We all know what George Washington looked like. There are many well-known paintings and the museum at Mount Vernon even displays a painstakingly accurate facial reconstruction to definitively show his appearance during his lifetime. We know he was a big, strapping guy (6’ 3”, which makes him equivalent to 6’ 9” today) with large shoulders and legs. But what did he sound like?
According to Steve Yoch, author of the new book “Becoming George Washington,” our first president didn’t sound like he looked. "We all imagine Washington as a strapping guy who had a voice to match,” says Yoch. “But Washington suffered from pleurisy (a viral infection that causes an inflammation in the lining of the lungs) as a child, and because of this he spoke in a high, weak and breathy voice.”
Washington’s contemporaries often described him as soft-spoken. Yoch says this undoubtedly came from his unexpectedly high voice and from his notoriously bad teeth, which gave him the habit of keeping his mouth closed to hide their unsightly appearance and the bad breath that comes with tooth decay.
As is so often the case with past presidents, Washington would have struggled in the modern era. “Certainly his dental problems could be corrected,” says Yoch, “but his quiet demeanor and high voice would not have played well in our modern 24/7 news cycle.”
For more about George Washington’s early life and his rise to prominence, visit www.becominggeorgewashington.com.