Dolley Madison was born on May 20, 1768 in Guilford County, North Carolina. She was one of eight children born into a Quaker family. When she was an infant, she moved with her family from North Carolina to a plantation in Scotchtown, Hanover County, Virginia. When Dolley was fifteen, she and her family moved to Philadelphia, PA.
On January 7, 1790, Dolley married John Todd, Jr., a lawyer and fellow Quaker. They had two children – John Payne and William Temple. An outbreak of yellow fever in 1793 took the lives of John Todd, Jr. and young William, leaving her a widow.
Later, U.S. Senator Aaron Burr introduced Dolley to her future husband, James Madison. Martha Washington, the very first First Lady of the United States, encouraged Dolley to marry James Madison who was 17 years her elder. On September 14, 1794, James and Dolley were married. Later, James, Dolley and John Payne moved to Montpelier – the Madison Family estate in Orange County, Virginia.
In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson appointed James Madison Secretary of State and the Madison family moved to Washington, DC. Since President Jefferson was a widower, he asked Dolley to serve as hostess at White House social functions. Dolley enjoyed entertaining and hosting large dinner parties, so the position suited her very well.
James Madison was elected fourth President of the United States in 1809. That year, Dolley instituted the very first inaugural ball. The Madisons spent eight years in the White House. In August 1814, during the War of 1812, the White House was burned by British Troops. Dolley stayed until important state documents as well as a famous portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart were saved so that they were not destroyed in the fire. She returned to the White House three days later and found it burned to the ground.
When James Madison’s presidential term ended, Dolley and James retired to Montpelier. James Madison died June 28, 1836. Dolley later returned to Washington where she lived until her death on July 12, 1849.