“Love is said to be an involuntary passion and it is therefore contended that it cannot be resisted. This is true, in part only; for like all things else when nourished and supplied plentifully with [aliment,] it is rapid in its progress; but let these be withdrawn and it may be stifled in its birth or much stunted in its growth.”
-George Washington to Nelly Custis
Philadelphia, 21st Mar. 1796
Happy Valentine’s Day! Though the Washingtons did not celebrate Valentine’s Day, they did express their love to each other. George Washington wrote in 1775 that he had “an unalterable affection…[that]neither time nor distance can change” for his wife Martha Washington. Following the death of her husband, in 1799, Lady Washington burned the couples’ correspondence in order to keep their relationship private; only three letters between the two are known to survive.
Fortunately, not all of Washington’s family members felt the same way. George “Grandpapa” Washington was eager to give advice to his step-granddaughter, Nelly Custis, on the ways of love. He wrote in 1796, “A hint here; men & women feel the same inclinations towards each other now that they always have done, and which they will continue to do until there is a new order of things. And you, as others have done, may find perhaps, that the passions of your sex are easier roused than allayed. Do not therefore boast too soon, nor too strongly, of your insensibility to, or resistance of its powers.” Washington explained love to his granddaughter and what questions to consider upon finding a gentleman.
Read the entire letter from the Papers of George Washington:
George Washington to Nelly Custis (March 21, 1796)
Washington’s Advice on Love
Read the excerpt from George Washington’s letter to Nelly Custis on love. Ask students to identify the 9 questions Washington poses to Nelly, and what they mean. Do your students agree with Washington’s advice? Write a letter to Nelly giving her your advice on love.