit of an introduction to the cast of characters here. Cassandra, would you mind setting up the context of what's going on, at exactly the time that this letter is written?

Cassandra Good  07:27

This is an interesting time analyzes life. So this is early 1816. Eliza had first separated from her husband, and then they were separated in 1804. And then they got officially divorced, several years before this letter, and then Eliza is really she's very pro French is a Democratic Republican, and they are pro French. But she's at the like, I admire Napoleon level. She says something about him, like I'm sure he has some faults, like all people do. But overall, he's pretty great. And so, she's also really interested in trying to marry somebody French. And so, She's flirting with the French ambassador. And that doesn't go anywhere. And then there's a series of con men from Europe that come through Washington at this point, and she falls in love with one of them. Francois Donita Graff, who claims that he has been, you know, falsely accused of wrongdoing from the French military, and is in exile because of that, from what I can tell, he actually had done multiple things wrong, including some gambling that wasn't allowed. It's unclear if he was also serving as some kind of spy. But he comes to Washington, a lot of people recognize that he's a con man, Eliza doesn't follow us for him. They get engaged. And he goes back to France. He, for some reason needs to get approval from somebody in the military to marry her. And he's like, look, it's George and Martha's granddaughter. They refuse him permission, that at some point in 1815, he dies by suicide, he slits his throat. Oh, and Eliza finds this out in late 1815, early 1816. And she was so devastated that she falls into an illness. And that is the context in which this letter is written.

Kathryn Gehred  09:26

Can we just talk like briefly about Eliza’s taste in men?

Kathryn Gehred  09:34

Her first husband like was also I mean,

Cassandra Good 

He was eccentric.

Kathryn Gehred  He was eccentric. And he was I mean, kind of like he was in the land speculation thing. Like I don't know if he was exactly a con man, but like, he. It seems like he married Eliza a little bit to just sort of because she was George Martha Washington's granddaughter and that this would look good for him. Right.

Cassandra Good  09:55

It certainly was beneficial to him, although she wouldn't have to toes into marry him unless she actually and if you look at his writings, I think he actually did love her. I think they're split, they just couldn't get along with each other. That seems to be the main reason that they split. He may have also had a mistress that he brought back from Europe with him. I actually don't think that would have been enough for them to slip because that wasn't, you know, entirely unusual. Although I think it would have hurt allies as pride I, but I do think that marriage never really worked. It was okay for a few years, and then it fell apart pretty quickly. And then, yeah, she she definitely flirts with several different people, but it seems like it's French guys that she's really interested in. And unfortunately, she never is successful in love again.

Kathryn Gehred  11:05

Eliza is ill and where is she? Where is she living in DC? Is she in the federal city at this time?

Cassandra Good  11:11

Where is she at the point of this? I think she is back in DC. At this point. She was going back and forth some of the time to Philadelphia. But she was not like close to Elizabeth Powel in Philadelphia. She was actually in Germantown. So, I think at this point, she is back in Washington.

Kathryn Gehred  11:35

All right, so let's dive into the letter. This is February 28, 1816. Elizabeth Willing Powel to Elizabeth Parke Custis. “You mention with such sensibility the prompt kind attentions of your friends in your late illness. I hope among those, your own Sisters were most assiduously conspicuous. I well know that you, and they on political subjects are too often at variance; but a difference in opinion on those topicks, ought not to be interrupt family harmony, each should cede a little to the prejudices, misapprehension, misinformation, and personal attachments by which the wisest, and best of Men have been fatally deceived; even those well versed in the profound science of Government…. My Barometer that is my Side admonishes me to lay down my Pen; but I cannot resist mentioning to you a vague report that is in circulation here – that you are again to be united to Mr. L[aw] The reasons assigned for the reuion are; - the ardent solicitation of your Daughter, that you may be reunited, and a natural desire of the part of her Parents to place her in a more eligible Situation than she is in at present.”

All right, so this is very interesting. Cassandra, would you mind telling me a little bit about Eliza is relationship with her daughter?

