Gateway to the Classics: American History Stories, Volume III by Mara L. Pratt
American History Stories, Volume III by  Mara L. Pratt

"Dolly Madison"

Mrs. Madison was one of the most popular women of the White House. It was well indeed that hers was a heart open to social life, and that she had that warmth of heart and that brilliancy and ready wit that made her so popular and gave such charm to the White House hospitality during that administration, for Madison was, though filling nobly his political position, cold, snarling, hardly courteous in his social life.

"Dolly" was of very common "extraction," as we say, her father being a simple Quaker.

Madison was forty-three years old when he carried the brilliant, simple-hearted Dolly to the White House.

In "Presidents of the United States," John Frost, L.L.D., gives the following account of this kind-hearted and much loved lady:

"At Richmond, I first saw Mrs. Madison, and the instant my eye fell on her I felt that I was looking on a Queen. A queen she was; one of nature's queens:—she looked the character; her person, carriage, manners, language, would have been in place in any of the most polished Courts of Europe. She was large and dignified, yet she moved with easy grace. Hers was a face that seemed to bid you welcome, and to ask, 'what can I do for you?' Having once seen her, I could credit what had frequently been told me, that her husband owed much of the success of his administration (so far as his popularity was concerned), to the influence of his wife. Her power over him was great, and all who sought favors of any kinds, addressed themselves, naturally, to her, as the readiest and surest channel of access to the President. Madison was cold and shy, and a timid suitor would often have met, not with repulse, but with a polite refusal; but Mrs. Madison anybody could approach, and if his request was reasonable he might count upon at least her good offices.

"Another beautiful trait of her character was her fondness for the young. No one could have seen her in company with young ladies, and fail to be struck with this peculiarity. It became the more remarkable as she advanced in years.—At an age when to most of those who reach it the liveliness and chatter of young people is a burden, she had still the same fondness for their company; nor was there a kinder lady to be found in introducing and encouraging bashful young girls just entering society. She gained their confidence at once, and in a large mixed company, you would always find a group of youthful faces around her, all whose pleasures seemed to be her own.

"In almost every picture of Mrs. Madison she is drawn with a turban; and very properly; for it was, I believe, her constant head dress.

However the fashions might change, and however, in other respects, she conformed to them, she still retained this peculiarity. It became her well, nor could she, probably, have laid it aside for anything that would have set off her features to better advantage. So much was the eye accustomed to see it that it became, in fact, a part of her figure. It was to her much what Frederick's three cornered hat was to him. The Prussian army would have been very much surprised to see their king without his hat; but no more so than would have been the people of those days to find Mrs. Madison without her turban.

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