tv First Ladies Influence Image CSPAN May 3, 2015 8:00pm-9:33pm EDT
>> american history tv is featuring the c-span series "first ladies" through the rest of the years. she's been produced this with the white house historical association. with only stories -- we tell the first ladies. more dolly madison. this is about an hour and a half. >> dolley was both socially adept and politically savvy. madison is just not a lot of laughs, but she was his best friend and she compensated. >> it is aaron burr that lets her know that james madison wishes to meet her. >> she carved out a space for women where they could wield a great deal of political power.
>> here, dolley madison would sit at the head of the table and direct the conversation. >> she got these people to the white house and entertained them; got them together; got them talking. >> this was very important for dolley to make everybody feel welcome, be they enemies or allies. >> dolley popularized the style to american fashion and that was considered her classic look. people noticed it. >> the octagon was the perfect setting for james and dolley madison as they try and resume government as quickly as possible. >> she sat side by side with madison for almost 20 years during his retirement, helping him compile and arrange his
papers. she moved back to washington d.c. >> in her elder years and sort of became a grand damme -- very much behind the scenes in the political field again. as henry clay famously said, "everybody loved mrs. madison." and then, of course, her equally famous response, "that's because mrs. madison loves everybody." court dolley madison came to her the >> -- >> dolley madison came to her service as first lady with experience in the role. during thomas jefferson's two terms, the widower president often called upon dolley madison to assist him and his daughter martha with white house entertainment. this sense of the usefulness of parlor diplomacy allowed dolley to hit the ground running when she officially assumed the role in 1809 as her husband james madison became our nation's fourth president. good evening and welcome to c-span's "first ladies influence & image". tonight, we will learn about the intriguing dolley madison. for the next 90 minutes, we have
two guests at our table who know much about her and about the role of first ladies. let me introduce you to them. catherine allgor is an author, a biographer of dolley madison and a historian. one of her books is called "a perfect union: dolley madison and the creation of the american nation". thanks for being here. court>> it's a pleasure. >> edith mayo is one of our four historian consultants for this series and she was the creator of the first ladies exhibit at the smithsonian that so many millions of smithsonian visitors have seen throughout the years. edi mayo, thanks for being here tonight. court >> nice to see you. thank you. it's a pleasure. >> well, i'm going to start with you, catherine. any 21st century woman who starts to read about dolley
madison can see some parallels to their own lives in the way she seemed to approach her role in washington. was she, in fact, ahead of her time, a sort of modern person in the in the early 1800s or not? >> well, that's the paradox. in really, you understand her as an 18th century woman, raised in a certain culture, but when she becomes first lady, she starts adapting the past in a way that paves the way for modernity. and she also creates the first lady role that we have come to know. so every modern first lady, i think everybody all the way up looks to her. so, in some ways, she's definitely a product of her time, but she opens the door for a lot of women. >> well, edi mayo, staying with those thoughts, because we're trying to show the parallels among them, how they hand off things about the roles to the others; what are some of the things that dolley madison contributed to the role? >> well, i think in our first segment about martha washington you saw martha as a person who perfected the aspect of the role which was the social partner to the president and a hostess for the nation. then, when you get to abigail, she becomes a political partner with her husband and pioneers that role. dolley is the one who brings the two of them together, so that she becomes both the social partner and the political partner for her husband and i think that sets all kinds of precedents for the future first ladies. and she's kind of still i think held up as a standard by which other people measure themselves today. >> we'll spend the first 45 minutes or so, almost half of our program, on those important white house years.
it was such an interesting and tempestuous time for this country and we want to make sure you understand the history of it. later on, we'll go back in time and we'll learn about her biography, how this young quaker woman became this internationally-known first lady and then end up with her legacy. that's what tonight looks like and we welcome your participation. throughout the program we will have our phone lines open and be taking your calls. you can also send us a tweet and use the hash tag "first ladies" and we've got the c-span page on facebook, so lots of ways to add your questions or your comments to our discussion tonight. now, i know there are people because i started getting e-mails this week, wanting to know all about martha jefferson and they're wondering, "what happened?" we've skipped the third presidency. so we talked about dolley madison's role, but what happened to martha jefferson? why was she not in the white house? >> she was not in the white house because she died very
early on. she and jefferson were married for 10 years and then she died in childbirth. and so, he was a widower when he moved into the white house and needed someone to oversee these parties when both sexes were present. it was thought to be unseemly to entertain in mixed company if you did not have a hostess present, so he would very often ask dolley madison. >> but he did not entertain very much as -- >> well, he entertained in a very private way. he didn't have large entertainments like adams or washington or the madisons. >> which the capitol was getting used to. >> exactly. >> so was there criticism of him for not being so social? >> i think that there was criticism not necessarily for him being so social, but not so social, excuse me but because, you know, he didn't he didn't invite the women as often as he did the men.
he preferred to have a lot of male company and conduct actual political conversations. and he also did away with all kinds of rank and protocol which was very criticized at that time, but he wanted everyone to be treated as equal. he thought that was what the new nation was all about. >> how important was the relationship between the between thomas jefferson and the madisons? court -- >> well, they were -- it's very important, i mean. james madison and thomas jefferson were as very close political allies and friends. and so, it's natural, of course when jefferson gets elected to bring madison on as his secretary of state. i do think i do want to say something about jefferson's social program, if you will. it's not an accident. he was not interested in power sharing. he was interested in securing his own political power, so he had dinner parties with men of one party or the other.
so he would sit with his group the republicans as they were called, and he would just, you know, keep au courant and rally the supporters. then, he would have a dinner party with the opposition, the federalists. and that was just all about keeping an eye on the enemy. and this idea too that edi brought up about the lack of women which is why, you know her role in the jefferson administration isn't a big story of that time; he had been to france and he had seen women and women at social events and he was absolutely horrified and shocked especially about their political power because it fell outside the official power. so he cut off all these events. the white house was open only for 4th of july and new year's day and that was partly because he wanted to curtail the power of women. but there was something else going on over on the house on f street and that was dolley madison setting up the connections and networks that she would bring to the white house. so during those first years
, during the jefferson administration, the center of social and political life was not the white house or the president's mansion as it was cold. -- it was called. it was the house on f street. >> here are a few bullet points about the country in 1810 as james madison takes office. the population at that point was 7.2 million and now 17 states, 36 percent growth since the census 10 years earlier. and you'll remember, last week it was a 10-year, a 35% growth. so this country is booming bursting at the seams, so that's even though the seams were smaller in those days. over those 16% -- >> of those
16% were slaves, 1.2 million people. and the largest cities continue to be new york city, philadelphia and baltimore and boston. >> what should we know about the politics, the most important political events of the madison administration? what was the time like and how important was dolley in helping to navigate those times for her husband? katherine: right. there were two big stories that i guess i want to say about this era and the first one is disunion. i think you're getting the sense here that the early republic this is what we call this time period was a time of great anxiety. nobody was sure that this union was going to hold. in fact, people at the time would refer to united states in the plural. they would say, "the united states of america are," which signaled that it's not quite holding together. and so, there's a, there's a real fear that it's going to fall apart. and one of the sources of this disunion might be what they called regionalism, later they're going to call it sectionalism as they head toward the civil war. so james madison's primary political goal is unity. and if we keep that in mind as we go on tonight, dolley madison's work is going to become understandable. and the second thing i would also sort of like to say that is something that we know the end of the story. so we know that this nation is going to be a strong nation state with a democracy and a two-party system and a strong president.
and that was none of those things that the founders had intended. so now, we look back and we see that period as a period of growing pains and we see that dolley madison, well, obviously not knowing how this is going to end, was the perfect person to help the nation ease into what it's going to be. >> here she was with the father of the constitution serving then as the chief executive of the nation. so he brought a real concept of how he wanted this role to be carried out. how did he approach it and how did she help him? >> well, you said concept and i think that's perfect because he was the idea guy and he was very theoretical and he and other members of the founding generation understood as a concept unity that it was their number one job. but how do you do it? how do you bring forth unity? and what dolley madison did, along with other women of the time, is take these abstract concepts and translate them into action. so she's enacting unity on this national stage.
