Dolley Madison was born into a wealthy Quaker family who moved to Philadelphia to allow their daughter to be educated, perhaps at the Pine Street Meetinghouse. Dolley made great use of this education when President Thomas Jefferson, a widower, tapped her to fill the important, if unofficial, role of White House First Lady. A natural hostess, Dolley was able to converse and entertain guests from the United States and Europe at White House events. She was particularly adept at pairing the most unlikely people and sparking discussion. Dolley reprised this key role when her second husband, James Madison, became President. Her famous turban and feather acted as a lightning rod, enabling her 5’6” husband to find her in a crowd so they could compare notes and perspectives gleaned from their important guests.
Dolley’s ability to create rapport with her guests made her one of the most sought-after women of her time. Her wit, charm, education and popularity made her a trend-setter. She experimented with fashion, introduced ice cream to the United States, and hosted children’s events, introducing the Easter Egg Roll at the White House.