Dolley Madison was Born a Tar Heel

Dolley MadisonAll this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina women’s history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit on the women of our state’s past.

In an era when male soldiers and politicians usually dominated, Dolley Madison, First Lady of the United States and Washington socialite, exemplified the dutiful wife and tactful hostess who achieved with charm what her husband accomplished with command. Born Dolley Payne in 1768 in Guilford County, her family moved to Virginia and later to Philadelphia. Widowed young Madison met senator and future president James Madison through mutual acquaintance Aaron Burr in 1794. The couple married less than a year later. While Madison served as Secretary of State for the widowed Thomas Jefferson, Dolley Madison became the unofficial “first lady,” hosting events for politicians and international guests. The 1809 inauguration of her husband, therefore, made for an easy transition to the role of the president’s wife. She emerged from the War of 1812 a heroine of American history, deftly rescuing several official documents and a portrait of George Washington from a White House the British had set alight. As a socialite and hostess, Madison knew all of the first 11 presidents on a first-name basis.  A lifelong patron of the arts and sciences, she promoted social progress into the middle of the 19th century.

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