>> how? well, the first thing i think that somebody alluded to in the beginning, she brought people together. so she launches her drawing rooms. and very are -- and they are every wednesday night every wednesday night it doesn't matter if your vice president has died, there will be a drawing room. and she put people in the room together. and that sounds nice. but this is about more than just nice. for the early republic, it's a time of survival. so this feeling of disunity or disunion is exacerbated in washington because all of these regionalisms come together with the most, i'm going to say, the most fractious congress that we've ever had. these are people who didn't just disagree with each other, but they dueled and fought each other not just in the streets but on the floors of congress. and so, that's why bringing people together and having them see each other as humans is not just, you know, lovely, but actually, crucial. >> this drawing room concept is exactly the kind of thing that martha washington and abigail adams had used.
edi: yes. but it's very different from what they had done. theirs was extremely formal and dolley's was much more open. and so, you had everybody at dolley's drawing rooms able to have access to the chief executive and his lady and that's very important for forging a unity in the united states. and also, dolley creates -- she starts out as the wife of the secretary of state. but what she is doing is forging networks -- social networks -- on which politics and diplomacy can be conducted in a civilized manner through the ceremonial forms of dinners, receptions parties and so forth. so that some of these tensions and animosities that play themselves out in the hall of congress have a way of being resolved at parties in an amicable way.
so she is -- she is really forging new networks that will work for both politics and society. >> and this concept you write about in several of your books and the subtitle of this is, "and the creation of the american mission." -- american nation." and you write about the fact that the women of this class this they understood as their power to be able to use social skills -- skills -- >> right. >> to build the nation. katherine: well, the founders understood that this american revolution that they had was more than just a political revolution. they were going to -- and this is a phrase they love -- "build the world anew." and that meant everything was
under consideration. this was going to be the new world and they were going to scorn everything of the old world -- absolute kings and monarchy and courts. and so, they turned to the women and this is actually a political theory called the scottish enlightenment, in case somebody wants to wikipedia that, which says that, in a culture, laws can come and go, but what they call manners stay. and manners are not just teacups, but the way people treat each other and how they regard each other and how they behave. and this is very appealing to freeze new americans. -- these new americans. for one thing they are inventing a whole bunch of laws and not sure people are going to buy and they really need people to behave. so the phrase they use is "republican virtue." that's republican with a small "r." and that meant that people would put their interest of their country before, you know themselves. well, how do you get people to do that? and they look to the women of this class to start enforcing what they call the national manners. so this is a very important
part. and these women, these elite white women of the cities were very conscious of that. >> if you'd like to participate by phone, here are the phone lines. we've divided them regionally. so if you live in the eastern or central time zones, our number here is 202-585-3880. please dial carefully so you don't get someone else altogether. mountain and pacific 202-585-3881. and we'll take calls in another 10 minutes or so, so you can get in queue right now. this is a facebook question and either of you could take it, but i'll turn to you as a long-time curator of first ladies. suki wheeler on facebook says, "the early first ladies were excellent correspondents writing hundreds of notes and letters in their lifetimes. in what condition are these early letters?" abigail adams, we saw last week thousands of letters over the course of her lifetime. >> yes, that's right. >> what about dolley madison?
what did she preserve and did she have a sense of her legacy? edi: i think she probably did have a sense of her legacy and she is writing to, i believe her sister as the british are coming to burn the white house. and she is telling her sister what she's doing and what she's saving so that, you know, there will be something to put in the history book. she wants it known that she is saving the state documents, the important pieces of silver, the portrait of george washington for which she is so famous. but she is writing literally as everything is being packed to be carted off to virginia to safety. so she is very aware of what she is doing and she writes a number of letters to her family members. katherine: susan, i want to weigh in because this questioner knows that, as historians, this is the heart of what we do. these are the primary sources. and for a long while, to find dolley's actual letters and what she wrote, it was really hard to do. but in the 1990s and early 2000s, holly shulman and david mattern at the papers of james madison at the university of virginia began collecting her papers and they published them in a lovely book called, "the selected letters of dolley madison."
but holly shulman is now the web master of the dolley madison digital edition which anybody can find in their library and it has every letter to and from dolley. so these are the papers that are really crucial. and we also have this great account from her niece, mary cutts, and she writes about her aunt. and a lot of those stories which must have come from dolley herself. so that tells us that, late in her life, she's getting a sense of her legacy. so she, of course, cannot obtrude upon the public notice as a man would, but we think that she kind of coopted her niece and gave her these memoirs which we've now just published for the first time so people can read those. >> we have our first bit of video to show you. well, throughout the night, we'd be visiting places that were important to dolley madison and this is the white house. when you go on tour, you visit a room called the red room. it was an important part of dolley's parlor diplomacy. let's watch. >> the portrait of dolley madison hangs in the red room. she sits in a red chair and red fabrics have always sort of complemented the fabric in her chair, so she's clearly an inspiration for that room. the red room was, in fact, yellow under dolley madison. it was her yellow parlor and the
red color was introduced more in the 1820s and '30s. the furniture of the period that is in that room now is american empire style furniture would have been that style in her lifetime. i think also the fact that two of the most interesting art objects in the room are the bust of martin van buren, the white marble bust by hiram powers and the portrait of his daughter-in-law angelica that has the white marble bust painted into the background and the fact that dolley madison's connected to that story years and years later. i mean, when president van buren was inaugurated in 1837, president madison had died the year before and she had moved back to washington. and she was the most important woman in washington. and president van buren was a widower. dolley madison basically introduced angelica to her husband-to-be which was the president's eldest son. and so, she became the de facto hostess of the white house. and so, entered the chain of first ladies even if she's not strictly a wife but largely as a result of dolley madison doing a
little matchmaking. >> what condition was the white house when the madisons moved in? and washington, d.c. as a new capital city? edi: well, washington, d.c. was a very muddy place and abigail had written home that it was the very dirtiest hole of a place that she'd ever been in her life. you know, the roads were rutted, the houses were separated far apart. so it's not like we think of it today at all. it's very rudimentary. and so, i think part of what she is doing is building a social network among the women so that a lot of this is overlooked or you know, politics and diplomacy and fashion can carry people over the fact that we're not living in some fantastic capital of the world.
