Author: Holly Cowan Shulman

editor of The Dolley Madison Digital Edition (University of Virginia Press), coeditor of The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison, founding director of Documents Compass at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and a research professor at the University of Virginia.

Dolley Madison (1768–1849)

Dolley Madison was the wife of James Madison, the architect of the U.S. Constitution and fourth president of the United States (1809­–1817). She was the third woman to serve as what is now called “first lady,” and her imprint as the national hostess defined the role until the more activist Eleanor Roosevelt broke Madison’s ceremonial model. It was during her years in the White House that Madison gained her fame as a shrewd and graceful politician who could win the hearts of those who opposed her husband, and the greatest Washington hostess of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. She is also known for saving a portrait of George Washington during the War of 1812. After the end of James Madison’s second term in the White House, the couple returned to live at their plantation, Montpelier, in Orange County, where they remained until James Madison died in 1836. From 1836 to 1844, Dolley Madison resided both in Washington, D.C., and at Montpelier, after which she spent the last five and a half years of her life in Washington. She was criticized by abolitionists for continuing to own slaves but remained a prominent national figure even while facing serious financial struggles. Along with Elizabeth Hamilton, the wife of Alexander Hamilton, she was the last surviving member of the founding generation, admired and esteemed for both her own contributions and those of her husband. She died in 1849 in Washington, where she was buried. Her remains were later moved to the Madison family cemetery at Montpelier.

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