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Dolley Payne (Todd) Madison

(1768 - 1849)

First Lady from March 4, 1801 to March 4, 1817

Dolley Madison

First Lady

Click here to read Dolley Madison's letter concerning the burning of Washington DC

Dolley Madison ,was born Dolley Payne in Guilford County, N. C., on May 20, 1768. Her family moved to Virginia when she was an infant, and she spent the first 15 years of her life there. In 1783 her Quaker parents moved to Philadelphia, where, in 1790, she married Quaker lawyer John Todd, Jr. They had two children: one died in 1793 during the same yellow-fever epidemic that took her husband's life; the other was John Payne Todd. She married Congressman James Madison, 17 years her senior, on Sept. 15, 1794. The marriage, though childless, was apparently a very happy one.

Mrs. Madison first served as "unofficial first lady" during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, a widower, while her husband served as secretary of state. During her husband's presidency (1809-1817), she became the unquestioned center of Washington society. Noted for her graciousness and charm as well as her ability to entertain guests and preside at dinners, she was best known for her Wednesday evening receptions where politicians, diplomats and the general public gathered. At a time of intense party rivalries, these gatherings helped to soothe some of the tensions between Federalists and Republicans. Correspondence indicates that not only was she an effective counter balance to her husband's rather colorless public personality, but that her influence on Madison's political decisions was not in the least insignificant. Notably, during the British invasion of Washington in 1814, she escaped to Virginia carrying important state papers, a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, and other personal valuables.

Retiring to Virginia in 1817, the Madison's continued to entertain lavishly. After her husband's death in 1836, Mrs. Madison returned to Washington where her home once again became a center of social life. Her last public appearance was at a ball given for President Polk in 1848. She died in Washington on July 12, 1849.

Dolley Payne Madison was the wife of President James Madison and one of the most famous First Ladies in U. S. History.

A full address leaf, Free Frank "Free D.P. Madison" by her at the upper right, and addressed in her hand to Miss Mary E.E. Cutts in Washington. With a very dark circular red "Orange C.H. VA June 8" postmark Black seal with "DM" initials is intact.

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