>> a question on twitter from anne onstriker who asked, "did dolley know abigail adams and/or martha washington and did they get along?” katherine: yes. actually, dolley madison knew martha washington because she was there for when martha washington was the first lady. in fact, her niece -- this is one of those stories -- her niece said that when james madison was courting dolley, martha washington sort of cornered her and said, "is it true what they say about you and james madison?" and she blushed and stammered. and martha washington apparently said, "we think it's wonderful. the general and i think it's wonderful even that he is much older than you.” what's interesting about abigail adams is we've one letter, i think about 1816, so quite far into abigail's life. and she writes asking for a favor of dolley madison. and says, "even though we have never had the pleasure of an acquaintance" so we know they probably didn't meet. but what's so interesting is
that abigail's asking dolley madison for patronage, that is to give a job to a relative. and sometimes you ask why we study women's history, why we study first ladies and the big answer for me is that we learn things you just wouldn't know otherwise. and if you look at dolley madison, you understand there's a huge patronage network. men will not touch patronage. it's too royal, it's too courtly, it's too corrupt. but their wives and daughters are playing patronage the whole time. and so, we have this one moment where we have a former first lady and former president's wife asking another for patronage. lots of interceding on other people's behalf. that was part of what was the -- edi: lots of interceding on other people's behalf. that was part of what was thought of as a first lady's role at that period. we saw henry clay in the opening -- >> we saw henry clay in the opening video. in addition to henry clay, who were some of her biggest congressional allies in the period? katherine: well, henry clay is obviously the sort of famous one. and the reason we kind of know about him, again, it kind of
gives you a glimpse behind the curtain and how politics worked. leading up to the war of 1812, james madison really wasn't sure he wanted to go to war. and, in fact, he was so secretive about it scholars disagree. some think he was dying to go to war, some people not. but he surely had to kind of walk a kind of fine line. and if he decided he did want to go to war he needed to have , allies. he couldn't ally himself with henry clay and the war hawks but he had dolley do it. and so, we have several famous stories about dolley and henry clay and sharing a snuff box together and everybody talks about the snuff box. and we have to, again, look at these things not as celebrity mentions or just descriptions but as a form of political analysis. when the people at the time were looking at that they weren't just saying, "look at dolley madison with henry clay." they're trying to read the energy and read the wind. so she courted people on both sides of the aisle, that was kind of the good thing about her. but when she singled somebody out for special attention, people knew there was something up in the air. court -- >> our web site, c-span.org/firstladies, is a very robust site with lots of video about each of these women. and each week there'll be a
special feature that you can see only in the web. if you go there tonight you'll see dolley madison's snuff box. how important was snuff to her? katherine: she was addicted, i'm afraid. >> yes. part of that the image too that she -- we'll talk about. this is another one of those modern concepts to earlier age. beverly sturts asks, "it seems like the women patriots knew how to use their own power for the sake of our young country. were they real feminists?" she asks, "or wives wishing to please their husbands?” edi: perhaps a little of each. i think these women were very aware of their place in history. and particularly, if you are a first lady, even early on you know that you are centrally positioned to influence aspects of politics. so i think that they probably would never have used that term, "feminism" or "feminist." but i think they knew exactly what they were doing and they enjoyed wielding the power that was given to them.
first question by phone comes from scotty in dickson tennessee. hi, scotty. are you there? scotty: i'm here calling into your show for the first time. >> great. welcome. scotty: thank you. what i wanted to know then when thomas jefferson was president. elizabeth -- i mean, excuse me dolley madison when she was helping him as a hostess, does she know anything with the affair that he had with -- about sally hemings? >> so with the sally hemings' question, yes. and again, i would say that the big story for her is not really helping thomas jefferson as a hostess, though she did step in. you know, we don't know anything much about dolley madison. there is a story in the hemings' family and i read about it in elizabeth dowling taylor's book about paul jennings, who is james madison's body servant and the first person to write a white house memoir. he was a slave.
and there was a story in the family that dolley madison asked sally hemings to name one of her sons after james madison. and that she would give sally a gift. and in this rendition of the story, she doesn't give the gift. >> a related question from michael on twitter was that, "what was dolley madison's opinion of thomas jefferson? and did the madisons, as far as we know, ever visit monticello?” edi: i think visited back and forth. they were -- they were good friends and had known each other for many, many years. maybe you have more information on the outcome of but -- >> what is the distance between montpelier and monticello? edi: they were good friends. gosh, i'm trying to do it in the car. it's a -- it's a little ways, it's a little ways.
katherine: and, in fact, when we'll talk about the retirement years, of the few times james madison leaves his beloved montpelier is to visit thomas jefferson. i would say that we don't know maybe dolley madison's true opinion of a lot of people because she was often very cautious. but i think what's significant is that thomas jefferson seemed to love her even though she is conducting the social circle under his nose. and he is a great hater. nobody hated like thomas jefferson. so the fact that he seemed to really adore dolley, i think speaks volumes about her. edi: and chose her as the hostess when he needed one in the white house. katherine: yes. >> catherine is up next in houston. hi, catherine. catherine: hi. thank you for taking my call. my question is i know that dolley madison was raised a quaker and married her first husband who was a quaker. and was a member of the friends
church. and then she left it and married james madison. and i've read stories about how her father freed his slaves in testimony to the abolition of slavery. and i was just wondering how did -- how do you think her quaker upbringing influenced her as a first lady? >> ok. briefly please because we'll spend more time on this later. katherine: yes. well, i'll cut to the sort of the chase because the quaker part's irresistible. we just don't know enough about her childhood. but my sort of theory on this is that one of the central tenets of quakerism is to regard people as inner lights -- as god -- which is why quakers don't use titles. and dolley goes on to become famous for being incredibly empathic and sympathetic and warm. and people said, "when you talk to her it was like she was you were the only person in the room." and i think that comes from her quakerness. edi: and i think that fact that she was able to take on this role and do so well was because quakers believe men and women were equal. and so, you don't get any sense with her of being lesser than. she fits right in and does her thing. so i think that comes from her quaker background as well.
court the first white house -- >> the first white house allocated a salary of $25,000 for the president. was it still about that much by the time the madisons got to the white house? edi: that i don't know. do you know? katherine: i do not know, no. well, let's presume that it was -- court yes. -- >> yes. >> which when we've done the web sites that translate it, it's about $1.1 million today which is a lot -- >> that's a healthy sum. >> compared to what we pay the president's today. but who paid for all these social functions? do they have to pay out of their own salaries for all these events that we're talking about?
katherine: yes. this is a time when -- that was part of the deal about going into public service. this is why rich men -- rich white men -- were supposed to take on the burden of public service because a lot of it comes out of the pocket. and the madisons were not the first presidential couple to leave much poorer than when they had come in. what congress did do though was give her quite a hefty amount to redo the executive mansion which she did very well, may i say and spent that money very well. a furnishing budget because the previous occupants had brought their own furniture in many instances. and then, when they left the presidency they took it home with them. jefferson was one of those who did that and washington when he was in new york and philadelphia. but this was -- this was a thing that dolley wanted to do because she felt that it needed to have a stately, elegant look for the new nation. and so, she took -- they took the decorating very, very seriously and wanted to make it look as if it could be on somewhat equal terms with the powers of europe so that they could conduct a diplomatic
negotiations in a -- in a proper setting. but here it sounds to me -- after now three of these -- so there is this constant push-pull between wanting to be seen as equals with europe but at the same time eschewing all of the things that they have revolted. yes, a real dichotomy. yes. so, where's the sweet spot in there? >> well, i think this -- that's one of those reasons we look at women as well. it gets resolved with women. so right, you have a revolution, you fight against everything it stands for but now you're stuck with the nation. and how are you going to express legitimacy and authority? these former british colonists the only vocabulary of power they have is royalty. and so, we have these strange moments where all of a sudden john adams is arguing for titles for the presidency and they kind of go back and forth. and the women of these families took it on.
so george washington is mr. president. martha washington is lady washington. james madison is mr. president. dolley is queen dolley. and so, the men have to tread this very strict line, but the women get to express the aristocratic longings. and that's one of the messages she's sending out. and it's only when we look at the women of that time do we understand that a lot of that beginning of the american nationhood is predicated on royalty. >> who called her the presidentress? i think that was samuel latham mitchill, but he was not alone. a lot of people called her presidentress or presidentess and queen of hearts. and who called her queen dolley? a lot of people. a lot of people. a lot of people did that as well, but there were many, many just strictly.
