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tv   First Ladies Influence Image - Dolley Madison  CSPAN  April 30, 2021 12:40pm-2:14pm EDT

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♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ dolley was both socially adept and politically savvy. >> madison 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
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weshs to meet her. >> she carved out a space for women where she 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 everyone feel welcome, 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 dame, very much behind the scenes in the political field again.
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>> as henry clay famously said, everybody loves mrs. madison. and then, of course, her equally famous response, that's because mrs. madison loves everybody. >> 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 on dolley madison to assist her 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 of influence. tonight we learn about the intriguing dolley madison. for the next 90 minutes we have two guests who know much about her. catherine allgor is author of dolley madison and historian.
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thanks for being here. >> it's a pleasure. >> edith mayo is one of our four historian consultants for this series. she was the creator of the first ladies exhibit at the smithsonian that so many millions of smithsonian visitors have seen throughout the years. thank you for being here tonight. >> thank you. it's a pleasure. >> 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, sort of modern person 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. she also creates the first lady role that we have come to know.
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every modern first lady, i think everybody all the way up, looks to her. she opens the door for a lot of women. >> staying with those thoughts because we're trying to show the parallels among them, how they hand off things about the roles to others. what are some of the things dolley madison contributed to the role? >> well, i think in our first segment about martha washington, you saw martha as a western who perfected the aspect of the role, which was the social partner to the president and the 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 precedence for the future first ladies. and she's kind of still, i think, held up as a standard by
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which other people measure themselves today. >> well, 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 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 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. we welcome your participation. throughout the program we'll have our phone lines open and be taking your calls. you can also send us a tweet. use #firstladies. we've got the c-span page on facebook. lots of ways to add your questions or comments to our discussion tonight. now, i know there are people -- because i started getting emails this week -- wanting to know all about martha jefferson and they're wondering, what happened? we 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
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house? >> she was not in the white house because she died very early on. she and jefferson were married for ten 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 far as -- simplo 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. >> was there criticism of him for not being so social? >> i think there was criticism not necessarily for him being so social, but not so social,
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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's what the new nation was all about. >> how important was the relationship between thomas jefferson and the madisons? >> well, they were -- it's very important. i mean, james madison and thomas jefferson were very close political allies and friends. it's natural, of course, when jefferson gets elected to bring madison on as his secretary of state. i want to say something about jefferson's social program, if you will. it's not an accident. he was not interested in power
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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, 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. this idea, too, that edith brought up about his lack of women, why her role in the jefferson administration isn't that big story at that time. he had been to france and he had seen women, 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 fourth of july and new year's day. that was partly because he wanted to curtail the power of women. but there was something else going on on the house on f
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street and that was dolley madison setting up the connections and networks 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 called. it was the house on f street. >> here are our few bullet points about the country in 1810 as james madison takes office. the population at that time was 7.2 million, 17 states. 36% growth since the census ten years earlier. you'll remember last week it was ten year -- 35% growth. so, this country is -- >> booming. >> -- booming, bursting at the seams, even though the seams were smaller in those days. of those, 16% were slaves, 1.2 million people. and the largest cities continued to be new york city, philadelphia and baltimore, and boston. what should we know about the politics, the most important
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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? >> right. there were two big stories that i guess i want to say about this era. the first one is disunion. i think you're getting sense here that the early republic, this is what we call this time period, was a time of great anxiety. nobody was sure this union was going to hold. in fact people of the time would refer to the united states in the plural, they would say, the united states of america are, which signaled it is not quite holding together. so there's a real fear it's going to fall apart. one of the sources of this disunion might be what they called regionalism. later they'll call it sectionalism as they head toward the civil war. 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. the second thing i would like to say, we know the end of the
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story. so we know 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 were what the founders had intended. so now we look back and see what that period, a period of growing pains, and we see that dolley madison, obviously not knowing how this was going to end, was the perfect person to help the nation ease into what it was going to be. >> here she is with the father of the nation, serving as the chief executive, he brought with him a real idea of how this role should be carried out. how did he approach it and how did she help him? >> you said concept, he understood the concept of unity. but how do you bring forget unity? what dolley madison did, along
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with other women of the time, was take these abstract concepts and translate them into action. so she's enacting unity on this national stage. >> how? >> the first thing i think was alluded to in the beginning, she brought people together. she launches her drawing rooms and 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. the early republic, it's a time of survival. this feeling of disunity or disunion is exacerbated in washington because all these regionalisms come together with the most fractious congress we've ever had. these people who didn't just disagree with each other, but they duelled and fought with each other not just on the streets but in the halls of congress. >> this drawing room concept is
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exactly the kind of thing that march that washington and abigail adams had used. >> 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 in 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's 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 some of these tensions and animosities that play themselves out in the halls of congress
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have a way of being resolved at parties, in an amicable way. so she's really forging new networks that will work for both politics and society. >> and this concept, you write about in several of your books, the subtitle of this is, "and the creation of the american nation," and you rye write aboue fact that these women used their social skills to build this nation. >> the founders understood this american revolution they had was more than just a political revolution. they were going to, and this was a phrase they loved, 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. so they turned to the women, and this is actually a political theory called the scottish
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enlightenment, in case somebody wants to wikipedia that, which says in a culture, laws can come and go but what they call manners stay. manners are not just tea cups but the way people treat each other and how they regard each other and how they behaved. and this was very appealing to these new americans. for one thing, they're inventing a whole bunch of laws they're not sure people are going to buy, and they really need people to behave. the phrase they use is republican virtue, that's "republican" with a small "r." that meant people would put their interest in their country before themselves. how do you get people to do that? they looked to the women of this class to start enforcing what they called national manners. this was a very important part. these women, elite white women of the cities, were an important part of that. >> if you live in eastern or central time zones our number is 202-585-3880. please dial carefully so you
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don't get someone else altogether. mountain and pacific, 202-585-3881. and we'll take calls in another ten minutes or so so you can get in queue right now. this is a facebook question. and either of you can take it, but i'll turn to you as a long time curator of first ladies. sue kay weedler on facebook says the first ladies were excellent correspondents, writing hundreds of notes and letters in their lifetime. in what condition are these early letters? abigail adams, we saw last week, thousands of letters over the course of her lifetime. what about dolley madison, what did she preserve? did she have a sense of her legacy? >> i think she probably did have a sense of her legacy. she's writing to i believe her sister as the british are coming to burn the white house, and she's telling her sister what she's doing and what she's saving. so that, you know, there will be something to put in a history book. she wants it known that she is saving the state documents, the important pieces of silver, the
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portrait of george washington for which he is so famous. but she's writing literally as everything is being packed to be carted off to virginia to safety. so she's very aware of what she's doing. and she writes a number of letters to her family members. >> susan, i'm going to weigh in, because this questioner knows that as historians, this is the heart what have we do, these are the primary sources. 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 madden 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.
