Dolley Madison: A target of gossip and innuendo

Dolley and James Madison had a life-long love affair. Photo: Statue of Dolley and James Madison captures their deep affection

FORT WORTH, Tx., November 17, 2012 —Part II: Dolley and James Madison were the golden couple of their era, but they were not without detractors. Dolley and James had no children of their own, although Dolley had given birth during her first marriage. Enemies used this information to question James’ virility, indicating that he was impotent and was too feeble to lead the country.

President James Madison

Medical thought at the time also believed that excessive sexual desire belonged to the realm of men and Dolley exuded a sexuality that set some tongues wagging. The very thought of a woman having desires like that was almost beyond belief.

As Catherine Allgor explains in her book, “A Perfect Union”: Too much female lust and sex would lose its procreative capacity.”

One rumor even had Thomas Jefferson pimping Dolley and her sister Anna to foreign visitors. There was also an “advertisement” in the Georgetown Federal Republican for a publication about moral and political law.

One chapter called “Love and Smoke Cannot Be Hidden” dealt with the sex lives of a thinly disguised Washington couple — the oversexed and unfaithful wife of an impotent man.

The Madison’s dismissed the ugliness of the gossip and for the most part ignored it. They believed, as did Thomas Jefferson, that to address the accusations would only encourage more of the same and make it worse.

After the Madison presidency, James and Dolley retired to Montpelier in 1817, where Dolley continued to entertain and helped her husband to organize and prepare the papers he used in drafting the Constitution.

President Madison died in 1836 at age 85. In a letter to her best friend Eliza Collins Lee Dolley confessed, “Indeed I have been as one in a troubled dream since my irreparable loss of him, for whom my affection was perfect, as was his character and conduct thro’ life.”

 Dolley stayed on at Montpelier until she had to sell it and other holdings to pay off debts incurred by her son, Payne, leaving her near poverty.

Dolley Madison

The sale to Congress of some of her husband’s papers and the sale of Montpelier in 1844 helped, but she still relied on the charity of friends.

Dolley made the permanent move to Washington City that year to a townhouse across the street from the presidential mansion. It was there she died on July 12, 1849 at age 81.

She was given a state funeral where incumbent president Zachary Taylor declared about Dolley, “….the first lady of the land for a century.”

Other interesting facts about Dolley Madison:

National First Ladies Library states that Dolley was a,  “fundraiser, supporter and board member, she helped to found a Washington, D.C. home for young orphaned girls. She also befriended nuns from a local Catholic school and began a lifelong association with the organization.” 

* Incumbent First Ladies often sought her advice on how to best serve their role including Julia Tyler and Sarah Polk.

* She was also awarded an honorary seat in Congress where she could watch congressional debates from the floor.

First Ladies Room at the White House

* Samuel F. B. Morse selected her to be the first private citizen to send a telegraph. It read, “Message from Mrs. Madison. She sends her love to Mrs. Wethered,” a cousin in Baltimore. 

* Dolley Madison worked with the architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe to furnish the White House after Jefferson left it partially unfinished on the inside. The beautiful result came in under budget as well.

* Raised as a Quaker, Dolley was expelled from the Society when she married non-Quaker Madison. She later joined the Episcopal Church.

* She was known for expensive and stylish clothes including her trademark turban.

Future First Ladies since that time have had awfully big shoes to fill. Dolley Madison not only created the role of President’s wife and laid the foundation for society in Washington City, but in doing so, she also left a wonderful legacy that continues to serve the People to this day. 

At the 1838 New Year’s party hosted by Dolley, Kentucky Senator Henry Clay famously stated, “Every body loves Mrs. Madison.” To this, Dolley replied, “Mr. Clay, I love every body.” 


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Claire Hickey

Claire has held a Texas Cosmetology License, Certification in Surgical Technology and has decorated cakes professionally. She believes that life is a banquet to be experienced and wants to learn and do as much as possible while she’s here. This Stay @ Home Mom has always loved to write and thanks to the Communities @ The Washington Times has got her chance. Her curiosity and writing lead her to create her column based on “garbage in garbage out” theory to provide interesting and thought provoking pieces that enrich her readers. A proud member and Treasurer for the Greater Fort Worth Writer’s Group she is currently working on her first novel.  


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