>> swain: affectionately. or critically? or both. >> affectionately. "she dressed a queen" was what you see in a lot of the reports or in a lot of the letters. she looked every inched a queen. sometimes they she looked like a bride and a queen. so her elegance of dress, she bought a lot of her materials in paris. so she's very elegantly dressed and she looks to american eyes as a queen. and that's fine because she's not the head of state. so she's walking a very fine line where she expresses the you know, the finer things to which the nation aspires. but she is not royalty. so she's always walking this very fine line down the middle. >> you have provided a wonderful segue to our next video as a matter of fact. >> good. >> because at montpelier, which is the restored home of the madisons and open for tours and -- put it on your list if you ever get to virginia they have a display that talks about dolley madison's dresses and we're going to show you that now. >> most of the dresses we have
at the visitor's center at montpelier are based on descriptions that we have of the way that dolley dressed. but one dress that we own is a recreation of something that we still have. this is typical of the style of the day. it shows classical lines, a simple drape. and it was much more simple and elegant than the fashion either before or after it. and this is the sort of style that dolley would have worn while she was first lady. it is the regency style. but many of the dresses were more elegant. this represents what she wore at her inaugural. this is james madison's first inaugural. and at the ball she wore what was described as a "simple buff velvet." and she wore pearls which was something both more classically elegant but less ostentatious than the diamonds that you would normally find in the courts of europe. dolley was setting a style that was unique to american fashion. now, a lot of people think that dolley set the fashion of the turban. and that's not quite true. it began in persia and that moved through france and england. but dolley popularized the style and that was considered her classic look, to wear some sort of extravagant turban often topped with feathers on top of her head. people noticed it. and sometimes they thought that her fashion was a little bit too regal. there was one instance where she wore something that was lined in
ermine. and she wore some gilt edging in her turban. and people said that this was over-stepping things. she looked too regal, she looked too queenly. and they were afraid that queen dolley was setting the wrong tone for republican america. now, toward the end of her life, dolley still wore many of the fashions that she wore in her earlier day. and some of this may have been to evoke that american founding as she was the last living matriarch of this generation. but some of it was because of the growing penury in her life. she didn't have the money to buy the latest fashions. she had to wear many of her old clothes and repurpose them. and if you see in -- she had several daguerreotypes and paintings made of her final days and she's often wearing the same thing.
>> edi mayo, one other thing we should mention is that for her time she was quite tall. edi: yes, she was. i think she was 5'7" inches and a half which was very tall for a woman. and maybe four or so inches taller than her husband. >> i have -- i continue to have the image of the two of them standing next to each other, dolley with her turbans and feathers, and james madison very much still in the style of the revolutionary founding fathers with the silk stockings. it just -- it doesn't work for me. katherine: and do i have to tell you that it became politicized? so a lot of the criticism toward the madisons focused on, you know, this james madison who was so tiny and pygmy-like and somebody called him an anchovy and this a time where political authority wasn't male. and so, you know, thomas jefferson, big and tall. washington, i believe, described as a hunk in the previous program. and then, you have this little tiny guy and it wasn't just about him. >> with the big brain.
katherine: with a big brain. and this is why we have his press secretary coming out edward coles, dolley's cousin saying he's 5 feet 4 or something. well, he is 5 feet 6 i think he says and he's not. but why do we have a press secretary coming out to say this, i don't know. it's because size mattered. and dolley's height and her good health led to all kinds of scurrilous rumors about her sexuality that she was overly sexual, that she was too, in their phrase, "hot." and so, the reason that the madisons never had children was because she was literally burning up his essence. so when you read the newspapers at the time you realize that things were quite serious for these people. edi: and very scurrilously she was also during the campaign accused of having an affair with jefferson because she had been his hostess on various occasions. and so, you know, they extrapolated into a personal affair. >> were they able to put that to rest? edi: i think they were able to put it to rest. he would not have been re-elected if people had actually thought that that scurrilous accusation was the truth.
>> so a question about dolley madison's approach to this image , the way that she dressed. was this a conscious decision to stand apart -- >> yes. court -- >> as opposed to personal taste or vanity? i mean, she was creating a brand in other words, as we would say -- >> yes. and again, we have to look at the context here, right? so this is a new nation. we all know it's very fragile. and there's not a lot of bureaucracy or structure and that was deliberate. we don't want that court, remember? so not a lot of structure. so the people at the time focused on personalities and on the figure of the person. so we have all these descriptions of george washington and all he's doing is removing his glasses and reading something but they talk about his serene majestic this and grandeur and all this kind of stuff. and it always seems like george washington is posing for statues. in the early republic, it's going to become dolley, though interestingly, descriptions of her are about her on the move. and so, we have, again, have to understand this is not just a
fashion report, right, or fashion police, but rather a form of political analysis. and she is deliberately creating this. so she's not wearing what an actual queen would wear or what real court dresses. she was wearing an adaptation; what she imagines americans would imagine as queen. and she put those plumes on her turbans to make herself even taller. >> so how did rank and file americans react to this? i mean, the newspapers would report so -- >> yes. and descriptions of what she was wearing and how elegant it was. and what she got >> but were they proud or aghast -- >> i think they were mostly proud. the federalists were a little put off by this, thought it was too regal, a little too queenly, a little too court-like. but there was a lot of discussion about creating a republican court with a small "r." and that is, you know, a group of people who headed up government but with the idea of
having it a republic instead of a monarchy. and so, that's part of what she was doing. and one of the things that i think is ingenious about dolley is that she takes european influences and she filters them through a democratic lens. so they give you something to aspire to as a new nation. and how elegant and wonderful it can be, but you don't offend people who dislike the courts and the royalty of europe. i told you i wanted to get this in, but she also had a parrot? -- >> i told you i wanted to get this in, but she also had a parrot? >> polly, yes. katherine: she's a macaw. i guess, there's a difference. i don't want you to get a lot of angry e-mails from parrot-lovers. it was a macaw. it was in the white house. apparently, polly was a terror and would attack people. but she plays her own part in this sort of last poignant moment when everybody's fled the white house. there's a white french servant named jean sioussat and he takes the macaw over to the octagon house where i think it's the french ambassador maybe is staying. and she lives long enough to
