Political Spouses Have Evolved Since Martha Washington

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Politics has long been the domain of men, but from the very beginning political spouses have wielded significant power behind the scenes. More recently, political spouses have forged formidable roles as partners and allies. Their role reveals the complicated relationship between power and gender, while demonstrating how our cultural expectations have evolved and what has remained the same.

After George Washington died in 1799, his wife Martha burned their correspondence. As a result, we know little about their intimate relationship, but it seems likely she focused on the more traditional wifely role as hostess and homemaker, rather than offering political advice. To be sure, Washington appreciated her contributions and begged her to stay with him at winter headquarters every year during the Revolutionary War. During George’s presidency, Martha remained at his side and hosted social…

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