Dolley Madison was one of the most influential women of the Founding Era. As the wife of James Madison, she is remembered for her social graces, which she used to bolster political support for her husband. She was the only First Lady given an honorary seat on the floor of Congress.
Dolley Payne Todd Madison was born on May 20, 1768, in Guilford County, North Carolina. She grew up in a Quaker family and did not receive any formal schooling. In 1790, she married John Tood, Jr. They had one son before Todd died of yellow fever.
After Dolley’s father died in 1792, Dolley’s mother rented rooms in their home. One of their borders was Aaron Burr, who would later introduce Dolley to his friend James Madison. Dolley married Madison, who was 17 years her senior, in 1794.
When Madison was appointed Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson, the couple moved to Washington, D.C. Their home became the center of society. Dolley helped Thomas Jefferson, who was a widow, when he entertain foreign dignities and political figures.
When James Madison was elected President in 1808, Dolley already had practice being a White House hostess. When Madison was inaugurated on March 4, 1809, Madison presided over the first inaugural ball.
During Madison’s two terms of office, Dolley further refined the role of First Lady during his tenure, decorated the Executive Mansion of the White House, and entertained visitors in her drawing room. Her charm and ease were a great asset to President Madison, as Dolley often used her social connections to help him further his political goals. Dolley was also first president’s wife to establish a public charity project, sponsoring a home for orphaned girls.
During the War of 1812, Dolley was forced to flee the White House as the British Army burned Washington, D.C. According to legend, Dolley helped ensure that a large portrait of George Washington was removed from the White House and brought to safety. When the Madisons returned to Washington, Dolley resumed her social duties as a testament to country’s resilience.
JWhen Madison left office, he and Dolley retired to their plantation Montpelier in Virginia. After Madison died in 1836, Dolley moved back to Washington, D.C. Dolley Madison died on July 12, 1849. She was 81 year old.