make it to montpelier where somebody forgets to take her in at night and she's the victim of a night hawk. >> oh, dear. katherine: it came to an upset end, polly did. >> maybe some people in washington secretly cheered because she had been a terror. you also have provided a wonderful transition because it's time to talk about the important decision by madison to go to war with great britain. and the eventual siege of the capital city which happened in 1814. so there's quite a dramatic story about dolley madison being in the white house alone and the approaching british troops. well, would start with you about telling us that story and, edi would you fill it in? edi: ok. katherine: yes. and the -- and the background of all of this is that the war of 1812 has been going on for a couple of years and there've been various rumors going around the city that the capital was the target. washington city from that beginning has sort of an inferiority complex. and so, the men in charge would say, "no, they're never coming
to washington. baltimore is the place. it is of so much more consequence." and so, when the british do march on washington city washington city is not prepared. james madison is in the field overseeing the troops and she's alone in the white house. and she begins the letter that edi referred to on the sort of the day before what was going to be the last day of the white house, august 24, 1814. i hope i have that date right. and she's waiting for her husband to come home while preparing for the worst. so she's writing this letter to her sister, she's running up to the roof with a telescope looking for her husband, she's observing how badly the battles are going and she's also packing things. so she's packing silver, she's packing what she considers the people's possessions and she's sending them away in carts. and finally, the word comes, it's time to go. >> and the british indeed are coming. how endangered was she? edi: well, i think if she waited any longer she might have been captured and that would have been a huge prize of war. so she knew that she had to
leave. she wanted to wait for her husband to come home, but that did not take place. she had to leave before he got back. and then, they reunited a couple of days later in virginia. but apparently, she had the table set for dinner. and, you know, the british came in and thought that was wonderful. but she did save the portrait of washington which was one of the things that endeared her to the entire nation. the gilbert stuart -- >> the gilbert stuart portrait. edi: and so, she knew exactly what she was doing. and as i said before, i think writing about it, she knew what her place in history was going to be. >> catherine allgor, are you right about the fact that even this was symbolic because it was a copy of a painting, but she understood that the british couldn't be seen burning --
katherine: exactly. yes. and, in fact, when you talk about -- you're trying to -- as a historian, trying to find, well, was she really as symbolic as we say? sometimes it's very instructive to look at their enemies. so admiral cockburn framed all of his threats toward washington as mrs. madison. he was going to come and dine at mrs. madison's table. he was going to make his bow at her drawing room. he was going to parade her through the streets. he's not attacking james madison in rhetoric, he's attacking her. so we know she really was a kind of public figure. and, in fact, when he got to the white house and she wasn't there, he took things of hers including the cushion because he said he wished to warmly recall mrs. madison's seat. so -- and the dinner party is interesting too because it seems odd to be having a dinner party when washington is in exodus. but she's really doing what she'd always done. she was trying to hold the capital together even as it was falling apart. so she had fully intended to have a dinner party that day. >> and here's some of the text of the letter she penned to her sister just as she was fleeing the white house. she wrote this, "and now, dear sister i must leave this house or the retreating army will make
me a prisoner in it by filling up the road i am directed to take. when i shall again write to you or where i shall be tomorrow, i cannot tell.” edi: and, of course, after the british had british had burned washington there was a great deal of conversation even in congress about should the capital remain in washington which was, you know, now destroyed or should they move the capital back to philadelphia. and so, james and dolley leased the octagon house which was only a few blocks away and immediately began to entertain in a grand style. and this really sent a signal to the diplomats in washington, to the congress, to the people that they were not going to turn tail and run. they were going to stay in the capital. >> well, next, we will visit the octagon house by video. >> this building is very important for dolley madison's political career as a first lady. the octagon is two blocks from
the white house. it's a natural fit for james and dolley madison as they try and resume government as quickly as possible. this majestic, elegant, spacious house was the perfect setting for the different events that dolley needed to orchestrate and manage in the life of the president. this is the entry foyer. this is why the house is known as the octagon. it's a round room which was very popular in those days. but for dolley, this was an important room to welcome guests in. as you can see. it's a round room. and when you're in this room no matter where you stand you are an equal. and this was very important for dolley, to make everybody feel welcome, be they enemies or allies. this room is a good example of why this house was so good for dolley. she was known for her wednesday drawing room events where they became known as squeezes because you had 200 to 300 people before the war coming and during the war up to 500 people were coming. this room, of course, could only fit about 50 to 100 people, but
it still served that very important purpose for dolley. the country was still at war when the madisons were here and dolley was playing a very important role. she often had dignitaries and different people here. important members of congress would be seated at this table. of course, many discussions and decisions took place in this room while dolley was the hostess in this home. during war time it was very important to maintain a sense of decorum for the president and the first lady and that business was going to go on. and the united states was going to survive and continue. >> and we have a question by facebook about whether or not it's true that she would practice democracy with a small "d," really liking to mix people of various social classes when she had these events. was that her style? edi: that was part of what endeared her to people was that she did have access to just about anyone who was
well-dressed or properly-dressed, i think was the term. in other words, you don't have to be elegant and you don't have to be rich. but if you're properly-dressed, you can come and have access to the first family. katherine: but there is a lot of discussion about boots. edi: yes, there is. [laughter] katherine: so dolley madison gets criticized on both ends of the spectrum -- i think something a lot of first ladies would appreciate. so, for some people, she's way too queenly, she's too regal, she's too much. but for other people, they look at this kind of a democratic, if you will, reaching out and they are very suspicious of it. and they express their reservations around this issue of boots. so a gentleman would never come on to a carpet with boots on, he would come with shoes. but of course -- edi: but remember that washington was a very muddy place at the time. katherine: but she welcomed, of course, congressmen from very
rural areas who don't have shoes, they had boots. and so, they sort of pointed that out as a sign of her dangerous democratical tendencies. >> this is a very specific question of local history. steve rostein on facebook wants to know, "is it true she escaped washington, d.c. during the war of 1812 through what is now mclean, virginia on what is now dolley madison boulevard?” katherine: i don't know. she goes first to bellevue. she goes to this -- the home of the secretary of war jones. but he goes to bellevue which is now dumbarton house, which you can go and visit. and then, right from there they do go across in that route that we figure. and she spends the time at rokeby, matilda lee love's plantation. and then, she does end up at that house which is still standing now, called salona. so she does wander through the virginia countryside and i think that the road probably reflects that. >> and so was she safe when she crossed the river?
