Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, fourth president of the United States, died July 12, 1849. She was 81.
Madison was born Dolley Payne on May 20, 1768 in Guilford County, North Carolina. Her family moved to Philadelphia when Dolley was 15. She grew up in the rigid confines of the Quaker Society of Friends.
In 1790 she married John Todd Jr. They had two children. In 1793 her husband and one of their children died in a yellow fever epidemic.
She soon met James Madison, who represented Virginia in the U.S. Congress. They were married in 1794. Seventeen years older than Dolley, the couple would be married for 42 years, but had no children of their own. Dolley’s son, John Payne, would be the only child in the household.
When her husband became Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State in 1801, Dolley assisted in social events at the White House since Jefferson was a widower.
And when her husband became president in 1809, Dolley came into her own as a First Lady with both social and political skills. It is said that she could charm and appease statesmen, diplomats and politicians who were at odds with either the president or themselves.
When the War of 1812 resulted in the capital and the White House being ransacked and burned by the British, the story is told that Dolley was the cool head who tore the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington from its frame and took it with her as she fled the White House.
After their White House years, the Madisons returned to their plantation home in Virginia where they had seventeen years of retirement together. When her husband died in 1836, she moved back to Washington where she is reported to have had an active social life.
Her last public appearance was at a ball for President James Polk in 1848. Dolley Madison died in Washington on July 12, 1849.