May 20, 1768, in Guilford County, North Carolina


July 12, 1849, in Washington, D.C.


Nineteenth century morés required that a woman be present at any event to which both men and women were invited. Because Thomas Jefferson was a widower, he relied on Dolley Madison––the wife of his personal friend James Madison––to serve as primary hostess at White House gatherings throughout his two terms in 1801-1809. She had a passion for entertaining and was thrilled to accommodate him. Jefferson also sought occasional help from his oldest daughter Martha (Patsy) Jefferson Randolph. Jefferson, seeking help from a family friend and family member to fulfill the duties of a first lady, created a precedent that other unmarried presidents followed in subsequent years.

Read about Dolley Madison’s legacy as first lady during her husband’s administration.

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