Cassandra Good  12:59

Eliza had one daughter who is a teenager at this point, actually, I guess she's close to 20. And the daughter had been sort of a point of contention between Eliza and Thomas Law because when they were just separated, there was not that I've ever been able to find any kind of custody agreement. But once you got divorced back then women could not get custody of their children. Because the idea was, how would they provide for them? So Thomas law sort of automatically gets custody of their daughter and he pretty quickly decides he's going to move her to Philadelphia for school, which obviously upsets her mother. So I think that there is this tension between them about allies as educational as a junior we can call her and sort of her status and given the stigma with divorce, it's not going to help on the marriage market to have divorced parents. So that may be where Elspeth Howell is coming from here.

Kathryn Gehred  14:03

And how old is her daughter at this point?

Cassandra Good  14:05

I think that her daughter at this point is 19.

Kathryn Gehred  14:09

So. about the age when she married Thomas Law, right?

Cassandra Good  14:12

Oh that's true. That is about the age. Eliza herself. Got married. Yes.

Kathryn Gehred  14:18

Samantha, you mentioned that Elizabeth Powell can be a little bit motherly. I'm definitely getting a motherly vibe from this letter. How would you describe their relationship?

Samantha Snyder  14:27

It's not as close as maybe it seems in this letter. She was very motherly to everybody. But she also knew how to play to people's egos a little bit or not egos just more so. I don't know their emotions. Cassie, how did we phrase this?

Cassandra Good  14:44

We were talking about the fact that it sounds like you know, she's very close with her and motherly and then you have that other quote where you see what Elizabeth Powel actually thinks about Eliza. You see that it's a slightly less sympathetic.

Samantha Snyder  15:03

Yeah, yeah. It's a lot less sympathetic than it might seem.

Kathryn Gehred  15:06

When she mentioned…. She says something she's like, I'm glad to hear that people were helping you in your late illness. I hope your sisters were assiduously conspicuous. It sort of sounds like she's taking Eliza’s side against any like, fight that might be going on between her and her sisters. So what would your opinion be about that?

Samantha Snyder  15:24

Well, if you keep reading, she's kind of saying, she's saying I hope your sisters know that you're sick. And I know that you have been arguing about politics and just get over it in order to be family because family is more important than your political views. You mentioned about their real relationship. I think they were close. There is a quote from a letter right around that time a couple of years earlier, Elizabeth writes to a niece who was a contemporary of Eliza and calls her the eccentric Mrs. Custis and that she is ever a pleasing companion. She's a philanthropist by nature, beneficent and charitable from precept, and example good humoured and compliant, but she is no one's enemy, but her own.

Cassandra Good  16:13

Well, and then going on to say with respect herself, she has been imprudent and has suffered accordingly.

Samantha Snyder  16:19

Yeah. So she's, Elizabeth is very observant. And I think she did care for Eliza for sure. But it wasn't. It wasn't perfect. Like, there was other thoughts behind the scenes.

Cassandra Good  16:32

She's clearly nudging her on the issue with her sisters. You know, I'm not sure that she's taking realizes side here. She's sort of giving her unsolicited advice on that, you know, she doesn't know the full dynamic of what's going on between Eliza and her siblings.

Samantha Snyder  16:54

But she does go on to say that she's seen it with men. She's seen these men in the government deal with us. And of course, she has because she's been so well connected over the years. So, to her it's more abstract. That's, I think, where she's coming from.

Kathryn Gehred  17:12

Let's talk a little bit about these political differences between Eliza and her sisters. Eliza is so pro French that she's like this Napoleon guy seems legit. How would you describe her sister's politics?