katherine: yes, she was. but if you actually -- you can't go to rokeby, so don't do it because it's a private house -- but i was lucky enough to go there. and you realize when she's standing on the hill that she could see washington burn. >> barbara is up next in new york city, independent, or it doesn't matter what party you are. go ahead. hi, barbara . barbara: hi, susan. how are you? could you -- either of your guests speak to a story that i read about dolley madison that she stopped at a store in baltimore that was owned by a black woman named aunt sally shad and that it was there that she first tasted ice cream and she loved it and she --after that she served it very frequently at her social gatherings? do any -- either of your guests knows anything about that? thanks so much. >> i'm glad you asked the ice cream question, barbara because ice cream and dolley madison became synonymous not
only in her age but later on in 20th century america. but i don't know the accuracy of that particular story at all. edi: i think jefferson was the one who was credited with actually bringing ice cream back from france. and dolley certainly served it in the white house, but where she found it, i don't know. katherine: but i have to say that this story resounds frivolous of the ice cream question, but i -- it actually has a kind of serious import -- the story is probably not true because ice cream does exist you know -- i think the washingtons served it as a matter of fact. but this association, people would tell me, "dolley madison invented ice cream." well, she didn't but what happened is almost immediately trauma -- immediately, while she was living and after her death , she becomes closely associated as a symbol of american womanhood. and her name and her image get coopted by everything to do with ice cream, hairpins, even -- there's a sexy dolley brand of cigars. and so, she becomes -you used
the phrase "a brand" she becomes a brand so quickly that this association and dolley madison ice cream becomes one of those things that people think that she invented it. but it really goes to how important she was and how large she loomed in the american imagination. and how people wanted to attach whatever their product was -- >> to her. court to her name and that that -- >> to her name and that that would recommend it. and she sort of foreshadows what frances cleveland does in the late 19th century where frances' face and name are plastered on all kinds of products for sale. >> and today how do white houses approach that? edi: well, i think they try to skirt it as much as possible. they restrict the use of the image for commercial purposes. susan: louie in washington, d.c. hi. welcome. louie: well, thank you, susan. fascinating program. i've enjoyed being on with you before myself, susan. but, no question, she was extraordinarily courageous. and you've touched on part of my question. but we've heard, you know, here she is she's not just worried about getting out herself, but do we know did she walk, did she ride when she took those valuables including the stuart painting? you know, one of the drawings shows her walking, but how did she personally get away? and where would she have crossed the potomac to get over into
virginia? do we know that? edi: i think catherine probably should take that one. katherine: that was -- why do i get the geography questions? but well, i will say this that she sensed that all of the cabinet papers including, by the way, james madison's notes on the constitutional convention she takes them and she send them away in these carts, sort of previous to that. at the last minute, she decides on this painting. and as you said, susan, there's some evidence that it's it might even be a copy, but it didn't matter. she understood the psychological import. so she got her servant and her slave, paul jennings, to wrestle it off the wall and break it out of the frame. and she gave it to two gentlemen from new york and put it in a cart and took it away. so all of this is getting scattered to the four winds hoping something will survive and then she herself is taken away by carriage. and she does cross. i'm sorry i don't know where. susan: john is in bronx, new york. hi, john.
john: hi. thank you for taking my call. i understand that dolley madison died in poverty. and i was just wondering if that is true? and if so, how that happened? and then, secondly, i know that eliza hamilton lived just around the corner from dolley madison in their old age and i was just curious if the two have ever interacted in their old age given they have so much to probably talk about? thank you very much. susan: how far into american history was it before president's had pensions? edi: a while. certainly not the -- susan: i think it might have been the truman's? edi: founding generations at all. so what they had is what well, what they had was what they lived on when they retired and the supposition was that if you were wealthy enough to get into politics in the first place, you'd be able to support yourself afterwards. but dolley had a ne'er do well son whose name was payne todd from her first marriage and he ran through their estate. he ran up enormous debts. he ended up in debtors' prison twice and each time james and dolley would bail him out. and then, after madison died
dolley unwisely put him in charge of montpelier and that was a disaster. so she ended up losing montpelier and, you know, living in poverty. susan: was she just not a good judge of her son's character? katherine: you know, we all have flaws. and one of the great political gifts she brought to this very contentious time in american politics is her refusal to contend. she did not fight and she kind of squelched dissention around her which is great. it's not great when you have a son who's being spoiled and needs to be curbed. and she just -- this was her blind spot at all of that -- edi: couldn't bring herself to do it. katherine: and all of that kind of amelioration which goes great in politics is not going to work with him. i do want to answer the question though about eliza schuyler hamilton and they did know each other. and, in 1848, when they laid the cornerstone for the washington
monument, the -- you know, sponsors or whatever decided to bring these what they call the relics of the republic because widows were called relics. so they brought -- they invited dolley madison, louisa catherine johnson-adams and eliza hamilton. so again, we have people of the time understanding that these women were representative of the time. susan: well, we have about 35 minutes left in our portrait of dolley madison and it's time to ask the question who was this woman that became internationally famous and what were her roots. we visited the house in philadelphia where she lived as a quaker. we're going to show you that now -- no -- now. >> this is the dolley-todd house in philadelphia. it is here that she becomes wife, mother, and because of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, a widow. this room was the kitchen of the house and here you would probably find dolley with her two sisters. when dolley married john todd, she would often have her younger sisters living here with her. they may have had day servants but as quakers they do not believe in slavery and her husband actually gave free legal
advice to the abolitionist society here in this city. this is the dining room in the todd house. and this room was a multi-use room. not only did the family dine here, but they also used it for educational purposes. the quakers believe that both men and women should be educated. and so, as you can see on the table, there are books here and a slate board for educating her sisters and, later, her son. in august of 1793, a french ship arrived in philadelphia and it was carrying passengers who were suffering from yellow fever. anyone who had money sent their family outside of the city. and john todd as a successful lawyer did exactly that. he sent dolley and his two babies across the schuylkill river to gray's ferry and he will die of yellow fever on october 24, 1793. the same day that john todd dies
of yellow fever, dolley's baby william temple, will die as well. not only has she lost her husband, her protector, so to speak, but also she has the quaker community watching her. within six months, she has gentlemen who were interested. even when she walks down the streets, her friends will tease her that all the men were stopping to stare at her. the quakers were watching her very closely. even one of her friends warns her that she needs to be aware that they are watching her, that she needs to do right by her son because the household, this property, is partly his property too even though he's only 2 years old at this time. so dolley has to contend with the scrutiny of the quaker community and even has to go to orphan's court to petition the court to be the guardian of her own son because that was the situation in those days for women in terms of rights. also, even though dolley's husband had made her the
executor of the will, her brother-in-law has kept back the property. and so, she has to hire a lawyer to protect her interests with her own brother-in-law. well, this is on the second floor of the house. this is the parlor. this is where you would entertain your friends. one of the men that was interested in meeting her was james madison. james madison was a congressman here in the capital city. philadelphia was the temporary capital of the united states at the time. so it's an exciting place to be. and james madison was friends or friendly with aaron burr. aaron bur had been living in dolley's mother's boarding house. so dolley had -- knew aaron burr. and it is aaron burr that lets her know that james madison wishes to meet her. so james madison would meet dolley and we believe here in the parlor for their first meeting. in the quaker community, they expected at least a year of
mourning before you would get married again. so it really raised eyebrows in the quaker community that she would marry within less than a year. and she's very scrutinized by the quakers for that. and the fact that he is not a quaker means that she will drummed out of the community as >> that video give us a broad overview. where was she born? >> she wants to be virginia born and bred. her mother's folks are from virginia and probably her father's as well. john payne converts to quakerism and they go off and live in north carolina in a quaker community. as far as we know, they were just going to move there.
dolley was born there so she is north carolina's only first lady. something happened on the frontier which we think had to do with her father's shady business practices and they move back to virginia. so she's raised in the world of slave holding. susan: her father released his slaves as a quaker. is that the cause of his inability to continue his business? >> i think he had other problems besides that. he couldn't farm so they moved to that chilly northern city of philadelphia. susan: i'm not sure if you know so much about her thoughts of slavery. her life was affected by her father's decision to release the slaves. how is it that she reconciled herself to actually having slaves in the white house?
