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wife of President James Madison
Dolley Payne was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, on May 20, 1768, the third child of Quaker parents. She spent her childhood in Scotchtown, Virginia. In 1783, her family moved to Philadelphia.
In 1790, Dolley married John Todd, Jr., a Quaker lawyer. She bore him two sons, but the second one died, along with his father, in a yellow-fever epidemic in 1793.
A few months after the death of John Todd, Aaron Burr introduced her to James Madison, who was at that time representing Virginia in the U.S. Senate. The two were married on September 15, 1794. Because Madison was not a Quaker, Dolley was expelled from the Society of Friends upon her marriage to him. The couple had no children, but James Madison raised Dolley's son from her first marriage as if he were his own child.
While James Madison served as Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, Dolley served as White House hostess for the widowed President. Noted for her charm and tact, even people of strongly differing views could meet in her presence and feel completely at ease.
Dolley's social graces also proved invaluable to her husband's presidential campaigns in 1808 and 1812. As First Lady, she charmed the political and intellectual leaders of her day, including novelist Washington Irving, who once called her "a fine, portly, buxom dame." When the British set fire to Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812, Dolley was personally responsible for saving a number of important state papers and artifacts -- including one of the best-known portraits of George Washington -- before the White House was burned.
After James Madison left the presidency, the couple retired to Montpelier, his Virginia estate. After his death in 1837, she returned to Washington to live, where she died on July 12, 1849. She is buried next to her husband in a family plot near Montpelier.
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This page was last updated on July 11, 2018.