Cassandra Good  17:25

They are polar opposite. If you look at the next sister, Martha Custis Peters or Patty Peters. And the best example of this is that in the War of 1812, Patty and her husband did not evacuate from DC. They watched the burning of the city from their house on a hill in Georgetown. And then a few days later, they go down to the city, they check things out, they talk to the troops, they learn that it's Wellington's British troops come from the Peninsular Campaign that have burnt the city. Patty's a few months pregnant at this point, when she has a baby in January 1815. She names that child, Britannia Wellington, and I think that gives us a sense of just how pro-British she is. So she's a Federalist. The Federalists are pro-British, but not that pro-British. There were Federalists. The Federalist Party is dying off by this point, partially because of the War of 1812. And they're siding with the British Nelly and Wash Custis, the younger brother. They are Federalists, but they don't side with the British during the war, the way paddy basically seems to. Still though, in terms of their social connections, they're mostly connected with people who are Federalists. The other thing that I think Elizabeth Powel doesn't realize it's going on between the siblings, Eliza says a few times around this time, her siblings all are happy with their own families and homes. Eliza feels like a third wheel basically, like nobody needs her. She doesn't fit in with them. And it's partially the politics, right? If If your sister is that pro-British, and you're that pro French, you can see during, you know, the aftermath of a war, that being an issue. But I think there's also other dynamics, you can tell from some of the comments that Nelly says at one point that allies his house would be better if she chose, right that there's this sense that Eliza is melodramatic.

Kathryn Gehred  19:25

I guess the first point I wanted to make is this is slightly refreshing to me to have a woman writing to another woman about politics and talking about her sisters and her siblings politics. Because so much of the history about women at this time period is that they were not political right. Or if they were political, that part of what made them okay is that they weren't partisan. Yeah, right. But they are partisan. It's very refreshing to read like, yeah, these are these are people that are so interested in politics, they're partisan, they're fighting about it in the exact same way that she says the wisest and the best of men. It's interesting that Powell is sort of comparing Elizabeth to the wisest and best of men in a way because I know there's a number of quotes of Elizabeth Law, or Elizabeth, Parke Custis. Sorry, where she's writing about how she, if she had been a man, she would be taken seriously. Like, if she had been a man, she would have gotten better education and like, she's absolutely 100%, right. And she dresses sort of in a masculine sort of militaristic way, when she first moves to DC in a way that I think is interesting. There's just like a touch of that in here where Eliza Powel, like knows Elizabeth, enough to say that this is a way to sort of talk her down a little bit and be like, Look, even the wisest and best of men can get pulled into this partisan politics. And you are currently there, like you are currently separated from your siblings because of these disagreements when you could just not be.

Cassandra Good  20:50

The only thing that's occurring to me that I hadn't thought about before with this letter is, I don't remember the exact timing of this in England. George III and George IV the Prince Regent, that family really splits up over politics, in part, and I'm sure everybody in America was aware of this at the time, basically, the prince region, the eldest son of George, the third becomes a Whig, the sort of opposition party mostly to piss off his father. That is probably pretty well known here on the idea that even in the ruling family in the country, in England, you could have this family split over politics, and it doesn't work out well for anybody.

Samantha Snyder  21:37

Well, in Elizabeth herself, she had nine siblings. And at that point, sadly, at this point, her sister, her last sister passes away later that year, but she also she dealt with that with with nine other siblings to deal with all their different types of politics. She has that in the back of her mind, too, I'm sure. And her nephews at this point, especially where we're kind of splitting off who were of the same around the same age as as the Custis grandchildren. At this point, they were all a little bit younger. And then I did find, she calls Elizabeth calls Bonaparte, while she talks about a French minister. This is all the way back in 1810. But she writes it in her almanac. She says a French villain, the Minister of that yet great scoundrel, Bonaparte.

Kathryn Gehred  22:22

It is Powel more of your your standard Federalist would you describe her?

Samantha Snyder  22:28

at this point you'd like Cassie was saying the Federalist are kind of dying out. And she addresses that in a letter that's a little bit earlier of a point. But she was very anti British, but also not pro French.

Kathryn Gehred  22:41

This last paragraph for stuff that “my barometer that is my side admonishes me to lay down my pen,” very cute love that.

Samantha Snyder  22:47

That's her sign off. That's her thing. Like your most obedient, humble servant, hers is my barometer admonishes me to lay down my pen. To put it into context for her. She was in her 70s. She's 74 At this point, and had had a liver infection. She'd always had problems with her side after that very dramatically, would talk about it all the time. And her hand, always hurt when she wrote letters.