>> i think that's a good question. i'm not sure i know the answer to that. but she did not free any of her slaves as her father had. and she didn't speak out against slavery. so the quaker background there did not affect her slave holding. >> this is why historians have a hard job. >> it's a real dichotomy. >> there is this moment, and she grows up in the year of slaveholding and her father frees slaves and go to philadelphia. for ten years things are terrible for the paynes in philadelphia. children die. her mother has to open up a boarding house. she's pushed into marrying john todd. she has two children, one of them dies. then she's this beautiful 25-year-old widow. and you could argue she could have had her pick of any man but she picks james madison. turns out to be a great pick. but why does she do that?
it's one of those moments she said i could go back to the world i lived in but we don't have anything from her at the. -- at that time. what we do know is by the time she's a woman in middle age and old she has exactly the same kind of weird attitude toward enslaved americans that southerners had which is the inability to understand them as humans. when james madison dies and doesn't free slaves, everyone begins to blame dolley. part of that is fine because she starts selling slaves as soon as she can. some of that is a reflection. -- reflection of their disappointment with james madison. susan: what about her quaker roots affected the kind of woman she became if this aspect did not?
i think we're back to the empathy thing. the peacemaking. the idea you don't make war. do we know if she counseled her husband against going to war since quakers don't believe in fighting wars? >> we don't know. if you read her letters, she's as partisan as anybody. she has the white house defensiveness. i think she probably supported him 100% in what he decided to do but her own nature was always to conciliate. susan: here's a question from twitter. how did dolley feel about women's education? >> what we know about her was she was a very well educated woman for her day, any class. we're not sure how she got there because she was a southerner and southerners did not educate their girls. she spent time in philadelphia. we know from her handwriting that she was very well educated. she never had a daughter so we don't know what she would have
done but i'm sure she would have given her daughter a good education. >> the quakers believed in educating women as well as men so she benefited from that. she takes that background with her into the first ladies role. susan: on facebook, what qualities did she see in james madison when he was so much her opposite? edith: well, i think opposites attract many times. i think she was very impressed with his intellect. in private he was thought to be very amusing and very entertaining. and so i think that's the side of him that she saw while they were courting. susan: and it's interesting that aaron burr provided the link between the two. you get the sense of these people who were part of the american canon were a small community.
catherine: it's a small world. and james madison fell in love with her and was very romantic. he was in his mid 40's and had never married which was odd. marriage is a very pragmatic business in this age and love isn't necessarily part of it. so dolley's approach to the marriage was pragmatic. he would be a protector of her son. as the marriage went on, she fell deeply in love with james. marriage was a pragmatic business and she had a son to protect and property to be managed. edith: and someone who would do that honestly and well. susan: and had a reputation for running his own family plantation in virginia.
rick is up next in kansas. >> hello. good evening. you ladies are good. >> thanks, rick. >> two questions if you would. first, did ms. madison travel abroad, if , so when and who did she visit? and among modern time first ladies who might she compare with? i will listen while i enjoy my gelato and cigar. susan: did dolley madison travel abroad? catherine: i don't think she ever travel abroad. susan: diplomats were amazed by that because she was so conversant and she was a diplomatic wife so they did marvel that she had that quality. susan: and how did she get her knowledge of french fashions for example? catherine: if you were dolley madison, you could not go anywhere whether it was a city in america or france without having to shop for her. also very early on she became the protege of the french
minister's wife and she schooled her as well. edith: she hired a master of ceremonies in the white house who was french and familiar with all of the diplomatic niceties shall we say so that he would explain to her what kind of food was served and what the french taste was and what french cuisine was about so she had a number of people who helped school her in this type of thing. >> the white house staff is all of this come from the money that they were paid or from their personal wealth, all these extra staff and advisors that you talk about? >> probably most of them did. for instance, one of the things she hired as they called him
french john away from the minister from great britain which was a huge flap to hire somebody away from somebody else's household particularly when that person was in the diplomatic community was an insult on the one hand or a great coup on the other. and she was able to do that. edith: --catherine: a lot of resources went to creating the outfits. she got the bills and she was like don't tell my husband. between buying the stuff and paying the duties on it, it was quite a lot. >> i wanted to ask you about the maryland component of this fleeing of the white house during the war. my understanding is that there is a house in brookville maryland that is called white house for a day and my understanding is that madison
arrived at that house and conducted business from there and i wondered whether dolley madison was part of that or whether there was some kind of a transition from virginia to maryland? >> i do not know the answer to that question. susan: that gives us another stop in this. stump the panel. another place to check out, the white house for a day you tell us about. catherine: i was going to go back and answer or give my opinion about the second part of the question was who would she compare to in the present. edith: and i would say jacqueline kennedy. i think she looked at imagining her husband's administration and recreating the white house for -- as a stage for the conduct of politics and diplomacy through her renovation of the white house in the same way dolley looked at the white house as a
stage and imaged her husband's presidency. so i see a lot of comparable activity and things that she was trying to achieve as was jacqueline kennedy. susan: --catherine: and jacqueline kennedy referenced dolley. she was a fan and definitely referenced her in the re dog of -- the redoing of the white house. >> and she had to love the french furniture. susan: with regard to the renovation of the white house, if you go to the white house today, can you see evidence of the torching by the british? edith: there are places in the basement where you can see burned timbers. i know when they did the restoration of the white house under truman, they found a lot of charred wood and charred bricks and so forth that were taken out and saved as remnants from the fire.
susan: we're showing some pictures of some of the charring right now. catherine: you can see it on the trim of the balcony too. laura bush told me president bush showed the prime minister. -- the british prime minister. susan: how complete it was destruction? edith: pretty complete inside. it had to be almost totally rebuilt. susan: how long did it take to rebuild it? edith: the madisons didn't move back in. it wasn't until the monroe's administration that they were able to move back in the white house so i would say a couple of years. susan: about 18 minutes and it's time to move. a complex part of our history and long life to the retirement after the madison administration. james and dolley return to their beloved montpelier in virginia and we're going to visit that place next.
>> if you were a visitor, you would enter here and be shown into the madison's great drawing room. mrs. madison had many lady friends she would invite here. margaret baird smith and the daughters of thomas jefferson were also frequent visitors. her most intimate circle included her family, her sisters especially were always welcome guests as well as many nieces she had who often stayed for extended visits here. the drawing room combined many different themes into one. you see many of the faces of the great american statesman, but you see figures of classical antiquity. you have a reproduction of the declaration of independence. you have a miniature of homer the writer of the great epics of greece.
then you have a painting of pan nypmh and youth. this was 200 years old when they purchased it. in the way of blending the classical and american they were trying to place in the american founding in the important events in world history. this is a room where all the guests would assemble before dinner and have a chance to meet one another and converse socially and casually and then they might be invited to dine in the dining room. after supper, the ladies would adjourn back into the drawing room and maybe play a game and be served coffee and tea. this was a social center of the house. if you were a part of the intimate circle of family or friends you would be invited
into the dining room from the drawing room. here dolley madison in an unusual setting for the period would sit at the head of the table and her husband would is it at the middle of the table. dolley would direct the conversation and james could engage in conversation with the people to his right or left. this table today is set for eight people but there could be as many people as 20 served in the dining room. that would not be unusual. she considered dining here to be more relaxing than entertaining in washington. she was less worried serving 100 people here than 20 in washington. many important figures would be seated with them. thomas jefferson was frequently here. james monroe was here. henry clay. margaret smith.
