"Her upbringing disposed her to the roles of wife, mother, and mistress of her husband's plantation, but Martha Washington was seized by history. During the winter pauses in the Revolutionary War...she joined General Washington at military encampments. Though they were not her natural milieu ('I shudder every time I hear the sound of a gun,' she admitted), Mrs. Washington quickly adapted.
A heroine to her husband's soldiers, she was cheered on her arrival each year. During the rigors at Valley Forge...she organized a sewing circle to make shirts and socks, and to patch clothing for poorly dressed soldiers. She delivered many items herself, basket in hand. Lady Washington, as she was called, offered consolation to cold, hungry, and sick enlisted men...
Later, during her husband's presidency..., circumstances once again drew Martha Washington away from the comforts of Mount Vernon She hated New York and later had to adapt to Philadelphia. But she maintained an equanimity that impressed even Abigail Adams, a woman whose letters reveal her reliable good sense and sharp perceptions. Abigail liked Martha immediately when the wives of the new president and vice president joined forces in New York. 'She received me with great ease and politeness. She is plain in her dress, but that plainness is the best of every article...Her manners are modest and unassuming, dignified and feminine, not the tincture of hauteur about her,' wrote Abigail Adams.
Martha Washington became the very model for America's First Lady and not only because she did it first. Her contemporaries recognized in her a charisma that blended duty, kindness, gentility, and hope."
--Hugh Howard, Houses of the Founding Fathers