Kathryn Gehred  23:12

So, she sort of ends it with that she's heard a rumor that she might get back together with Thomas Law, who she divorced for what must have been at the time period, like unusual reasons to just divorce somebody for not getting along. And she throws a little guilt trip in there with the ardent solicitation of your daughter that you may be reunited and a natural desire to place her in aborted. So she's basically saying you not getting back together with Thomas law is hurting your daughter's chances of marrying. Well, is that how you would understand that? Because Sandra?

Cassandra Good  23:44

Yeah, I I think she's sort of hinting at that. And this would have, I think really rankled Eliza Custis because Eliza didn't want to get divorced. She knew what it was going to make her look bad that she had wanted to separate but she was okay with just keeping a separation. And so, when Thomas Law actually filed for divorce, she was not happy about it. You could not get a divorce just based on we don't get along. It had to be based on either adultery or abandonment, basically, or abuse. So, they hadn't been living together for a long time. So, Law just basically said, she has abandoned bed and board she's not living in my household and doing her duties as a wife anymore. Had to have annoyed Eliza. The other thing about this divorce is everybody in Washington finds out that it has gone through before Eliza does. And she writes a letter saying, I heard from a friend that everybody at a party was talking about her and I hadn't even gotten the news yet. So, the divorce is not a subject she really wants to talk about and there's no way she and Thomas are getting back together.

Kathryn Gehred  25:01

The absolute boldness for Thomas Law to have two children from a previous unmarried relationship and then possible mistress and then to be like, Well, I'm divorcing my wife. And she's willing to put up with so much that is just absolutely bold.

Cassandra Good  25:17

Well, and it may be that he was divorcing her because he wanted to marry somebody else. And the rumor at the time, which he never fully denied, was that it was Nelly Custis’s friend, Elizabeth Bordesley in Philadelphia that he wanted to marry.

Samantha Snyder  25:33

There's some poems to add the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that he wrote to her right.

Cassandra Good  25:40

Well, and it causes it causes sort of a stir, Nelly has told some people this rumor. And Thomas Law basically says to his sons, did you tell I told you not to tell anybody. So, it does sound like he was interested in Elizabeth horridly. And then he is sort of mortified that she becomes a subject of gossip and he had so gotten along with the customers until this point. And then after that, things sort of fell apart there. I'm not sure why Elizabeth Hall would have heard a rumor they were getting back together, because that was not going to happen.

Samantha Snyder  26:18

But also what I find interesting about Elizabeth at this point is that she's kind of my Elizabeth Powell is that, you know, she's so much older than them. But she's hearing all of this. And she's, you know, friendly with all of these people who are having all this drama, and like she was, she was friends with Thomas Law. There's letters from her to him. But she introduced her nephew, when he was on his grand tour to Thomas law's family abroad, he became connected with his sisters. But then she's close with Elizabeth Bordesley, Nelly Custis, all these different people, so she's kind of watching it all from above.

Cassandra Good  26:56

And I wonder if she had seen Eliza, his daughter, Eliza, Jr. I think she's still in Philadelphia at this point. And Thomas Law is living in Philadelphia at this point, I believe most of the time, if not full time.

Samantha Snyder  27:08

And I think Thomas Law and her nephew were friends with one another.

Cassandra Good  27:12

This was a small world of elite white people at this point.

Samantha Snyder  27:17

Yes. Very, very,very small.

Kathryn Gehred  27:19

Oh, that's I like I guess when she said when when Cassandra said Bordesley Gibson, because if you're not in the little world that we are in, perhaps that name doesn't mean anything to you. But like one of the best collections of Nellies letters is just all of her letters with words like Gibson. And so I have worked with that book quite a bit. So I feel like I know that person a little bit. And so it's just startling to me. I am as offended as the justices were that he would have tried to shoot his shot. But and also, of course, he wrote a poem, of course, he wrote a poem.

Cassandra Good  27:56

Yes, he was always writing columns. He writes an interesting poem about the sort of fall of his marriage to Eliza as well.

Kathryn Gehred  28:04

There wasn't therapy back then. It just, he just wrote a dramatic poem.

Samantha Snyder  28:10

He had to seek out Elizabeth Powel for all her advice, all her unwarranted advice, or she just doled it out on her own.

Kathryn Gehred  28:18

So, there was no chance that we're gonna get back together. How does Eliza’s daughter ended up marrying pretty well, despite her sort of dramatic family background?

