Dolley Payne was born on May 20, 1768 in Guilford County , North Carolina .  She was the daughter of John and Mary Coles Payne and her father was a Quaker and starch maker by profession.  When she was an infant her family moved to Virginia where she spent the first fifteen years of her life.

 In 1783 the Payne family moved to Philadelphia and in 1790 Dolley married a young Quaker lawyer named John Todd.  They lived at the corner of 4th and Walnut Streets in a house that was both home and office.  Since John was away a great deal pursuing his legal career, Dolley helped to supervise the two law clerks and meet with the clients who visited the office.  From time to time, Dolley’s younger sister also lived in their small house.  Two children were born, but in 1792 a yellow fever epidemic carried off Dolley’s youngest child and her husband.

 In 1794, when she was 25, Dolley was introduced to Congressman James Madison.  Madison was an Episcopalian and seventeen years older than Dolley.  As she wrote, “...the great little Madison has asked to see me this evening.”  It was not long before they announced their marriage.  Dolley threw off her dull Quaker clothes and became an arbiter of fashion.

 When Madison was appointed to President Jefferson’s cabinet as Secretary of State, the Madisons moved to Washington and Dolley became the unofficial hostess at the Presidential Mansion for the widowed president.  When her husband became President in 1809, Dolley showed a great talent for smoothing the waters in a time of intense party conflict and quickly became the center of Washington society.  Since she was intensely interested in politics and possessed of a sharp and discerning mind, it is logical to suppose that she influenced many of Madison ’s decisions.  She also worked closely with Benjamin Latrobe to enhance the interior of the mansion showing a great sense of design and color.

 In 1809 Dolley hosted the first Inaugural Ball.  During the War of 1812, she was forced to flee before the British set the house on fire but not before she had removed the valued portrait of George Washington from the walls.  When she returned she found the mansion in ruins but worked assiduously on its restoration although the Madisons were never able to return there to live.

 After James Madison retired, the couple went to live at the Madison family home, Montpelier , where he died in 1836.  Troubled by her son’s mismanagement of the family affairs, she returned to Washington in straightened circumstances.  She died on July 12, 1849.  

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