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and we also have this great account from her niece mary cutts. she writes a lot of these stories which must have come from dolley herself. that tells us later in life she has a sense of her legacy. she can't intrude upon the public notice as a man would but we think she co-opted her niece and gave her these memoirs which we've published for the first time so people can get a sense of those. >> 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. red fabrics have always
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complimented the fabric in her chair. she's clearly an inspiration for that room. the red room was in fact yellow under dolley madison. it was her yellow parlor. the red color was introduced more in the 1820s and '30s. the furniture of the period, now it's american entire 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 bust painted into the background, and the fact that dolley madison is connected to that story years and years later. 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. president van buren was a widower. dolley madison basically introduced angelica to her
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husband-to-be, which is the president's eldest son, and so she became de facto host of the white house, largely as a result of dolley madison doing a little match making. >> what condition was the white house when the madisons moved in and washington, d.c. as a new capital city? >> well, washington, d.c. was a very muddy place. and abigail had written home that it was the very dirtiest hole of a place she had 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's doing is building a social network among the women so that a lot of this is overlooked or, you know, politics and diplomacy
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and fashion can carry people over the fact that we're not living in some fantastic capital of the world. >> question on twitter from ann who asks, did dolley know abigail adams and/or martha washington and did they get along? >> yes, dolley madison knew martha washington because she was there when martha was the first lady. their niece said when james madison was courting dolley, she blushed and stammered and said i think it's wonderful even if he's much older than you. what's interesting about abigail adams, we have one letter, quite far into abigail's life, she writes asking for a favor of dolley madison and says, even though we have never had the pleasure of an acquaintance.
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so we know they probably didn't meet. what's so interesting is abigail is asking dolley madison for patronage, to give a job to a relative. sometimes you ask why we study women's history, why we study first ladies. the answer is we learn things we wouldn't know otherwise. we have this one moment where we have a former first lady, a former president's wife asking another for patronage. >> lots of interceding on other people's behalf. that was part of what was seen as a first lady's role in that period. >> in addition to henry clay, who were some of her biggest congressional allies in the period? >> 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
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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 thing he was not. for sure, he knew he had to walk a fine line. if he wanted to go to war, he needed allies. he couldn't ally himself with henry clay and the war hawks, but he had dolley do it. so we have stories about dolley and henry clay sharing a snuff box together and everybody talks about the snuff box. we have to look at these things as a form of political analysis. when the people at the time were looking at that they weren't just saying, oh, look at dolley madison and henry clay. they're trying to read the energy and read the wind. so she courted people on both sides of the aisle. when she singled someone out for special attention, people knew
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something was in the air. >> our website has video on each of these women and each week there will be a special feature seen only on the web. if you go there tonight, you'll see dolley madison's snuff box. how important was snuff to her? >> she was addicted, i'm afraid. >> part of that image we talked about the. this is mother one of those modern concepts. it seems like the women patriots knew how to use their power for the sake of our country. were they real feminists or wives wishing to please their husbands? >> i think a little of each. these women were aware of their place in history. particularly if you're 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
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think they knew exactly what they were doing and they enjoyed wielding the power that was given to them. >> first question by phone from scotty in dixon, tennessee. hi, scotty. are you there? >> i'm calling into y'all's show for the first time. >> great, welcome. >> caller: thank you. what i wanted to know, when thomas jefferson was president, i mean, excuse me, dolley madison, when she was helping him as a hostess, did she know anything with the affair that he had with sally hemings? >> so the sally hemings question, yes, the big question is not her helping thomas jefferson as a hostess, she did step in. there is a story in the hemings family, i read about it in elizabeth dowling taylor's book
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about paul jennings who was 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. what was dolley madison's opinion of thomas jefferson and did the madisons as far as we know ever visit monticello? >> i think they visited back and forth. they were good friends and had known each other for many, many years. maybe you have more information on that. >> what's the distance between montpelier and monticello? >> oh, gosh, i was trying to do it in the car. it's a little ways. we'll talk about retirement years, the few times james madison leaves his beloved montpelier is to visit thomas
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jefferson. we don't know, maybe, dolley madison's true opinion about a lot of people because she was often very cautious. what's significant is that thomas jefferson seemed to love her. even though she is conducting this social circle under his nose and he is a great hater, nobody hated like thomas jefferson. so the fact that he seemed to adore dolley speaks volumes about her. >> and chose her as the hostess when he needed one in the white house. >> yes. >> catherine is up next in houston. hi, catherine. >> hi, hi, thank you for taking my call. my question is, i know that dolley madison was raised a quaker and married her first husband, was a quaker, and was a member of the friends church, and she left it and married james madison. and i read stories about how her father freed his slaves and testimony to the abolition of slavery. i was just wondering how do you think her quaker upbringing
