Dolly Madison lived so long ago that people aren’t even sure about her name. People used to think that her real name was Doretha–but then it was discovered that her birth certificate from 1768 actually had her name as Dollie. But her will, from when she passed away in 1841 at the age of 81, declared her to be Dolly Madison. Some historians prefer to call her “Dolley.” But the most important thing about Dolly Madison was how she became the first wife of the President of the United States to become a truly popular figure as First Lady.
Nowadays, of course, we know all about First Ladies like Michelle Obama. As the wife of President James Madison, though, Dolly Madison ended up becoming a national heroine. Her husband was first elected to office in 1809, and Dolly was already a regular in the White House. She had helped to decorate the place while the widower Thomas Jefferson was President. Dolly was always popular, but she became an American heroine during the War of 1812. That was when America was at war with Great Britian, and an invading army came into Washington, D.C.–which meant that the First Family had to vacate the White House.
There was a very famous portrait of George Washington in the White House. The popular legend has it that Dolly Madison carried this painting–known as the Lansdowne Portrait–out by herself. It’s probably closer to the truth that Dolly just refused to leave the White House until she knew that the painting had been taken down and was set for safekeeping. That turned out to be very important, since the British forces later set fire to the White House. She returned to Washington a few days later. By the time that word got out about Dolly and the painting, there were plenty of heroic illustrations of brave Dolly saving the national treasure.
Dolly would later go back home to the plantations that her family had. She lived to an exceptional old age for the times. And she would later receive the ultimate honor of having snack cakes named after her. That’s right. And there’s good news for fans of the Dolly Madison brand. The company that made Dolly Madison snack cakes went out of business in 2012, but it was recently announced that the brand would be back in business by July of 2013. The Dolly Madison name lives on!