5 Things You Didn't Know About Dolley Madison

On this day in 1814, first lady Dolley Madison saved a portrait of George Washington from being looted by British troops during the war of 1812. Here are five things you most likely didn't know about Dolley Madison…


"Dolley" Was Just One of a Few Nicknames Although history remembers her as Dolley, that was her childhood nickname. She was born Dorothea Payne in May of 1768 in North Carolina. Her husband's papers confirmed that this was the spelling she herself used. She also had the nicknames "Queen Dolley," "the Queen," and "the Queen Mother."

She Met Her Husband Through Aaron Burr Dolley's mother ran a boardinghouse after her husband died, and one of the boarders was Aaron Burr. You may recognize that name from the famous duel with Alexander Hamilton, but that wasn't his only claim to fame. Both Burr and James Madison were congressmen, and Burr introduced Dolley and James after James became interested in Dolley. After the wedding, Dolley was kicked out of the Quaker church for marrying a non-Quaker. 


She Was The First Civilian to Send a Telegram When Samuel F.B. Morse wanted to create a buzz about his newly-invented telegraph machine, he chose Dolley Madison to send the first telegraph by a private citizen in front of a crowd of onlookers. Dolley happily sent a message of love to her friend, Mrs. John Weathered in Baltimore. The crowd and the newspaper reporters were fascinated with the new technology and the ease by which Dolley sent her message. Morse’s publicity stunt was a success. 

She Saved The Day When The British Burned The White House During the War of 1812, British troops were advancing on Washington DC, burning and looting everything in their path, with the intent on attacking the White House. Dolley Madison was at the White House with her servants while the President was away meeting with troops when the British set fire to the White House. Dolley escaped unharmed, but not until after she saved a historic painting of George Washington. She was determined not to let the portrait be destroyed or stolen by the British. 

She Received an Honorary Congressional Seat In January of 1844, well after James Madison’s death in 1836, the House of Representatives bestowed upon the former First Lady an honorary congressional seat. The seat didn't give her a vote, and her physical seat was located in the spectator gallery, but she was able to watch the debates on the floor whenever she chose to join. This became one of her favorite activities as she got older.