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influenced her as a first lady? >> okay. briefly, please, because we'll spend more time on this later. >> yeah, i'll cut to sort of the chase, because the quaker part is irresistible. we just don't know enough about her childhood. 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. dolley is known to be empathic and sympathetic and warm, people would say when you talk to her, it's like you're the only person in the room. i think that comes from her quaker-ness. >> and i think the reason she was able to do this role so as well is because quakers believed everybody was equal, you don't get a sense of her thinking anyone is lesser than. she fits right in and does her thing. that comes from her quaker
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background as well. >> 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? >> that i do not know. >> i don't know, no. >> let's presume it was, it's about $1.1 million today. >> a healthy sum. >> a healthy sum compared to what we pay presidents today. but who paid for all these social functions? did they have to pay out of their own salaries for all these events that we're talking about? >> yeah, 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. 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
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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 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 diplomatic negotiations in a proper setting. >> but here it sounds to me, after now three of these, there's this constant push/pull between wanting to be seen as equals with europe but at the same time, eschewing all of the
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things they had revolted -- >> a real dichotomy. >> where is the sweet spot? >> that's one of the things we look toward women as well, it gets resolved with women. we fight a revolution but now we're stuck with a nation. the only vocabulary of power they have is diplomacy. 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. so the men have to draw this very strict line but the women get to express of aristocratic longings. that's one of the messages she's sending out. it's only when we look at the women of that time do we understand that a lot of that
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beginning of the american nationhood is predicated on royalty. >> who called her the presidentress? >> i think samuel mitchell but he wasn't alone. >> who called her queen dolley? >> a lot of people did that. >> affectionateffectionately. she dressed a queen, which is what you see in a lot of the reports or a lot of the letters, she looked every inch a queen. sometimes they say 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
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finer things to which the nation aspires but she's not royalty. so she's always walking this very fine line line. >> you have provided a wonderful segue to our next videos. >> oh, 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. we'll show that you now. >> most of the dresses we have at the visitors 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
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while she was first lady. it's 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 you would normally find in the courts of europe. dolley was setting a style that was unique to american fashion. a lot of people think that dolley set the fashion of the turban. and that's not quite true. it began in persia, and it 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.
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people noticed it. sometimes they thought that her fashion was a little bit too regal. there was one instance where she wore something that was lined ermine and she wore some gilt edging in her turban and people said this was overstepping things, she looked too regal, she looked to queenly, they were afraid that dolley was setting the wrong tone for america. toward the end of her life dolley wore many of the same fashions she wore in her earlier day. some of this may have been to evoke that american founding. 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.
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she had several daggeurotypes and paintings. >> you mentioned that she was quite tall. >> she was 5' 7 1/2". >> i continue to have an image of the two of them standing next to each other, dolley in her turban and feathers and james in the silk stockings, it doesn't work for me. >> and do i have to tell you, it became politicized. a lot of the criticism of the madisons focused on james madison who was tiny and pigmy-like, somebody called him an anchovy. this is a time when political authority was male. so, thomas jefferson, big and tall, washington i believe described as a hunk in the previous program, and then you
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have this little tiny guy. >> with a big brain. >> with a big brain. this is why we have his press secretary come out, dolley's cousin, saying he's 5'6", and he's not, why we would 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 oversightly overtly sexual, that she was, in our phrase, hot, and the reason they didn't have children was because she was burning up his essence. >> and very scurrilously, during the campaign she was accused of having had an affair with jefferson, because she had be his hostess on various occasions. they extrapolated a personal affair. >> were they able to put that to rest? >> i think they were, he would
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not have been reluctant if people had actually thought that that scurrilous accusation was the truth. >> so a question about dolley madison's approach to this image and the way she dressed. was this a conscious decision to stand apart? >> yes. >> as opposed to personally taste or vanity? she was creating a brand, in other words. >> yeah, and again, we have to look at the context here. 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? not a lot of structure. so the people of 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 grandeur. it always seems like george washington is posing for
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statues. in the early republic, it's always about dolley. the descriptions of her are on the move. it's not just fashion report 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 dress is. she's wearing an adaptation, what she imagines americans imagine of a queen. >> how did rank and file americans react to this? the newspapers would carry reports of -- >> yes, descriptions what have she was wearing and how elegant it was. >> were they proud or aghast? >> i think they were mostly proud. the federalists were a little put off by this, thought it was a little too regal, a little too queenly, a little too court-like. there was a lot of discussion about creating a republican court, with a small "r," and
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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 ingeneral i couldn't say ingenious about dolley is she takes european influences and filters them through a democratic lens. they give you something to aspire to as a new nation, how elegant and wonderful it can be, but you don't offend people who dislike the courts and royalty of europe. >> i told you i wanted to get this in, she had a parrot? >> po polly, yes.
