Dolley Madison, first lady during the War of 1812, was born in Virginia to a Quaker family. As a charming and warm hostess who was at the center of high society women in the nation’s capital, Dolley Madison was especially famed for her weekly soirées, engaging personality, and sophisticated fashion sense. She set the standard for future first ladies.
Dolley was alert to the British threat to the capital in 1814. With her black servant, Sukey, she had packed many important national documents as well as other valuables such as red velvet curtains in her carriage. As news came from her husband from the battle at nearby Bladensburg, she ordered that the portrait of George Washington either be saved if possible or destroyed if necessary to keep it out of British hands. In the final minutes before fleeing the capitol, she had the frame of the portrait broken so the painting could be successfully removed from the wall and taken to safety out of the city.
Learn more about Dolley Madison from the White House Historical Society.