• Weird History

The Tragic Life Of Dolley Madison, A Badass First Lady

The First Lady is an important title in American politics. But while everyone has an opinion on what makes a "good" first lady, few citizens could tell you where the image of the ideal presidential spouse comes from. The credit for setting the standards of First Ladyship belongs to Dolley Madison, a lesser-known but undeniably badass First Lady who left her mark on United States history.

Dolley Madison was the wife of President James Madison. Born in 1768, she was witness to many integral moments in the establishment of the United States, and she had a direct hand in more than a few of them. There are countless facts about Dolley Madison that prove she was an elegant and admirable First Lady. But history, sadly, didn’t grant her a happy ending. The tragic story of Dolley Madison is one worth repeating, and one that all Americans should know.

  • Her Actual Name Is Unknown

    Photo: Daderot / via Wikimedia Commons / CC0

    No one is quite sure if Dolley Madison's name was really Dolley. Although that's the name on her birth certificate, the spelling varies from source to source. Her will is signed "Dolly," and plenty of documents refer to her as "Dollie." Some historians even claim that her real name was Dorothea.

  • Her Family Struggled Financially

    Photo: Rachel Holtz / via Pinterest

    Dolley Payne was born into a life of luxury on a North Carolina plantation, but circumstances grew more difficult due to a tough choice made by her idealist father. A Quaker, he was strongly against slavery, but was a slave owner himself. Tired of his hypocrisy, Mr. Payne freed his slaves, sold his plantation, and moved the family to Philadelphia, where he attempted to set up a business. After some initial success, times got tough for the Paynes. Dolley's father eventually declared bankruptcy.

  • She Was Considered The Greatest Beauty Of Her Era

    Photo: Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons

    Even without a family fortune, the young Dolley Payne attracted her fair share of suitors. She was considered to be the greatest beauty of her era. Miss Payne essentially had her pick of the men in town, and she chose to marry the Quaker lawyer John Todd.

  • She Witnessed The Constitutional Convention

    Photo: Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons

    The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was an exciting and important event in early American history. Leaders like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton met to brainstorm ideas on the creation of a new country, all under the watchful eye of George Washington.

    Dolley Payne was in Philadelphia while the Convention met. She even caught a glimpse of one particular delegate who would become important in her life: James Madison.