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 UnknownPhoto: 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 FinanciallyPhoto: 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
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
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.
She Lost Her First Husband And Child To Yellow Fever
Dolley's peaceful life in Philadelphia was not to last. She settled down with her husband John Todd, and they soon had two children. But in 1793, yellow fever hit the city. The entire family got sick, and Dolley’s husband and second child perished. Both she and first born son, Payne, fell ill as well, but were able to recover.
Dolley was a widow and single mother at the age of 25.
She Had A Whirlwind Courtship With The Older James Madison
Shortly after the heartbreaking loss of her husband and child, Dolley became reacquainted with James Madison through his friend Aaron Burr. The two began a whirlwind romance that became the talk of town. The affair had a tinge of scandal to it - Dolley was a new widow, and Madison was 17 years older than her.
The couple met in May of 1794, and were engaged in August that same year. Dolley was asked to give up her Quaker faith as a condition of the marriage, since Madison did not practice the religion himself.