Growing up in New York City
Elizabeth Monroe was the First Lady of the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, from 1817 to 1825. Not much is known about her early life, but she was born on June 30, 1768, to an established merchant family in New York City. She had three sisters and one brother. All else that is known of her youth is that since she was part of a wealthy New York family, she spent much of her time socializing with the city’s elite.
Married at Seventeen to James Monroe
At just seventeen years old, she married James Monroe when he was serving as lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary War. They lived together in New York for twenty years as James served in Congress. At this time, New York was the capital of America. When James retired from Congress, the couple moved to Virginia. During her years in Virginia, Elizabeth gave birth to two girls and one boy. She spent most of her time with her family. In 1790, James moved the family to the nation’s next capital, Philadelphia, when he was elected to the senate. While in Philadelphia, Elizabeth loved to travel to New York and visit her relatives.
The Monroe family lived in Philadelphia for four years before moving to Paris, where James would be the United States Minister for France. Elizabeth loved living in Paris, where she quickly became acquainted and enchanted with French society. She was very careful to follow European and French customs, and she loved French fashion and clothing.
A European Touch at the White House
The Monroes eventually moved back to Virginia, and then to Washington, DC, in 1811, when James was appointed secretary of state by President Madison. Monroe was elected president in 1817, making Elizabeth the nation’s fifth First Lady. Elizabeth, who remained interested in European customs and manners, altered the White House hosting customs to reflect more of the European hosting style during her time in the White House. She even went back to Europe numerous times to travel through London and Paris.
Too Sick to Perform the Functions of First Lady
During her stay in the White House, however, Elizabeth was often sick and found it difficult to attend to the many social duties expected of a First Lady. By the time that her husband’s presidency was up in 1825, she was so sick that the Monroes were forced to remain in the White House for a month after they were supposed to have vacated. When she was strong enough to leave, the couple moved back to their home in Virginia. Elizabeth became a very private person at this time, only leaving the house to travel to New York to see her family. A year after they had moved out of the White House in 1826, Elizabeth had a seizure next to a fireplace and fell dangerously close to the fire. The burns and injuries further deteriorated her health. She passed away three years later at sixty-two years old.