Martha Jefferson Randolph: The Education of a Republican Daughter & Plantation Mistress, 1782-1809

Wayson, Billy Lee, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Wagoner, Jennings
Onuf, Peter, Department of History, University of Virginia
Hoffman, Diane, Curry School of Education
Burbach, Harold, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Martha Jefferson Randolph spent her formative years in a Philadelphia boarding house and convent school in Paris, as Thomas Jefferson engaged in the exercise of republican civic virtue. These situations were a result of her father's determination to direct her education in his own way. Yet, the unfamiliar cultural and social milieus did little directly to prepare Patsy Jefferson for the practical challenges of overseeing a plantation household or for living life as a republican daughter, wife, and mother in the New Republic. This project used some 900 letters to trace her intellectual and social-emotional development from a bewildered ten-year old mourning her mother's death in 1782 to her installation in 1809 as a confident mistress of Monticello. Patsy's education was situational and experiential. Her father drew on pedagogical ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment to interpret events in unfamiliar settings in a way that mapped onto the cultural terrain of Virginia's slaveholding society. Persistence, industry, and invention were considered essential values to the isolated, gendered life Patsy would enter as mistress of a Virginia plantation. A "habit" of self-improvement -- pursing "accomplishments" in the moral, mental, and physical learning domains – would bring her private honor, public esteem, the affection of others, thereby achieving life's ultimate purpose of happiness. But, Martha's happiness, she avowed after her marriage at seventeen, could never be complete without Father's company; her love for him would always be first in her heart; nor would she ever "feel a scruple in sacrifising" her other duties if they interfered with her "devotion" to promoting Father's happiness. Among the themes emerging from the emic voices of Martha and Thomas Jefferson are deep and abiding affection; mutual attachment to a place called "Monticello"; the painful loneliness of being separated; and the distress of unrelenting debt. To ease the tensions created by these dynamics, they imagined a private, harmonious family reunited on the mountain top, ensconced in a household independent of creditors, and shielded from the tumult of the public sphere.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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