Dolley Madison lived through the two wars that established the U.S., was friends with the first 12 Presidents, and watched America evolve from a struggling young republic to the first modern democracy in the world. She was nicknamed “Queen Dolley,” and when she died in 1849 at the age of 81 - one of the last remaining members of the founding generation - Washington City honored her with the largest state funeral the capital had ever seen for a woman.
Born prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Dolley Payne grew up during a time when the country was striving to develop an identity. The daughter of strict Quaker parents, Dolley showed an early interest in contemporary dress and gossip - what her friends considered the evil temptations of the material world. Growing up in the capital city of Philadelphia presented many social opportunities for Dolley, but she acquiesced to her father's wishes that she marry a young Quaker lawyer, John Todd. After only three years of marriage, though, Dolley’s husband died of Yellow Fever in an epidemic that also claimed her youngest son. Widowed and a single parent, she soon met U.S. Congressional Representative James Madison. Four months later, the couple married.
When James Madison became the fourth President of the United States in 1809, Dolley assumed the then ill-defined role of presidential wife. Throughout the world, other nations were ruled by kings and emperors who communicated their power and legitimacy through bejeweled crowns and thrones. In the still new America, and in its capital of Washington, the rules of presidential behavior in a democratic republic had not yet been established by the time the Madisons came to Washington.
As the president's wife, Dolley Madison created a uniquely American style - one that combined power with republican values. She presided over the first Inaugural Ball in Washington, opening it to the public; she took charge of transforming the President's House into a public space that was both elegant and democratic; and as her successors have done ever since, she adopted a social cause of her own, raising funds for an orphanage and advocating for children left parentless by the War of 1812.
Hosting weekly socials where Washington’s elite could mingle in an unofficial capacity, Dolley Madison ushered in a new era of bipartisanship and behind-the-scenes politicking. After the War of 1812, when several politicians talked of abandoning the ravaged capitol and returning to Philadelphia, Dolley Madison continued to host social events, sending a clear message to influential members of Congress and Washington society that Washington was not beyond repair.
Over time, Dolley Madison earned a reputation as skillful diplomat, humanitarian, style icon, and politically savvy hostess. She defined the role of the President's wife and became, in effect, America's first First Lady, and in the process changed the face of the American presidency.
Dolley Madison features Tony Award-nominee Eve Best (Nurse Jackie) as Dolley Madison and Tony Award-winner Jefferson Mays as James Madison (I Am My Own Wife).
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