By Sherri Coner, Contributing Writer
Stoughton – When Sandy Spector dons favorite items from her wardrobe, such as heavy wool skirts that sweep the floor, high collar satin blouses, elegant gloves and maybe a long black cloak in cold weather, her identity merges perfectly with Martha Washington’s life.
“There is something very familiar and comforting about it,” Spector said of reenacting President George Washington’s wife. “Clothing plays a big part of it for me. When I dress in 18th century clothing, I feel complete, at home.”
Childhood history lessons lead to adulthood interests
Living across the road for a while from Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania provided unique opportunities for Spector to fall in love with American history. When she was a first grader, Spector’s father introduced her to the creative magic happening at the sprawling 3500-acre historic site. In awe, she took in the stories and the monuments dotting the landscape of what some people still call “the birthplace of the American Army.”
Watching a Revolutionary War reenactment that day with her dad had a lasting effect.
“That was my first experience with living history,” Spector said. “And I never lost the desire to be a part of it.”
From reenactment fan to participant
As a young wife and mom, Spector met John Koopman III in 1999. She was enthralled by his participation in the 10th Massachusetts Regiment, reenacting scenes from the Revolutionary War. When Koopman invited the Spector family to try reenacting, Spector’s husband, Michael, and their two oldest offspring — both preschoolers at the time — dressed in period clothing and stepped into yesterday. But just as quickly, they all stepped out again.
Though her family preferred cartoons, running water and electricity, Spector discovered her niche. “I found my happy place,” she said. “I was an active member of the regiment for years. Then I moved on to interpreting civilian life with other groups.”
Becoming Martha Washington
Though Koopman played George Washington for 11 years in various reenactment roles, he always knew the role would be greatly enhanced if Mrs. Martha Washington could be added to the scenes. Without a Martha character in the mix, many stories about the couple’s 40 years together were simply left untold. When he considered possibilities for who might play Martha Washington best, “Only one lady came to mind. Sandy is not only the right height, but she already had some personality traits of Martha,” Koopman said.
Thrilled by Koopman’s invitation, Spector wasted no time gathering history about Martha, such as the fact that Martha was a 25-year-old widow and mother of four when she and George tied the knot. However, they never had a child together. Of course, studying historical facts about Martha was important, but just as Koopman expected, Spector’s personality brought Martha to life. Bubbly and social like Martha Washington, Spector also adores children and joyfully lives life, which is exactly how Mrs. Washington is remembered.
Martha goes virtual
While adhering to pandemic home restrictions for more than a year, this non-profit administrator for various Jewish organizations started thinking about how to take Martha Washington’s persona to places she had never seen before. Spector chose some of Martha’s clothing, tied back her naturally curly tresses and easily slipped into Martha’s character. And then, Mrs. Washington virtually began to visit classrooms, senior centers, civic clubs and library programs using the Zoom video meeting platform.
Martha’s visits spanned several states, and audience interest in her fun, warm persona was immediate. This Zoom-based history lesson is so popular that Spector launched the website www.themrswashington.com to help her reach a broader audience with her virtual programs.
Despite the demands of her day job and Martha Washington programs, Spector still finds some time to spend with her children, and go on hiking adventures with her husband. Yes, her life can be hectic. But it is overflowing with all that she loves best. “Everything I am involved in is something I believe in one hundred percent. How many people get to say that?” she observed.