Dorothy “Dolley” Madison
American Social Leader
1772 – 1849 A.D.
Dorothy Madison, an American social leader, remembered as Dolley Madison, the most popular of the “ladies of the white House.”
She was the daughter of John Payne, a North Carolina planter, and in 1786 her parents moved to Philadelphia, Mr. Payne having sold his plantation and freed his slaves. When nineteen she was married to John Todd, a wealthy lawyer by whom she had two children, but a few years later she lost her husband and baby who were stricken by yellow fever.
As a rich and very attractive young widow, she was now courted by many admirers, and among them was a member of Congress, James Madison, future President of the United States. In September, 1794, they were married at Harewood, the home of the bride’s sister in Virginia. The union of the lovable widow of 22, and the scholarly bachelor of forty-three, was most happy and lasted over forty years.
When Madison became President in 1809, his wife showed an unusual fitness for her position. Henry Clay voiced the common sentiment, and said, “Everybody loves Mrs. Madison,” to which she replied with truth, “Mrs. Madison loves everybody.”
She was an excellent counsellor [sic] for her husband, who prized her common sense and good judgment. Her dress, her manner, her language, never gave occasion or criticism, her power of adaptation was marvelous – and during President Madison’s administration, she was said to be the most popular person in the United States.
She lived to be seventy-seven, surviving her husband thirteen years. One of her biographers, Sarah Knowles Bolton says: “Dolly [sic] Madison won the heart of the nation. She will ever be remembered as a woman whose loveliness of disposition and cheerful, helpful nature were only equaled by her beauty and her grace.”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.