Dolley Payne was born in North Carolina in 1768, though the family moved back to their former home in Virginia when she was still an infant. Raised in Philadelphia as a Quaker, she is remembered as one of the most charming and entertaining First Ladies of her time.
Dolley was a widow when she met Representative James Madison, co-author of the Federalist Essays and often called the "Father of the Constitution." The couple was married in 1794, and during her time in Washington, DC, while her husband served as Secretary of State, Dolley sometimes served as hostess in President Thomas Jefferson's White House. Naturally, she also served as First Lady during her husband's Presidency.
The image of Dolley Madison standing before a large painting of George Washington holding some papers refers to an act of bravery and quick thinking during the War of 1812.
In August of 1814, Dolley Madison was forced to flee the White House because British forces were attacking the city. She had to stop in the middle of preparing a dinner for the President and some of his troops. Before she left, she gathered important papers and the large portrait of George Washington by artist Gilbert Stuart, which was hanging in the State Dining Room at the time.
The dinner was enjoyed by British soldiers just before they set the White House ablaze. Most of the inside of the mansion was destroyed in the fire. But thanks to Dolley Madison's heroic efforts, White House visitors can still enjoy the magnificent portrait of our first President, which hangs in the White House once again.