Sarah Childress Polk
1803 - 1891
Sarah Childress Polk, wife of James Polk, 11th president of the United States, died August 14, 1891. She was 87.
Mrs. Polk was born Sarah Childress on September 4, 1803 at a plantation near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The oldest child of Captain Joel and Elizabeth Childress, she was one of very few females in the 19th century who attended an institution of higher learning. Sarah graduated from a Moravian academy in Salem, North Carolina.
She met James Knox Polk in Murfreesboro in the early 1820ís. Polk was just beginning his political career. Married on January 1, 1824, the couple had no children.
In an age when women were resigned to the home rearing children, Sarah Polk was an exception. Her formal education, which brought her an awareness of state, national and international politics, would aid her husband in his decision-making process. He is said to have considered her his closest advisor, even during the White House years.
Mrs. Polk also used her skills to help her husband with his speeches, his paperwork and his research into topics he needed more information on.
She was also a very religious person. Brought up in the Presbyterian faith, she did not attend gambling events or dance at social occasions. She also barred alcohol in the White House, and would not permit matters of state to be discussed on the Sabbath. She once denied the Minister to Australia an audience with the President because he came calling on a Sunday.
Another story about Mrs. Polk concerned lighting in the White House. When gaslights were installed in 1858, she allowed replacement of all fixtures except the chandelier in the Blue Room. When the system failed at one point, everyone went to the Blue Room where they could see by candlelight.
When the Polks left the White House in 1849, they retired to their new home in Nashville called Polk Place. But her husband died only three months after leaving office. Mrs. Polk would wear black the remainder of her life. She would spend 42 more years alone at Polk Place.
Respected by everyone, Polk Place was considered neutral ground during the Civil War. Mrs. Polk would entertain both Confederate and Union officials.
Sarah Polk died at her Nashville home on August 14, 1891. She is buried next to her husband on the State Capitol Grounds in Nashville.