DOLLEY PAYNE TODD MADISON - A Brief Biography
Dolley Payne was
born on May 20, 1768 in
. 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
where she spent the first fifteen years of her life.
In 1783 the Payne family moved to
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
1794, when she was 25, Dolley was introduced to Congressman James Madison.
was an Episcopalian and seventeen years older than Dolley.
As she wrote, “...the great little
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
Madison was appointed to President Jefferson’s cabinet as Secretary of State, the
Madisons moved to
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
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
’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
were never able to return there to live.
After James Madison retired, the couple went to live at the
Madison family home,
, where he died in 1836. Troubled by
her son’s mismanagement of the family affairs, she returned to
in straightened circumstances. She
died on July 12, 1849.
American Historical Theatre
2008 Mt.Vernon St.