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a macaw. a servant takes the macaw over to the white house 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 nighthawk, came to a sad end. >> maybe some in washington secretly cheered. you have provided a wonderful transition because it's time to talk about the important decision to go to war with great britain and the eventual siege of the city. >> the background of all of this is the war has been going on for a couple of years and there have been various rumors going around the city that the capital was a target. washington city from the beginning has sort of an
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inferior at this complex and so the men in charge would say, oh, no, they're never coming to washington, baltimore is the place, it's of so much more consequence. so when the british do march on washington city, washington city is not prepared. james madison is in field, overseeing the troops. she's alone in the white house. and she begins the letter that edie referred to on 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 wait fog are 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 to the telescope, looking for her husband. she's observing how badly the battles are going. and she's packing things. she's packing silver, she's packing what she considers the people's possessions, and she's sending them off in carts, and finally it's time to go.
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>> how in danger was she? >> 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 stewart portrait. writing about it, she knew what her place in history was going to be. >> catherine allgor, you write about the fact that even this was symbolic because it was a copy of a painting. she understood the british couldn't be seen burning --
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>> exactly. >> yes, in fact, when you talk about it as a historian, was she really as symbolic as we say, sometimes it's instructive to look at the enemies. admiral coburn 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 in her drawing room, he was going to parade her through the streets. he's not attacking james madison, he's attacking her. so we know she was a public figure. when he got to the white house, she wasn't there, he took things like a cushion because he said he wished to warmly recall mrs. madison's seat. the dinner party, it's odd to be having a dinner party when washington was in exodus, but she was trying to hold the capital together even while it was falling apart. so she had fully intended to have a dinner party that day. >> here is the text of the letter she wrote her sister as
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she was fleeing the white house. 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 you to or where i shall be tomorrow i cannot tell. >> of course after the 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. >> next, we will visit the octagon house by video. >> this building is very important for dolley madison's
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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. 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
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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 wartime 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 practiced democracy with a small "d" really liking to mix people of various social classes when she had these events. was that her style?
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>> that was part of what endeared her to people, 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. >> but there is a lot of discussion about boots. >> yes, there is. >> 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 regal, she's too much. other people look at this democratic, if you will, reaching out, and they're suspicious of it. they express their reservations around this issue of boots. so a gentleman would never come onto a carpet with boots on, he would come with shoes. >> we have to remember that washington was a very muddy place at the time. >> yes. but she welcomed, of course, congress men from very rural
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areas who don't have shoes, they have boots. and so they pointed to that as a sign of her dangerous democratical tendencies. >> this is a very special question of local history. steve 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? >> i don't know. >> she goes first to bellevue. she goes to the home of the secretary of war, jones. but she goes to bellevue, which is now dumbarton house which you can go and visit. and right from there they do go across in that route that we figure, and she spends the time at matilda love's plantation. and a house still standing now called salona. she wanders through the virginia countryside. the road probably reflects that. >> was she safe once she crosses
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the river? >> yes, she was. i was lucky enough to go there and you realize when she's standing on the hill, she can see washington burn. >> barbara is on the line, an independent. it doesn't matter what party you are. go ahead, barbara. >> caller: i story i read about dolley madison, she stopped at a store in baltimore that was owned by a black woman named aunt sally shedd and it was there she first tasted ice cream and she loved it and after that, she served it very frequenly at her social gatherings. >> 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. i think jefferson was the one who was credited with actually bringing ice cream back from
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france. and dolley certainly served it in the white house. but where she found it, i don't know. >> but i have to say that this story, which sounds frivolous, the ice cream question, it actually has a serious import. the story is probably not true because ice cream does exist, i think the washingtons served it, as a matter of fact. but it's this association, people tell me, oh, dolley madison invented ice cream. she didn't, but what happened is almost 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 co-opted by everything to do with ice cream, hair pins, even there's a sexy dolley brand of cigars. so she becomes, you used the phrase a brand, she becomes a brand so quickly that this association with dolley madison ice cream becomes one of these things, that people think she invented it. but it really goes to how important she was and how large she loomed in the american
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imagination. >> and how people wanted to attach whatever their product was to her name and that that would recommend it. and she sort of for shadows what francis cleveland does in the late 19th century, where francis's face and name are plastered on all kinds of products for sale. >> and today, how does the white house approach that? >> i think they try to skirt it as much as possible. >> restrict the use of the images for commercial purposes. >> louis in washington, d.c., welcome. >> thank you, susan, a fascinating program, i've enjoyed being on with you before myself, susan. no question, she was extraordinarily courageous. and you've touched on part of my question. we've heard, her 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 stewart painting? one of the drawings shows her
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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? >> i think catherine probably should take that one. >> why do i get the geography questions? i will say this, that she sends all of the cabinet papers, including, by the way, james madison's notes on the constitutional convention, she takes them and sends them away on carts previous toe that. at the last minute she decides on this painting. as you said, susan, there's some evidence 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 it off the wall, break it out of the frame, and gave it to two gentlemen from new york who 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 she herself is taken away by carriage. she does cross -- i'm sorry, i
