In any case, I got to thinking of Dolley Madison. Why? Well, had she not died back in July of 1849 – Imagine: This lady who'd had tea with Martha Washington lived to see the era of the steam locomotive and the Gold Rush! – Mrs. Madison would be turning 242 years old this coming Thursday. And in the last few months I wrote a book about her (Would that someone would publish it!), in part, wanting to write about her husband and their remarkable era. I was so taken with Dolley's gumption (except when it came to her horrid son from her 1st marriage, to a young Philadelphia lawyer who died of yellow fever in 1793) and her gaiety. A gifted politician and social networker she was, in her way of bringing people together, encouraging conversation between political adversaries.
Thos. Jefferson, President No. 3, chose his friend James Madison to be his Sec'y of State. Off they all went to rough, raw, barely begun Washington, D.C. Streets with no houses, so it was said, and half-done mansions, shacks, and houses with no streets. It was there and then that Mrs. Madison most astutely and famously demonstrated her social gifts, serving as White House hostess (most necessary, protocol-wise) for the widower Jefferson. In time, in large part due to cheerful Dolley and her savvy way with people, the "Great Little Madison" became President No. 4. Famously brilliant he was, but shy and puny. How was it that Washington Irving described him? "Ah poor Jemmy! He is but a withered apple-John." (January 13, 1811) Ah well, remember Dolley this week. Do check out this splendid documentary about her: www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/dolley/
Sure Martha was the first, and Abigail the first to live in the big stone house, but really, Dolley Payne Madison was the first to embody the role of First Lady.