Cassandra Good  28:29

She does, she marries the son of a revolutionary war officer who had known George Washington, this is somebody in the Roger's family in Baltimore, that marriage seems to be pretty happy. There is drama around the wedding itself over whether to invite Thomas laws, two sons that are half Indian as an Indian subcontinent Indian, from his time when he was working in India and had two children. We don't know anything about the mother. So, he has these two mixed race children that actually have been fairly integrated into DC society at this point. One of the sons is a lawyer, they go to Yale. But it appears that the Custis did not invite these boys to the wedding and it causes a lot of pain in the family. And it is probably a race thing. That even though they sort of were treated in many ways as white, that perhaps either the Rogers or the justices decided it wasn't appropriate for their racial sensibilities for them to be there. I mean, these are, we should remember to major enslavers. The Rogers have enslaved people, the customers have hundreds of enslaved people. So that becomes an ugly incident but that was a junior doesn't get married. Another few years. So, this is like, it's a complicated situation.

Kathryn Gehred  30:03

I really feel bad for Elizabeth Parke Custis. And I sort of understand where Elizabeth Powel is coming from, as well. If I could ask each of you to talk a little bit about what you find compelling about this letter, and what you find compelling about each of these women?

Cassandra Good  30:21

Samantha touched on this before the fact that we're seeing it Well, both of you touched on this, that we're seeing multiple women talking about politics and political differences. And we're seeing just how partisan women could be at this time. It feels like something that historians of gender in this period have to remind people over and over again, that women were involved in politics, women were engaged with this, they were partisan, and it was important to them. Still, there's this public idea partially coming from the rhetoric at the time that, you know, women are staying out of politics. And I think, Eliza in particular, while she was certainly mellow, dramatic, possibly eccentric, as Elizabeth Powel describes her, she breaks a lot of boundaries in this period, even more so than some other women. And I find that enticing about her, the fact that she's willing to go farther than other women are. And I think that's part of why so many people are critical of her is that she is not fitting into these normal bounds of womanhood. But that also makes her much more interesting to study.

Samantha Snyder  31:30

I think this is a really interesting letter I like I mean, when you read the entire thing, when you don't just read the excerpt, it's interesting to see on my end, it's interesting to see still how well connected she is because she's much older than these people at this point. And it's interesting to see her talk about her experiences and way because she witnessed all of this happen over the years. I also find it interesting the emotional connection she has with these people. And I think her as a woman she's incredibly interesting to study doesn't necessarily step outside the bounds of normal womanhood. She knows how to tow that line really well, but she uses the power that she has as much as she can.

Kathryn Gehred  32:13

Well, if the Barbie film taught me anything, it's that you can accomplish a lot within the bounds of normal woman.

Samantha Snyder  32:19

I love that. I'm going to see that tomorrow. So excited. I've not had any spoilers, so no spoilers.

Kathryn Gehred  32:26

Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, both of you. I am so excited. Everybody should read Cassandra's book but the Custis family it's so good. And I'm just so excited Samantha to hear what you have to say about Elizabeth Willing Powell. I know you've been working on her for a long time and I just am really excited for this project. For my listeners, thank you so much for listening. I will leave links to these letters, all the letters that I can in the show notes. And until next time, I am as ever your most obedient and humble servant. Your Most Obedient & Humble Servant is a production of R2 Studios at the Roy Rosenzweig center for History and New Media at George Mason University. I'm Katherine Gehred, the creator and host of this podcast. Jeannette Patrick and Jim Ambuske are the executive producers. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to listen to past episodes and check out more great podcasts from R2 Studios. We tell unexpected stories based on the latest research to connect listeners with the past. So, head to R2 studios.org to start listening.

Samantha Snyder Profile Photo

Samantha Snyder

Samantha Snyder is a historian of early American women and Research Librarian at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study at George Washington's Mount Vernon.

Dr. Cassandra Good Profile Photo

Dr. Cassandra Good

Dr. Cassandra Good is an acclaimed author and has taught at Marymount University, George Washington University, and University of Mary Washington. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania and has experience in public history through work at the Smithsonian Institution.