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don't know where. >> john is in bronx, new york. >> caller: thank you for taking my call. i understand that dolley madison died in poverty. 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. i was curious if the two ever interacted, given they had so much to probably talk about. thank you very much. >> how far into american history was it before presidents had pensions? >> a while. certainly not -- >> i think it might have been the trumans. >> -- the founding generations at all. >> so what they had was -- >> what they had was what they lived on when they retired. and the supposition was if you were wealthy enough to get into politics in the first place, you had enough to support you afterwards. payne todd ran through their
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estate, he ran through enormous debts, ended up in debtor's prison twice. each time james and dolley would bail him out. 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. >> was she just not a good judge of her son's character? >> 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 dissension, which is great. i do want to answer the question about eliza and schuyler
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hamilton. they did know each other. in 1848, when they laid the cornerstone of the washington monument, they decided to bring the relics of the republic, widows were called relics, they invited dolley madison and eliza hamilton. >> it's time to answer 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. >> this is the dolley todd house in philadelphia. it's 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. here you would probably find dolley with her two sisters. when dolley met mary john todd,
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she would often have her younger sisters living here. as quakers they did not believe in slavery and her husband actually gave free legal advice to the abolitionist society here in the city. this is the dining room in the todd house. and this room was a multiuse room. not only did the family dine here, but they also used it for educational purposes. the quakers believed 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 carrying passengers 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 to the schuylkill river to gray's ferry and he
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will die of yellow fever on october 24th, 1793. the same day john todd dies of yellow fever, dolley's baby, william temple, will die as well. not only has she lost her husband and protector, so to speak, but she also has the quaker community watching her. within six months she has gentlemen interested. even when she walks down the streets, her friends will tease her that all the men are stopping to stare at her. the quakers are 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 she's only 2 years old at the time. so dolley has to contend with the scrutiny of the quaker community. and even has to go to orphans' court to petition the court to be the guardian of her own son
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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 from her own brother-in-law. this is on the second floor of the house, this is the parlor. this was 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, it was an exciting place to be. james madison was friendly with aaron burr. aaron burr had been living in dolley's mother's boarding house. so dolley 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, we believe here in this
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parlor, for their first meeting. in the quaker community, they expected at least a year of mourning before you would get married again. so really it raised eyebrows in the quaker community that she would marry within less than a year. she was very scrutinized by the quakers for that. and the fact that he is not a quaker means that she will be drummed out of the community as well, at a meeting, as they say. >> well, that video gave us a very broad overview of the biography of dolley madison. let's fill in a few of the blanks. first of all, where was she born? >> well, that's a little bit of a family scandal. she wants very much to be considered a virginian born and bred. her mother's folks are from virginia and probably her father's as well. what happens is john payne converts to quakerism, which her mother is quaker, they go off to
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live in north carolina in a quaker community. as far as we know, they were just going to live there and dolley is born in north carolina, she is north carolina's only first lady. what's sad about that is she spends most of her life denying it. we think it has to do with her father's shady business practices. and they move back to virginia. and so she sort of is raised in that sort of loving circle of kith and kin in the gentry world of chattel slave holding. >> her father released his slaves as a quaker. is that the cause of his inability to continue his business, he couldn't make the economics of it work? >> i think he had other problems besides that. he definitely could not farm. so they moved to that chilly northern city of philadelphia. >> and edith, i'm not sure if you know much about her thoughts about slavery, her life was affected by her father's decision to release his slaves.
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how is it that she reconciled herself to actually having slaves in the white house? >> i think that's a very good question. i'm not sure that i quite 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 slaveholding. i don't know, are there letters about that? >> so this is why historians have a hard job. >> it's a real dichotomy. >> there's this moment, right? so yes, she grows up in the world of slaveholding. then her father frees their slaves and they go to philadelphia. for ten years, things are terrible for the paynes in philadelphia. children die. her father is drummed out of the quakers. her mother has to open a boarding house. she's sort of pushed into marrying john todd. then she's this beautiful 25-year-old widow. you can argue, in what has been
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the capital of the united states, she could have had her pick of any man, right? but she picks james madison. it turns out to be a great pick. but why does she do that? i think it's one of those moments where she said, i could go back to the world i lived in. >> exactly. >> but we don't have anything from her 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 towards enslaved americans that southerners had, which is a kind of inability to understand them as humans. and so when james madison dies, and he doesn't free slaves, which everybody thought he would, everybody begins to blame dolley. and part of that's fine, because she does start selling slaves as soon as she can. but some of that is a kind of reflection of their disappointment with james madison. >> what about her quaker roots affected the kind of woman she became? if this particular aspect of it did not. >> i think we're back to that empathy thing.
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>> and the peacemaking, the not-warring, the idea that you don't make war, you conciliate. >> 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 really read her letters, she's as partisan as anybody. she has that white house defensiveness that happens when you're the president's family, you defend your husband against all people. i think she probably supported him 100% in what he decided to do. but i think her own nature was always to conciliate. >> here is a question by twitter. how did dolley feel about women's education? >> one thing we know about her is that she was a very well-educated woman for her day, of any class. we're not exactly sure how she got there, because she was a southerner and southerners did not necessarily educate their girls. but she spent time in philadelphia, which was a sort of center of female education.
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but we know from her handwriting that she was educated. >> growing up in the quaker environment, they believed in educating women as well as men, so she benefitted from that, she takes that background with her into the marriage and into the first lady's role. >> on facebook, ruth wants to know, what qualities did she see in james madison when he was so much her opposite? >> well, i think opposites attract, many times. i think she was very impressed with his intellect. and 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. >> and it's interesting that aaron burr provided the link between the two.
