Dolly Payne Todd Madison, wife of former United States President James Madison, friend of the reserved John and Abigail Adams and protégée of George and Martha Washington, was once described as a “national institution” by President Andrew Jackson. She was born on the 20th of May 1768 in New Garden, North Carolina to John, Jr. and Mary Coles Payne, who were aristocratic Quakers.
Grown up in Virginia on a Payne plantation known as Scotchtown, Dolly claimed both states as her home, but would refer to herself as being a native of Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania later in her life. She was able to withstand personal tragedies to become a very influential First Lady who was devoted to her family and country. Here are more interesting facts about Dolley Madison.
1. She Survived One Of The Worst Epidemics In American History.
In August 1793, an epidemic of yellow fever swept over Philadelphia, which was considered as the worst epidemic that hit an American city during that time. It caused the death of a great number of people, including Dolley’s first husband John Todd and second born child. Though she became ill as well, she eventually recovered after a long fight, but left her as a widow having to take care of her remaining son, Payne.
2. Being The Wife Of Former President James Madison, She Was Witness To Some Of The Most Important Events That Occurred In The US.
Dolly and James were witness and, at times, were directly involved in significant events in American history, including the inauguration of John Adams as president in 1797, the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and the appointment of James himself as Secretary of State. They also saw the capital being moved to Washington, D.C. in 1800, Napoleon gaining Louisiana from Spain and the US buying the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, which doubled the size of the country. Aside from these events, they also saw how the British-American War came about.
3. She Made Her Presence Felt In Washington During Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency.
Since former President Jefferson was a widower, he frequently called on the vivacious and smart Dolley to serve as his first lady during official functions. Dolley also helped develop and decorate the White House.
4. She Saved a Painting Of George Washington During The British Invasion Of The White House.
An important episode in the making of Dolley’s persona happened during the War of 1812. As the British forces attacked Washington in 1814, she ordered some staff members of the White House to save a portrait of George Washington from the flames, before fleeing the city.
5. She Had a Significant Contribution To The Lewis And Clark Expedition.
Dolley was very influential in the efforts to financially support the Lewis and Clark Expedition or the Corps of Discovery Expedition, which was the first expedition in the US that crossed what we know now as the western portion of the country. The explorers, under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and 2nd Lieutenant William Clark, departed in May 1804 from near Saint Louis and made their way westward to the Pacific Coast through the continental divide. To support the group, Dolley and all her lady friends donated many items for the expedition.
6. She Was Kind Of a Party Animal.
Well, Dolley may not be that kind of party animal, but she loved to throw a good party at the White House. As soon as her husband got elected and moved to D.C., she wasted no time and started throwing very elaborate parties that received up to 400 guests each time. These parties then became known as a setting for people with all kinds of political background to get together and become acquainted with each other. Unfortunately for the last party she threw, the place caught on fire, which forced the people to evacuate and leave a table set for 40 behind.
7. She Was a Social Butterfly With a Personality That Attracted Everybody.
Even after her role as First Lady ended, Dolly was still invited to participate in very elite First Lady activities. According to fun facts about American history, Samuel F.B Morse particularly chose her to be the first “private citizen to send a telegraph with his new telegraph machine”.
8. She Was Kind Of a Charmer.
As an excellent conversationalist, Dolley was able to easily discover the political views of her companions and often guided them towards the opinions of former President Madison. She was able to form alliances with the wives of other politicians and was often seen settling disputes. With her elegant fashion sense and grand White House style, she inspired the admiration of most people she met. Moreover, she took part in a lot of charitable activities, which included serving on boards for various organizations, supporting a home for orphaned girls, raising funds for good causes and even associating with Catholic nuns.
9. She Was Given An Honorary Seat In The US Congress.
Upon the death of her husband, Dolley outlived him and moved back to Washington. In her return, she was actually given an honorary seat in the Congress, and what makes it more interesting is that this occurred during a time when women were not nearly treated as equal to men, unlike they are in this modern times. They just remain in the background most of the time, so this should have been a great honor for Dolly.
There could be plenty more interesting facts about Dolley Madison that you could find and consider as some kind of inspiration. To end this article, here is one of the best quotes from this charming and smart First Lady: “It’s one of my sources of happiness never to desire knowledge of other people’s business.” There is certainly a lot to say about this notion, but one sure thing is that Dolley has managed to achieve her great status by always including a sense of happiness in everything she did.