Saturday, February 15, 2014

Dolley Madison, Social Butterfly and BAMF

Last Saturday was the Dolley Madison ball in Salem, and helping with preparations gave me a chance to learn a little bit more about the eminent first lady. I'm so glad I did!

Dolley Madison
and me!
Wife of President James Madison, Dolley's hosting skills were already well known and respected in Washington by the time she became first lady. During her husband's presidency, Dolley hosted weekly "Wednesday drawing rooms" that brought disparate political and social groups from the D.C. scene together to mingle. What I find especially remarkable is that Dolley didn't leave the networking to her husband--she presided over these evenings, as well as dinner parties and other events, alongside him. She was also the first FLOTUS to use her position for social justice work; while in the White House Dolley founded a D.C. home for orphaned girls. 
In addition to her knack for making enemies talk (even Federalists, the opposing party, attended), Dolley was known for her colorful outfits (including plumed turbans) and colorful menus (including ice cream).
a red velvet dress owned by Dolley Madison, c.1810-20 (via the National Portrait Gallery)

Another portrait of Dolley in a fabulous turban

Dolley was also FLOTUS during the War of 1812, and was living in the White House when it was burned by British forces in 1814. It's worth noting that in addition to living in the White House, Dolley also played a huge role in it's interior completion and decoration--so she probably felt an especially strong sense of ownership for the house beyond it just being a symbol of state. Even so (and despite plans to serve dinner to 40 officers that evening), Dolley kept a clear enough head to prioritize rescuing important state papers and symbols of state (George Washington's portrait) before fleeing before soldiers from the Battle of Bladensburg arrived (they ate Dolley's dinner and looted the house before burning it).

a 19th c. illustration of Dolley rescuing White House documents before evacuating
After James Madison died in 1836, Dolley continued to be a public figure in politics. She was even given a special seat in Congress so that she could be present on the floor for debates. Dolley also continued to advise her successors to the role of FLOTUS in their duties as White House hostess.

an ice cream server from the Madison china collection (via the White House)
So in honor of Dolley Madison, FLOTUS, BAMF, and winning hostess, here are some pictures from CVD's Dolley Madison Ball:

getting up sets for a country dance

dancing the Cottage Waltz

The refreshments table is carried in by two of our dashing gentleman

serving ice cream, a la Dolley!
enjoying refreshments--the cookie in hand is from Dolley's sugar cookie recipe

dancing so fast they blurred!

at the end of the night
My shot blue/gold dress is new--yep, after a week of work travel I decided to spend Friday night (and Saturday morning) making a new dress and baking cookies for the ball. Life isn't fun without sleep deprivation and a chance of not being dressed, right? I kid, but actually I really wanted something new for this ball, and this fabric had been sitting in my stash for over a year. It's such wonderful stuff! I am really looking forward to adjusting the fit (last minute sewing for the win...) and then trimming the hell out of this (bonus: trim will cover up all the fit adjustments), but the shot faux silk is so lovely it really holds its own.

To learn more about Dolley Madison, check out the sources below!

Dolley Madison Biography at the National First Ladies' Library
Saving History: Dolley Madison, the White House, and the War of 1812 at the White House Historical Association
The British Burn Washington D.C., 1814 at Eyewitness to History

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