Mary Custis Lee
Lesson Plan

The Importance of Mary Custis Lee during the Civil War and Reconstruction

Subject: US/VA History

Grade: 11th

Brief Description: Students will learn about Mary Custis Lee and her role events of Robert E. Lee and the Civil War. Students will also learn about the general role of women during this time period and why Mary Custis Lee was so important. The lesson plan will incorporate group work learning and independent study. This lesson will span 3 class periods.


-Students will learn about Mary Custis Leeís role during the time period of the Civil War and Reconstruction and her connection to Arlington, VA by reading a packet provided by the teacher and completing a packet of worksheets provided by the teacher.

-Students will be able to complete a mini-project of their groupís choosing.

-Students will complete a PowerPoint test with at least 80% accuracy in order to maintain memory of information covered in class.

Standards of Learning

-VUS.1   The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis, including the ability to

a)      identify, analyze, and interpret primary and secondary source documents,records, and data, including artifacts, diaries, letters, photographs, journals, newspapers, historical accounts, and art to increase understanding of events and life in the United States;

b)      evaluate the authenticity, authority, and credibility of sources;

c)      formulate historical questions and defend findings based on inquiry and interpretation;

d)      develop perspectives of time and place, including the construction of maps and various time lines of events, periods, and personalities in American history;

e)      communicate findings orally and in analytical essays and/or comprehensive papers;

f)        develop skills in discussion, debate, and persuasive writing with respect to enduring issues and determine how divergent viewpoints have beenaddressed and reconciled;

g)      apply geographic skills and reference sources to understand how relationships between humans and their environment have changed over time;

h)      interpret the significance of excerpts from famous speeches and other documents.

VUS.7    The student will demonstrate knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era and its importance as a major turning point in American history by

a)      identifying the major events and the roles of key leaders of the Civil War Era, with emphasis on Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Frederick Douglass;

Key Words:

Mary Custis Lee, Robert E. Lee, Freemanís Village, Civil War, Reconstruction, role of slavery

Materials Needed:

Supplemental Resources

PowerPoint Test

Butcher Block Paper

Color markers or colored pencils

Paper and Pencil



Day 1:

  1. Teacher will open the lesson by questioning the students about their knowledge of Robert E. Lee. The teacher will instruct the students to write down their thoughts about Robert E. Lee on a piece of paper, in one column. In the other column, the teacher will instruct the students to write down their thoughts about Robert E. Leeís wife. The teacher will not name Mary Custis Lee, but will let the students try and see if they know. The teacher will use this activity as a opening to the lesson plan.
  2. The teacher will introduce the lesson about a great pioneer in womenís history, Mary Custis Lee. The students will be placed in 4 to 5 heterogeneous groups and each group will be given a packet of information.  The packet of information will be provided by the teacher. The groups will also be given a packet of worksheets and a list of possible mini-projects that they will be able to choose from for a formal assessment.
  3. The groups will use the packet of information on Mary Custis Lee to complete the worksheets. During the group work time the teacher will walk around the classroom, assisting students and conducting informal assessment for the activity. The students will be given the remainder of the class period to complete the worksheets and will be reminded that they will need the worksheets to complete the mini-projects that they will be working on the next class period.

Day 2:

  1. The students will begin the class day by reviewing some of the things they learned the previous class period. The teacher will have the students form their original groups where they will begin working on their mini-projects. These projects are named mini-projects because they will be able to complete and present their projects by the end of one class period (if it is a block schedule time period).
  2. The teacher will provide the necessary materials for the mini-projects (i.e. butcher block paper for the timeline, computer for the PowerPoint presentation). Each group will be completing a different mini-project, so multiple areas of the life and importance of Mary Custis Lee are covered.
  3. Each group will complete a 3-5 minute presentation of their mini-projects at the conclusion of class. As each group presents, other groups will actively listen to the information being presented. Students will be asked to take notes on any information they may not be familiar with or remember from the worksheets. The day will be concluded with the students completing their presentations.

Day 3:

  1. The students will be in the computer lab this period. The teacher will have prepared a 10 question PowerPoint mini-quiz review of the information they have covered about Mary Custis Lee. The students will work on this activity by themselves, and will be able to print out the correct responses for their notebooks.
  2. The teacher will allow for some question and answer time during this period, so that students will be able to understand any material which they may not have understood during the PowerPoint mini-quiz.
  3. The students will be able to use the final 45 minutes of class to type a 5 paragraph essay which they will answer 1 of 2 questions that are provided by the teacher. The questions will incorporate information from the worksheets, presentation and PowerPoint mini-quiz. The students will be not be able to use their notes for this essay. The purpose of the essay is for students to put their knowledge in written format. The students will receive a rubric prior to beginning work on the essay. The essay will be printed out and turned in for a formal assessment at the end of class.
  4. The students will be given a bonus question in which they will be asked to link Mary Custis Leeís importance with the role of Robert E. Lee during the Civil War and Reconstruction.


This lesson plan will incorporate both informal and formal assessment. The informal assessment will take place throughout day 1 and 2 and during the PowerPoint mini-quiz on day 3. The formal assessment will be the final grading of the essay turned in at the conclusion of day 3. The rubric for the graded essay will be provided in the Appendix section of this lesson plan.


Websites Consulted for Packet:








Supplemental Resources

Mini Projects Assignment

Please select one of the following choices for your mini project. All groups are expected to work together to complete this assignment.


Complete a timeline of Mary Custis Leeís life. Include all important dates with a description of the event that occurred. Use colored markers and attempt to incorporate any original illustrations. Be prepared to give a short presentation of your project to the class.

PowerPoint Presentation

Complete a 7-9 slide PowerPoint presentation about some aspect of Mary Custis Leeís life. Only one group will be able to produce this project (because there is only one computer in our classroom), so make sure to sign up early for this mini project. Be prepared to give a short presentation of your project to the class.


Complete 2-3 illustrations depicting events in Mary Custis Leeís life. These should be colorful and include a brief 2-3 sentence description at the bottom. Be prepared to give a short presentation of your project to the class.

Family Tree

Create a family tree which depicts the lineage of Mary Custis Leeís family. You should include her parents and her children along with her husband. Include one fact about each person on the family tree. Be prepared to give a short presentation of your project to the class.


Create a map of Mary Custis Leeís house in relation to Arlington, VA. The map should be detailed with significant locations identified. Be prepared to give a short presentation of your project to the class.

Remember: Supplies for this project will be provided by the teacher. These supplies include: butcher block paper, markers, rulers, scissors, and glue.


Information Packet on Mary Custis Lee 

Letter from Mary Custis Lee to Mrs. William Henry Stiles

This letter, dated 9 February 1861, was written by Mary Custis [Mrs. Robert E.] Lee to her friend, Mrs. William Henry Stiles of Savannah, Georgia. It tells how both Lees felt about South Carolinaís intention to separate from the Union. Mrs. Leeís comment on the unrest of the Arlington slaves resulted from the difficulties Lee encountered when he became executor of his father-in-lawís Arlington estate. The situation was seemingly unsolvable; Lee was in charge of emancipating the Arlington slaves, according to the instructions in George Washington Parke Custisí will. However, the will provided that the slaves be freed only after the estate debts were paid. Arlington was deeply in debt when Lee took over as executor, and the only way that the estate could make money was for the slaves to work. When word about the emancipation spread through the slave community, they no longer wanted to work and some slaves ran away. It is difficult to determine to what extent this negative experience with slavery influenced Leeís views.

From :

Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee

ary Anna Randolph Custis was born on October 1, 1808, the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Custis and Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis.As a young girl, the diminutive and vivacious Mary, would play with Robert E. Lee when he and his family visited Arlington House and the two became very close. As a teenager, Mary had her fair share of suitors, including a young congressman from Tennessee named Sam Houston. But, her heart was set on Robert E. Lee. When Lee proposed to her in the summer of 1830, Mary accepted.

The Lees married in the family parlor at Arlington House June 30, 1831. Their marriage produced seven children, six of them born in the dressing room adjoining the Lee's bedroom, according to family tradition. From all appearances, the Lees had a warm and loving family life.

Mary Lee's own correspondence and a diary kept by her daughter, Agnes, paint a vivid picture of her personality. Though sometimes criticized for her housekeeping by her husband, she was a gracious hostess and enjoyed having frequent visitors at Arlington. An artist like her father, she painted delicate landscapes, still on view in the house. Mary was also an avid gardener like her mother. She loved roses and grew 11 varieties in her flower garden at Arlington House. As a young girl, she selected the second floor bedroom which looked out onto her flower garden. She and Robert used this room as the Master bedroom after their marriage.