once while mrs. madison was serving at the head of the table the vice president offered to do the honors for her and she responded oh no, watch with what ease i do it. and he had to admit she did it with unparalleled ease. it was as if, he said, she had been born and educated in versailles. susan: and looking at their life when they returned there, how was it compared to when they lived in the white house? edith: i think they were besieged by people who wanted to associate themselves with the madisons. many visitors in addition to -- political visitors in addition to family and friends. sort of like the washingtons and the jeffersons. everybody wanted to meet the great parsonages. so they had people in the house with them. not only relatives but many
political visitors as well. susan: she was devoted to him and important to him in getting his papers together in that role. was she happy doing that? catherine: yes, at the point she loved her husband very much. that is where he wanted to stay and so she stayed as well. the descriptions of her at this time weren't the same. she's described as content, adam and eve in paradise. she definitely missed washington. she would write and say tell me all the news and she would complain a little bit i haven't been out. keep me up to date and let me know what is happening. for her own self, she probably would have wanted to go back to washington for a visit but james madison was going to stay put. susan: she was 49 years old when she left the white house. he was 17 years her senior.
she worked to involve him when he was in the last days of his final illness. before we talk about her years back in washington because she lived until the age of 81 and was very much involved in the washington scene. >> i have a couple of comments about dolley madison's clothing and fashion and then i have a question. i used to be a dosen at the north carolina historical museum and we happen to have some of her belongings which includes the original of that red velvet dress we saw. also we own a pink silk dress she wore while she was first lady. and what was interesting about that piece of clothing was when we had it conserved by the
people from williamsburg virginia. they found that the tiny buttons on the front of the dress were filled with dried peas. so that's what her dress maker did for her with french fashion . also as she grew older and her hair became very very thin, she did have some real human hair curls sewed into her turbins and put that on in the morning with her curls showing and she looked younger she thought. my question is, the way the greensboro historical museum came into possession of these wonderful items including beautiful silk shoes and carved ivory calling cases is they received it from some folks who bought a trunk at auction that
was sort of a hidden treasure. and i want to know what these ladies know about the finding of that trunk that was hidden behind a wall. and i want to say it was in philadelphia. but i want to know how the person that had that hidden behind the wall got those very important things and had them? catherine: i'll answer quickly because i want to say this is happening in the 1950's and 1960's so not that long ago. the story of ladies historical society found and financed this deserves a television program of its own. it was fascinating. they raised money one chicken dinner at a time to pay the sum of $25,000 to get this stuff. susan: is that close to where she was born, is that where the connection was?
catherine: the ladies felt like she was north carolina's only born first lady. you can go there now and see part of that. susan: dolley madison returns to washington after the death of her beloved james. how does she spend her years here? edith: she becomes the grand dame of washington society once again. because people know about her poverty but don't want to confront her with it, people in the white house, the tylers and polks, invite her to come to dinner on many occasions. the younger first ladies always ask her advice on entertaining and handling large crowd of people. so she becomes sort of an ex-oficio first lady advisor. and that's how she happened to
do the match making between angelica singleton and van buren's son. she's in the mix again and very much a behind the scenes player again. susan: this is not a tragic ending. she manages to live a well known involved life. catherine: i think it was lonely without james. virgil is he sold out. -- eventually she sold montpelier. you remember this is her town. she worked for 16 years to build this town and the president's mansion as a symbol. it was under her tenure that the president's mansion got a nickname the white house. she can be credited with the nationalism around the end of the war of 1812. when she comes back to washington, it is like the past came to light.
she wore many of the same clothes. she was poor. but it had this effect of making your seem like a relic from an era. susan: was dolley her real name? catherine: it was indeed. though again her niece tried to perpetuate this idea that she was named dorothy. but she was dolley and trying to figure out why her family tried -- it goes back to the scandalous rumors about her sexual fair with thomas jefferson and they thought that was too common a name for her but she was dolley and her birth is recorded that way. susan: with or without the e? you see it spelled sometimes without.
catherine: that's advertising. now the icon. susan: john is in pennsylvania. >> yes, i was wondering if dolley madison's first husband john todd was related to abraham lincoln's wife mary todd. catherine: i have no idea. i'm going to say what is important about that is marry todd brooded that about. todd is a very common name. when mary todd comes to down -- comes to town decade later and dolley madison set the example. mary todd tries to ride on her coat tails. but she does not have dolley's sense of tone. she's tone death when it comes -- she's tone deaf when it comes to that. susan: is it true dolley's son from her first marriage gambled away much of her money? edith: that and drinking.
susan: that will do it. did he continue his relationship with his mother in later years? edith: no, she did not. susan: robert, your question about dolley madison? >> i'm questioning what's the relationship between ms. madison and mrs. polk and harrison. susan: and harrison. catherine: i think the polks became friends. people wanted to associate themselves with dolley after she came back to the capitol city and it was cachet by association so the polks often invited her to dine with them and take part in parties and so forth in the we should tell people about
congress awarding her a seat. catherine: i call this her iconic phase when she becomes a symbol. she's awarded a seat on the floor of congress with escorts. she's the only woman to do it and for a woman to do it. there is a lot of attention being paid to her and she starts to become a symbol even as she's living. susan: did she avail herself of the debates of the congress? catherine: one of the things she did for other women is that she would go to the debates and go and watch the supreme court argue and that allowed other women to do that as well. edith: that was a way of bringing the women into a knowledge of what was going on politically so while they were part of this social network that she was setting up in washington, they could also be part of the political networks as well.
she would get the women together and they would go up to capitol hill. she called them dove parties. it was educating the women side to what was going on in politics. susan: debbie on facebook -- didn't paul jennings give her money at the end of her life when she was so poor? >> money and groceries, yes. susan: you spoke about how she was writing a letter to her sister in the midst of evacuating the white house. how did it get posted or did she hold on to it? catherine: we only have this letter in her fair hand. so in 1830's when she's thinking about her legacy. her friend wants stuff from dolley madison. she's cautious.
and she mentioned this letter, we don't have the original. in a great magazine, there's an article. she may have altered that for history's sake. edith: that is a great pr move. susan: pam, you're our last caller. >> i wanted to ask whether dolley madison had any kind of relationship with james monroe's wife who i know travelled in europe and i believe was born in england and whether she had any grandchildren through her son? >> thank you very much. that helps us set the stage for a future conversation. did they have a relationship? edith: not terribly much.
they knew each other as plantation owners in the same area but they were not friendly and there were no children. >> we would say no legitimate issue as they would say. susan: as we close here, here is a quote from dolley madison, we all have a hand in the formation of our own destiny. we must press on that intricate path leading to perfection and happiness by doing all that is our closing thoughts. your thoughts on the importance at legacy. catherine: she's important for several reasons which she does set the role of first lady. for historians we look at her because she let's us know the role of aristocracy in this great democracy, why does this matter?
and i think for dolley madison what she's offered us a model of governance that stresses civility and empathy. she's modeling this for us. she's not going to win. we need examples and role models and her way of conducting politics, stressing building bridges and not bunkers is a model we can use for the future. edith: i think she's very important as katherine says for bringing those models but also for bringing women into the political mix at a very early time period. and her conciliation or her abilities to bring people together. wouldn't it be nice if we had her back in washington now. susan: we only skimmed the surface in 90 minutes of 81 interesting years of life. if you want to learn more.
featuring first lady, implement and image at 8:00 p.m. eastern time on sunday nights throughout the rest of the year. next week we'll get luis a monroe and adams. each week, american history tv's american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places. next, we travel to the national constitution center in philadelphia to learn about 42 bronze statues in signer's hall and to learn about the constitutional convention of 1787. prof. rosen: i'm thrilled to welcome you to signer's hall. let me tell you about the national constitution center. and tell you about this room.