Dolley Madison served as White House hostess during the administrations of the widowed Thomas Jefferson and her own husband, James Madison. Her effervescence doubtless accounted, in part at least, for the popularity of Madison's presidency in its last several years. After the end of Madison’s term in 1817, Dolley helped her husband put his papers in order, selling a portion of them to Congress after his death.
William Elwell painted Dolley Madison's portrait in February 1848 and later sold it to her longtime friend William Winston Seaton, editor and co-owner of the Washington, D.C., newspaper The National Intelligencer. The portrait offers a glimpse of the aging Mrs. Madison, described by the artist in his diary as “a very Estimable lady—kind & obliging—one of the Old School.” It is on view on the museum's first floor, in the "America's Presidents" exhibition.
Listen to Ellen Miles’s Face-to-Face talk on Dolly Madison (14:09)
Face-to-Face occurs every Thursday evening at the National Portrait Gallery. The next Face-to-Face talk is this Thursday, March 12, when curatorial assistant Amy Baskette speaks about Lady Bird Johnson. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.
Dolley Dandridge Payne Todd Madison / William S. Elwell, 1848 / Oil on canvas / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution