Mary Anne Randolph Custis Lee
Mary Anne Randolph Curtis Lee, 1808-1875
In 1759, 27-year-old George Washington married rich widow Martha Parke Custis, who had two children, six-year-old John Parke Custis and four-year-old Martha Parke Custis. John died while serving as an aide to his stepfather during the Revolutionary War, leaving four young children. General Washington adopted two of the children, and they lived with him and their grandmother at Mount Vernon, their plantation in Virginia. Washington, childless himself, signed his letters to his adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis, as "your papa." Custis lived at Mount Vernon for 20 years and was close to Washington in his old age. Washington died in 1799; upon the 1802 death of Custis's grandmother, Mount Vernon reverted to the Washington family, and Custis built Arlington on the Potomac River's southern shore as his residence. Of the four children he had with his wife, Mary Lee Fitzhugh, the only one to survive infancy was Mary Anne Randolph Custis.
Mary Custis, a frail, blonde girl with aristocratic features , found herself being courted in the summer of 1830 by a distant relative and lifelong friend, Lt. Robert E. Lee. She succumbed to the charms of the intelligent and handsome young officer, and the two were wed at Arlington on June 30, 1831. Despite almost chronic ill health, Mary Lee bore seven children in 14 years. Robert was completely devoted to her, and even though he delighted in the company of pretty women,he was never led astray or involved in any scandal.
Mary referred to her husband as Mr. Lee, and even after the Civil War, when the South regarded him as a demigod, she would order Lee about and not hesitate to offer fiery opinions that differed from his. Yet she had a deep love and respect for her husband, and utter devotion bound the two together through the tragedies of her invalidism due to arthritis and his ultimately disastrous misfortune as the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
Though Mary Lee was a warm, gentle person, she was known as an untidy housekeeper and was generally unconcerned with her personal appearance. Once, after recovering from an illness, she found her hair so tangled that she took scissors and cut it off.