Few First Ladies had more influence on the social and political life of early America than Dolley Payne Todd Madison. As the wife of the fourth president of the United States, she played a key role in the development of the new nation's character and the quality of its public image.
Dolley Madison knew all of the presidents from George Washington to Zachary Taylor. She served as the White House hostess for President Thomas Jefferson. She was the official hostess during her husband's two terms in office. Until she died in 1849, Dolley was involved in the social life of Washington, D.C.--Alice K. Flanagan
-Dolley was born on May 20, 1768 in Guilford, North Carolina, but the family soon moved to Virginia.
-Her parents were Quakers (they are against war and believe in the equality of all people)
-Dolley attended a Quaker common school
-She had to dress in plain clothes, because Quakers didn't believe in jewelry or colorful clothes, etc... This was hard for Dolley because she loved pretty things.
-When she was 14, the Virginia Legislature passed a law which enabled slaveholders to free their slaves. Dolley's family were one of the first families to do this, and they then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
-In 1789, her father's business failed, and he ended up declaring bankruptcy.
-Dolley had many men pursuing her, but she finally accepted John Todd's proposal, so she wouldn't be an additional financial drain on her parents.
-She was 22 and John Todd was 27 when they got married on January 7, 1790.
-On February 29, 1792 she gave birth to a boy and they named him John Payne.
-In 1793, Dolley gave birth to another boy but both him and her husband died in on the same day in October from yellow fever.
-The next year she met James Madison and they were married on September 15, 1794. He was 17 years older than her and wasn't a Quaker, as a result the Quakers disowned her, but Dolley felt she was making the right decision.
First Lady Biography for Kids
-James was in Congress, so even though the Quaker society disowned Dolley, she flourished in the political society in Philadelphia. Also, now that she was no longer a Quaker, she could take advantage of the latest fashions.
-When Thomas Jefferson was elected President, he appointed James Madison to be the Secretary of State. Since, Jefferson was widowed, he asked Dolley to serve as the official White House Hostess.
-She developed her own style in Washington D.C. as hostess, and was the "undisputed fashion leader" there, ordering all of her gowns from France.
-After Jefferson's two terms in office, James Madison was elected President and he and Dolley moved into the White House on March 4, 1809.
-Congress provided the funds so Dolley could furnish the White House with the help of a decorator.
War of 1812 Archaeology
-On June 18, 1812 the War of 1812 began and the United States of America was again at war with the British.
-On August 24th, Dolley was alone at the White House with some servants. She fled before the British came and rescued many important documents and a painting of George Washington. This ended up being crucial since the British set the White House and the city of Washington on fire.
-After they left the White House, they retired to Montpelier. They continued to entertain and often gave dinner parties for political friends.
-When James Madison died on June 28, 1836, she experienced a great loss.
-He had been working on his historical papers detailing the discussions that led to developing the U.S. Constitution. Dolley had been helping him and after his death, she finally found a publisher, the U.S. Congress.
-She moved back to Washington in 1837 with her niece, Anna, leaving the care of Montpelier to her son. Her son Payne was constantly drinking and gambling and racking up debts as a result. Because of this, Dolley eventually had to sell the Montpelier estate to pay off his debts.
-She died on July 12, 1849 and was given a funeral fit for a president.
-There is a collection of Dolley Madison memorabilia on display at the Greensboro Historical Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina.
First Lady Links:
-National First Ladies Library
-C-Span Series on First Ladies
Reference Material that I checked out from the library:
-Dolley Madison--Barbara Witteman
-Dolley Madison: Her Life, Letters, and Legacy--Holly Shulman
-Dolley Madison: America's First Lady--Myra Weatherly
-Dolley Madison: America's First Lady (American Experience PBS DVD)
-A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation--Catherine Allgor
My Dolley Madison Books:
-Dolley Payne Todd Madison--Alice K. Flanagan
-America's First Ladies--Diana Dixon Healy
-First Ladies--Betty Boyd Caroli
-First Ladies of the White House--Nancy J. Skarmeas
-First Ladies: Presidential Historians on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women--Susan Swain, C-Span