Preferring to spend her time in domestic pursuits, Mary was not interested in the social scene of Washington, but being well educated, versed in both Greek and Latin, she frequently discussed politics with both her father and husband. She also kept abreast of new literature by reading and discussing many books. Her superior education and cultural interests made her eminently qualified to take on the job of editing and publishing her father's Recollections, a collection of news articles and reminisces of life at Mount Vernon with the Washingtons that he periodically contributed to the National Intelligencer. For years friends had urged Mr. Custis to publish these recollections but he had put it off. Mary Lee began the task shortly before her father died in 1857, and it occupied her for over two years. The book, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington by His Adopted Son, George Washington Parke Custis, with a Memoir of the Author by His Daughter, was published in 1860.

Closely following her mother's example, Mary Lee was very religious. She and her family attended an Episcopal church near army posts where ever they were stationed, and when they were at Arlington, the Lees usually attended Christ Church in Alexandriaóthe same church that both Mary and Robert had attended in their childhood. Mary followed the Custis family tradition of having family prayers after breakfast and each evening in the family parlor.

Again following the example of her mother, Mary Lee taught Arlington slave women to sew, read and write. Advocating the idea of eventual emancipation, Mary wanted to ensure that all of the enslaved people, would be able to support themselves when they were freed.

During her adulthood, Mary developed severe rheumatoid arthritis and became increasingly debilitated as she grew older. To help with the pain, Mary and her family often visited many spas and springs that were reputed to improve health. In letters to her husband, she tried to downplay her illness, but it took its toll as the years passed. By the 1850s Mary organized her daily routine so that she climbed the stairs only twice each day, coming down in the morning and going back up at bedtime. Upon the outbreak of the war, she was walking with difficulty and by the end of 1861 she was confined to a wheelchairóno doubt due to in part to her nomadic existence, moving from plantation to plantation, and the stress of not knowing what was happening to her husband and sons.

Following Robert E. Lee's resignation from the U.S. Army on April 22, 1861, he pleaded with Mary to evacuate Arlington House as Union forces were certain to occupy the property. But leaving behind her family home, the Washington relics and the Arlington slaves was difficult for Mary and she delayed. It was only the knowledge that her husband was so deeply concerned for her safety that convinced her to leave on May 15, 1861. As she wrote in a letter to General Winfield Scott a few days earlier, ìWere it not that I would not add one feather to his load of care, nothing would induce me to abandon my home.î

Mary and her daughters moved between several family plantations before settling in Richmond where they spent most of the War. Although confined to a wheelchair and in nearly constant pain, she worked hard to support her husband and the Confederate war effort. Throughout the war, she and her daughters knitted socks for Confederate soldiers, which she sent to her husband by the hundreds to distribute to his men.

After the Civil War, Mary accompanied Robert to Lexington, Virginia where he became the president of Washington College, later named Washington & Lee University. Arlington was very important to her and she never quite got over its loss. ìLife is waning away, and with the exception of my own immediate family, I am cut off from all I have ever known & loved in my youth & my dear old Arlington I cannot bear to think of that used as it is now & so little hope of my ever getting there again. I do not think I can die in peace until I have seen it once more.î

Mary Lee did visit Arlington a few months before her death in 1873. Unable to get out of the carriage, one of her former slaves, brought her a drink of water from the well. ìI rode out to my dear old home but so changed it seemed but a dream of the pastóI could not have realised (sic) it was Arlington but for the few old oaks they had spared & the trees planted by the Genl and myself which are raising their tall branches to the Heaven which seems to smile on the desecration around them.î

Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee died on November 5, 1873 at the age of 66. She is buried next to her husband on the Washington & Lee campus in Lexington, Virginia.


Essay Rubric

 Please include the following for your graded essay:

 Five paragraph essay format including three main ideas with supporting sentences (10pts.)

 Accurate information included (7pts.)

 Well supported ideas (opinions must be followed up by fact) (3pts.)

 Grammar and spelling (5pts.)


Bonus question will be worth a possible 2pts!!!!!