One of my goals this year, as I explained here, was to not only memorize every U.S. president in order but also to learn a thing or two about each of them. I wanted my kids to join me on my quest. Surprisingly, when I told my kids what we’d be doing they were actually really excited about it. Who knows, maybe your kids will be too!
First up is General George Washington. Maybe it’s because my husband has a dental background, but President Washington’s dental health simultaneously fascinates and disgusts me. The poor guy. By the time he was inaugurated as our first president, he had only one lone surviving tooth. He had plenty of dentures to his name though. The “wooden teeth” myth derived from the stains on all of his dentures taking the appearance of wood. If you visit Mt. Vernon, you can see several of his old dentures on display. Years ago, when my husband was in dental school, my dad bought a magnet of a replica of those dentures from the gift shop for us. It’s still hanging on our fridge. It still grosses me out.
The facts: He was president from 1789 to 1797. He was married to Martha Custis for 38 years, though she had two children from her first marriage, they never had children together. He didn’t belong to a political party. In addition to being the first American president, he was commander of the Continental Army, president of the Constitutional Convention, and the only founding father to free his slaves in his will.
Political party: He didn’t belong to a political party. In fact, he was super opposed to partisanship.
Why he’s cool: Even in his day, he was larger than life. He was a war hero who stepped out of retirement to head up the Constitutional Convention. It was a miracle it passed, which was in large part thanks to Washington. He came out of his second retirement to be the only American president to be elected unanimously. That’s how cool he was. No one else could touch him. He was said to be an excellent judge of character/talent. His Cabinet proves that: Alexander Hamilton was Treasury Secretary, Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of State, Henry Knox was War Secretary and James Madison was his senior advisor. To be a fly on the wall in those Cabinet meetings!
Fun fact: When I was living in the D.C. area, the church building that was assigned to the singles in my region was located a mere two minutes up the road from Mt. Vernon. In fact, I used to have a season pass there because I’d go so often. It’s one of the coolest places, as the movie National Treasure 2 will attest. 🙂 One of my very first dates with my husband was to Mt. Vernon. It has one of the most amazing views of the Potomac River and it’s no wonder President Washington just wanted to retire there after his military service.
Want to learn more? If you’re ever in the D.C. area, I highly recommend a visit to Mt. Vernon. There’s a theater in the museum that is interactive and super kid friendly. It takes you on a little tour of Washington’s life, including some of his battles, and snow comes down from the ceiling during portions of it. The entire museum is super kid friendly. Kids love it–I can’t recommend it enough!
Sources: For those who are interested, here are my sources and the books I recommend on George Washington.
His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis, found here. It’s a bit more heavy than the one listed below but it’s super thorough and fascinating.
George Washington by James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn, part of The American Presidents series, found here. This entire series is devoted to being intellectual enough for scholars but “lucid enough for students.” It’s a good balance.
I also am subscribed to Mt. Vernon’s email list and visit their website frequently for historical tidbits. It’s the most fascinating site! You can also read his entire Farewell Address, here. It’s known as one of the best political speeches of all times. In fact, once a year (since 1862) a U.S. Senator is selected to do a special reading of it on the Senate floor.
Former White House and Capitol Hill staffer, wife, and mom.