Did you know that First Lady Dolley Madison (sometimes misspelled as Dolly Madison), wife of President James Madison, saved the famous full-length portrait of George Washington (by artist Gilbert Stuart) from fire when the British burned the White House in 1814 (during the War of 1812)? Or that she played an important part in helping Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with their famous exploration of America?
Dolley remains one of the most popular first ladies in American history. Read on to learn some more fun facts about this fascinating lady!
Dolley Payne Todd Madison served as President Thomas Jefferson's unofficial hostess for his White House dinner parties. Jefferson was a widower, and Mrs. Madison had recently arrived in Washington, D.C. after President Jefferson appointed her husband, James Madison, as Secretary of State.
When Dolley's husband became President, she started hosting weekly parties for anybody who wished to attend. No invitation was necessary, and these parties often attracted up to 400 guests. The parties became a popular place to meet and mingle with others from all political backgrounds. The weekly parties were called "Wednesday drawing rooms," or "Mrs. Madison's crush or squeeze".
Mrs. Madison was a very popular and busy hostess during her stay at the White House. On her last day at the Presidential mansion, before she had to quickly evacuate due to the fire, the table was set for 40 dinner guests.Source: whitehousehistory.org
Dolley played an important role in the fund raising efforts for Lewis and Clark's expedition. Dolley and her lady friends donated many items for the explorers.
Always a beloved figure, even after her tenure as First Lady, Dolley was chosen by Samuel F. B. Morse to be the first private citizen to send a telegraph with his new telegraph machine.
When Dolley returned to Washington after her husband James Madison's death, she was given an honorary seat in Congress.
Dolley Madison had a pet parrot when she lived in the White House. According to the book Which President Killed a Man? Tantalizing Trivia and Fun Facts About Our Chief Executives and First Ladies, the parrot would announce to guests: "Constitution, constitution". Her husband James Madison was known as the Father of the Constitution, so this would be fitting for a Madison parrot!
You can watch the PBS "American Experience"episode about Dolley online. This is a great way to learn more about this fascinating woman.
To see a clip from that episode, watch the video below...
There really are not many Dolley Madison quotes to be found. Most of them come from the night that the White House was set on fire.
"It is done... the precious portrait placed in the hands of the gentlemen for safe keeping."
"It is one of my sources of happiness never to desire a knowledge of other people's business."
"And now, dear sister, I must leave this house or the retreating army will make me a prisoner in it by filling up the road I am directed to take."
"At this late hour a wagon has been procured, and I have had it filled with plate and the most valuable portable articles, belonging to the house."
"When I shall again write to you, or where I shall be tomorrow, I cannot tell."
To read more about Mrs. James Madison, you might enjoy Strength And Honor: The Life Of Dolley Madison