As the wife of the fourth U.S. president, Dolley Madison made a significant impact on shaping American political traditions. She opened the first Inaugural Ball to the public and saved many valuable items from the White House during the War of 1812.
Dolley Madison was born in North Carolina in 1768 and moved to Virginia when she was 10 months old. In 1783, her family moved to Philadelphia, where she grew up and married John Todd, a Quaker lawyer. Her first marriage lasted only three years because Todd died of yellow fever. She soon met James Madison through New York Senator Aaron Burr and married him.
After Thomas Jefferson’s wife died, Dolley Madison served as his White House hostess. She personally knew the first 12 presidents of the United States. Her charm, interpersonal skills and personal popularity allowed her to win over her husband’s political opponents.
When James Madison won the presidency in 1809, Dolley became the first lady. As the fourth president’s wife, Dolley presided over the first Inaugural Ball. She also raised funds to support children who became orphans due to the War of 1812. Throughout the years her successors followed her lead, advocating local charities and raising awareness of social issues.
Many Americans are fond of Dolley Madison because during the War of 1812 she refused to leave the White House without saving as many things as she could. She saved many items, including a portrait of George Washington, that the British troops most probably would have destroyed. Dolley Madison died in 1849 at the age of 81.