Arago: 8-cent Martha Washington

8-cent Martha Washington

The first stamp to honor an American woman was the 8-cent Martha Washington (1732–1802). She was selected from a list of prominent females submitted to Third Assistant Postmaster General Edwin C. Madden. Martha Washington, wife of George Washington, was the only person depicted on a stamp of the series with a first and last name.

Born Martha Dandridge, she married Daniel Parke Custis as a young woman of eighteen. Custis died in 1757, leaving her with two children, an immense fortune, and a 17,000 acre estate. She married George Washington in 1759. She devoted her life to supporting and comforting him, and together they raised her two children by Custis. Her son John Custis died in young adulthood and her daughter Martha died at sixteen. George and Martha Washington also raised her grandchildren, George Washington Parke Custis and Eleanor Parke Custis. Martha Washington's great-granddaughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married General Robert E. Lee.

The 8-cent violet black stamp was issued December 6, 1902, only in sheet format printed from plates of four hundred and sold in panes of one hundred stamps with gauge 12 perforations. R. Ostrander Smith designed the stamp from an unfinished portrait by Gilbert Stuart. The portrait captured Mrs. Washington as a "stout 65-year-old, with a twinkle in her eyes and a faint grin." (Boston Globe, May 3, 2006)

The engravers were George F. C. Smillie (portrait), Robert F. Ponickau (frame), and George U. Rose, Jr. (lettering and numerals).

The 8-cent Martha Washington stamp was primarily used to pay the eight-cent registry fee for both domestic and foreign mail. A single 8-cent stamp could also pay the two times foreign five-cents-per-ounce plus three-cents-per-additional-ounce letter rate initiated October 1, 1907.

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