Women’s History Month: Local Museums Celebrate Martha Washington, Catheryna Rombout Brett, and Janet Livingston Montgomery
Ladies first: In honor of Women’s History Month, we celebrate the contributions of a diverse trio of Valley females
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The entrance to Montgomery Place, Janet Livingston Montgomery’s home in Dutchess County. Washington and Montgomery were friends
Janet Livingston Montgomery
One of Martha Washington’s local friends was Janet Livingston Montgomery. She and her husband, Richard Montgomery, came from two of the earliest and wealthiest families that settled in the Valley. When Richard became the first officer killed in the Revolutionary War — at the Battle of Quebec in 1775 — Janet took on an even more important role: the country’s first widow.
“She became an 18th-century Jackie Kennedy,” says Ray Armater, site director of Montgomery Place in Annandale-on-Hudson. “With his death, the nation starts to mourn the war, and the family represents the ultimate patriots.”
Just 35 years old at the time, Janet would outlive her husband by 53 years. And much like Jackie, she helped preserve her husband’s memory while still making a life of her own. The memorial is Montgomery Place. “She builds the place as a shrine to her husband,” Armater says. “And time is good to her cause. The house is finished in 1804, and soon after that Fulton’s steamboat comes to the river. The Hudson Valley became a place of pilgrimage for tourists. Boat tours would slow down at Revolutionary War sites like West Point and Kingston, as well as Montgomery Place.”
But Janet was far more than just an icon. She was also a descendent of early Dutch landowners. The Dutch empowered women to be strong businesspeople. Her estate was a working farm, producing fruit trees, lumber, and other products of the land. Indeed, Montgomery Place is still a working farm — one of the last historic riverfront estates that remains in business.
She also stayed interested in the business of the new country. She visited the Washingtons often, and attended the ball after his first inauguration. In 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette called on her at Montgomery Place during his return visit to America.
But perhaps the most telling image of her comes to pass in 1818, when her husband’s remains were moved from Quebec to New York City. On July 4, the boat that carried him down the Hudson passed by her home. Janet, standing on her porch to watch, fainted at the sight, 43 years after his death.
“Hers is a politics-slash-love story,” Armater says. “Here’s this young couple, amazingly in love, he’s killed, she never remarries, remains totally devoted to his memory, and also plays an important role in the political and economic growth of the country.”
Visiting Montgomery Place:
Montgomery Place, a 380-acre estate, is centered around the mansion, which features a Classical Revival exterior. But a significant highlight of the site is its grounds. The terrace and north pavilion serve up glorious views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. The woodland trails, laid out more than 100 years ago, lead through a hemlock and mixed hardwood forest to the postcard-worthy waterfalls of the Saw Kill. Lush perennial, annual, and herb gardens dot the grounds, and you can even buy fruit produced by the estate’s orchards at the site’s farmstand.
Grounds open daily, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. year-round. Admission is free. House tours: May 19-Oct. 28, Thurs.-Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $10, under 5 free