Sarah Childress Polk was unusually well-educated for a woman of her time. She and her sister traveled to the Moravian Female Academy when Sarah was 14. The trip to the school took a whole month on horseback. It was 500 miles from their home in Tennessee to North Carolina, but the school was one of the best girls' schools in the country.
There Sarah studied not only the traditional disciplines offered to young girls but also Greek and Roman literature and world history. These studies proved invaluable in her political discussions and in supporting her husband's career.
After marrying James K. Polk, Sarah devoted her life to his success. She organized his campaigns, wrote his speeches, handled his correspondence, and helped him develop a network of political friendships. Whenever she read a major newspaper or magazine, she marked any articles she felt were important and left them on a chair outside the President's office for him to read.
As First Lady, Sarah Polk made many changes to White House life. She and her husband opened the White House twice a week to all visitors for evening receptions and personally greeted those who attended. In the summer, the Marine Corps Band played once a week on the lawn for visitors. She also oversaw the refurbishment of the White House, including the installation of gas lighting.
Presidents usually had private secretaries, but Mrs. Polk was the first First Lady who took on that responsibility. The design on the back of this coin shows her working in the White House in support of her husband's presidency.