Elisabeth Kortright Monroe
June 20, 1768, in New York, New York
September 23, 1830, in Oak Hill, Virginia
Elizabeth Monroe was 48 years old when she became first lady. She served throughout her husband James Monroe’s presidency in 1817-1825.
One of Elizabeth’s most noteworthy acts occurred before she became first lady. When Monroe was serving as minister to France, Elizabeth accompanied him to Paris at the height of the French Revolution. Elizabeth made a daring visit to Marie-Adrienne Lafayette, the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette, a French military officer and aristocrat who had been inspired by America’s revolt against the British and subsequently came to America to serve under General Washington. The Marquis and his family were imprisoned, along with others of noble birth, and were awaiting death by the guillotine. Elizabeth went to the prison to visit Madame Lafayette, and as a result of America’s perceived interest in her, the French revolutionary leaders released her.
Elizabeth’s tenure as first lady was distinguished by a more restrained attitude toward public entertaining. Though she is recognized for being a skilled hostess, she was often not well. Today’s doctors believe she probably had epilepsy. Consequently, Elizabeth chose not to attend many formal events or return social calls. Elizabeth also left her mark on the interior of the White House. Following the reconstruction of the mansion following its burning, Elizabeth purchased a number of furniture pieces and accessories from France to restore it. When First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began a restoration in 1961, she commented that the pieces Elizabeth had chosen were the best.
A journalist commented about Elizabeth in 1817, “Mrs. Monroe is an elegant, accomplished woman. She possesses a charming mind and dignity of manners.”