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you get the sense of these people who are part of the american canon were really all a small community. >> yes, it was a small world. i have to say that james madison immediately fell in love with her. the family lore is he saw her on the street and fell for her, which is very romantic. he was in his mid-40s and had never married, which is very odd. but marriage is a pragmatic business in this age, romantic love isn't necessarily a part of it. dolley's approach to the marriage was necessarily pragmatic. he would be a tender protector for her and her son. she fell deeply in love with james and james loved her deeply as well. but we have to remember that marriage was a pragmatic business and she had a son to protect. >> and property. >> yes. >> property to be managed. someone who would do that honestly and well. >> and had a reputation for running his own family's
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plantation in virginia. rick is next in kansas. hi, rick. >> hello, good evening. you ladies are good. >> thanks, rick. >> caller: two questions, if you would. first, did mrs. madison travel abroad, if so, when, who did she visit? among modern times first ladies, who might dolley have compared with? thank you, i'll listen while i enjoy my gelato and dolley cigar. >> that's great. did dolley madison travel abroad? >> i don't think she ever traveled abroad. >> she never did. diplomats who came from abroad were amazed by that because she was -- >> so conversant. >> yes, like a diplomatic wife or a queen. they did marvel at that, that she had that quality. >> and did in fact -- how did she get her knowledge of french fashions, for example? >> i'll tell you, if you knew dolley madison, you could not go anywhere, whether it was a city in america or in france, without
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having to shop for her. so she sort of knew the right people. also, very early on she became the protege of the french minister's wife and she sort of schooled her in fashion as well. >> and then she hired jean-pierre souca, 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 kind of thing. >> i'm still curious about the economics of all this. so today, the white house staff is large, there are all these people in roles of press secretary and councilor. did all of this come from the money they were paid by -- or from their personal wealth, all these extra staff and advisers you talk about?
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>> i think probably most of them did. i mean, 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. i mean, to hire somebody away from someone 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. >> a lot of the madisons' resources went toward creating outfits and ensembles. at one point she got the bills and she was like, don't even tell my husband, because between buying the stuff from france and paying the duties on it, it was quite a lot. >> helene in olney, maryland. >> caller: hi, i wanted to ask you about the maryland component of this fleeing of the white house during the war. my understanding is that there's a house in brookeville, maryland
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that's called the white house for a day, and that 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 kin transition from virginia to maryland. >> i do not know the answer to that question. i am so sorry. >> helene, sorry, but that gives us another stop in the washington -- >> stumped the panel. >> but also when you live in washington, check out the white house for a day that you tell us about. >> i was going to go back for just a minute and answer or, you know, give my opinion about the second part of the question was who would compare in the present. and i would say jacqueline kennedy. i think she looked at imaging, her husband's administration, and recreating the white house as a stage for the conduct of politics and diplomacy through
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her renovation of the white house, in the same way that dolley looked at the white house as a stage and imaged her husband's presidency. so i see, you know, a lot of comparable activity and things that she was trying to achieve as was jacqueline kennedy. >> and jacqueline kennedy referenced dolley. >> yes, she did. >> she was an informal scholar of dolley, was a big fan, and definitely referenced her especially in the redoing of the white house. >> and she had to love the french furniture. [ laughter ] >> and with regard to the renovation of the white house, if you go to the white house today, can you still see evidence of the torching by the british? >> there are places in the basement where you can see burned timbers. and i know when they did the restoration of the white house under the trumans, they found a lot of charred wood and charred
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bricks and so forth that were sort of taken out and saved as remnants from the fire. >> actually we're showing some pictures of some of the charring right now. >> mrs. laura bush took me out and showed the british prime minister, which was maybe not diplomatic, but it was funny. >> and how complete was the destruction of the white house? >> pretty complete inside. i mean, it had to be almost totally rebuilt. >> how long did it take to rebuild it, do you know? >> well, they didn't move back in, the madisons did not move back in. it wasn't until the monroe's administration that they were able then to move back into the white house. so i would say a couple of years. >> about 18 minutes left. and it's time to move in this brief look at a very complex part of our history and a very interesting and long life to the retirement after the madison administration, james and dolley
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returned to their beloved montpelier in virginia piedmont. and we're going to visit that place next. >> so if you were a visitor to montpelier, you would enter here at the front door, and you would be shown immediately into the madison's great drawing room. mrs. madison had many lady friends that she would invite here, margaret bayard smith was a favorite of hers, and the daughters of thomas jefferson were also frequent visitors. but her most intimate circle usually included her own family. her sisters especially, anna and lucy were always very welcomed guests as well as many nieces that she had who often stayed for extended visits here at montpelier. now, the drawing room combined many different themes into one. you see many of the faces of the great american statesmen, but you also see figures of classical antiquity. you see the bust of palace athena.
