Best Known For
Dolley Madison is best known as the wife of United States President James Madison, who served from 1809 to 1817.
Dolley Madison - Mini Bio (3:04)
James Madison - War of 1812 (2:21)
Learn how first lady Dolley Madison saved one of America's first national treasures.
Dolley Madison's greatest legacy is establishing the idea that a First Lady should serve as the mother of a nation. She served as hostess of the White House by hosting social functions and establishing the chief role of the First Lady.
In 1812, James Madison became the first U.S. president to ask Congress to declare war. Find out why he wanted to wage war against Britain and how his constituents felt about it.
At just 5'4", James Madison was hardly a commanding presence, but that didn't stop him from shaping American history.
Think you know about Biography?
Answer questions and see how you rank against other players.Play Now
The Madisons, including Dolley’s son Payne, moved to Washington, along with their domestic slaves from Montpelier.
Dolley Madison made her presence felt in Washington. Since Thomas Jefferson was a widower, he frequently called on the smart and vivacious Dolley to serve as his first lady at official functions. Dolley also contributed to the development and decoration of the White House—the first official presidential residence in the new United States.
In 1808, the Democratic-Republican caucus nominated James Madison to succeed Jefferson. He won two terms in office, serving from 1809 to 1817. Dolley’s weekly gatherings contributed to her husband’s popularity as president and provided a social setting for politicking.
A significant episode in the construction of Dolley’s persona occurred during the War of 1812. As the British army neared Washington in 1814, Dolley Madison ordered that White House staff save a portrait of George Washington from the flames. Dolley Madison fled the city, crossing the Potomac into Virginia. A few days later, she returned to the city, where she continued to host parties, maintaining the social vitality of the badly damaged capital.
In 1817, James Madison retired from public life, and he and Dolley returned to the Montpelier plantation in Virginia. They remained in Virginia until James Madison’s death on June 28, 1836.
Dolley’s financial situation had been weakened by the exploits of her son, Payne Todd. In 1830, Todd went to debtors’ prison in Philadelphia. The Madisons sold land and mortgaged half of the Montpelier plantation to pay his debts.
After James Madison’s death, Dolley organized and copied her husband’s papers over the course of a year. Congress authorized $55,000 as payment for editing and publishing seven volumes of the Madison papers. Dolley’s son and her sister Anna stayed with her during this time.
In the fall of 1837, a year after her husband’s death, Dolley Madison returned to Washington, moving into a house on Lafayette Square. She left Todd in charge of Montpelier, but it quickly became apparent that his alcoholism rendered him unable to maintain the plantation properly. Dolley first attempted to sell the remainder of James Madison’s papers to help support her son. Unable to find a buyer, she sold Montpelier and its remaining slaves.
Dolley Madison died at her home in Washington in 1849. She was 81. Initially buried at the Congressional Cemetery, she was later was re-interred at Montpelier, where she lies next to her husband.
© 2013 A+E Networks. All rights reserved.
profile name: Dolley Madison profile occupation:
Sign in with Facebook to see how you and your friends are connected to famous icons.
Your Friends' Connections
Included In These Groups
The wives of U.S. presidents are often important American figures in their own right. Although they have no official responsibilities, first ladies are a highly visible part of U.S. government. The role of the first lady has evolved over the centuries, from hostess of the White House to advocates for public policy. Learn about the different causes first ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama have championed over the years, from literacy to addiction to health care reform.
U.S. First Ladies 45 people in this group
Famous Taureans 561 people in this group
Famous People Born in North Carolina 66 people in this group