For many of us, the summer months are a time for socializing and celebration. Although they didn’t fire up the grill or host any pool parties, George and Martha Washington were no strangers to entertaining.
During Washington’s two terms as President, he and Mrs. Washington hosted dinner parties every Thursday for members of Congress, foreign dignitaries, and other important officials. Those invited to dine received invitations printed from engraved copper plates. With a fill-in-the-blank format, these invitations could be customized with the recipient’s name, as well as the date and time of the event. The dinners were sumptuous affairs: one guest described the menu as “an elegant variety of roast beef, veal, turkeys, ducks, fowls, hams, puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch.”
In addition to dinner parties, Martha Washington hosted less formal receptions for the public, called levees, every Friday evening. Guests who dropped by the executive residence could greet the President and enjoy a spread of seasonal treats such as cakes, ice cream, and lemonade.
George Washington retired from public office in 1797, but his family‘s tradition of hospitality continued. Hundreds of travelers came to Mount Vernon, many without an invitation, hoping to catch a glimpse of the beloved first President. Although the Washingtons savored their rare moments alone, they were also generous hosts and welcomed all visitors, even strangers, into their home.
You can see a blank invitation on display in the Hoecakes & Hospitality exhibit at the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center through August of 2013.
Jessie MacLeod, Assistant Curator
Gift of Henry Lane Eno, 1915. Conservation courtesy of the Life Guard Society of Mount Vernon [W-827]
Purchase, 1999 [MS-5605]