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you have a reproduction of the declaration of independence. you have a miniature of homer, the writer of the great epochs of greece. and then you have a painting of pan nymphs and youths. this was 200 years old even when the madisons purchased it. and in this way of blending the classical and the american, they were trying to place the american founding in the important events of world history. this is a room where all the guests would assemble before dinner. and they would have a chance to meet one another, they would have a chance to converse socially and casually. and then they might be invited to dine in the dining room. and then after supper, the ladies would then adjourn back into the drawing room, maybe play a game of loo, maybe be served some coffee and tea. this was the social center of the house. now, if you were an invited guest of the madisons or a part of the intimate circle of family or friends, you would be invited
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into the dining room from the drawing room. and here dolley madison would, in an unusual setting for the period, would sit at the head of the table. her husband james would sit at the center of the table. dolley would direct the conversation, and james would be able to engage in intimate or lively conversation with the people to his immediate right and left. now, this table today is set for eight people. but there could be as many as 20 people served in the dining room. that would not be unusual. and, indeed, dolley madison considered dining at montpelier to be so much more relaxing than entertaining in washington. she said she was less worried serving a hundred people at montpelier than 25 in washington. many important historical figures would be seated with james and dolley madison. now, thomas jefferson, a close family friend, was frequently here. james monroe was here. general lafayette.
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henry clay. margaret bayard smith, dolley madison's good friend, a writer from washington. once while mrs. madison was serving at the head of the table, the vice president el bridge gary offered to do the honors for her. and she responded, oh, no, watch with what ease i do it. and, indeed, he had to admit that she did it with unparalleled ease. it was as if, he said, she had been born and educated in versailles. >> and looking at their life when they returned there, how was it for them compared to what they lived in the white house? >> well, i think they were besieged by people who wanted to associate themselves with the madisons. many visitors in addition to -- i mean, political visitors in addition to family and friends. sort of like the washingtons and the jeffersons. everybody wanted to meet the great personages.
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so they always had people in the house with them, not only their relatives but also many, many political visitors as well. >> she was clearly devoted to him and so important to him in getting all of his papers together. was she happy there, do we know? >> yes. because at that point she loved her husband very much. and montpelier was where he wanted to stay. he didn't want to go. and so she stayed as well. it's interesting, too, the descriptions of her at this time aren't those kind of same politically fraught descriptions she's described as happy, contented adam and eve in paradise. she definitely missed washington and she would write to her friends in washington and say, tell me all the news. and she would sometimes complain a little bit, oh, i haven't been out and keep me up to date, and just let me know what's happening. so i think for her own shelf, she probably would've wanted to go back to washington for a visit. but james madison was going to stay put.
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>> we just did the math quickly. she was 49 years old when she left the white house. remember, he was 17 years her senior. and we saw that she worked to continue to involve him even when he was in his last days with 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. let's listen to sherry in charleston, south carolina. >> hello. i have a couple comments about dolley madison's clothing and fashion. and i have a question. i used to be a doson at the greensboro, north carolina, historical museum. and we happen to have some of her belongings, which included and does include the original of that red velvet dress that we saw at montpelier. also, we own a pink silk dress that she wore while she was first lady.
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and what was very interesting about that piece of clothing was that when we had it conserved by the wonderful people from williamsburg, virginia, they found out that the teeny tiny little round buttons on the front of the pink silk dress were -- they were filled with dried peas. so that's what her dressmaker did for her with french passion. also, as she grew older and her hair became very, very thin, she did have some real human hair curls sewn into her turbans. and she would put her turban on in the morning with those little curls showing. and she looked younger, she thought. but my question is, the way the greensboro historical museum came into possession of these wonderful items including beautiful silk shoes and calling cards and carved ivory calling cases, is she received it from
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some philanthropic 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 the wall. and i want to say it was in philadelphia. but i want to know how the person who had that hidden behind the wall got those things, those very important things and why they had them. >> okay, sherry, thanks so much for all the detail. >> and i'll just answer it quickly because i want to say that this is happening in the 1950s and '60s, so not that long ago. and the story of how the ladies of greensboro historical society found and financed this collection deserves a television program of its own. >> is that right? >> yes. it was very fascinating. it really was hidden behind a wall. they raised money i think in a way that dolley would approve one chicken dinner at a time to pay the princely sum of $20,000 to get this valuable stuff.
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>> and is greensboro, north carolina, close to where she was born? >> they wanted to save this legacy rather than having it be scattered to the winds. and you can go there now and see parts of that. >> so dolley madison returns to washington after the death of her beloved james. how does she spend her final years here? >> she becomes the grand dame of washington society once again. and because people know about her poverty but don't want to actually confront her with it, people in the white house, the polks and the tylers invite her to come to dinner on many occasions. the younger first ladies always ask her advice on entertaining and handling large crowds of people. so she becomes sort of an
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ex-officio first lady adviser. and that's how she happened to do the match-making between angela singleton and abraham van buren, the president's son. she's very much in the social mix and very much a behind-the-scenes player. >> so this is not a tragic ending the fact that she's in poverty. she manages to live quite a well-known involved life. >> yes. i think we've realized what she felt about montpelier because i think it was very lonely without james. she worked for 16 years to build this town and the president's mansion as a symbol for washingtonians. in fact, it was under her tenure that the president's mansion got a nickname. they called it the white house. and of course all this comes to a head when they burn washington and the white house. and so she canning credited with the kind of nationalism around
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the end of war of 1812. >> she had a vested interest in all of this, too. >> when she comes back to washington, it is like the past has come to light. and mentioning the video that she wore many of the same clothes. i'm sure she would have loved new ones, but she was poor. and everybody wanted to use her. >> here's a very basic question. was dolley her real name? >> it was indeed. though, again, her niece tried to perpetuate this idea that she was named dorothy. and other people tried to fancy it up with dorothea. trying to figure out why her family tried to -- and it goes back to those scandalous rumors about her sexual affair or whatever with thomas jefferson. they thought that perhaps dolley was too common for her. >> her birth is recorded that way. >> with or without the e?
