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Shaping the role of first lady: Dolley Madison

The role of the first lady as the hostess of the White House has evolved over time, but much of the tradition can be traced back to Dolley Madison, wife of the nation’s fourth president James Madison. 

In Fox Nation’s “Women of the White House,” Rachel Campos Duffy travels to Montpellier, the Virginia home of the Madisons, where she highlights the important role Dolley had in shaping her husband’s career and success through her renowned hospitality. 

“Dolley Madison was known as being a great entertainer, I personally consider her to be a great diplomat,” said Roy Young, President of James Madison’s Montpellier. 

“She really was the woman who started to define what the first lady’s responsibility would be,” he continued. 

James and Dolley Madison were the first couple to live in the White House as president and first lady, as Jefferson had been a widower when he was in office, and both George Washington and John Adams spent a majority of their time in office in Philadelphia. 

During her time in the White House, Dolley gained a reputation as being a warm and hospitable hostess, but this ability to bring people together served a political purpose as well. 

“She understood that her job as First Lady, or as an early diplomat, was to bring people together as people so they could have conversations and really come together and synthesize ideas,” Young said. “So I think of it as Dolley really created a great definition of early American civil discourse.” 

Elizabeth Chew, executive vice president and chief curator of James Madison’s Montpellier said that recognizing Dolley solely for her entertaining skills demeaned her. 

“She was incredibly astute at using the channels available to her to further her husband’s and her own political and social ambitions,” Chew said. 

Chew noted that the Madisons, in some ways, were the first Washington, D.C. power couple, and their complimentary skills allowed them to be successful. 


“He was highly intellectual, very intense,” Chew said. “She was the classic extrovert.” 

To learn more about how Dolley Madison shaped the role of the first lady of the United States, watch “Women of the White House” on Fox Nation. 

Fox Nation programs are viewable on-demand and from your mobile device app, but only for Fox Nation subscribers. Go to Fox Nation to start a free 30-day trial with the code CPAC and watch the extensive library from your favorite Fox News personalities.

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