ABOUT THE WHITE HOUSE * FIRST LADIES
about_first_ladies_marthawashington Martha Washington
about_first_ladies_abigailadams Abigail Adams
about_first_ladies_marthajefferson Martha Jefferson
about_first_ladies_dolleymadison Dolley Madison
about_first_ladies_elizabethmonroe Elizabeth Monroe
about_first_ladies_louisaadams Louisa Adams
about_first_ladies_racheljackson Rachel Jackson
about_first_ladies_hannahvanburen Hannah Van Buren
about_first_ladies_annaharrison Anna Harrison
about_first_ladies_letitiatyler Letitia Tyler
about_first_ladies_juliatyler Julia Tyler
about_first_ladies_sarahpolk Sarah Polk
about_first_ladies_margarettaylor Margaret Taylor
about_first_ladies_abigailfillmore Abigail Fillmore
about_first_ladies_janepierce Jane Pierce
about_first_ladies_harrietlane Harriet Lane
about_first_ladies_marylincoln Mary Lincoln
about_first_ladies_elizajohnson Eliza Johnson
about_first_ladies_juliagrant Julia Grant
about_first_ladies_lucyhayes Lucy Hayes
about_first_ladies_lucretiagarfield Lucretia Garfield
about_first_ladies_ellenarthur Ellen Arthur
about_first_ladies_francescleveland Frances Cleveland
about_first_ladies_carolineharrison Caroline Harrison
about_first_ladies_francescleveland Frances Cleveland
about_first_ladies_idamckinley Ida McKinley
about_first_ladies_edithroosevelt Edith Roosevelt
about_first_ladies_helentaft Helen Taft
about_first_ladies_ellenwilson Ellen Wilson
about_first_ladies_edithwilson Edith Wilson
about_first_ladies_florenceharding Florence Harding
about_first_ladies_gracecoolidge Grace Coolidge
about_first_ladies_louhoover Lou Hoover
about_first_ladies_eleanorroosevelt Eleanor Roosevelt
about_first_ladies_besstruman Elizabeth Truman
about_first_ladies_mamieeisenhower Mamie Eisenhower
about_first_ladies_jacquelinekennedy Jacqueline Kennedy
about_first_ladies_ladybirdjohnson Claudia Johnson
about_first_ladies_patnixon Patricia Nixon
about_first_ladies_bettyford Elizabeth Ford
about_first_ladies_rosalynncarter Rosalynn Carter
about_first_ladies_nancyreagan Nancy Reagan
about_first_ladies_barbarabush Barbara Bush
about_first_ladies_hillaryclinton Hillary Clinton
about_first_ladies_laurabush Laura Bush
administration_michelle_obama Michelle Obama
DOLLEY PAYNE TODD MADISON
b.1768 -- d.1849
For half a century she was the most important woman in the social circles of America. To this day she remains one of the best known and best loved ladies of the White House--though often referred to, mistakenly, as Dorothy or Dorothea.
She always called herself Dolley, and by that name the New Garden Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends, in Piedmont, North Carolina, recorded her birth to John and Mary Coles Payne, settlers from Virginia. In 1769 John Payne took his family back to his home colony, and in 1783 he moved them to Philadelphia, city of the Quakers. Dolley grew up in the strict discipline of the Society, but nothing muted her happy personality and her warm heart.
John Todd, Jr., a lawyer, exchanged marriage vows with Dolley in 1790. Just three years later he died in a yellow-fever epidemic, leaving his wife with a small son.
By this time Philadelphia had become the capital city. With her charm and her laughing blue eyes, fair skin, and black curls, the young widow attracted distinguished attention. Before long Dolley was reporting to her best friend that "the great little Madison has asked...to see me this evening."
Although Representative James Madison of Virginia was 17 years her senior, and Episcopalian in background, they were married in September 1794. The marriage, though childless, was notably happy; "our hearts understand each other," she assured him. He could even be patient with Dolley's son, Payne, who mishandled his own affairs--and, eventually, mismanaged Madison's estate.
Discarding the somber Quaker dress after her second marriage, Dolley chose the finest of fashions. Margaret Bayard Smith, chronicler of early Washington social life, wrote: "She looked a Queen...It would be absolutely impossible for any one to behave with more perfect propriety than she did."
Blessed with a desire to please and a willingness to be pleased, Dolley made her home the center of society when Madison began, in 1801, his eight years as Jefferson's Secretary of State. She assisted at the White House when the President asked her help in receiving ladies, and presided at the first inaugural ball in Washington when her husband became Chief Executive in 1809.
Dolley's social graces made her famous. Her political acumen, prized by her husband, is less renowned, though her gracious tact smoothed many a quarrel. Hostile statesmen, difficult envoys from Spain or Tunisia, warrior chiefs from the west, flustered youngsters--she always welcomed everyone. Forced to flee from the White House by a British army during the War of 1812, she returned to find the mansion in ruins. Undaunted by temporary quarters, she entertained as skillfully as ever.
At their plantation Montpelier in Virginia, the Madisons lived in pleasant retirement until he died in 1836. She returned to the capital in the autumn of 1837, and friends found tactful ways to supplement her diminished income. She remained in Washington until her death in 1849, honored and loved by all. The delightful personality of this unusual woman is a cherished part of her country's history.
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