It is a pity that we in America will sometimes remember people by how they’ve been branded by our commercial institutions. For instance, when hearing the name Dolley Madison, the first thing that may come to some minds is “snack cakes.”
But there is a reason the Dolly Madison bakery co-opted the name (misspelled as it is) of the wife of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. Dolley Madison was known far and wide for her social graces and hospitality. She did much to help define the role of the First Lady during her husband’s two terms and even before as a sometimes surrogate hostess for White House events during the widowed Thomas Jefferson’s term. Her husband served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State before becoming president himself.
Long before “bipartisan” became a concept in people’s minds, Dolley Madison put it into practice by inviting members of both political parties to the popular weekly social gatherings she would host. Prior administrations would only meet with the often dueling parties independently, (first one side, then the other), to avoid contention and open hostility. Dolley helped usher in the idea that people of opposing parties could amicably socialize, network, and negotiate with each other without resulting in violence. She accomplished this through her undeniable skills as a hostess and conversationalist. As one guest reflected, “We have not forgotten how admirably the air of authority was softened by the smile of gayety: and it is pleasing to recall a certain expression that must have been created by the happiest of all dispositions,—a wish to please, and a willingness to be pleased. This, indeed, is to be truly good and really great.”
Dolley finds a place upon our family tree by being the 3rd great-grandmother of John Payne who was the father in law of my nephew’s 4th great grand uncle.
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