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>> with the e. >> but it's spelled sometimes along the way without. >> that's the advertising again, the advertising now the icon of dolley without the e, madison supplants the real woman. john is in burwick, pennsylvania. >> yes. i was wondering if dolley madison's first husband john todd was related to abraham lincoln's wife mary todd. thank you. >> good question. i have no idea. >> i ams going to go around that question and say what's important about that is is that mary todd certainly broaded that about. todd's a very common name. but when mary todd comes to town decades later and dolley madison has still set the example, mary todd tried to kind of like ride on her coat tails by saying she plays on that. but she does not have dolley's sense of tone. she's rather tone-deaf when it comes to all of that. >> here's a more specific question about her son. is it true that dolley's son from her first marriage gambled
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away much of her money? was it gambling that was his problem? >> yes. and drinking. >> and did he continue his relationship with his mother in her later years? or were they estranged? >> oh, no. she did not estrange him. >> robert in skokie, illinois. >> yes. my name is rabbi bob rosen, and i'm questioning what's the relationship between mrs. madison and mrs. polk and harrison. >> do you know the relationship with the polks and the harrisons? >> well, i think the polks became friends as catherine was saying, people wanted to associate themselves with dolley after she came back to the capitol city. it was a sort of cache by association. so the polks often invited had
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err to dine with them and to take part in, you know, parties and so forth in the white house. >> we should tell people that congress awarding her a seat. >> yes. she becomes, i call it, this is her iconic face where she's not just a person, but she begins to become a symbol. and so there's busts of her. there's a metal cast. and she's aroad wassed a seat on the floor of congress with escorts. >> which is unheard of. >> she is the only woman to do it. and so there's a lot of attention being paid to her. and she starts to become a symbol even as she's living. >> and did she avail herself of the debates in congress? >> she was a good congressgoer. in fact, 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. that allowed other women to do that as well. >> and that was a way of bringing the women into a knowledge of what was going on politically so that while they
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were part of this social network that she was setting up in washington, they could also be part of the political networks as well. and she would get the women together, and they would go up to capitol hill. she called them dove parties, which was part of educating the women's side to what was going on in politics at the time. >> i'm watching the time quickly here. but debbie meyers on facebook, didn't james' former slave give her money at the end of her life when she was poor? >> yes, money and groceries. >> a question about dolley madison's letters you spoke with how she was writing a letter to her sister in the midst of evacuating the white house. how did the letter get posted during invasion? or did she hold onto it? >> that's very interesting. i have to say that we only have this letter in her fair hand. so in the 1830s when we think she's beginning to think about her legacy, her friend wants to write about her.
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and she wants stuff from dolley madison. on the one hand, dolley's thrilled of being the topic of history, but she's also kind of cautious. and she mentions this letter, but we don't actually have the original of this letter. we have a fair copy, which margaret bayard smith reproduces. that far great magazine that william seal has there's a terrific article by david maturn that suggests that dolley may have altered that for history's sake. because that's an excellent question. >> that's a good pr move. >> pam, you're going to be our last caller here from falsechurch, virginia. >> i wanted to ask whether dolley madison had any kind of relationship with james monroe's wife who i know traveled in europe and i believe was born in england. and whether she had any grandchildren, i don't think so, through her son payne todd. >> well, thank you very much. because that helps us set the stage for our future conversation.
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did they have a relationship? >> i would say not terribly much, no. >> they knew each other as sort of plantation owners in the same area. but i don't think they were friendly. and there were no children. >> we're going to say there was no legitimate issue, as they would say. >> that's a nice way of putting it. >> here's a quote from dolley madison. we all have a great hand in the formation of our own destiny. we must press on that intricate path leading to perfection and to happiness by doing all that is good and handsome. therefore, we can be taken under the silver wing of our rewarding angel. so our clothing thoughts from dolley madison. we have time for both of you for your thoughts on dolley madison's importance and legacy. >> well, she's important for several reasons. she does set the role of first lady. for historians we look at her because she lets us know the
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role of aristocracy. but in the end, the question you're asking, susan, is really why does this matter. and i think for dolley madison, what she's offered us is a model for governance that stresses civility and empathy. now, dolley madison is modeling this for us. she's not going to win, right? but we look to our founding generations because we need examples. we need role models. and her way of conducting politics, stressing building bridges and not bunkers is a model that she has bequeathed us and one we can use for the future. >> and i think she's very important, as catherine says, for bringing those models, but also for bringing women into the political mix at a very early time period. and her conciliation, her abilities to bring people together, wouldn't it be nice if we had dolley back in washington now? >> we only skimmed the surface in 90 minutes of 81 interesting
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years of life. if you want to learn more, here is our guest book, "a perfect union: dolley madison and the creation of the american nation." ♪♪ ♪♪
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week nights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. former vice president and u.s. senator walter mondale died at the age of 93. tonight we start a night of programs featuring mr. mondale with a conversation from 2015 with former president jimmy carter. this was a part of a tribute to him hosted by the minnesota's school of public affairs. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern, and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3.
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next on american history tv, author lynne cheney discusses president james madison's personality, health problems, and political career. she also talks about the influential women in madison's life. her book on the fourth president first published in 2014 is "james madison: a life reconsidered." the society of the four arts in palm beach, florida, hosted this 50-minute lecture. [ applause ] >> i'll put it down for me, and it has to come down a little bit more for dr. chene

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